Vim, Go and Remote Debugging

Vim, Go and Remote Debugging

Setting up Vim for remotely debugging Go code


While developing Log4Shell Sentinel, I found myself having to debug my Go application in different environments, with each environment running a unique combination of a container runtime (Docker, CRI-O, Containerd) and storage driver (overlay2, aufs, etc.). I decided to use Vim (if you’re not currently using Vim, then I’d recommend that you seriously reconsider your life choices) and Fatih’s excellent vim-go plugin which gives me many of the features I would get from a full blown IDE. However, I didn’t run into many useful tutorials on setting up remote debugging, so I decided to quickly the steps I took. Although there are other Vim plugins to integrate delve - the most popular Go debugger - such as vim-delve, I’ve found Fatih’s plugin to be the best option.

Preparing the Environment

There are two sides to my setup:

  • the development / Vim session with my source code
  • the remote host running my Go binary

Development Side

For my development side, I simply need to install delve and the vim-go plugin. On my first run of Vim after installing the plugin, I had to run :GoInstallBinaries to download and install Go tool binaries such as gopls, goimports, etc as they were not all installed on the system. Once installed, debugging a simple Go application such as this:

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
  a := 5

is as simple as moving to the line I want to run to and then issuing the following command:


followed by this command once the debugger UI is displayed:


This tells the debugger to break on the current line. The Vim session will now look like this:

By default, it shows us the following four panes:

  • Stacktrace
  • Variables
  • Go routines
  • Godebug output

The default panes and pane arrangement isn’t ideal in my opinion. For example, the GoDebug output is rarely useful and I prefer having all my tab-related panes on one side. As I’m not currently using Go routines, I’ll remove that pane as well. I’ll add the following snippet to my ~/.vimrc file:

let g:go_debug_windows = {
      \ 'vars':       'rightbelow 50vnew',
      \ 'stack':      'rightbelow 10new',
      \ }
      " \ 'goroutines':      'rightbelow 10new',

which instructs the plugin to display a 50-character wide pane on the right for variables followed by the stack. If I needed to debug Go routines, I can uncomment the commented goroutines line above and add it to the array. The debug window now looks like this:

However, I don’t find the Registers section useful while debugging and found it distracting. There is no Vim variable or option to remove it so I’ll directly comment out the following lines in ~/.vim/autoload/go/debug.vim instead:

let v += ['']
let v += ['# Registers']
if type(get(s:state, 'registers', [])) is type([])
  for c in s:state['registers']
    let v += [printf("%s = %s", c.Name, c.Value)]

There may be a cleaner way to do this that I’m not aware of. The debug UI is now much clearer and now looks like this:

Now that the UI-side is more to my liking, it is time to configure key-bindings. By default, vim-go has typical debugger key-bindings:

  • F5 = continue
  • F9 = add breakpoint
  • F8 = halt
  • F10 = next
  • F11 = step in

However, these keys are often already mapped to other system-related actions and I prefer to use more Vim-like key-bindings as shown below:

let g:go_debug_mappings = {
      \ '(go-debug-continue)': {'key': 'c', 'arguments': '<nowait>'},
      \ '(go-debug-next)': {'key': 'n', 'arguments': '<nowait>'},
      \ '(go-debug-step)': {'key': 's'},
      \ '(go-debug-print)': {'key': 'p'},

Now, when the debugger is running, I have the following mappings:

  • c = continue
  • p = print value (it prints the value of any variable the cursor hovers over)
  • n = next
  • s = step in

I also added the following key-bindings to quickly invoke the debugger, stop the debugger and toggle a breakpoint:

map <leader>ds :GoDebugStart<cr>
map <leader>dt :GoDebugStop<cr>
map <leader>db :GoDebugBreakpoint<cr>

So a typical debug session would start by <leader>ds followed by pressing c while in debugger mode to break on the current line (or I can manually add breakpoints using <leader>db).

Remote Side

To debug my Go binary on remote hosts, I need to:

  • build my binary without removing debugging data. This is the default so nothing changes
  • copy over the dlv/delve binary to the remote systems

For the later, I’ll compile delve statically to make sure that I don’t run into any GLIBC-related issues:

$ CGO_ENABLED=0 go get

I then copy over both of these to the remote host.

Remote Debugging

Having copied the delve binary and my Go binary to the remote host, I can start a remote debugging session by running delve on the remote host:

$ sudo ./dlv --listen="" --headless=true --api-version=2 --accept-multiclient exec ./log4shell_sentinel -- -p /
API server listening at: [::]:40000

This configures delve to listen on port 40000 for connections. Using --, I can pass parameters to my executable. On my development machine, I open my source code file in Vim and run:


to connect to the delve debugger. I can now proceed by running c to continue execution until execution hits the line I am currently on:


In this short blog post, we looked at how to setup Vim for remote Go debugging. I hope you’ve found the post useful. Until next time.

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