Converting the Secretless Broker to Golang modules

Introduction

There has been a lot of buzz lately about Go modules, but there is still not much information available about what they are and how they fit into the future development of Go projects. Based on the information available, however, we recently updated the Secretless Broker to use Go modules for our dependency management. In this post, we will talk about what led us to make this decision, and some of the technical details of how we implemented this change. But first, let’s look at a bit of history on how we got to where we are in terms of Go dependency management tooling.

At first, there was nothing

If you write code in Go after working with other programming languages, you may notice a different workflow when it comes to dependencies. In the early stages of Go, all of your code for all your projects including their dependencies were assumed to be stored in your GOPATH location (usually ~/go), which is rather unique way of checkpointing the state of your local dependencies. It’s reasonable to wonder why Golang didn’t choose to follow well-established patterns that other modern programming languages have adopted; to understand why this might be so, it helps to consider the origins of the language at Google.

Golang at Google

Go was developed at Google initially to make it easier for its software engineers to write modern fast code at Google’s scale. In the early phases of the project, dependency versioning or vendoring was not supported; this may be due in part to the fact that (as is widely known) Google keeps the majority of its code in a big monorepo. In that context, support for managing dependency versions or storing code in more than a single location would not have made much sense. In other words – with a monorepo, each git checkoutand git commit is tied exactly to the state of all the dependencies that matter, so a “dependency management system” outside of git itself and the go get command isn’t really needed.

Nature abhors a vacuum

Since Go1 was officially released in 2012, interest in Go has grown over time. As adoption increases in the wider community, there is greater demand for dependency management that supports developers who:

  • do not store all their code in a single repo
  • do not want only a single version of a dependency shared between projects
  • do not store all their dependencies for all projects in a single location

Since there has been no one official solution that addresses all of these issues, a number of alternate solutions have emerged over time. At the time we started the Secretless Broker project the best solution available was dep (released in mid-2017), which was known as an “official experiment” and had emerged as the de facto dependency management system for Go. Dep was easy to use, and running dep ensure would update the vendor directory (officially supported in Go as of Go1.5).

vgo and the new Go modules

Despite the growing acceptance of dep as the dependency management tool for Golang, in mid-2018 a new proposal emerged for managing Golang project dependencies, known as vgo or Versioned Go Modules. The proposal was accepted, and as of Go v1.11modules are available as an alternative to GOPATH, with integrated support for versioning and package distribution.

Conversion of the Secretless Broker

As mentioned earlier in the post, the Secretless Broker was built using the dep dependency manager. So why would we change at this point? Our primary justifications for switching from dep to Go modules are:

  • To use the official upstream-supported tool
  • In anticipation of the future deprecation of current non-official tooling (i.e. dep)
  • Simpler builds
  • Faster builds
  • Directory-independent development

In addition, our project is in its early stages, which means we have more freedom to change things that may become harder to change as the project grows.

So with all of this in mind, let us see what is needed to convert your project to vgo-style dependency management.

Step #1 – Move your code out of $GOPATH

mv $GOPATH/path/to/my-code /path/to/new/location/

Because we won’t use the old “vendor” storage, we need to move our code away from $GOPATH to activate the automatic module processing. The current Golang (v1.11) way of activating modules follows two paths:

  • If you use go modules outside of $GOPATH, you don’t need anything – the modules are used by default
  • If you still use $GOPATH, modules are vendored by default unless you have export GO111MODULE=on set in your environment

Since dealing with environment variables is cumbersome and we want to use the same approach most other languages use, relocating the code somewhere outside of the $GOPATH is highly preferred.

Step #2 – Convert your old tooling definitions to go.mod

The instructions below should work even if you don’t currently have dep as your current dependency management tool, since go mod is designed to handle conversion from most tools you might be using. Since we’re converting from dep, though, the instructions include references to dep-specific artifacts like Gopkg.lock.

To convert to using Go modules, you run the following command from your project root:

$ go mod init github.com/cyberark/secretless-broker
go: creating new go.mod: module github.com/cyberark/secretless-broker
go: copying requirements from Gopkg.lock

After running this command, you should have a new go.mod file in your repository. Once this file has been created, you can commit it and remove the Gopkg.* files from your repository.

You may also want to remove the vendor/ directory; though it is currently still supported, it is expected that it will be deprecatedgoing forward.

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

  • If you’re running this inside a container, make sure that you have git (and possibly Mercurial depending on your dependencies) installed beforehand.
  • If you skipped step one and your code still resides in the GOPATH, go mod will give you a warning when you run this step!
  • If you have local modules that your code depends on, you may need to manually add things to your go.mod file.For example, if you have two projects in the same directory, and project-a depends on project-b, you can manually update the go.mod file for project-a to include the versioned dependency on project-b in the require section with a replacedirective at the bottom of the go.mod file:
    github.com/org/project-b v0.3.0
    ...
    replace github.com/org/project-b => ../project-b
    

    This ensures that project-a includes the local code from project-b.

Step #3 – Sync Your Dependencies

Now that we have our module file, it is time to get the dependencies cleaned up and downloaded locally:

$ go mod tidy
go: finding github.com/conjurinc/secretless/internal/app/secretless/providers latest
…

$ go mod download
go: finding golang.org/x/text v0.0.0-20171227012246-e19ae1496984
…
go: downloading golang.org/x/text v0.0.0-20171227012246-e19ae1496984

This stage will create go.sum, which will contain verification hashes of modules that you synced. go.mod and go.sum files are likely to change, so make sure to commit these two files again or amend the previous commit.

Step #4 – Run Your Code!

Well, it’s as simple as that – you’re done! There are no more steps to do other than running your codebase!

$ go run cmd/secretless/main.go  -f test/http_basic_auth/secretless.yml
2018/07/17 18:17:18 Secretless starting up...

Note: If you did not run the sync command, go run and go build will fetch all the dependencies for you in this step so sync might not be strictly needed

Conclusion

While our conversion was not as trivial as many other blogs have led us to believe, we were able to do this in about 16 dev-hours for two codebases. The changeover has reduced bloat and made dependencies much simpler/faster, and we are in good shape on this for the forseeable future. The project is in its early stages, so there are still issues to resolve and ways to make the process even smoother, but in general vgo is looking like a much needed step in the right direction for Golang tooling.

Addendum

ADDING DEPENDENCIES

Adding dependencies works incredibly simple just by using go get <path>. It will automatically be added to both go.mod and go.sum.

LISTING DEPENDENCIES

To list all the modules listed as dependencies in go.mod, run the following: go mod graph.

REMOVING DEPENDENCIES

Removing modules is a touch trickier but still pretty simple: go get <path>@none or manually editing go.mod.

DOCKER DEPENDENCY CACHING

If you built Go or Node modules within Docker and you do it often, you might know that caching the downloaded modules in a separate Docker layer can improve your build time by a large amount. Just like with dep, you copy the relevant files (go.mod and go.sum) and run a simple command: go mod download.