Notes on using Go to write gitbackup

gitbackup is a tool to backup your git repositories from GitHub and GitLab. I wrote the initial version as a project for a go article which is in review for publication in a Linux magazine. It supports GitHub enterprise installations and custom GitLab installations in addition to repositories on and It's written in Golang, and built upon go-github and go-gitlab and other third party golang packages.

Since the initial version, the project's code has seen number of changes which has been a learning experience for me since I am still fairly new to Go. In the rest of this post, I describe these and some personal notes about the experience.

Using afero for filesystem operations

gitbackup needs to do some basic filesystem operations - create directories and check for existence of directories. In the initial version, I was using the os package directly which meant any test invoking the code which performed these operations were actually performing those on the underlying filesystem. I could of course perform cleanup after these tests so that my filesystem would not remain polluted. However, then I decided to check what afero had to offer. It had exactly what I needed - a memory backed filesystem (NewMemMapFs).This section in the project homepage was all I needed to switch to using afero instead of os package drirectly. And hence I didn't need to worry about cleaning up my filesystem after a test run or worry about starting from a known clean state!

To show some code, this is the git diff of introducing afero and switching out direct use of os:

diff --git a/src/gitbackup/main.go b/src/gitbackup/main.go
index 500d9a2..6e71beb 100644
--- a/src/gitbackup/main.go
+++ b/src/gitbackup/main.go
@@ -3,6 +3,7 @@ package main
 import (
+       ""
@@ -14,6 +15,7 @@ import (

 var execCommand = exec.Command
+var appFS = afero.NewOsFs()
 var gitCommand = "git"

 // Check if we have a copy of the repo already, if
@@ -22,7 +24,7 @@ func backUp(backupDir string, repo *Repository, wg *sync.WaitGroup) ([]byte, err
        defer wg.Done()

        repoDir := path.Join(backupDir, repo.Name)
-       _, err := os.Stat(repoDir)
+       _, err := appFS.Stat(repoDir)

        var stdoutStderr []byte
        if err == nil {
@@ -83,7 +85,7 @@ func main() {
        } else {
                *backupDir = path.Join(*backupDir, *service)
-       _, err := os.Stat(*backupDir)
+       _, err := appFS.Stat(*backupDir)
        if err != nil {
                log.Printf("%s doesn't exist, creating it\n", *backupDir)
                err := os.MkdirAll(*backupDir, 0771)

When we declare appFS above outside all functions, it becomes a package level variable and we set it to NewOsFs() and replace function calls such as os.Stat by appFS.Stat(). Since the variable name starts with a small letter, this variable is not visible outside the package.

Then, in the test, I will do:

appFS = afero.NewMemMapFs()

Hence, all operations will happen in the memory based filesystem rather than the "real" underlying filesystem.

Testing shell commands

One of the first roadblocks to writing tests I faced was how to test functions which were invoking external programs (git in this case). This post here titled Testing os/exec.Command had my answer. However, it took me a while to correctly apply it. And that post is still the reference if you want to understand what's going on.

Here's basically what I did:

var execCommand = exec.Command

func backUp(backupDir string, repo *Repository, wg *sync.WaitGroup) ([]byte, error) {
    if err == nil {
        cmd := execCommand(gitCommand, "-C", repoDir, "pull")
    } else {
        cmd := execCommand(gitCommand, "clone", repo.GitURL, repoDir)

We declare a package variable, execCommand which is intialized with exec.Command from the os/exec package. Then, in the tests, I do the following:

func TestHelperCloneProcess(t *testing.T) {
    if os.Getenv("GO_WANT_HELPER_PROCESS") != "1" {
    // Check that git command was executed
    if os.Args[3] != "git" || os.Args[4] != "clone" {
        fmt.Fprintf(os.Stdout, "Expected git clone to be executed. Got %v", os.Args[3:])

func fakeCloneCommand(command string, args ...string) (cmd *exec.Cmd) {
    cs := []string{"", "--", command}
    cs = append(cs, args...)
    cmd = exec.Command(os.Args[0], cs...)
    cmd.Env = []string{"GO_WANT_HELPER_PROCESS=1"}
    return cmd

execCommand = fakeCloneCommand
stdoutStderr, err := backUp(backupDir, &repo, &wg)

The above is a test for the case where a repository is being backed up for the first time via git clone. In the test, before I call the backUp() function which actually executes the command, I set execCommand = fakeCloneCommand so to that execCommand doesn't point to os.execCommand any more. fakeCloneCommand, instead of executing git clone executes TestHelperCloneProcess, where we also check if the command being attempted to execute was git clone.

We similarly test the operation of a repository's backup being updated via git pull.

Switching from gb to standard go tooling

When I was started to write gitbackup, I was still in two minds about whether I like the idea of the standard go tools' requirements of having every Go project in $GOPATH. Hence, I decided to go with gb because it removed that requirement, as well as allowed me to have a easy way to vendor the third party dependencies and manage them.

However, as I worked on gitbackup and was finally close to having release binaries, I decided to move away from using gb and also try out go dep for dependency management.

This involved two steps. The first was moving all the source from src/gitbackup to the top level directory (commit). Then, I removed the vendor directory created by gb (commit), and used dep init to create a new vendor directory, the lock.json file and manifest.json file. And that's all!

Creating release binaries

At this stage, gitbackup could be installed with go get, but I wanted to have binaries made available with the 0.1 release. I looked at a few alternatives, but finally I decided upon a bash script (copied from the fish script of oklog).

The following script snippet builds binaries for multiple OS and architectures:

for pair in linux/386 linux/amd64 linux/arm linux/arm64 darwin/amd64 dragonfly/amd64 freebsd/amd64 netbsd/amd64 openbsd/amd64 windows/amd64; do
        GOOS=`echo $pair | cut -d'/' -f1`
        GOARCH=`echo $pair | cut -d'/' -f2`

I was very excited about being able to build binaries for different operating systems and architectures via go build!

Setting up continious testing for Linux, OS X and Windows

I also setup Travis CI for running the tests on Linux and OS X:

language: go
  - linux
  - osx
  - 1.7
  - 1.8

install: true
      - cd $GOPATH/src/
      - go build
      - go test -v

For running tests on Windows via Appveyor, I have the following appveyor.yml:

version: "{build}"

# Source Config
clone_folder: c:\gopath\src\\amitsaha\gitbackup

# Build host

  GOPATH: c:\gopath
    - environment:
      GOVERSION: 1.7.5
    - environment:
      GOVERSION: 1.8

# Build

  # Install the specific Go version.
  - rmdir c:\go /s /q
  - appveyor DownloadFile
  - msiexec /i /q
  - set Path=c:\go\bin;c:\gopath\bin;%Path%
  - go version
  - go env

build: off

  - cd c:\gopath\src\\amitsaha\gitbackup
  - go build -o bin\gitbackup.exe
  - go test -v

Ending notes

gitbackup is mainly an educational project to build a tool which I and hopefully others find useful. I wanted to have reasonable test coverage for it, release binaries for multiple operating systems and architecture and have continuous testing setup on multiple operatng systems. So far, all of these has been successfully achieved.I am looking forward to using go dep more as I get a chance and also happy about making gitbackup compatible with standard go tools out of the box.

If you get a chance, please try it out and I welcome any feedback and contributions!