Skip to main content

Composing Rules with Macros

By the end of this section, you'll know how to make more readable BUILD files by using a simple code-sharing technique provided by Bazel.


Bazel Macros are like pre-processor definitions, which compose existing rules in a novel way and provide "syntax sugar" to developers who call them from BUILD files.

Bazel design feature

At a BUILD file usage site, you cannot distinguish macro from rule

This is to allow a rule to be wrapped with a macro without a breaking change.

Thanks to this design, we can start by imagining the right way for a user to express their "bare facts" in the BUILD file, then write Starlark code that supports it. We can start with a macro as they are much easier, but we can always introduce a custom rule when the requirements make it necessary.

leaky abstraction

If you bazel print (Aspect CLI only) which is a syntactic operation on the BUILD file, you see the macro as it was called.

However, macros are expanded during the analysis phase, so if you run a bazel query you'll see the result of the macro evaluation.

If the macro is named differently from the underlying rule, this can be confusing for users and also affect usability, e.g. --test_lang_filters applies to the underlying rule's name.

A macro is just a function definition in a .bzl file which composes some existing rules.

def my_macro(name, srcs, **kwargs):
name = name,
srcs = srcs,

The run_binary rule introduced earlier is a great candidate for the some_rule here.

Example 1

This example just wraps a single run_binary rule, in this case it's a third-party tool called "mocha" which was fetched from npm.


load("//examples/macro:mocha.bzl", "mocha_test")

name = "test",
srcs = ["test.js"],


"Example macro wrapping the mocha CLI"

load("@npm//examples/macro:mocha/package_json.bzl", "bin")

def mocha_test(name, srcs, args = [], data = [], env = {}, **kwargs):
name = name,
args = [
"configFile=$(location //examples/macro:mocha_reporters.json)",
native.package_name() + "/*test.js",
] + args,
data = data + srcs + [
env = dict(env, **{
# Add environment variable so that mocha writes its test xml
# to the location Bazel expects.

Example 2

This example composes a few building blocks from bazel_skylib and aspect_bazel_lib.


name = "strip",
tsconfig = {
# Demonstrating that rootDir compilerOption works the same as the
# root_dir attribute.
"compilerOptions": {
"rootDir": "subdir",

name = "strip_test",
actual = "strip",
expected = [


"helpers for test assertions"

load("@bazel_skylib//rules:diff_test.bzl", "diff_test")
load("@bazel_skylib//rules:write_file.bzl", "write_file")
load("@bazel_skylib//lib:types.bzl", "types")
load("@aspect_bazel_lib//lib:params_file.bzl", "params_file")

def assert_outputs(name, actual, expected):
"""Assert that the default outputs of actual are the expected ones

name: name of the resulting diff_test
actual: string of the label to check the outputs
expected: expected outputs

if not types.is_list(expected):
fail("expected should be a list of strings")
name = "_actual_" + name,
data = [actual],
args = ["$(rootpaths {})".format(actual)],
out = "_{}_outputs.txt".format(name),
name = "_expected_ " + name,
content = expected,
out = "_expected_{}.txt".format(name),
name = name,
file1 = "_expected_ " + name,
file2 = "_actual_" + name,

Example 3

This example creates a macro wrapping a repository rule rather than a build rule. (Actually, it uses alias which is even shorter than a macro, it passes all attributes through.)

It uses select to get a binary for the host platform, bypassing the need for toolchains which are a tricky part of Custom rules.


If you run an unconfigured build (e.g. with bazel query) then select will eagerly load every label on the right-hand-side. This causes an eager fetch of tools which don't run on the host platform and wastes the developers time.

This is a good reason to get in the habit of always using bazel cquery instead, so that the build is configured.


name = "terraform_macos_aarch64",
build_file_content = "exports_files([\"terraform\"])",
sha256 = "ff92cd79b01d39a890314c2df91355c0b6d6815fbc069ccaee9da5d8b9ff8580",
urls = ["{0}/terraform_{0}".format(version)],
name = "terraform_binary",
actual = select({
"//platforms/config:linux_x86_64": "@terraform_linux_x86_64//:terraform",
"//platforms/config:macos_aarch64": "@terraform_macos_aarch64//:terraform",
"//platforms/config:macos_x86_64": "@terraform_macos_x86_64//:terraform",

When a Macro isn't enough

Rules create actions, which transform inputs to outputs.

Using ts_project as an example, this couldn't be a macro for several reasons:

  1. It creates a tree of actions, which might use one tool to transpile .js outputs, and a different tool for producing TypeScript typings (.d.ts files).
  2. It requires that srcs have a JsInfo provider so that it can understand their structure.
  3. It produces a JsInfo provider for interop with downstream rules that depend on it.

Even when Providers get in your way of "just using a macro", you can often write a tiny adapter rule and then put most of your logic in a more easily understood macro.

For example, this code adapts a ProtoInfo on its sources to a DefaultInfo output.

Try it: write a macro

Add any macro in your repository, even a trivial one.

Then change one of your BUILD files to call the macro.