ANN: Overlay Hackage Package Index for GHC HEAD

Herbert Valerio Riedel hvriedel at
Mon Sep 18 12:04:17 UTC 2017

Hi GHC devs,

A long-standing common problem when testing/dogfooding GHC HEAD is that
at some point during the development cycle more and more packages from
Hackage will run into build failures.

Obviously, constantly nagging upstream maintainers to release quickfixes
for unreleased GHC HEAD snapshots which will likely break again a few
weeks later (as things are generally in flux until freeze comes into
effect) does not scale and only introduces a latency/coordination
bottleneck, and on top of it ultimately results in spamming the primary
Hackage Package index with releases (which has non-negligible negative
impact/costs of its own on the Hackage infrastructure, and thus ought to
be minimised).

OTOH, we need the ability to easily test, debug, profile, and prototype
changes to GHC HEAD while things are still in motion, and case in point,
if you try to e.g. build `pandoc` with GHC HEAD today, you'll currently
run into a dozen or so of packages not building with GHC HEAD.

To this end, I've finally found time to work on a side-project (related
to which implements a scheme tailored to
`cabal new-build`, which is inspired by how Eta copes with a very
related issue (they rely on it for stable versions of the compiler);
i.e., they maintain a set of patches at

which fix up existing Hackage packages to work with the Eta compiler.

And this gave me the idea to use a similar scheme for GHC HEAD:

This folder already contains several of patches (which mostly originate
from Ryan, Ben and myself) to packages which I needed to patch in order
to build popular Hackage packages & tools.

The main difference is how those patches are applied; Eta uses a
modified `cabal` which they renamed to `etlas` which is checks
availability of .patch & .cabal files in the GitHub repo linked above;

Whereas for GHC HEAD with `cabal new-build` a different scheme makes
more sense: we simply generate an add-on Hackage repo, and use the
existing `cabal` facilities (e.g. multi-repo support or the nix-style
package store which makes sure that unofficially patched packages don't
contaminate "normal" install-plans, etc.) to opt into the opt-in Hackage
repo containing fixed up packages.

I've tried to describe how to use the HEAD.hackage add-on repo in the

And finally, here's a practical example of how you can use it to build
e.g. the `pandoc` executable with GHC HEAD (can easily be adapted to
build your project of choice; please refer to
to learn more about how to describe your project via  `cabal.project`

0.) This assumes you have a recent cabal 2.1 snapshot built from Git 

1.) create & `cd` into a new work-folder

2.) invoke ` update` to update the HEAD.hackage index cache

3.) invoke ` init` to create an initial `cabal.project`
    configuration which locally activates the HEAD.hackage overlay repo

4.) If needed, edit the cabal.project file and change where GHC
    HEAD can be found (the script currently assumes GHC HEAD is
    installed from my Ubuntu PPA), e.g.
      with-compiler: /home/hvr/src/ghc-dev/inplace/bin/ghc-stage2

    or you can add something like `optional-packages: deps/*/*.cabal`
    to have cabal pick up package source-trees unpacked in the deps/
    folder, or you can inject ghc-options, relax upper bounds via
    `allow-newer: *:base` etc (please refer to the cabal user guide)
5.) Create a `dummy.cabal` file (in future we will have `cabal
    new-install` or other facilities, but for now we use this

--8<---------------cut here---------------start------------->8---
name:                dummy
version:             0
build-type:          Simple
cabal-version:       >=2.0
  default-language:    Haskell2010

  -- library components you want cabal to solve & build for
  -- and become accessible via .ghc.environment files and/or
  -- `cabal new-repl`
  build-depends: base, lens
  -- executable components you want cabal to build
  build-tool-depends: pandoc:pandoc
--8<---------------cut here---------------end--------------->8---

 6.) invoke `cabal new-build`

 7.) If everything works, you'll find the `pandoc:pandoc` executable
     somewhere in your ~/.cabal/store/ghc-8.3.*/ folder
     (you can use
      to conveniently list the location via `cabal-plan list-bins`)

 8.) As for libraries, you can either use `cabal new-repl`
     or you can leverage GHC's package environment files:

     `cabal new-build` will have generated a file like


     which brings into scope all transitive dependencies of
     `build-depends: base, lens`

     Now all you need to do is simply call

       ghc-stage2 --make MyTestProg.hs

     to compile a program against those libs, or start up GHCi via

       ghc-stage2 --interactive

     and you'll be thrown into that package environment.

I hope you find this useful


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