UDCs have been renamed to Functions

Functions used to be called UDCs (User Defined Commands). Earthly 0.7 uses COMMAND instead of FUNCTION.

Earthly Functions are reusable sets of instructions that can be inserted in targets or other functions. In other words, it is a way to import common build steps which can be reused in multiple contexts.

Unlike targets, functions inherit the (1) build context and (2) the build environment from the caller. Meaning that

  1. Any local COPY operation will use the directory where the calling Earthfile exists, as the source.

  2. Any files, directories and dependencies created by a previous step of the caller are available to the function to operate on; and any file changes resulting from executing the function's commands are passed back to the caller as part of the build environment.

Thus, when importing and reusing functions across a complex build, it is very much like reusing libraries in a regular programming language.


Functions are defined similarly to regular targets, with a couple of exceptions: the name is in ALL_UPPERCASE_SNAKE_CASE and the recipe must start with FUNCTION. For example:

    ARG src
    ARG dest=./
    ARG recursive=false
    RUN cp $(if $recursive =  "true"; then printf -- -r; fi) "$src" "$dest"

This function can be invoked from a target via DO

    FROM alpine:3.18
    WORKDIR /function-example
    RUN echo "hello" >./foo
    DO +MY_COPY --src=./foo --dest=./bar
    RUN cat ./bar # prints "hello"

A few things to note about this example:

  • The definition of MY_COPY does not contain a FROM so the build environment it operates in is the build environment of the caller.

  • This means that +MY_COPY has access to the file ./foo.

  • Although the copy file operation is performed within +MY_COPY, its effects are seen in the environment of the caller - so the resulting ./bar is available to the caller.


Functions create their own ARG scope, which is distinct from the caller. Any ARG that needs to be passed from the caller needs to be passed explicitly via DO +MY_FUNCTION --<build-arg-key>=<build-arg-value>, as in the following example.

    ARG var=value-in-build
    # prints "something-else"
    # prints "value-in-build"
    DO +PRINT_VAR --var=$var

    ARG var=something-else
    RUN echo "$var"

Global imports and global args are inherited from the base target of the same Earthfile where the command is defined in (this may be distinct from the base target of the caller).


ARG --global a_global_var=value-in-global

    # prints "value-in-global"

    RUN echo "$a_global_var"

Targets vs Functions

Targets and functions are Earthly's core primitives for organizing build recipes. They encapsulate build logic, and from afar they look pretty similar. However, the use-cases for each are vastly different.

In general, targets are used to produce specific build results, while functions are used as a way to reuse build logic, when certain commands are repeated in multiple places. As a real-world analogy, targets are more like factories, while functions are more like components that are used to put together factories.

Here is a comparison of the two primitives:


Represents a collection of Earthly commands

Can reference other targets in its body

Can reference other functions in its body

Build context

The directory where the Earthfile resides

Inherited from the caller

Build environment, when no FROM is specified

Inherited from the base of its own Earthfile

Inherited from the caller

IMPORT statements

Inherited from the base of its own Earthfile

Inherited from the base of its own Earthfile

ARG context

Creates its own scope

Creates its own scope

Requires that ARGs be passed in explicitly

Global ARG context

Inherited from the base of its own Earthfile

Inherited from the base of its own Earthfile

Can output artifacts

❌ - can issue SAVE ARTIFACT, but it's the caller that emits the artifacts

Can output images

❌ - can issue SAVE IMAGE, but it's the caller that emits the images

Can be called via earthly CLI

Can be used in conjunction with an IMPORT

✅ - FROM some-import+my-target

✅ - DO some-import+MY_FUNCTION

Commands that can reference it



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