Roberto Selbach

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Playing With Go Modules

Update: much of this article has been rendered obsolete by changes made to Go modules since. Check this more recent post that’s up to date.

Had some free time in my hands, so I decided to check out the new Go modules. For those unaware, the next Go release (1.11) will include a new functionality that aims at addressing package management called “modules”. It will still be marked as experimental, so things may very well change a lot.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say we create a new package:

rselbach@wile ~/code $ mkdir foobar
rselbach@wile ~/code $ cd foobar/

Our foobar.go will be very simple:

package foobar

import (


func WriteGreet(w io.Writer, name string) error {
if _, err := fmt.Fprintln(w, "Hello", name); err != nil {
return errors.Wrapf(err, "Could not greet %s", name)

return nil

Notice we’re using Dave Cheney’s excellent errors package. Until now, go get would fetch whatever it found on that package’s repository. If Dave ever decided to change something drastic in the package, our code would probably break without us even knowing about it until too late.

That’s where Go modules come into play, as it will help us (1) formalize the dependency and (2) lock a particular version of it to our code. First we need to turn on the support for modules in our package. We do this by using the new go mod command and giving out module a name:

$ go mod -init -module
go: creating new go.mod: module

After that, you will notice that a new file called go.mod will be created in our package root. For now, it only contains the module name we gave it above:


But it does more than that, for now the go command is aware that we are in a module-aware package and will behave accordingly. See what happens when we first try to build this:

$ go build
go: finding v0.8.0
go: downloading v0.8.0

It sees that we are using an external package and then it goes out, finds the latest version of it, downloads it, and adds it to our go.mod file:


require v0.8.0

From now one, whenever someone uses our package, Go will also download version 0.8.0 of Dave’s errors package. If version 0.9.0 completely breaks compatibility, it will not break our code for it will continue to be compiled with correct version.

If we change go.mod to require version 0.7.0, our next go build will fetch it as well:

$ go build
go: finding v0.7.0
go: downloading v0.7.0

If you’re wondering where the packages are, they’re stored under $GOPATH/src/mod:

$ ls -l ~/go/src/mod/
total 0
dr-xr-xr-x 13 rselbach staff 416 20 Jul 07:44 errors@v0.7.0
dr-xr-xr-x 14 rselbach staff 448 20 Jul 07:40 errors@v0.8.0

What about vendoring?

Good thing you asked. This is where I don’t like Go modules’ approach. It specifically aims at doing away with vendoring. Versioning is obviously taken care of by the modules functionality itself while disponibility is supposed to be taken care of by something like caching proxies.

I don’t see it. First of all, not everybody is Google. Maintaining cache proxies is extra work that many organizations don’t have the resources for. Also, what about when we’re working from home? Or on the commute? Sure, a VPN solves this, but then it’s one more thing we need to maintain.

That doesn’t mean you can’t vendor with Go modules. It’s simply not the default way it works. Let’s see how it works though. Let’s say we want to vendor our dependencies:

$ go mod -vendor
rselbach@wile ~/code/foobar $ ls -la
total 24
drwxr-xr-x 6 rselbach staff 192 20 Jul 08:01 .
drwxr-xr-x 33 rselbach staff 1056 20 Jul 07:14 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 rselbach staff 252 20 Jul 07:22 foobar.go
-rw-r--r-- 1 rselbach staff 72 20 Jul 07:43 go.mod
-rw-r--r-- 1 rselbach staff 322 20 Jul 07:44 go.sum
drwxr-xr-x 4 rselbach staff 128 20 Jul 08:01 vendor

Notice how go mod now has created a vendor directory in our module root. Inside it you’ll find the source code for the modules we are using. It also contains a file with a list of packages and versions:

$ cat vendor/modules.txt
# v0.7.0

We can now add this to our repository. But it’s not all done. Surprisingly, when modules support is enabled, the go command will ignore our vendor directory completely. In order to actually use our vendor directory, we need to explicitely tell go build to use it

go build -v -getmode=vendor

This essentially emulates the behaviour of previous version of Go.