Building Go programs with Nix Flakes

Published on , 823 words, 3 minutes to read

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Sometimes you wake up and realize that reality has chosen violence against you. The consequences of this violence mean that it's hard to cope with the choices that other people have made for you and then you just have to make things work. This is the situation that I face when compiling things written in Go in my NixOS configurations.

However, I have figured out a way past this wicked fate and have forged a new path. I have found gomod2nix to help me out of this pit of philosophical doom and despair. To help you understand the solution, I want to take a moment to help you understand the problem and why it is such a huge pain in practice.

The problem

Most package management ecosystems strive to be deterministic. This means that the package managers want to make sure that the same end state is achieved if the same inputs and commands are given. For a long time, the Go community just didn't have a story for making package management deterministic at all. This lead to a cottage industry of a billion version management tools that were all mutually incompatible and lead people to use overly complicated dependency resolution strategies.

At some point people at Google had had enough of this chaos (even though they aren't affected by it due to all of their projects not using the Go build system like everyone else) and the vgo proposal was unleashed upon us all. One of the things that Go modules (then vgo) offered was the idea of versioned dependencies for projects. This works decently enough for the Go ecosystem and gives people easy ways to create deterministic builds even though their projects rely on random GitHub repositories.

The main problem from the NixOS standpoint is that the Go team uses a hash method that is not compatible with Nix. They also decided to invent their own configuration file parsers for some reason, these don't have any battle-tested parsers in Nix. So we need a bridge between these two worlds.

Mara is hacker

There are many ways to do this in NixOS, however gomod2nix is the only way we are aware of that uses a tool to code-generate a data file full of hashes that Nix can understand. In upstream nixpkgs you'd use something like buildGoModule, however you have a lot more freedom with your own projects.

Getting started with new projects

One of the easiest ways to set this up for a new Go project is to use their Nix template. To do this, enable flakes and run these commands in an empty folder:

nix flake init -t github:nix-community/gomod2nix#app
git init

Then add everything (including the generated gomod2nix.toml) to git with git add:

git add .
Mara is hacker

This is needed because Nix flakes respects gitignores. If you don't add things to the git staging area, git doesn't know about the files at all, and Nix flakes can't know if it should ignore them.

Then you can enter a development environment with nix develop and build your program with nix build. When you add or remove dependencies from your project, you need to run gomod2nix to fix the gomod2nix.toml.


Grafting it into existing projects

If you already have an existing Go program managed with Nix flakes, you will need to add gomod2nix to your flake inputs, nixpkgs overlays, and then use it in your packages output. Add this to your inputs:

  inputs = {
    nixpkgs.url = "nixpkgs/nixos-unstable";
    utils.url = "github:numtide/flake-utils";

    gomod2nix = {
      url = "github:tweag/gomod2nix";
      inputs.nixpkgs.follows = "nixpkgs";
      inputs.utils.follows = "utils";

Then you will need to add it to the arguments in your outputs function:

outputs = { self, nixpkgs, utils, gomod2nix }:

And finally apply its overlay to your nixpkgs import. This may differ with how your flake works, but in general you should look for something that imports the nixpkgs argument and add the gomod2nix overlay to it something like this:

let pkgs = import nixpkgs {
  inherit system;
  overlays = [ gomod2nix.overlays.default ];

You can then use pkgs.buildGoApplication as the upstream documentation suggests. If you want a more complicated example of using buildGoApplication, check my experimental repo.

Mara is hacker

If you want to expose the gomod2nix tool in a devShell, add gomod2nix.packages.${system}.default to the buildInputs list. The total list of tools could look like this:

devShells.default = pkgs.mkShell {
  buildInputs = with pkgs; [

Then everything will work as normal.

Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Tags: golang, nix, nixos