24 Feb 2015

Packaging Go Microservices for AWS Deployment using CircleCI

Most of LaunchDarkly’s backend systems are written in Go. We have a microservice-based architecture, so we have about 10 distinct standalone binaries (either web services or asynchronous worker processes) that we deploy to AWS.

We have a small engineering team, so it’s important that we can package and deploy our code with minimal overhead. Out of the box, Go provides an amazing set of tools that make this manageable, but we found we needed to hunt around to fill in a few gaps in the toolchain. Here are the extra tools we use to get our Go code packaged and ready for deployment.

Repeatable builds with Godep

One of the first issues we saw with Go was that out of the box, the go tool doesn’t give you any way to version dependencies. This seems like a big oversight to me, but perhaps it makes more sense in a world where you have one monolithic repository.

At any rate, we have code in about 20 distinct repositories, so versioned dependencies and repeatable builds are essential for us. We use Godep to handle versioning in our Go builds.

Godep is fairly simple. godep save stores version metadata (for us, git sha’s) for your dependencies into a Godeps/Godep.json file in your repository root. It also stores all your dependency sources in a Godeps/_workspace directory. You commit this entire directory structure including the _workspace into your repository. Instead of running go build, you compile with godep go build. When you want to update a dependency, do so in your normal go path and then invoke godep update IMPORT_PATH. Simple and effective.

One thing that wasn’t obvious to us was how to structure “library” packages to work best with go and godep. By that, I mean repositories that consist of several packages that aren’t necessarily tied together with a top-level “main” package. We have a repository that serves as our ubiquitous “bucket” of essential utility code. We call it foundation, and it has packages for things like epoch times and richer error types. The directory structure for foundation looks like this:

There’s no go source in the top-level of the repository, so go build complains:

The right thing to do is to point go to each of the package subdirectories:

Typing ./... is pretty thoroughly ingrained into our muscle memories now. We have to type it every time we build our foundation, as well as every time we want to do a wholesale update of all the foundation packages in a dependent repository: godep update github.com/launchdarkly/foundation/...

Cross compiling

Go compiles to machine code, so binaries are platform-dependent. We do all our local development on OS X, but for staging and production we need to build Linux targets. Again, reproducible builds are important to us– we want to be able to build our production artifacts for Linux on our OS X boxes if necessary. For that, we use a cross-compilation tool called goxc.

goxc is pretty straightforward to set up. We store our configuration in .goxc.json files in each of our repositories. For a simple worker or web service, our .goxc.json files look like this:

This simple configuration runs the cross compiler and packages a .tar.gz archive of our binary. The BuildConstraints line uses Go’s build constraints notation— the line we use compiles for Linux and OS X, but disables Linux ARM (which we don’t need to target). The GOPATH setting took a bit of figuring out– goxc lets you specify a template format including variables like the current working directory (PWD), a platform specific path separator (PS) and path list separater (PLS), etc. Our GOPATH setting points goxc to our Godeps directory and falls back to our environment-specified GOPATH. The Godeps directory alone might be preferable– ensuring that your build doesn’t depend on local copies of packages:

Another useful trick that we use is to pass a build-ldflags flag to goxc. We use this to inject a git SHA into our binaries in a Version variable. This makes it extremely easy to figure out *exactly* what version of a service is running at runtime. Versions for us are just git SHAs– we don’t bother with the overhead of maintaining semantic version numbers for our services. In our Go code, all we have to do is this:

Once we’ve got this, we wrap up our goxc invocation into a small script called package.sh that sets the VERSION variable to our current git sha:

When built locally with go build or godep go build, the Version is set to "DEV", but the packaged binary will overwrite the variable with a git SHA.

CircleCI setup

Notice how we set the destination directory for our archive based on the $CIRCLE_ARTIFACTS environment variable. We use CircleCI to build our binaries. The symlink trickery we do is necessary to make our “library” repositories build on CircleCI– by default, checked-out repositories on Circle don’t seem to be part of the Gopath. Here’s what a basic circle.yml setup looks like for most of our workers:

Uploading artifacts

We use ansible for our deploy scripts, and they’re set up to pull artifacts from S3. All of our Circle builds run the following upload_to_s3.sh script:

This script should be pretty re-usable– change the service and bucket names, and enter your S3_KEY and S3_SECRET into CircleCI’s environment variables, and you’re good to go. We tell CircleCI to upload the artifacts as part of a “deployment” step (even though we don’t use CircleCI to actually deploy to EC2):

Again, you can customize this– for example, you may only want to push artifacts built from master to S3.

Conclusion

None of this was incredibly complex, and that’s a testament to how good the Go tooling is out of the box. Going from an empty repository to a new Go microservice running in production is remarkably easy. In fact, it’s so easy that we’ve automated it (well, everything except writing the actual service). We’ve created a giter8 template (open-sourced on GitHub that sets up a simple Go program with goxc cross-compilation, CircleCI tests and artifact packaging, and S3 artifact upload:

Once you’ve configured your build on CircleCI (including setting the S3_KEY and S3_SECRET environment variables) and pushed your new repository to GitHub, you’ll see artifacts uploaded to your S3 bucket. From there, we use ansible scripts (which I haven’t covered in this post) to actually deploy artifacts onto EC2 instances.


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John Kodumal
CTO & Co-Founder at LaunchDarkly
John was a development manager at Atlassian, where he led engineering for the Atlassian Marketplace. Prior to that he was an architect at Coverity, where he worked on static and dynamic analysis algorithms. He has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in programming languages and type systems, and a BS from Harvey Mudd College. He climbs rocks, ice, small boulders, and the occasional building.