This guide shows you how to create and develop a Gleam project.

It does not teach the Gleam language itself, so read through the language tour first if you have not already. You are assumed to already have Gleam and Erlang installed, so head over to the install guide if you need to do that.

Ready? Let’s go!

The project

In this guide we’re going to make a small command line program for printing environment variables.

In use it’ll look like this:

gleam run get USER
# USER=lucy

Creating a project

Gleam’s build tool is built into the gleam program you installed earlier. It supports creating new projects, building, testing, and running them, along with managing dependencies from the Hex package manager.

First create a new Gleam project by running the gleam new command in a terminal. I’m going to call mine vars.

# Create the project
gleam new vars

# Navigate into the project directory
cd vars

You’ll now have a project with this structure:

├── .github/workflows/test.yml
├── .gitignore
├── gleam.toml
├── src/vars.gleam
└── test/vars_test.gleam

Altogether this is called a Gleam package, regardless of whether it’s a library or a program that is run directly.

Running the project

The entrypoint for the program is the function called main in the module with the same name as the package itself. gleam new will have generated one for you that looks like this:

// In src/vars.gleam
import gleam/io

pub fn main() {
  io.println("Hello from vars!")

In the terminal run this command to run the project.

gleam run

The Gleam build tool will then download the dependencies (here the standard library and a test runner), compile all the code, and then run the main function to print “Hello from vars!” to the terminal.

If you wanted to run a different module in your package, or a module from a dependency, you could run gleam run -m modulename.

You can run gleam run --target javascript to run the project on a JavaScript runtime instead of Erlang, though for the rest of this guide we’ll continue with Erlang.

Adding dependencies

Gleam can run in constrained environments like embedded systems or browsers, so some functionality is not included in the standard library, such as reading command line inputs and environment variables. For our program to do these we’ll need to add some dependencies that provide this functionality.

The Gleam Package Index can be used to find packages. In this case we want to use envoy for environment variables and argv for reading command line input. Add them to your package with this command:

gleam add envoy argv

If you look at the gleam.toml file you’ll see that the dependencies have been added to the [dependencies] section.

name = "vars"
version = "1.0.0"

gleam_stdlib = ">= 0.34.0 and < 2.0.0"
envoy = ">= 1.0.1 and < 2.0.0"
argv = ">= 1.0.2 and < 2.0.0"

gleeunit = ">= 1.0.0 and < 2.0.0"

The >= 1.0.1 and < 2.0.0 version constraint means that the project wants any version greater than or equal to 1.0.1, but less than 2.0.0, which will maximise compatibility while avoiding breaking changes as Hex packages adhere to semantic versioning.

There is now also a manifest.toml file which locks all the dependency packages to specific versions. It’s recommended to check this file into your version control system to ensure that anyone who downloads and runs your project will get the same versions of the dependencies. This manifest file isn’t uploaded to Hex so it is not used when other projects depend on your project.

If you wish to update the dependencies to the latest versions that are compatible with your version constraints you can run gleam update.

You can also use path dependencies to depend on packages on your computer rather than from Hex.

my_other_package = { path = "../my_other_package" }

Using dependencies

The argv module from the package of the same name exports a function called load that can be used to read the command line arguments. Update the code in src/vars.gleam to use this function.

import argv
import envoy
import gleam/io
import gleam/result

pub fn main() {
  case argv.load().arguments {
    ["get", name] -> get(name)
    _ -> io.println("Usage: vars get <name>")

fn get(name: String) -> Nil {
  let value = envoy.get(name) |> result.unwrap("")
  io.println(format_pair(name, value))

fn format_pair(name: String, value: String) -> String {
  name <> "=" <> value

Pattern matching is being used to call the get function or print a help message based on the command line arguments.

The get function uses the envoy module from the package of the same name to read the environment variable and print it or a message if it doesn’t exist. A helper function format_pair is used to format the output.

Give it a try! Run gleam run get TERM in the terminal to recompile and run the program.

Testing your code

This program is so small that you likely don’t need to write any tests for it, but for the sake of demonstration let’s write some for the format_pair function.

To call the format_pair function from a module in the test/ directory we will need to make it public. We don’t want it to be part of the public API of the package, so we’ll move it to an internal module, which by default are modules named packagename/internal and packagename/internal/*.

Public functions in these modules can be imported by other modules, but they’re considered to be part of the package’s internal implementation and as such are not documented or expected to give the same stability guarantees as functions in the public API.

// in src/vars.gleam
import argv
import envoy
import gleam/io
import gleam/result
import vars/internal

pub fn main() {
  // Omitted for brevity

fn get(name: String) -> Nil {
  let value = envoy.get(name) |> result.unwrap("")
  io.println(internal.format_pair(name, value))
// in src/vars/internal.gleam
pub fn format_pair(name: String, value: String) -> String {
  name <> "=" <> value

Open up the test/vars_test.gleam file and write a test for the format_pair.

// in test/vars_test.gleam
import gleeunit
import gleeunit/should
import vars/internal

pub fn main() {

pub fn format_pair_test() {
  internal.format_pair("hello", "world")
  |> should.equal("hello=world")

Running gleam test will call the main function in vars_test, which will in turn run the tests.

Your test main function can do anything you like, but by default Gleam projects are generated using gleeunit, a simple test runner. With it any public function in the test/ directory with a name ending in _test will be run as a test.

Sharing your program

If your program is a web application that runs on a server you may now wish to view the deployment section of Gleam’s documentation. The program we’ve just made is a command line program, so instead we’ll want to bundle it up into a single file that can be easily shared with others.

As we’re using the Erlang target we can do this using escript, which is part of the Erlang runtime. Add the gleescript package as a dependency.

gleam add --dev gleescript

The --dev flag is used to indicate that this package is only used for building, developing, and testing the project, and should not be included in the final production builds. The build tool will then add gleescript to the [dev-dependencies] section rather than the regular [dependencies] section.

Once added run gleam run -m gleescript to compile your package into an escript file, which will be written to ./vars.

# Compile the program to an escript
gleam run -m gleescript

# Make the escript executable
chmod +x ./vars

# Run the program
./vars get USER
escript ./vars get USER # On Windows

This vars file can be run on any computer that has a compatible version of Erlang installed. Typically this will be within a few major versions of the version of Erlang on the computer used to compile the escript.

And that’s it! Get hacking! And do drop by the Gleam Discord server to get help or share what you’re working on.