About gomplate

I released gomplate version 1.6.0 (here) a couple weeks ago. It was a fairly big release, as these things go, but I realized that I haven’t ever really introduced gomplate formally. So this post is an attempt to describe what it is, why I thought it needed to exist, and what’s happened with it over the last year and a half.

And now, some history…

I’m a big fan of Docker, and I’ve been using it for a few years, and trying to wrap most programs I use as Docker images. When you’re dockerizing all the things, you start needing to write a lot of shims and glue for programs that weren’t really designed to be run in a container in the first place.

So as I’m sure most people have done in this situation, I began writing lots of shell scripts. I wanted to mostly stick to 12-factor principles, and so there was lots of passing config through environment variables, and then mutating config files to apply those variables.

To feed variables in, I generally used envsubst, which is pretty much perfect for taking a file containing something like name=${NAME}, and turning it into name=foo. Things went pretty well until I started encountering files where shell-style variables had special meaning (like, for example, in shell scripts). I resorted to some pretty nasty sed scripts for a short time, but I hoped there would be something better out there.

Meanwhile, I had been playing around with Go, mostly helping out with the Docker Machine project, and one feature that I really like about the language was the text/template package. Essentially it’s a templating language built in to the Go standard library. An example of how docker-machine uses it is:

$ docker-machine ls --format '{{ .Name }} is running {{ .DockerVersion }}'
gallium is running v17.05.0-ce
mercury is running v17.04.0-ce
tin is running v17.05.0-ce

(the template is the text passed to --format)

I really liked the format, and so I set out to find a commandline tool that could render templates using text/template. I couldn’t find any obvious candidates (though I’ve since discovered that alternatives did exist), so I decided to go off and write my own…

Version 0.0.1

I spent a few hours one cold Saturday morning, and came up with v0.0.1. At the time, I named it templater for lack of a better name. I messaged my friend and colleague Drew MacInnis, and told him about it - he forked it almost immediately and started playing with it, and then we started talking about names:

DH: can you think of a better name for it?

DM: No 💡 yet… goenvsubst seems bland…

DH: yeah… gontemplation was the best I could come up with so far, but it’s a bit contrived

DM: gollumplater… yes, precious 😉

DH: lol

DM: gomplate?

DH: Nice. Sold.

My thanks certainly goes out to Drew for what I think is an awesome name!

The early versions…

Over the next few months I started to add functionality, in the form of built-in functions. One of the coolest things about Go templates is that you can attach pretty much any function you want, and then use it in the template.

One big thing that happened early on was gomplate started becoming cloud-aware. It gained the ability to interface with AWS’s APIs, so that I could include the name of the EC2 region where gomplate was running. This meant that I didn’t have to tell it explicitly which region it was in (and risk getting it wrong – something that’s happened more times than I’d care to admit…).

A pile of other EC2-related functions were added, and then some string-manipulation functions, including the ability to parse JSON strings and deal with lists.


In the spring of 2016, I decided that gomplate needed to learn how to read data from places other than environment variables and cloud APIs.

At first I really just wanted the ability to read a JSON file from the local filesystem, but it became clear that I’d need to support remote files too at some point, so I chose to use URIs as the generic interface.

Long story short, the new datasource function and --datasource commandline argument landed in v0.5.0.

To 1.0 and beyond

In July, I decided to finally declare that gomplate was “complete” (ha!) and released version 1.0.0:

Obviously it wasn’t complete…

Vault support

One nifty feature introduced in v1.2.0 is support for using HashiCorp’s Vault as a datasource. This means that gomplate can be used to safely inject secrets into config files, among other things.

As an aside, an interesting pattern that has emerged is to use gomplate instead of the vault client, something like this:

eval $(echo '
    export A_SECRET={{(datasource "vault" "secret1").value}};
    export ANOTHER_SECRET={{(datasource "vault" "secret2").value}};
  ' | gomplate -d vault=vault:///secret/mysecrets/)
echo "the secrets are $A_SECRET and $ANOTHER_SECRET"

While it’s a bit more clunky than the equivalent vault read calls would be, it allows direct access to more complex objects stored in Vault, and the binary is smaller (vault is ~50MB vs the slim gomplate build around ~3.5MB) – this is important when building and shipping Docker images around the Internet!

Packaging gomplate

Along the way, it became clear that pulling binaries from GitHub’s releases page isn’t always ideal. There’s a reason that package managers exist!

And so, around the time I released 1.2.0, I added a Homebrew “tap” for use on macOS, so it can be installed with just:

$ brew tap hairyhenderson/tap
$ brew install gomplate

Maybe when gomplate really hits the mainstream, I won’t have to maintain a separate tap 😉.

Later on, I packaged gomplate for Alpine Linux, which is a fantastically small Linux distro which is heavily used as a base for Docker containers. Since gomplate is quite often used inside a container, it only made sense!

And, while I’m talking about Docker, I probably shouldn’t forget to mention that there is a gomplate image on DockerHub.

Always keep releasing…

Since then, there have been a number of new functions added, some small features (like the ability to choose template delimiters other than the default {{/}}), and a number of performance improvements.

Along the way, a number of excellent people joined the effort (8, to be exact, not counting a bot), and some really useful features landed. And so I got around to releasing 1.6.0.

The main highlights in 1.6.0 are:

The biggest highlight for me though has been the involvement of more and more new users and contributors; it’s incredibly satisfying to see a community start to form, and to know that people are getting value out of something I work on in my spare time.

The future!

I hope the future holds at least a 1.7.0 version - at the time I’m writing this, it’s been almost 20 days since 1.6.0 and there are at least 15 changes since then…

Broadly, though, I’m hoping to do more with gomplate: - more (and better) documentation - more packages for linux distros and other OSes - more support for cloud providers (that aren’t AWS)!

Finally, if you’ve made it this far without getting bored, thank you! And if you haven’t yet, go ahead and throw a ⭐️ at gomplate!

comments powered by Disqus