Go tooling essentials

New to the Go tools? Or do you want to expand your knowledge? This article is about the flags for the Go tools everyone should know.

Disclaimer: This article might be slightly biased. This is a collection of flags I personally use and flags people around me having trouble finding references for. If you have more ideas, ping me on Twitter.

$ go build -x

-x lists all the commands go build invokes.

If you are curious about the Go toolchain, or using a cross-C compiler and wondering about flags passed to the external compiler, or suspicious about a linker bug; use -x to see all the invocations.

$ go build -x
mkdir -p $WORK/hello/perf/_obj/
mkdir -p $WORK/hello/perf/_obj/exe/
cd /Users/jbd/src/hello/perf
/Users/jbd/go/pkg/tool/darwin_amd64/compile -o $WORK/hello/perf.a -trimpath $WORK -p main -complete -buildid bbf8e880e7dd4114f42a7f57717f9ea5cc1dd18d -D _/Users/jbd/src/hello/perf -I $WORK -pack ./perf.go
cd .
/Users/jbd/go/pkg/tool/darwin_amd64/link -o $WORK/hello/perf/_obj/exe/a.out -L $WORK -extld=clang -buildmode=exe -buildid=bbf8e880e7dd4114f42a7f57717f9ea5cc1dd18d $WORK/hello/perf.a
mv $WORK/hello/perf/_obj/exe/a.out perf

$ go build -gcflags

Used to pass flags to the Go compiler. go tool compile -help lists all the flags that can be passed to the compiler.

For example, to disable compiler optimizations and inlining, you can use the following the gcflags.

$ go build -gcflags="-N -l"

$ go test -v

It provides chatty output for the testing. It prints the test name, its status (failed or passed), how much it took to run the test, any logs from the test case, etc.

go test without the -v flag is highly quiet, I always use it with -v turned on. Sample output:

$ go test -v context
=== RUN   TestBackground
--- PASS: TestBackground (0.00s)
=== RUN   TestTODO
--- PASS: TestTODO (0.00s)
=== RUN   TestWithCancel
--- PASS: TestWithCancel (0.10s)
=== RUN   TestParentFinishesChild
--- PASS: TestParentFinishesChild (0.00s)
=== RUN   TestChildFinishesFirst
--- PASS: TestChildFinishesFirst (0.00s)
=== RUN   TestDeadline
--- PASS: TestDeadline (0.16s)
=== RUN   TestTimeout
--- PASS: TestTimeout (0.16s)
=== RUN   TestCanceledTimeout
--- PASS: TestCanceledTimeout (0.10s)
ok  	context	2.426s

$ go test -race

Go’s race detector is available from the Go tools via -race. go test also supports this flag and reports races. Use this flag during development to detect the races.

$ go test -run

You can filter tests to run by regex and the -run flag. The following command will only test examples.

$ go test -run=Example

$ go test -coverprofile

You can output a cover profile as you are testing a package, then use go tool to visualize them on a browser.

$ go test -coverprofile=c.out && go tool cover -html=c.out

The command above will create a coverage profile and open the results page in the browser. The visualized results will look like the page below:

context coverage

$ go test -exec

It is a lesser known feature in Go that you can intercept the tools with another program by using the -exec flag. This flag allows you to delegate some work to an external program from the Go tool.

A commonly required scenario for this flag is when you need more than just executing the tests on the host machine. The Android builder for Go, uses -exec to push the test binaries to an Android device by using adb and collects the results. Android exec program can be used as a reference.

$ go get -u

If you run go-get for a package that is already in your GOPATH, go-get is not going to update the package to its latest version. -u forces the tool to sync with the latest version of the repo.

If you are a library author, you might like to write your installation instructions with a -u flag, e.g. the way golint does.

$ go get -u github.com/golang/lint/golint

$ go get -d

If you just want to clone a repo to your GOPATH and skip the building and installation phase, use -d. It downloads the package and stops before trying to build or install it.

I often use it as a replacement for git clone for repos with vanity URLs, because it clones the repo to its proper GOPATH. For example,

$ go get -d golang.org/x/oauth2/...

will clone the package to $GOPATH/src/golang.org/x/oauth2. Given golang.org/x/oauth2 is a vanity URL, go-getting the repo is useful rather than trying to figure out where the actual repo is (go.googlesource.com/oauth2).

$ go get -t

If your package has additional dependencies for tests, -t will allow you to download them during go-get. If you don’t pass -t, go get will only download the dependencies for your non-test code.

$ go list -f

Allows you to list Go packages with a custom format. It is highly useful for writing bash scripts.

The following command will print the dependencies of the runtime package:

go list -f '{{.Deps}}' runtime
[runtime/internal/atomic runtime/internal/sys unsafe]

More formatting ideas can be found at Dave Cheney’s article on go list.