Life of a Feature

In the years since the Chromium browser was first open-sourced, the //net directory has expanded from being the basis of loading web content in the Chromium browser to accommodating a wide variety of networking needs, both in the Chromium browser and in other Google and third-party products and projects.

This brings with it many new opportunities, such as the ability to introduce new protocols rapidly or push Web security forward, as well as new challenges, such as how to balance the needs of various //net consumers effectively.

To make it easier to contribute new features or to change existing behaviors in //net, this document tries to capture the life of a feature in //net, from initial design to the eventual possibility of deprecation and removal.

Supported Projects

When considering the introduction of a new //net feature or changing a //net behavior, it's first necessary to understand where //net is used, how it is used, and what the various constraints and limits are.

To understand a more comprehensive matrix of the supported platforms and constraints, see Supported Projects. When examining a new feature request, or a change in behavior, it's necessary to consider dimensions such as:

  • Does this feature apply to all supported projects, or is this something like a Browser-only feature?
  • Does this feature apply to all supported platforms, or is this something specific to a particular subset?
  • Is the feature a basic networking library feature, or is it specific to something in the Web Platform?
  • Will some projects wish to strip the feature in order to meet targets such as memory usage (RAM) or binary size?
  • Does it depend on Google services or Google-specific behaviors or features?
  • How will this feature be tested / experimented with? For example, Field Trials (Finch) and User Metrics (UMA) may not be available on a number of platforms.
  • How risky is the feature towards compatibility/stability? How will it be undone if there is a bug?
  • Are the power/memory/CPU/bandwidth requirements appropriate for the targeted projects and/or platforms?

Design and Layering

Once the supported platforms and constraints are identified, it's necessary to determine how to actually design the feature to meet those constraints, in hopefully the easiest way possible both for implementation and consumption.

Designing for multiple platforms

In general, //net features try to support all platforms with a common interface, and generally eschew OS-specific interfaces from being exposed as part of //net.

Cross-platform code is generally done via declaring an interface named foo.h, which is common for all platforms, and then using the build-system to do compile-time switching between implementations in,,, etc.

The goal is to ensure that consumers generally don't have to think about OS-specific considerations, and can instead code to the interface.

Designing for multiple products

While premature abstraction can significantly harm readability, if it is anticipated that different products will have different implementation needs, or may wish to selectively disable the feature, it's often necessary to abstract that interface sufficiently in //net to allow for dependency injection.

This is true whether discussing concrete classes and interfaces or something as simple a boolean configuration flag that different consumers wish to set differently.

The two most common approaches in //net are injection and delegation.


Injection refers to the pattern of defining the interface or concrete configuration parameter (such as a boolean), along with the concrete implementation, but requiring the //net embedder to supply an instance of the interface or the configuration parameters (perhaps optionally).

Examples of this pattern include things such as the ProxyConfigService, which has concrete implementations in //net for a variety of platforms' configuration of proxies, but which requires it be supplied as part of the URLRequestContextGetter building, if proxies are going to be supported.

An example of injecting configuration flags can be seen in the HttpNetworkSession::Params structure, which is used to provide much of the initialization parameters for the HTTP layer.

The ideal form of injection is to pass ownership of the injected object, such as via a std::unique_ptr<Foo>. While this is not consistently applied in //net, as there are a number of places in which ownership is either shared or left to the embedder, with the injected object passed around as a naked/raw pointer, this is generally seen as an anti-pattern and not to be mirrored for new features.


Delegation refers to forcing the //net embedder to respond to specific delegated calls via a Delegate interface that it implements. In general, when using the delegate pattern, ownership of the delegate should be transferred, so that the lifetime and threading semantics are clear and unambiguous.

That is, for a given class Foo, which has a Foo::Delegate interface defined to allow embedders to alter behavior, prefer a constructor that is

explicit Foo(std::unique_ptr<Delegate> delegate);

so that it is clear that the lifetime of delegate is determined by Foo.

While this may appear similar to Injection, the general difference between the two approaches is determining where the bulk of the implementation lies. With Injection, the interface describes a behavior contract that concrete implementations must adhere to; this allows for much more flexibility with behavior, but with the downside of significantly more work to implement or extend. Delegation attempts to keep the bulk of the implementation in //net, and the decision as to which implementation to use in //net, but allows //net to provide specific ways in which embedders can alter behaviors.

The most notable example of the delegate pattern is URLRequest::Delegate, which keeps the vast majority of the loading logic within URLRequest, but allows the URLRequest::Delegate to participate during specific times in the request lifetime and alter specific behaviors as necessary. (Note: URLRequest::Delegate, like much of the original //net code, doesn't adhere to the recommended lifetime patterns of passing ownership of the Delegate. It is from the experience debugging and supporting these APIs that the //net team strongly encourages all new code pass explicit ownership, to reduce the complexity and risk of lifetime issues).

While the use of a base::Callback can also be considered a form of delegation, the //net layer tries to eschew any callbacks that can be called more than once, and instead favors defining class interfaces with concrete behavioral requirements in order to ensure the correct lifetimes of objects and to adjust over time. When //net takes a callback (e.g. net::CompletionCallback), the intended pattern is to signal the asynchronous completion of a single method, invoking that callback at most once before deallocating it. For more discussion of these patterns, see Code Patterns.

Understanding the Layering

A significant challenge many feature proposals face is understanding the layering in //net and what different portions of //net are allowed to know.

Socket Pools

The most common challenge feature proposals encounter is the awareness that the act of associating an actual request to make with a socket is done lazily, referred to as “late-binding”.

With late-bound sockets, a given URLRequest will not be assigned an actual transport connection until the request is ready to be sent. This allows for reprioritizing requests as they come in, to ensure that higher priority requests get preferential treatment, but it also means that features or data associated with a URLRequest generally don't participate in socket establishment or maintenance.

For example, a feature that wants to associate the low-level network socket with a URLRequest during connection establishment is not something that the //net design supports, since the URLRequest is kept unaware of how sockets are established by virtue of the socket pools and late binding. This allows for more flexibility when working to improve performance, such as the ability to coalesce multiple logical ‘sockets’ over a single HTTP/2 or QUIC stream, which may only have a single physical network socket involved.

Making Additional Requests

From time to time, //net feature proposals will involve needing to load a secondary resource as part of processing. For example, feature proposals have involved fetching a /.well-known/ URI or reporting errors to a particular URL.

This is particularly challenging, because often, these features are implemented deeper in the network stack, such as //net/cert, //net/http, or //net/filter, which //net/url_request depends on. Because //net/url_request depends on these low-level directories, it would be a circular dependency to have these directories depend on //net/url_request, and circular dependencies are forbidden.

The recommended solution to address this is to adopt the delegation or injection patterns. The lower-level directory will define some interface that represents the “I need this URL” request, and then elsewhere, in a directory allowed to depend on //net/url_request, an implementation of that interface/delegate that uses //net/url_request is implemented.

Understanding the Lifetimes

Understanding the object lifetime and dependency graph can be one of the largest challenges to contributing and maintaining //net. As a consequence, features which require introducing more complexity to the lifetimes of objects generally have a greater challenge to acceptance.

The //net stack is designed heavily around a sync-or-async pattern, as documented in Code Patterns, while also having a strong requirement that it be possible to cleanly shutdown the network stack. As a consequence, features should have precise, well-defined lifetime semantics and support graceful cleanup. Further, because much of the network stack can have web-observable side-effects, it is often required for tasks to have defined sequencing that cannot be reordered. To be ensure these requirements are met, features should attempt to model object lifetimes as a hierarchical DAG, using explicit ownership and avoiding the use of reference counting or weak pointers as part of any of the exposed API contracts (even for features only consumed in //net). Features that pay close attention to the lifetime semantics are more likely to be reviewed and accepted than those that leave it ambiguous.

In addition to preferring explicit lifetimes, such as through judicious use of std::unique_ptr<> to indicate ownership transfer of dependencies, many features in //net also expect that if a base::Callback is involved (which includes net::CompletionCallback), then it's possible that invoking the callback may result in the deletion of the current (calling) object. As further expanded upon in Code Patterns, features and changes should be designed such that any callback invocation is the last bit of code executed, and that the callback is accessed via the stack (such as through the use of either base::ResetAndReturn(callback_).Run() or std::move(callback_).Run().

Specs: What Are They Good For

As //net is used as the basis for a number of browsers, it‘s an important part of the design philosophy to ensure behaviors are well-specified, and that the implementation conforms to those specifications. This may be seen as burdensome when it’s unclear whether or not a feature will ‘take off,’ but it's equally critical to ensure that the Chromium projects do not fork the Web Platform.

Incubation Is Required

//net respects Chromium's overall position of incubation first standards development.

With an incubation first approach, before introducing any new features that might be exposed over the wire to servers, whether they are explicit behaviors, such as adding new headers, or implicit behaviors such as Happy Eyeballs, should have some form of specification written. That specification should at least be on an incubation track, and the expectation is that the specification should have a direct path to an appropriate standards track. Features which don‘t adhere to this pattern, or which are not making progress towards a standards track, will require high-level approvals, to ensure that the Platform doesn’t fragment.

Introducing New Headers

A common form of feature request is the introduction of new headers, either via the //net implementation directly, or through consuming //net interfaces and modifying headers on the fly.

The introduction of any additional headers SHOULD have an incubated spec attached, ideally with cross-vendor interest. Particularly, headers which only apply to Google or Google services are very likely to be rejected outright.

Making Additional Requests

While it‘s necessary to provide abstraction around //net/url_request for any lower-level components that may need to make additional requests, for most features, that’s not all that is necessary. Because //net/url_request only provides a basic HTTP fetching mechanism, it‘s insufficient for any Web Platform feature, because it doesn’t consider the broader platform concerns such as interactions with CORS, Service Workers, cookie and authentication policies, or even basic interactions with optional features like Extensions or SafeBrowsing.

To account for all of these things, any resource fetching that is to support a feature of the Web Platform, whether because the resource will be directly exposed to web content (for example, an image load or prefetch) or because it is in response to invoking a Web Platform API (for example, invoking the credential management API), the feature's resource fetching should be explainable in terms of the Fetch Living Standard. The Fetch standard defines a JavaScript API for fetching resources, but more importantly, defines a common set of infrastructure and terminology that tries to define how all resource loads in the Web Platform happen - whether it be through the JavaScript API, through XMLHttpRequest, or the src attribute in HTML tags, for example.

This also includes any resource fetching that wishes to use the same socket pools or caches as the Web Platform, to ensure that every resource that is web exposed (directly or indirectly) is fetched in a consistent and well-documented way, thus minimizing platform fragmentation and security issues.

There are exceptions to this, however, but they're generally few and far between. In general, any feature that needs to define an abstraction to allow it to “fetch resources,” likely needs to also be “explained in terms of Fetch”.


In general, prior to implementing, try to get a review on for the general feedback and design review.

In addition to the early review, //net requires that any browser-exposed behavior should also adhere to the Blink Process, which includes an “Intent to Implement” message to

For features that are unclear about their future, such as experiments or trials, it's also expected that the design planning will also account for how features will be removed cleanly. For features that radically affect the architecture of //net, expect a high bar of justification, since reversing those changes if they fail to pan out can cause significant disruption to productivity and stability.


Plan for obsolence, hope for success. Similar to implementation, features that are to be removed should also go through the Blink Process for removing features.

Note that due to the diversity of Supported Projects, removing a feature while minimizing disruption can be just as complex as adding a feature. For example, relying solely on User Metrics (UMA) to signal the safety of removing a feature may not consider all projects, and relying on Field Trials (Finch) to assess risk or restore the ‘legacy’ behavior may not work on all projects either.

It‘s precisely because of these challenges that there’s such a high bar for adding features, because they may represent multi-year commitments to support, even when the feature itself is deprecated or targeted for removal.