We recommend completing the tour for an introduction to the buf generate command.

This guide provides information on how to use buf generate, our solution to Protobuf code generation. This allows you to generate code from your .proto files using plugins that can be customized to fit your needs. We include information on how to create a buf.gen.yaml file that serves as a template for your plugins, as well as how to use various flags and options to customize the generation process. Additionally, it covers how to specify input paths and modules, and provides examples on how to generate code stubs using specific templates.

Key Concepts

What are protoc plugins?

Protoc plugins are external programs that implement a specific interface, defined by the Protobuf compiler protoc, to generate code or perform some other custom processing on .proto files.

When protoc compiles a .proto file, it can be configured to invoke a set of plugins to generate additional code or perform other custom tasks. The plugins can be written in any language, as long as they implement the required protocol buffer plugin interface.

The protocol buffer plugin interface consists of a set of standard input and output formats, allowing the plugin to communicate with protoc. Specifically, protoc invokes the plugin with a list of files to process and the plugin outputs the generated code to standard output or to files on disk.

Protoc plugins can be used to generate code in various programming languages, enforce coding standards, perform static analysis, or perform other custom tasks specific to a project or organization.

To use a plugin with protoc, the plugin must be installed and available in the system's $PATH environment variable.

Invoking protoc is needlessly complex and often results in a series of ugly bash scripts checked into a repository with invocations shared between team members. It's this solution you will first begin to admire about buf.


If you are new to generating code using buf, you might be wondering how to configure your generation templates and plugins. This guide provides detailed information about the buf.gen.yaml file and plugin configuration.

version: v1
    - plugin: go
      out: gen/go
      opt: paths=source_relative
      path: custom-gen-go
      strategy: directory
    - plugin: java
      out: gen/java
    - plugin: buf.build/protocolbuffers/python:v21.9
      out: gen/python

Before you can generate code using buf, you need to define your generation template. The buf.gen.yaml file is where you can specify the version of the generation template, as well as the plugins to run.

  • Version: The version of the generation template is required, and the valid values are v1beta1 and v1.
  • Plugins: This section allows you to specify the plugins to run. You can define the name of the plugin, the output directory, and any options to provide to the plugin.


The name of the plugin is required, and by default, buf generate will look for a binary named protoc-gen-NAME on your $PATH. Alternatively, you can use a remote plugin by specifying the remote plugin name.

  • out: The relative output directory is required.
  • opt: You can provide any options to the plugin. This can be either a single string or a list of strings and is optional.
  • path: The custom path to the plugin binary is optional and exclusive with "remote". Most users should not need to set this option.
  • strategy: There are two options for the generation strategy:
    1. directory: This is the recommended and default value, and it results in buf splitting the input files by directory and making separate plugin invocations in parallel.
    2. all: This option will result in buf making a single plugin invocation with all input files. This is needed for certain plugins that expect all files to be given at once.

To use the plugin hosted at buf.build/protocolbuffers/python at version v21.9, simply specify the remote plugin name and version. If version is omitted, it uses the latest version of the plugin.

order matters

When specifying multiple plugins in the template, they are invoked in the order they are listed. Each plugin is executed in parallel per directory, and the results are combined before being written out. The insertion points in the template are processed in the same order as the plugins are specified.

Generate Examples

By default, when using buf generate, the tool looks for a file named "buf.gen.yaml" in the current directory. This file serves as a template that specifies which plugins to invoke. If no source, module, or image argument is provided, the tool will use the current directory as the default input.

To use "buf.gen.yaml" as the template and the current directory as input, simply run:

$ buf generate

This is equivalent to specifying the defaults explicitly:

$ buf generate --template buf.gen.yaml .

Additionally, the --template flag can be used to provide YAML or JSON input directly, without using a file:

$ buf generate --template '{"version":"v1","plugins":[{"plugin":"go","out":"gen/go"}]}'

To generate code stubs based on a template file named "bar.yaml" from a remote repository, use:

$ buf generate --template bar.yaml https://github.com/foo/bar.git

To generate code in the "bar/" directory, with the "out" directives in the template prepended with "bar/", use:

$ buf generate --template bar.yaml -o bar https://github.com/foo/bar.git

Since the paths in the template and the -o flag are relative to the current directory, templates can be placed anywhere.

To generate stubs for a specific subset of input, the --path flag can be used. For example, to generate for only the files in the directories "proto/foo" and "proto/bar":

$ buf generate --path proto/foo --path proto/bar

To generate for only the files "proto/foo/foo.proto" and "proto/foo/bar.proto":

$ buf generate --path proto/foo/foo.proto --path proto/foo/bar.proto

To generate for only the files in the directory "proto/foo" in a remote repository:

$ buf generate --template buf.gen.yaml https://github.com/foo/bar.git --path proto/foo

It is important to note that all paths must be contained within the same module. For example, if you have a module named "proto", you cannot specify "--path proto". However, you can specify "--path proto/foo", since "proto/foo" is contained within "proto".


protoc plugins are extensions to the buf compiler that allow developers to generate custom code based on Protocol Buffer definitions. These plugins can be used to generate code for any programming language or framework, and can be used to perform a wide range of tasks.

buf provides a simple way to generate code from Protobuf definitions using plugins. By creating a buf.gen.yaml file and specifying plugins and options, developers can easily generate code for different languages and frameworks. The flexibility of buf allows developers to customize their code generation by specifying paths and templates. Overall, Buf provides a seamless experience for automating code generation and reducing development time.