Go Modules Tutorial

Elliot Forbes Elliot Forbes ⏰ 6 Minutes 📅 Apr 19, 2019

In this tutorial, we are going to be looking at how you can use Go modules in your Go applications to simplify the way you work with dependencies for your Go applications. We will be looking at how Go Modules work, and also what problems they solve for us, before finally going into developing a simple Go application which uses Go Modules.


By the end of this tutorial:

  • You will have a solid understanding of Go Modules
  • You will be able to build a Go package which uses Go Modules


In order to follow this tutorial, you will have to have the following:

  • You will need Go version 1.11+ installed on your development machine.
  • You will need an account on GitHub

Why Go Modules?

There has been a lot of turbulence in the dependency management space in the Go language over the last few years. We’ve seen tools such as dep, godep, govendor and a whole heap more come into the scene to try and solve this problem once and for all.

Go Modules is deemed to be the official attempt at a solution for handling dependencies within your Go applications going forward. The main reasoning for this piece of work was to essentially allow Go developers to use semantic versioning for their Go packages.

Semantic Versioning is very widely adopted practice of labeling different versions of your applications and various packages and libraries with a semantic version number. This number looks a little something like this: v1.2.3, where 1 would be the major version of your application, 2 would be the minor version, and 3 would be the patch version.

  • Major Versions - All the versions within a particular major version should be backwards compatible with other minor and patch versions. Incrementing this typically tells other developers using your package that you have made some breaking changes to how your package works.
  • Minor Versions - Developers tend to increment minor versions of their package or application when they have added new functionality, or new features to the package whilst maintaining backwards compatibility within the rest of the application.
  • Patch Versions - Patch versions are typically used for general bug-fixes. If a developer notices a slight issue or bug within their application, they can fix the issue whilst again ensuring backwards compatibility and then increment the patch version by one to indicate new bug fixes.

Note - You can find the original proposal for versioned Go modules here: Proposal: Version Go Modules

The Problem

Imagine you are developing a Go service that has a number of key dependencies such as package A. Now, at the time of writing your service package A has a set interface and works in a set way.

However, what happens when the maintainers of package A update their program to fix a bug or extend functionality? You might get lucky and their changes might not impact your application, however, you might be unlucky and these changes subsequently break your application.

This is where versioning comes in to save the day. By using versioning, we can select the precise versions of a package or library that we wish to use and ensure that whenever we build our package, it always uses the specified version.

A Simple Example

In this part of the tutorial, we are going to build an simple Go package which will use Go Modules to handle dependencies.

Let’s start by creating a new project in which our application can run called go-modules-test/:

$ mkdir -p go-modules-test
$ cd go-modules-test

Next, within this, we are going to want to initialize our project to use modules. We can do this using the go mod init command and specifying a placeholder github repo link.

$ go mod init github.com/tutorialedge/go-modules-test

This will go away and generate a go.mod file which will contain all of our Go application’s dependencies.

Once you have done this, create a new file within your project directory called main.go.

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    fmt.Println("Hello World")

Let’s verify everything is working at this point by trying to run our simple Go applications:

$ go run main.go
Hello World

Adding Dependencies To Your Project

Now that we have a basic project initialized and using go modules, let’s take this a step further and look at how we can introduce new dependencies into our codebase.

For the purpose of this tutorial, we are going to be importing a custom Go package called "github.com/elliotforbes/test-package" which has a number of features that will allow us to become more familiar with the more advanced practices of dependency management with Go modules.

At the top of your main.go file, let’s start by importing this new package. After this has been imported, let’s look at using some of the functions that are declared within that package:

package main

import (

    sample "github.com/elliotforbes/test-package"

func main() {
    fmt.Println("Hello World")

Now that we have added that package to the list of imports at the top of our program, we can then try to use some of the

$ go run main.go
go: finding github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v2.0.0
go: downloading github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v2.0.0
go: extracting github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v2.0.0
Hello World
Version 2.0 of this Function
Hello World

Awesome, we have been able to define a really simple Go application that uses Go modules and import an external dependency for use within said Go application!

Handling Major and Minor Versions

As it stands, when our application imports the package: "github.com/elliotforbes/test-package", it’ll import the latest version to start with. If we wanted fine grained control over what versions we import then we can define the precise versions we need within our go.mod file:

module github.com/TutorialEdge/go-modules-tutorial

go 1.12

require github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v2.0.0

When we once again go to run this after modifying the version from v2.0.0 to v1.0.0 of our package, we should see the following:

$ go run main.go
go: finding github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v1.0.0
go: downloading github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v1.0.0
go: extracting github.com/elliotforbes/test-package v1.0.0
Hello World
Version 1.0 of this Function
Hello World

We have successfully been able to define the exact version of the package we want to use in our production environment. This again gives us greater confidence in what we are releasing and ensures that when we finally push our application into production environments, it doesn’t break catastrophically on us due to the underlying package changing without our knowledge.


I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and it has given you some insight into how you can use Modules within your own Go applications.