Using Glide for vendoring

Disclaimer: This is basically the long version of a lightning talk I gave recently at our local Go user-group in Graz.

I really enjoy writing Go. The primary things I love are interfaces, the really great standard library, and how you distribute your applications. Not much can beat having a single binary that you can simply hand to a co-worker and let it do its magic there, no matter what operating system they are on.

Sadly, nothing is perfect and so I’m always looking jealously at Rust, Node, or Elixir (just to name a few) that have a far better dependency management story than Go does. Things have improved over the years thanks to first-class vendoring support initially as an opt-in experiment with 1.5 and now as opt-out feature in 1.6. That being said, there is still no single-best solution out there for how to manage that vendor folder, how to explicitly declare your dependencies and their versions.

Tools like go get are still too focused on the $GOPATH and most of the time leave out the vendor folder.

This is something Glide is trying to solve. It all starts off very simple: Create your Go project like you’d normally do on your $GOPATH. Then run…

$ glide init

This will create a single glide.yaml file which holds your project’s metadata as well as high-level information about its dependencies. Let’s say we have a little tool that needs a bit more command-line argument parsing than the flag module provides out of the box. Jeremy Saenz’ cli library is quite popular here, so let’s add that to our project.

$ glide get

This will download cli and put it right under the project’s vendor folder:

$ tree vendor
    └── codegangsta
        └── cli
            ├── LICENSE
            ├── ...

5 directories, 29 files

Both, glide.yaml and glide.lock, now hold references to this dependency:

$ cat glide.yaml
- package:

$ cat glide.lock
hash: 4ef4d86e8c6c6831ef597baca9ae65b38db380a2449070f868b6c5b4d1157a1d
updated: 2016-05-08T09:24:36.81347661+02:00
- name:
  version: d3a4d5467b9d41ee3b466a3d6684cdc36482e471
devImports: []

Let’s say there was a bug in cli that got fixed upstream and you want to update your vendor content to that version?

$ glide update

This will fetch the latest version that still matches the version requirements specified within the glide.yaml file (we haven’t specified a version there, so it will just fetch the latest). And this is also what sets Glide apart from other vendoring tools I’ve tried so far: It supports version ranges. If a library creates releases according to semantic versioning, Glide will probably be able to handle it.

When you fetch a dependency, you can also specify a version. Let’s say we want cli at version 1.x so that we don’t run into any planned backwards-incompatible changes during an update:

$ glide get

The resulting glide.yaml file will look quite similar to what we had before but with a little note on the dependency’s version:

- package:
  version: ~1

So if version 1.20 is released and we last executed glide get or glide update with version 1.19, this dependency will be updated to 1.20. If you want to know more about the syntax Glide supports for specifying versions and version ranges, this has its own chapter in the documentation.

OK, that was all about glide.yaml but what’s with that other file that Glide manages? glide.lock points to the actual commit that was fetched for the requested version so that any glide install would allow you to restore the version you got when you first fetched that dependency. This is only updated when you either run glide get or glide update.

But how does Glide even determine a library’s version given that Go doesn’t really provide any metadata related to that out of the box? Let’s stick with the cli example a bit longer.

This package doesn’t have any metadata files in its repository but there are a handful of tags, each prefixed with a “v” that represent versions. Looking through Glide’s code a bit it it seems like it uses names of tags and branches to determine versions. Take a look the SemVerRegex within the semver package for details.

This way Glide simply leverages a common best-practice (to tag your releases) to get all the metadata it requires. Nice 🙂

Given that the whole dependency-story is still an open issue in the Go community, Glide probably won’t be the last attempt at solving it. For now, though, it looks like a nice compromise of using what is provided by the language itself (vendoring within a project’s directory tree) and putting a little semantical layer on top of that for more convenience and reproducability. govendor looks like another tool with a similar approach but I haven’t tried it yet. It seems to also support versions but to a bit smaller degree than Glide does.

Exciting times 😊