The Go Blog

By Jay Conrod 18 February 2021

Jay Conrod
18 February 2021

We hope you're enjoying Go 1.16! This release has a lot of new features, especially for modules. The release notes describe these changes briefly, but let's explore a few of them in depth.

Modules on by default

The go command now builds packages in module-aware mode by default, even when no go.mod is present. This is a big step toward using modules in all projects.

It's still possible to build packages in GOPATH mode by setting the GO111MODULE environment variable to off. You can also set GO111MODULE to auto to enable module-aware mode only when a go.mod file is present in the current directory or any parent directory. This was previously the default. Note that you can set GO111MODULE and other variables permanently with go env -w:

go env -w GO111MODULE=auto

We plan to drop support for GOPATH mode in Go 1.17. In other words, Go 1.17 will ignore GO111MODULE. If you have projects that do not build in module-aware mode, now is the time to migrate. If there is a problem preventing you from migrating, please consider filing an issue or an experience report.

No automatic changes to go.mod and go.sum

Previously, when the go command found a problem with go.mod or go.sum like a missing require directive or a missing sum, it would attempt to fix the problem automatically. We received a lot of feedback that this behavior was surprising, especially for commands like go list that don't normally have side effects. The automatic fixes weren't always desirable: if an imported package wasn't provided by any required module, the go command would add a new dependency, possibly triggering upgrades of common dependencies. Even a misspelled import path would result in a (failed) network lookup.

In Go 1.16, module-aware commands report an error after discovering a problem in go.mod or go.sum instead of attempting to fix the problem automatically. In most cases, the error message recommends a command to fix the problem.

$ go build
example.go:3:8: no required module provides package golang.org/x/net/html; to add it: go get golang.org/x/net/html
$ go get golang.org/x/net/html
$ go build

As before, the go command may use the vendor directory if it's present (see Vendoring for details). Commands like go get and go mod tidy still modify go.mod and go.sum, since their main purpose is to manage dependencies.

Installing an executable at a specific version

The go install command can now install an executable at a specific version by specifying an @version suffix.

go install golang.org/x/tools/gopls@v0.6.5

When using this syntax, go install installs the command from that exact module version, ignoring any go.mod files in the current directory and parent directories. (Without the @version suffix, go install continues to operate as it always has, building the program using the version requirements and replacements listed in the current module’s go.mod.)

We used to recommend go get -u program to install an executable, but this use caused too much confusion with the meaning of go get for adding or changing module version requirements in go.mod. And to avoid accidentally modifying go.mod, people started suggesting more complex commands like:

cd $HOME; GO111MODULE=on go get program@latest

Now we can all use go install program@latest instead. See go install for details.

In order to eliminate ambiguity about which versions are used, there are several restrictions on what directives may be present in the program's go.mod file when using this install syntax. In particular, replace and exclude directives are not allowed, at least for now. In the long term, once the new go install program@version is working well for enough use cases, we plan to make go get stop installing command binaries. See issue 43684 for details.

Module retraction

Have you ever accidentally published a module version before it was ready? Or have you discovered a problem right after a version was published that needed to be fixed quickly? Mistakes in published versions are difficult to correct. To keep module builds deterministic, a version cannot be modified after it is published. Even if you delete or change a version tag, proxy.golang.org and other proxies probably already have the original cached.

Module authors can now retract module versions using the retract directive in go.mod. A retracted version still exists and can be downloaded (so builds that depend on it won't break), but the go command won’t select it automatically when resolving versions like @latest. go get and go list -m -u will print warnings about existing uses.

For example, suppose the author of a popular library example.com/lib releases v1.0.5, then discovers a new security issue. They can add a directive to their go.mod file like the one below:

// Remote-triggered crash in package foo. See CVE-2021-01234.
retract v1.0.5

Next, the author can tag and push version v1.0.6, the new highest version. After this, users that already depend on v1.0.5 will be notified of the retraction when they check for updates or when they upgrade a dependent package. The notification message may include text from the comment above the retract directive.

$ go list -m -u all
example.com/lib v1.0.0 (retracted)
$ go get .
go: warning: example.com/lib@v1.0.5: retracted by module author: Remote-triggered crash in package foo. See CVE-2021-01234.
go: to switch to the latest unretracted version, run: go get example.com/lib@latest

For an interactive, browser-based guide, check out Retract Module Versions on play-with-go.dev. See the retract directive docs for syntax details.

Controlling version control tools with GOVCS

The go command can download module source code from a mirror like proxy.golang.org or directly from a version control repository using git, hg, svn, bzr, or fossil. Direct version control access is important, especially for private modules that aren't available on proxies, but it's also potentially a security problem: a bug in a version control tool may be exploited by a malicious server to run unintended code.

Go 1.16 introduces a new configuration variable, GOVCS, which lets the user specify which modules are allowed to use specific version control tools. GOVCS accepts a comma-separated list of pattern:vcslist rules. The pattern is a path.Match pattern matching one or more leading elements of a module path. The special patterns public and private match public and private modules (private is defined as modules matched by patterns in GOPRIVATE; public is everything else). The vcslist is a pipe-separated list of allowed version control commands or the keyword all or off.

For example:

GOVCS=github.com:git,evil.com:off,*:git|hg

With this setting, modules with paths on github.com can be downloaded using git; paths on evil.com cannot be downloaded using any version control command, and all other paths (* matches everything) can be downloaded using git or hg.

If GOVCS is not set, or if a module does not match any pattern, the go command uses this default: git and hg are allowed for public modules, and all tools are allowed for private modules. The rationale behind allowing only Git and Mercurial is that these two systems have had the most attention to issues of being run as clients of untrusted servers. In contrast, Bazaar, Fossil, and Subversion have primarily been used in trusted, authenticated environments and are not as well scrutinized as attack surfaces. That is, the default setting is:

GOVCS=public:git|hg,private:all

See the Controlling version control tools with GOVCS for more details.

What's next?

We hope you find these features useful. We're already hard at work on the next set of module features for Go 1.17, particularly lazy module loading, which should make the module loading process faster and more stable. As always, if you run into new bugs, please let us know on the issue tracker. Happy coding!