Yocto: sharing the sstate cache and download directories

When developing projects based on Yocto Project / OpenEmbedded, a quite common practice is to have multiple build environments in different directories: one per product, or one for each development branch, or for other scenarios. Each build environment could have different layers, a different configuration, or just using a different version of the source code.

With default settings, different build directories result in duplicated storage for the downloaded source code and build artifacts, as well as duplicated time for downloading the sources and to build everything. This can be troublesome for large projects.

Fortunately, the bitbake build engine can share both the downloaded source code and the intermediate build results across multiple build directories, saving build time and disk space.

Sharing the downloaded sources

The first thing you may want to share is the download directory, which  stores all the source code downloaded from each URL set in the SRC_URI variable of each recipe. This is usually either a compressed tar archive or a git repository to be cloned.

In openembedded-core, by default the location of the download directory is ${TOPDIR}/downloads, where TOPDIR is your build directory. Thus, for multiple directories where you do Yocto development there will be a separate download directory, duplicating download time and disk space used.

One good news is that the above path is not set in stone, but rather it is the content of the DL_DIR variable. Having a unique directory, shared across all your projects, can be done easily by setting this line in your conf/local.conf file:


You can choose the path you prefer here, but using HOME and not TOPDIR will make the path identical for all your builds.

Sharing the sstate cache

A powerful feature of the Yocto build system is the shared state cache, usually called sstate cache for brevity. After having built a recipe successfully, bitbake stores the output results (without all the intermediate files) into the sstate cache. When the exact same recipe needs to be built again, instead of running through the expensive tasks of the actual build, bitbake will simply extract the resulting binaries it had previously stored.

The sstate cache saves a huge amount of time when building big projects. It also saves disk space, as it does not need to extract all the source code and to produce all the intermediate artifacts: only the final package is extracted.

However, just like the download directory, also the directory storing the sstate cache is by default relative to the build directory, being in ${TOPDIR}/sstate-cache. No surprise that it can be modified, just like the downloads directory, by modifying the SSTATE_DIR variable, for example:


If you have multiple directories building a similar distribution (e.g. two different branches of the same projects), this can reuse the output products for most of your recipes. But it is useful even if you have projects involving totally different target CPU architectures, such as an ARM project and a RISC-V project, because native packages are also saved into the sstate cache. And even in case nothing can be shared, it will not give any noticeable performance penalty to your builds.

Is it safe?

Sharing the download directory and sstate cache directory might look dangerous. What if I’m running two independent builds together and they both try to download the source code for the same recipe? What if bitbake takes an sstate cache entry for the same recipe, but built from different settings?

Short answer is: it is safe.

Bitbake implements the mechanisms needed to make this safe. For the sstate especially, each cache entry is saved along with a hash, which is computed from all the variables and functions that are in the recipe. If you have ever run bitbake -e <recipename>, you have an idea of what those variables and functions are. This means that if you rebuild the same recipe with even slightly different settings (source code version, applied patches, compiler optimization flags, permissions of installed files, whatever) the hash value will change, and a different sstate cache entry will be created.

Automatically sharing across all your projects

So, everything is perfect now? Well, not yet. Adding the above two lines to the local.conf for all of your projects requires you to remember, and not to do any copy-paste errors while setting the variables. And if your local.conf files are automatically generated by a CI script or by a tool such as kas, this can be tricky to get done the right way.

The good news is that there is a solution also to this problem: setting DL_DIR and SSTATE_DIR in your shell environment, so that every time you use bitbake they will be set. For Bash, this means exporting variables in your ~/.bashrc. You can easily test it and… find that it does not work. This is because bitbake discards most of the the variables from the calling shell environment before running the build, in order to minimize pollution from local settings and make the build as much reproducible as possible across different workstations.

Don’t despair however: there is a way to explicitly let a variable from the shell environment into the bitbake global environment. Bitbake uses the  BB_ENV_PASSTHROUGH variable to keep a list of variables it should not discard, and removes all the remaining ones. This is an internal variable that you should not modify directly, but you can specify an additional set of variables in BB_ENV_PASSTHROUGH_ADDITIONS; and this is a shell variable that bitbake will take from the external environment.

Thus a clean way to add your DL_DIR and SSTATE_DIR globally is to add these three lines to your shell init file (~/.bashrc for Bash):

export DL_DIR="${HOME}/data/bitbake.downloads"
export SSTATE_DIR="${HOME}/data/bitbake.sstate"

That’s all you need. With this, all of your builds will share downloaded archives and build results, saving disk space and time for downloading and building.

After doing this, remember to remove the downloads and sstate-cache subdirs of all your existing build directories. They will not be used anymore, so they are just wasting disk space!

Curious about the time saving you can get? You can easily discover that building from scratch an entire project that takes an hour at the first build, it will easily take less than a minute when rebuilding from scratch using a pre-populated sstate cache!

One thought on “Yocto: sharing the sstate cache and download directories”

  1. Cheers! I’ve always been avoiding to share sstate cache between project, I’ll be starting now. Besides the own PC case, that can be a great optimization regarding CI too.

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