Building Golang With Bazel and Gazelle

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Amarachi Aso %
Amarachi Aso

The article examines the combined strengths of Bazel and Gazelle. Earthly’s caching mechanisms improve incremental builds and augment Bazel’s performance. Learn more about Earthly.

Bazel, an open source build system created by Google, offers fast and incremental builds for your project through advanced local and distributed caching. It’s popular due to its built-in support for multiple languages, extensibility, and ability to scale alongside your codebase, organization, and continuous integration (CI) systems.

Meanwhile, Gazelle is a build file–generation tool specifically designed for Bazel projects. It has native support for Golang (Go) and it can be extended to support new languages and custom rule sets.

Working with Bazel and Gazelle allows you to automate the build process and testing of your Go applications and significantly reduce the time it takes your application to build. This is because Bazel allows you to build only what has changed in your code since the last time you built your application.

In this article, you’ll learn about the basics of building Go using Bazel and Gazelle. You’ll learn how to prepare a workspace, run, and test it; and how to develop a basic application using Bazel. To follow along, you must be familiar with the basics of Golang and how the Golang build process works. You also need to have the latest version of Go installed on your system.

The code for this tutorial is available in this GitHub repo.

How Go and Bazel Work Together

Together

Bazel can be used to build a Go project of any size, and the go build command is often sufficient for small applications. However, if your Go project is considerably large, supports code generation, or is in the same repository as code written in other languages, these variables can add multiple layers of complexity to your build process and the go build command might not be sufficient.

For example, with complex projects, you may need to manage more than one build tool for various sections of your application, or you may be forced to spend too much time rebuilding your whole application every time you implement a new feature. The simple go build command cannot work with that level of complexity. However, Bazel can help simplify this process.

Bazel has native support for Go. You just need to load rules_go, the Go rules for using Bazel, and its dependencies onto your project. It’s important that you provide instructions on how to build all the subdirectories in your codebase containing Go src files, which can be written in the form of build files that Gazelle will automatically generate. The rules_go supports building libraries, binaries, and tests.

Build and Develop a Go Application with Bazel

In this section, you’ll build and develop a Go application with Bazel.

Install and Set Up Bazel and Gazelle

To install Bazel, follow the installation instructions for your operating system.

Once you’ve installed Bazel, Gazelle is easy to install. You just need to open a terminal and run the following command:

go install github.com/bazelbuild/bazel-gazelle/cmd/gazelle@latest

After installation, prior to running any gazelle commands, you need to make sure that your GOPATH/bin is added to $PATH. On Linux, you can do this with the following command:

export PATH="$PATH:$HOME/go/bin/"

Adding GOPATH/bin to $PATH is needed to ensure that the gazelle command can be executed from anywhere on your system without specifying the full path to the executable. GOPATH/bin is where gazelle is installed after you run go install github.com/bazelbuild/bazel-gazelle/cmd/gazelle

However, this will only stay valid while your current terminal session is still in use. Make sure you rerun this command after you close and reopen your terminal, or for a permanent solution, add GOPATH/bin to $PATH permanently.

Set Up the Project and Generate Build Files

Generate

The Go project you’ll be creating is a build process for a simple web application. It depends on a package greetings that returns a simple greeting or a map of greetings to different names.

The following is the directory structure for this application:

Go project directory structure

Download the starting project from this GitHub branch.

Or clone the repository and checkout to the branch before-bazel with the following command:

git clone https://github.com/Shulammite-Aso/bazel-demo-app.git \
&& cd bazel-demo-app && git checkout before-bazel

Once downloaded, it’s time to prepare the project for building with Bazel. To do so, create a WORKSPACE file on the root directory of this project. The existence of the WORKSPACE file lets Bazel know that the current directory is a Bazel project. The WORKSPACE file is also used to load project-specific dependencies and settings. Insert the following Starlark code in the WORKSPACE file:


load("@bazel_tools//tools/build_defs/repo:http.bzl", "http_archive")

http_archive(
    name = "io_bazel_rules_go",
    sha256 = "56d8c5a5c91e1af73eca71a6fab2ced959b67c86d12ba37feedb0a2dfea441a6",
    urls = [
        "https://mirror.bazel.build/github.com/bazelbuild/rules_go/releases/download/v0.37.0/rules_go-v0.37.0.zip",
        "https://github.com/bazelbuild/rules_go/releases/download/v0.37.0/rules_go-v0.37.0.zip",
    ],
)

http_archive(
    name = "bazel_gazelle",
    sha256 = "ecba0f04f96b4960a5b250c8e8eeec42281035970aa8852dda73098274d14a1d",
    urls = [
        "https://mirror.bazel.build/github.com/bazelbuild/bazel-gazelle/releases/download/v0.29.0/bazel-gazelle-v0.29.0.tar.gz",
        "https://github.com/bazelbuild/bazel-gazelle/releases/download/v0.29.0/bazel-gazelle-v0.29.0.tar.gz",
    ],
)


load("@io_bazel_rules_go//go:deps.bzl", "go_register_toolchains", \
"go_rules_dependencies")
load("@bazel_gazelle//:deps.bzl", "gazelle_dependencies", "go_repository")

############################################################
# Define your own dependencies here using go_repository.
# Else, dependencies declared by rules_go/gazelle will be used.
# The first declaration of an external repository "wins".
############################################################

go_rules_dependencies()

go_register_toolchains(version = "1.19.5")

gazelle_dependencies()

This code loads Bazel and Gazelle, as well as their dependencies, into your workspace. You can also find this code in the Gazelle documentation.

The following comment is seen in the Starlark code you just put into your WORKSPACE file:


############################################################
# Define your own dependencies here using go_repository.
# Else, dependencies declared by rules_go/gazelle will be used.
# The first declaration of an external repository "wins".
############################################################

As the comment suggests, you need to manually define or tell Bazel where it can find and download the external dependencies used in your project. You can define these dependencies manually using go_repository, or you can use Gazelle to define them (which you’ll do later in this tutorial).

Now you need to generate BUILD files for your src codes. In Bazel, every subdirectory containing src code can only be built when it contains a BUILD file named BUILD or BUILD.bazel.When a directory has this file, it’s considered a package by Bazel and can be built according to the instructions in the BUILD file.

Instead of manually creating and writing these files, you can generate them with Gazelle by running the following command from the root of your project and replacing github.com/example/project with the name of your project, which you can find in your go.mod file:

gazelle -go_prefix github.com/example/project

Once you run the previous command, you should have a BUILD.bazel file in all the subdirectories in your workspace. If you wish to double-check, examine the BUILD files and confirm that they import and define go_library, go_binary, and go_test as you would by hand when following the guide for writing BUILD files.

Build Your src Files and Run the Application

To build your src files, run the following Bazel command from the root of your project:

bazel build //...

You should get this error:


no such package '@com_github_gorilla_mux//': \
The repository '@com_github_gorilla_mux' could not be resolved: ……

This error message tells you that Bazel could not locate the package github.com/gorilla/mux because gorilla/mux is an external package, and there is no definition of how or where to load the package from.

Again, instead of writing this definition by hand, Gazelle can look into the go.mod file, find the path to all the external dependencies, and generate a .bzl file that contains a definition of your external dependencies.

To define your external dependencies, you’ll use the gazelle update-repo command. The flags on the following command tell Gazelle to import repositories from go.mod, update macro, and remove the go_repository rules that no longer have equivalent repos in the Gopkg.lock/go.mod file. You need to run this command from the root of your project:

gazelle update-repos -from_file=go.mod \
-to_macro=deps.bzl%go_dependencies -prune

This will create the file deps.bzl on the root directory.

Then run bazel build //... again. You should find that the previous error has been resolved; however, you’ll experience another issue:

ERROR: Error computing the main repository mapping: \
Every .bzl file must have a corresponding package, \
but '//:deps.bzl' does not have one. Please create a \
BUILD file in the same or any parent directory. Note \
that this BUILD file does not need to do anything except exist.

This tells you that you need to create a BUILD file in the same directory as the generated deps.bzl file. This file doesn’t need to do anything but exist, and you can create it with the following command:

touch BUILD.bazel

Rerun bazel build //..., and you should find that your build is running successfully.

In your project, a test has been written for the package greeting. Run the test on the greeting package with the following command:

bazel test //...

Your test should pass with the following output:

Test output

Before you finish, run your application with this Bazel command:

bazel run //cmd

This web application should now run with a log output on the terminal that says the following:

server started at port :5000

You can visit http://localhost:5000/greet and http://localhost:5000/greet-many to receive your greetings.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, you learned how Bazel and Gazelle can be used to build a Go application. You learned how to prepare the workspace, how to run the test, and how to develop a basic application using Bazel.

Bazel and Gazelle help simplify the build process in cases where there would have been multiple complex layers. In addition, it’s also significantly faster to build with Bazel since it doesn’t have to rebuild your whole project every time it runs.

Yet, while Bazel is a fantastic tool for building apps, and Gazelle a great tool for generating those build files, the combination can also be complex and intricate. It may be overkill for smaller projects or for teams that aren’t familiar with its intricacies. That’s where Earthly comes into the picture.

Earthly offers a simpler approach to building monorepos and containerization, focusing on streamlining the build process, maintaining a minimal setup, and promoting the use of best practices. It aims to simplify the build system and make it accessible for more developers, offering a potentially lower learning curve compared to Bazel. Earthly can handle both small and large projects, offering you scalability without the additional complexity.

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Amarachi Aso %
Amarachi Aso

I’m a fullstack software engineer, a writer and an open source enthusiast. In my free time, I enjoy watching comedy series and sci-fi movies.

Writers at Earthly work closely with our talented editors to help them create high quality tutorials. This article was edited by:
Mustapha Ahmad Ayodeji
Mustapha Ahmad Ayodeji

Ahmad is a Software developer and a Technical writer with so much interest for Django related frameworks.

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