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How to use a fork of the Go compiler with Nix

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Sometimes God is dead and you need to build something with a different version of Go than upstream released. Juggling multiple Go toolchains is possible, but it's not very elegant.

However, we're in Nix land. We can do anything*.

Aoi is coffee
<Aoi> *with sufficent hackery.

I got accepted to Gophercon EU and a lot of it involves doing weird things with WebAssembly and messing with assumptions people make about how filesystems work. Given that most of my audience is going to be Go programmers and that I'm already going to be cognitively complicating how core assumptions about filesystems work, I want to show my code examples in Go when at all possible.

Go doesn't currently support WASI, but there is a CL in progress that adds the port under the name GOARCH=wasm GOOS=wasip1. I wanted to pull this into my monorepo's Nix flake so that I can run gowasi build foo.go and get foo.wasm in the same folder to experiment with.

Mara is hacker
<Mara> A CL in the Go ecosystem is a change list or change log. You can think about it as analogous to a pull request in GitHub.

Turns out this is really easy. In order to do this, you need to do three things:

  • Add a flake input for the fork of Go in question
  • Create a build of Go with that fork and a fabricated VERSION file
  • Create the wrapper script and populate it in your devShell

Add a flake input

Nix flake inputs don't let you just import other Nix flakes; they also can be used for any git repository, such as the Go source tree. To create an input with an arbitrary fork of Go (such as Xe/go), do this:

# go + wasip1
wasigo = {
  url = "github:Xe/go/wasip1-wasm";
  flake = false;

The important part is flake = false, that tells Nix to treat it as a raw repository and not assume that it's a Nix flake. The wasigo variable can be used as the path to the extracted tarball and will contain the following attributes:

  • lastModified - The last modified time for the git repo in unix time
  • lastModifiedDate - The last modified time in datetime format
  • narHash - The Nix ARchive hash in base64-sha256 form
  • outPath - The Nix store path associated with this flake input
  • rev - The full git hash for this flake input
  • shortRev - The short form of the git hash

Add it as an argument to your outputs function.

Build a custom toolchain

It's common to declare a bunch of variables that your flake uses immediately inside your outputs function like this, so I'm going to assume that you are doing this. Add a variable for your Go fork (eg: wasigo'):

wasigo' = pkgs.go_1_20.overrideAttrs (old: {
  src = pkgs.runCommand "gowasi-version-hack" { } ''
    mkdir -p $out
    echo "go-wasip1-dev-${wasigo.shortRev}" > $out/VERSION
    cp -vrf ${wasigo}/* $out

Aoi is wut
<Aoi> Why are you using a ' and calling it wasigo-prime?
Cadey is enby
<Cadey> If I don't name it something else, I will create an infinitely recursive definition. Nix is lazy and only evaluates things when it needs to. Making a binding called wasigo and using the name wasigo inside that will create infinite recursion when it is evaluated. I don't know of a better name for this, but a common pattern in Nix land is to use primes (') for distinct values with the same name. Just like in Haskell.
Aoi is wut
<Aoi> What about that VERSION file, what's that there for?
Cadey is enby
<Cadey> That is there to tell the Go compiler toolchain what version it is. When you clone a git repository into the Nix store, all of the git metadata is purged from the checkout (because it's not byte-for-byte reproducible and random changes there could cause unwanted rebuilds of a lot of packages). If the VERSION file doesn't exist, the Go toolchain will try to discover what version it is from the git metadata, which doesn't exist. This file lies to the toolchain so that builds work.
Aoi is cheer
<Aoi> I see, thanks!

Make a wrapper script

In many cases, you can just add wasigo' to your devShell buildInputs and you'll be fine. In this case, we want to have a separate command that pre-configures the GOOS and GOARCH environment variables to target WASI. The pkgs.writeScriptBin trivial builder lets you write an arbitrary string to the Nix store as a binary. You can use this to create a wrapper script:

gowasi = pkgs.writeShellScriptBin "gowasi" ''
  export GOOS=wasip1
  export GOARCH=wasm
  exec ${wasigo'}/bin/go $*

This will create a file named bin/gowasi in a Nix package that will set the correct environment variables and then execute the version of Go that was just compiled. It will look something like this:

export GOOS=wasip1
export GOARCH=wasm
exec /nix/store/px67cnp39lzynhknqqjjn9c3b838qnw9-go-1.20.2/bin/go $*

Mimi is happy
<Mimi> The exec builtin command in Bash is used to execute a command that completely replaces the current shell process. The original shell process is destroyed and overwritten by the new command. Any commands after the exec command in the script do not get executed.

And then you can go off to the races and compile things to your heart's content!

Overriding buildGoModule for that version of Go

If you want to build go modules using this version of Go, you need to make your own buildGoModule analog:

buildGoWasiModule = pkgs.callPackage "${nixpkgs}/pkgs/build-support/go/module.nix" {
  go = wasigo';

Then use buildGoWasiModule like you would buildGoModule.

To force it to build webassembly modules, you will need to override the GOOS and GOARCH attributes in wasigo':

wasigo' = {
  # ...
} // {
  GOOS = "wasip1";
  GOARCH = "wasm";

This will force the Go compiler to output WebAssembly binaries, but they will be put in $out/bin/wasmp1_wasm/name without the .wasm suffix. This may not be ideal in some cases, but this is a limitation in how GOEXE is not correctly threaded through the buildGoModule stack when it is hacked like this.

This article was posted on M03 28 2023. Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Tags: golang nix

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