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User Sessions

This page provides an overview of Chrome user sessions, which are a key part of ChromeOS development, especially for features with lifetimes tied to when users sign in.

Chrome user sessions


A profile is a bundle of data about the current user and the current chrome session that can span multiple browser windows, and profiles are used to separate Chrome data on one machine. The class representing a profile is called Profile. In the content layer a profile is called a BrowserContext.

Incognito mode is a special kind of profile. The goal of incognito mode is to allow the user to browse Chrome and use their Chromebook without it remembering anything about that session. ChromeOS uses a OffTheRecordProfile object to accomplish this, which provides all the same storage interfaces as a normal Profile, but doesn’t write that data to disk. When the OffTheRecordProfile is destroyed, all the state from that session is gone.

Guest mode is an extension of incognito mode for when a user wants to lend their computer to someone else. In addition to not saving any information about the session, it also starts the browser in a fresh state. To do this Chrome first creates a new empty Profile and then immediately creates an OffTheRecordProfile from it.


User directories are encrypted, and referred to as "cryptohomes", and therefore users have to provide a key (usually a password) to decrypt and mount it. When the user signs in and begins their user session, their cryptohome is mounted/decrypted and available. When the user signs out, the cryptohome is unmounted/encrypted.


KeyedServices are separated from the Profile in the codebase in order to ensure the services are started up and torn down in the correct order. Read more about Chromium Profile Architecture. Many features have per-profile data, so it would be a mess if every feature had to add its own fields to the BrowserContext or Profile objects.

KeyedService also has a two-phase shutdown process. Before the BrowserContext is destroyed, a Shutdown() method is called on all the KeyedServices associated with it. Once they have been shut down the second phase destroys the objects. This is useful when services have dependencies on each other, as the shutdown phase allows those connections to be broken first. A ProfileKeyedServiceFactory creates instances of a service for a Profile and manages dependencies between services.

Most features use KeyedServices to start up and shut down at the correct times, if the features want to be tied to the user session lifetime (which most features do). Some features might want services that aren't keyed to a profile (e.g., Quick Pair), which are hooked into the shell initialization in ash (the window manager and system UI for ChromeOS).

Managing accounts

Account Manager is the source of truth for in-session accounts on ChromeOS. All account additions, updates, and deletions happen directly on Account Manager, which are then fanned-out throughout the system via an Observer Design Pattern. Account Manager is available throughout a User session. It lives outside the concept of a Chrome "Profile". Conceptually, Profiles track a subset of accounts in Account Manager.

Identity Manager is the "user facing" abstraction for Identity on Chrome. On ChromeOS, it uses the ChromeOS Account Manager as the source of truth. Identity Manager is tied to a Chrome "Profile".


Preferences, also known as “prefs”, are key-value pairs stored by Chrome. Pref stores a lightweight value across reboots and optionally tied to a profile. There are two forms of preferences, profile and local state.

Each profile has a PrefService that manages the profile prefs for the Profile. A user with different Profiles may have different profile prefs on the same machine. Read more about user prefs here. Profile prefs are saved in the user cryptohome.

Local state prefs are saved outside the user cryptohome (therefore not encrypted). Read more about the difference between local and profile prefs here.

A user may also have their prefs controlled by policy. Read more about Enterprise policy implications on prefs.