WebRTC coding style guide

General advice

Some older parts of the code violate the style guide in various ways. If making large changes to such code, consider first cleaning it up in a separate CL.


WebRTC follows the Chromium C++ style guide and the Google C++ style guide. In cases where they conflict, the Chromium style guide trumps the Google style guide, and the rules in this file trump them both.

C++ version

WebRTC is written in C++17, but with some restrictions:

  • We only allow the subset of C++17 (language and library) that is not banned by Chromium; see the list of banned C++ features in Chromium.
  • We only allow the subset of C++17 that is also valid C++20; otherwise, users would not be able to compile WebRTC in C++20 mode.


You may use a subset of the utilities provided by the Abseil library when writing WebRTC C++ code; see the instructions on how to use Abseil in WebRTC.

.h and .cc files come in pairs

.h and .cc files should come in pairs, with the same name (except for the file type suffix), in the same directory, in the same build target.

  • If a declaration in path/to/foo.h has a definition in some .cc file, it should be in path/to/foo.cc.
  • If a definition in path/to/foo.cc file has a declaration in some .h file, it should be in path/to/foo.h.
  • Omit the .cc file if it would have been empty, but still list the .h file in a build target.
  • Omit the .h file if it would have been empty. (This can happen with unit test .cc files, and with .cc files that define main.)

See also the examples and exceptions on how to treat .h and .cpp files.

This makes the source code easier to navigate and organize, and precludes some questionable build system practices such as having build targets that don't pull in definitions for everything they declare.

TODO comments

Follow the Google styleguide for TODO comments. When referencing a WebRTC bug, prefer using the URL form (excluding the scheme part):

// TODO(bugs.webrtc.org/12345): Delete the hack when blocking bugs are resolved.

The short form used in commit messages, e.g. webrtc:12345, is discouraged.


Annotate the declarations of deprecated functions and classes with the [[deprecated]] attribute to cause an error when they‘re used inside WebRTC and a compiler warning when they’re used by dependant projects. Like so:

std::pony PonyPlz(const std::pony_spec& ps);

NOTE 1: The annotation goes on the declaration in the .h file, not the definition in the .cc file!

NOTE 2: In order to have unit tests that use the deprecated function without getting errors, do something like this:

std::pony DEPRECATED_PonyPlz(const std::pony_spec& ps);
inline std::pony PonyPlz(const std::pony_spec& ps) {
  return DEPRECATED_PonyPlz(ps);

In other words, rename the existing function, and provide an inline wrapper using the original name that calls it. That way, callers who are willing to call it using the DEPRECATED_-prefixed name don't get the warning.

NOTE 3: Occasionally, with long descriptions, git cl format will do the wrong thing with the attribute. In that case, you can use the ABSL_DEPRECATED macro, which is formatted in a more readable way.


When passing an array of values to a function, use rtc::ArrayView whenever possible—that is, whenever you‘re not passing ownership of the array, and don’t allow the callee to change the array size.

For example,

instead ofuse
const std::vector<T>&ArrayView<const T>
const T* ptr, size_t num_elementsArrayView<const T>
T* ptr, size_t num_elementsArrayView<T>

See the source code for rtc::ArrayView for more detailed docs.



Prefer webrtc::CallbackList, and manage thread safety yourself.

Smart pointers

The following smart pointer types are recommended:

  • std::unique_ptr for all singly-owned objects
  • rtc::scoped_refptr for all objects with shared ownership

Use of std::shared_ptr is not permitted. It is banned in the Chromium style guide (overriding the Google style guide). See the list of banned C++ library features in Chromium for more information.

In most cases, one will want to explicitly control lifetimes, and therefore use std::unique_ptr, but in some cases, for instance where references have to exist both from the API users and internally, with no way to invalidate pointers held by the API user, rtc::scoped_refptr can be appropriate.


Don't use std::bind—there are pitfalls, and lambdas are almost as succinct and already familiar to modern C++ programmers.


std::function is allowed, but remember that it's not the right tool for every occasion. Prefer to use interfaces when that makes sense, and consider rtc::FunctionView for cases where the callee will not save the function object.

Forward declarations

WebRTC follows the Google C++ style guide on forward declarations. In summary: avoid using forward declarations where possible; just #include the headers you need.


There's a substantial chunk of legacy C code in WebRTC, and a lot of it is old enough that it violates the parts of the C++ style guide that also applies to C (naming etc.) for the simple reason that it pre-dates the use of the current C++ style guide for this code base. If making large changes to C code, consider converting the whole thing to C++ first.


WebRTC follows the Google Java style guide.

Objective-C and Objective-C++

WebRTC follows the Chromium Objective-C and Objective-C++ style guide.


WebRTC follows Chromium's Python style.

Build files

The WebRTC build files are written in GN, and we follow the GN style guide. Additionally, there are some WebRTC-specific rules below; in case of conflict, they trump the Chromium style guide.

WebRTC-specific GN templates

Use the following GN templates to ensure that all our GN targets are built with the same configuration:

instead ofuse

Target visibility and the native API

The WebRTC-specific GN templates declare build targets whose default visibility allows all other targets in the WebRTC tree (and no targets outside the tree) to depend on them.

Prefer to restrict the visibility if possible:

  • If a target is used by only one or a tiny number of other targets, prefer to list them explicitly: visibility = [ ":foo", ":bar" ]
  • If a target is used only by targets in the same BUILD.gn file: visibility = [ ":*" ].

Setting visibility = [ "*" ] means that targets outside the WebRTC tree can depend on this target; use this only for build targets whose headers are part of the native WebRTC API.

Conditional compilation with the C preprocessor

Avoid using the C preprocessor to conditionally enable or disable pieces of code. But if you can't avoid it, introduce a GN variable, and then set a preprocessor constant to either 0 or 1 in the build targets that need it:

if (apm_debug_dump) {
  defines = [ "WEBRTC_APM_DEBUG_DUMP=1" ]
} else {
  defines = [ "WEBRTC_APM_DEBUG_DUMP=0" ]

In the C, C++, or Objective-C files, use #if when testing the flag, not #ifdef or #if defined():

// One way.
// Or another.

When combined with the -Wundef compiler option, this produces compile time warnings if preprocessor symbols are misspelled, or used without corresponding build rules to set them.