1. How to package Haskell code


If this is your first time using cabal you should check out the Getting Started guide.

Starting from scratch, we’re going to walk you through creating a simple Haskell application.

TL;DR; mkdir proglet && cd proglet && cabal init --simple --exe && cabal run proglet

1.1. Introduction

Every application needs a name, we’ll call ours “proglet” and start by creating an empty directory.

$ mkdir proglet
$ cd proglet/

1.2. Using cabal init

The cabal init command creates the necessary files for a Cabal package, it has both an --interactive (default) and --non-interactive mode. The interactive mode will walk you through many of the package options and metadata, the non-interactive mode will simply pick reasonable defaults which is sufficient if you’re just trying something out.

$ cabal init --non-interactive
# You can also use -n which is the short version of --non-interactive

If you want, you can also try out the interactive mode, for now chose “Executable” when asked what type of package you want to build.

$ cabal init
What does the package build:
   1) Executable
   2) Library
   3) Library and Executable
   4) Test suite
Your choice?

One of the important questions is whether the package contains a library and/or an executable. Libraries are collections of Haskell modules that can be re-used by other Haskell libraries and programs, while executables are standalone programs. Test suites can both depend on a library or be standalone.

For the moment these are the only choices. For more complex packages (e.g. a library and multiple executables) the .cabal file can be edited afterwards.

After you make your selection (executable; library; library and executable; or: test suite) cabal asks us a number of questions starting with which version of the cabal specification to use, our package’s name (for example, “proglet”), and our package’s version.

Generating CHANGELOG.md...
Generating Main.hs...
Generating proglet.cabal...

Use the ls command to see the created files:

$ ls
CHANGELOG.md  Main.hs  proglet.cabal

1.3. Running the program

Now that we have our Haskell code and the extra files that Cabal needs, we can build and run our application.

$ cabal build
Resolving dependencies...
Linking /path/to/proglet ...

$ cabal run proglet
Hello, Haskell!

Since we have an executable we can use cabal run proglet which will build our executable (and re-build it if we’ve made any changes) and then run the binary. The cabal run command works for any component-name (tests for example), not just the main executable.

1.4. About the Cabal package structure

It is assumed that all the files that make up a package live under a common root directory (apart from external dependencies). This simple example has all the package files in one directory, but most packages use one or more subdirectories.

Cabal needs one extra file in the package’s root directory:

  • proglet.cabal: contains package metadata and build information.

1.5. Editing the .cabal file

Load up the .cabal file in a text editor. The first part of the .cabal file has the package metadata and towards the end of the file you will find the executable or library section.

You will see that the fields that have yet to be filled in are commented out. Cabal files use “--” Haskell-style comment syntax.


Comments are only allowed on lines on their own. Trailing comments on other lines are not allowed because they could be confused with program options.

executable proglet
  main-is: Main.hs
  -- other-modules:
  -- other-extensions:
  build-depends: base >=4.11 && <4.12
  -- hs-source-dirs:
  default-language: Haskell2010

If you selected earlier to create a library package then your .cabal file will have a section that looks like this:

  exposed-modules: MyLib
  -- other-modules:
  -- build-depends:
  build-depends: base >=4.11 && <4.12
  -- hs-source-dirs:
  default-language: Haskell2010

The build information fields listed (but commented out) are just the few most important and common fields. There are many others that are covered later in this chapter.

Most of the build information fields are the same between libraries and executables. The difference is that libraries have a number of “exposed” modules that make up the public interface of the library, while executables have a file containing a Main module.

The name of a library always matches the name of the package, so it is not specified in the library section. Executables often follow the name of the package too, but this is not required and the name is given explicitly.

1.6. Modules included in the package

For an executable, cabal init creates the Main.hs file which contains your program’s Main module. It will also fill in the executable:main-is field with the file name of your program’s Main module, including the .hs (or .lhs) extension. Other modules included in the executable should be listed in the other-modules field.

For a library, cabal init looks in the project directory for files that look like Haskell modules and adds all the modules to the library:exposed-modules field. For modules that do not form part of your package’s public interface, you can move those modules to the other-modules field. Either way, all modules in the library need to be listed.

1.7. Modules imported from other packages

While your library or executable may include a number of modules, it almost certainly also imports a number of external modules from the standard libraries or other pre-packaged libraries. (These other libraries are of course just Cabal packages that contain one or more libraries.)

You have to list all of the library packages that your library or executable imports modules from. Or to put it another way: you have to list all the other packages that your package depends on.

For example, suppose the example Proglet module imports the module Data.Map. The Data.Map module comes from the containers package, so we must list it:

  exposed-modules:     Proglet
  build-depends:       containers, base >=4.11 && <4.12

In addition, almost every package also depends on the base library package because it exports the standard Prelude module plus other basic modules like Data.List.

You will notice that we have listed base >=4.11 && <4.12. This gives a constraint on the version of the base package that our package will work with. The most common kinds of constraints are:

  • pkgname >=n

  • pkgname ^>=n

  • pkgname >=n && <m

  • pkgname ==n.*

The last is just shorthand, for example base ==4.* means exactly the same thing as base >=4 && <5. Please refer to the documentation on the build-depends field for more information.

Also, you can factor out shared build-depends (and other fields such as ghc-options) into a common stanza which you can import in your libraries and executable sections. For example:

common shared-properties
  default-language: Haskell2010
    base == 4.*

  import: shared-properties

Note that the import must be the first thing in the stanza. For more information see the Common stanzas section.

1.8. Building the package

For simple packages that’s it! We can now try building the package, which also downloads and builds all required dependencies:

$ cabal build

If the package contains an executable, you can run it with:

$ cabal run

and the executable can also be installed for convenience:

$ cabal install

When installed, the executable program lands in a special directory for binaries that may or may not already be on your system’s PATH. If it is, the executable can be run by typing its filename on commandline. For installing libraries see the Adding libraries to GHC package environments section.