Modules are how CUE manages dependencies. This document is a detailed reference manual for CUE’s module system. CUE’s modules support has a lot in common with Go’s modules and this document has substantial parts that have been taken directly from the Go modules reference. Thanks very much to Russ Cox and the Go team for their amazing work there.

Enabling the experiment

Module support is currently experimental. To enable any of the functionality described here, the experiment must be enabled by setting the CUE_EXPERIMENT environment variable:

export CUE_EXPERIMENT=modules

Note: this document largely supercedes the prior modules documentation although, as a transitionary measure, the CUE tool still supports the import of packages present in the cue.mod/pkg, cue.mod/usr and cue.mod/gen directories. This only applies to the main module, and if there is any ambiguity with respect to regular module dependencies an “ambiguous import” error will be reported.

Modules, packages, and versions

A module is a collection of packages that are released, versioned, and distributed together. Modules are downloaded from OCI-compliant artifact registries. This means that if you are deploying CUE to the cloud, you can use the same distribution mechanism that you might be using for Docker images to deploy your CUE configuration too.

A module is identified by a module path, which is declared in a cue.mod/module.cue file, together with information about the module’s dependencies. The module root directory is the directory that contains the cue.mod directory. The main module is the module containing the directory where the cue command is invoked.

Each package within a module is a collection of source files that are unified together, usually all in the same directory. A package path is the module path joined with the subdirectory containing the package, relative to the module root.

Module paths

A module path is the canonical name for a module, declared with the module field in the module’s cue.mod/module.cue file. A module’s path is the prefix for package paths within the module.

A module path consists of a root path and a major version suffix, for example in the module path myhost.example/foo@v0, the root path is myhost.example/foo and the major version suffix is @v0.

Module paths are domain-name qualified: a module path always begins with a host name, although that host is only a guide to the origin of the module and is not used directly to fetch the module’s contents (see here for details about that)). The expectation is that any modules you create should have names that are inside domains or namespaces that you have control of, enabling modules from different creators to live together without conflicts in the same registry.

  • The root path is the portion of the module path that identifies the OCI repository within a registry. All versions of a module are located in that same OCI repository.
  • The major version suffix declares the major version of the module and is of the form @v1 where the version v1 here must match the major version of the full version it’s been published as.

There are also several lexical restrictions on characters allowed in module paths. As modules are stored in OCI repositories, these correspond to the restrictions documented there. To summarize:

  • The path must consist of one or more path elements separated by slashes (/, U+002F). It must not begin or end with a slash.
  • No characters are allowed in the path except lower case ASCII letters, ASCII digits, and limited ASCII punctuation (-, _, .).
  • The first character of each path element is a letter or a digit.
  • No more than one period (.) is allowed in sequence.
  • No more than two underscores (_) are allowed in sequence.

In addition, the first path element must contain at least one period character (.).

No restriction is directly enforced on the length of module names, but as registries can refuse module paths over 128 characters, and it’s possible to specify an arbitrary storage prefix, long module paths may fail.


A version identifies an immutable snapshot of a module, which may be either a release or a pre-release (with a pre-release suffix). Each version starts with the letter v, followed by a semantic version. See Semantic Versioning 2.0.0 for details on how versions are formatted, interpreted, and compared.

To summarize, a semantic version consists of three non-negative integers (the major, minor, and patch versions, from left to right) separated by dots. The patch version may be followed by an optional pre-release string starting with a hyphen.

Each part of a version indicates whether the version is stable and whether it is compatible with previous versions.

  • The major version must be incremented and the minor and patch versions must be set to zero after a backwards incompatible change is made to the module’s public interface or documented functionality, for example, after a package is removed.
  • The minor version must be incremented and the patch version set to zero after a backwards compatible change, for example, after a new function is added.
  • The patch version must be incremented after a change that does not affect the module’s public interface, such as a bug fix or change to the documentation.
  • The pre-release suffix indicates a version is a pre-release. Pre-release versions sort before the corresponding release versions. For example, v1.2.3-pre comes before v1.2.3.

A version is considered unstable if its major version is 0 or it has a pre-release suffix. Unstable versions are not subject to compatibility requirements. For example, v0.2.0 may not be compatible with v0.1.0, and v1.5.0-beta may not be compatible with v1.5.0.

Major version suffixes

Module paths must have a major version suffix like @v2 that matches the major version. For example, if a module has the path foo.example/mod@v1 at v1.0.0, it must have the path foo.example/mod@v2 at version v2.0.0.

Major version suffixes implement the import compatibility rule:

If an old package and a new package have the same import path, the new package must be backwards compatible with the old package.

By definition, packages in a new major version of a module are not backwards compatible with the corresponding packages in the previous major version. Consequently each new major version of a package needs a new import path. This is accomplished by adding a major version suffix to the module path. The import path for a package also includes the major version suffix, providing a distinct import path for each incompatible version.

Unlike in Go, major version suffixes are always required in module paths . The burden of changing import paths in packages is eased by allowing the major version suffix to be omitted and inferred from the module.cue file. See major version defaults for details.

Major version suffixes let multiple major versions of a module coexist in the same build. This may be necessary due to a diamond dependency problem. Ordinarily, if a module is required at two different versions by transitive dependencies, the higher version will be used. However, if the two versions are incompatible, neither version will satisfy all clients. Since incompatible versions must have different major version numbers, they must also have different module paths due to major version suffixes. This resolves the conflict: modules with distinct suffixes are treated as separate modules, and their packages—even packages in same subdirectory relative to their module roots—are distinct.

Major version defaults

When a package import path does not contain a major version, the module.cue file is consulted to determine which major version of the module to use. In a canonical module.cue file, all imports without major versions will have an explicit default: true present in the corresponding dependency entry, but cue mod tidy will add those if not present and there is no ambiguity in the build list.

That is, given only a single major version of a module in the build list, the major version need not be specified in any of the package imports.

Resolving a package to a module

When CUE loads a package using a package path, it needs to determine which module provides the package.

It starts by searching the build list for modules with paths that are prefixes of the package path. For example, if the package foo.example/a/b is imported, and the module foo.example/a is in the build list, CUE will check whether foo.example/a contains the package, in the directory b. At least one file with the .cue extension must be present in a directory for it to be considered a package. Build constraints are not applied for this purpose. If exactly one module in the build list provides the package, that module is used. If no modules provide the package or if two or more modules provide the package, CUE reports an error. The cue mod tidy command will attempt to find new modules providing missing packages and to update cue.mod/module.cue accordingly.

The CUE_REGISTRY environment variable

When CUE looks up a new module for a package path, it checks the CUE_REGISTRY environment variable. This determines the registry and repository within a registry that a module will be searched for. It holds a complete list of any registries that are consulted for fetching modules.

Specifically it holds a comma-separated list specifying which registry to use for downloading and publishing modules. A registry is specifed as follows:


The optional modulePrefix specifes that all modules with a path that has the given prefix will use the associated registry. If there are multiple registries with a prefix, the longest matching prefix wins. It’s an error for there to be multiple entries with the same prefix.

The hostname holds the OCI registry host (in square brackets if it’s an IPv6 address), with an optional numeric TCP port.

Each module is stored inside its own repository in the registry which is named after the module path. The repoPrefix holds a prefix to be added to the repository name. That is, all repositories in the registry will be of the form repoPrefix/modulePath.

If there’s a +insecure suffix it specifies that an insecure HTTP connection should be used to this registry. The default is to use a secure HTTPS connection except for localhost addresses. For symmetry, it’s also possible to use +secure to force an HTTPS connection even on localhost connections.

For example, given:


all modules, such as will be fetched from public-registry.example with the exception of modules with the prefix, such as which will be fetched from the modules/ repository in the host registry.acme.example at port 6000.

cue.mod/module.cue files

A module is defined by a cue.mod directory in its root containing a module.cue CUE file.

// module indicates the module's path.
module!: #Module

// version indicates the language version used by the code
// in this module - the minimum version of CUE required
// to evaluate the code in this module. When a later version of CUE
// is evaluating code in this module, this will be used to
// choose version-specific behavior. If an earlier version of CUE
// is used, an error will be given.
language?: version?: #Semver

// description describes the purpose of this module.
description?: string

// deps holds dependency information for modules, keyed by module path.
deps?: [#Module]: #Dep

#Dep: {
	// v indicates the minimum required version of the module.
	v!: #Semver

	// default indicates this module is used as a default in case
	// more than one major version is specified for the same module
	// path. Imports must specify the exact major version for a
	// module path if there is more than one major version for that
	// path and default is not set for exactly one of them.
	default?: bool

// #Module constrains a module path. The major version indicator is
// optional, but should always be present in a normalized module.cue
// file.
#Module: =~#"^[^@]+(@v(0|[1-9]\d*))$"#

// #Semver constrains a semantic version. This regular expression is
// taken from
#Semver: =~#"^v(?P<major>0|[1-9]\d*)\.(?P<minor>0|[1-9]\d*)\.(?P<patch>0|[1-9]\d*)(?:-(?P<prerelease>(?:0|[1-9]\d*|\d*[a-zA-Z-][0-9a-zA-Z-]*)(?:\.(?:0|[1-9]\d*|\d*[a-zA-Z-][0-9a-zA-Z-]*))*))?(?:\+(?P<buildmetadata>[0-9a-zA-Z-]+(?:\.[0-9a-zA-Z-]+)*))?$"#

For example:

language: version: "v0.4.3"

module: "foo.example/my/thing@v1"

deps: {
	"foo.example/other/thing@v1": v: "v1.0.2"
	"foo.example/new/thing@v2": v:   "v2.3.4"

The module.cue file is designed to be human readable and machine writable. The cue command will provide several subcommands that manipulate cue.mod/module.cue files. For now, the only one is cue mod tidy which will fetch dependencies and canonicalize the module.cue file to reflect all the most recent versions.

A cue.mod/module.cue file is required for all modules.

Minimal version selection (MVS)

CUE uses an algorithm called Minimal version selection (MVS) to select a set of module versions to use when building packages. MVS is described in detail in Minimal Version Selection by Russ Cox.

Conceptually, MVS operates on a directed graph of modules, specified with module.cue files. Each vertex in the graph represents a module version. Each edge represents a minimum required version of a dependency, specified with an entry in the deps field.

MVS produces the build list as output, the list of module versions used for an evaluation.

MVS starts at the main modules (special vertices in the graph that have no version) and traverses the graph, tracking the highest required version of each module. At the end of the traversal, the highest required versions comprise the build list: they are the minimum versions that satisfy all requirements.

Unlike other dependency management systems, the build list is not saved in a “lock” file. MVS is deterministic, and the build list doesn’t change when new versions of dependencies are released, so MVS is used to compute it at the beginning of every module-aware command.

Module version graph with visited versions highlighted
Module version graph with visited versions highlighted
Consider the example in this diagram. The main module requires module A at version 1.2 or higher and module B at version 1.2 or higher. A 1.2 and B 1.2 require C 1.3 and C 1.4, respectively. C 1.3 and C 1.4 both require D 1.2.

MVS visits and loads the cue.mod/module.cue file for each of the module versions highlighted in blue. At the end of the graph traversal, MVS returns a build list containing the bolded versions: A 1.2, B 1.2, C 1.4, and D 1.2. Note that higher versions of B and D are available but MVS does not select them, since nothing requires them.

Module storage format

Modules are stored in a registry using a standard manifest + blob format. There is rarely any need to interact directly with these artifacts, since the cue command creates, downloads, and extracts them automatically from registries. However, it’s still useful to know about these files to understand cross-platform compatibility constraints.

A module is stored in a registry with a top level manifest with media type application/vnd.oci.image.manifest.v1+json and artifact type application/vnd.cue.module.v1+json, that points to two blobs. The first blob (also known as a “layer 0” although there’s actually no layering going on here) has media type application/zip and holds the full contents of the module. The second blob, layer 1, has media type application/vnd.cue.modulefile.v1 and stores an exact copy of the contents of the cue.mod/module.cue file from the zip file. The latter enables fast access to the dependency information without the need to download the entire module archive.

File path and size constraints

There are a number of restrictions on the content of module zip files. These constraints ensure that zip files can be extracted safely and consistently on a wide range of platforms.

  • A module zip file may be at most 500 MiB in size. The total uncompressed size of its files is also limited to 500 MiB. module.cue files are limited to 16 MiB. LICENSE files are also limited to 16 MiB. These limits exist to mitigate denial of service attacks on users, proxies, and other parts of the module ecosystem. Repositories that contain more than 500 MiB of files in a module directory tree should tag module versions at commits that only include files needed to build the module’s packages; videos, models, and other large assets are usually not needed for builds.
  • File modes, timestamps, and other metadata are ignored.
  • Empty directories (entries with paths ending with a slash) may be included in module zip files but are not extracted. The cue command does not include empty directories in zip files it creates.
  • Symbolic links and other irregular files are ignored when creating zip files, since they aren’t portable across operating systems and file systems, and there’s no portable way to represent them in the zip file format.
  • Files within directories containing cue.mod directories, other than the module root directory and the cue.mod directory itself, are ignored when creating zip files, since they are not part of the module. CUE ignores subdirectories containing cue.mod directories when extracting zip files.
  • No two files within a zip file may have paths equal under Unicode case-folding (see strings.EqualFold). This ensures that zip files can be extracted on case-insensitive file systems without collisions.
  • A cue.mod/module.cue file must appear in the top-level directory. If present, it must have the name cue.mod/module.cue (all lowercase). Directories named cue.mod are not allowed in any other directory.
  • File and directory names within a module may consist of Unicode letters, ASCII digits, the ASCII space character (U+0020), and the ASCII punctuation characters !#$%&()+,-.=@[]^_{}~. Note that package paths may not contain all these characters. See module.CheckFilePath and module.CheckImportPath for the differences.
  • A file or directory name up to the first dot must not be a reserved file name on Windows, regardless of case (CON, com1, NuL, and so on).

Module caching

By default, the cue command caches downloaded modules in the local filesystem. It uses the local user configuration directory by default, but that can be changed by setting $CUE_CACHE_DIR, which is documented under cue help environment.


For custom OCI registries, CUE understands the usual conventions for authorization: specifically the usual way to configure registry authorization information for custom OCI registries is by setting them up in the $HOME/.docker/config.json file. You can use docker login to do this or edit the file directly.

The CUE command knows how to read auth tokens from the $HOME/.docker/config.json, including running helper commands to fetch them from secure storage.

For organizations that don’t allow the use of docker, podman login allows using the --compat-auth-file $HOME/.docker/config.json flag to generate a docker compatible json file.


build constraint: A condition that determines whether a CUE source file is used when compiling a package. Build constraints are expressed with file-level @if(name) annotations.

build list: The list of module versions that will be used for a CUE command such as cue export, or cue vet. The build list is determined from the main module’s cue.mod/module.cue file and cue.mod/module.cue files in transitively required modules using minimal version selection. The build list contains versions for all modules in the module graph, not just those relevant to a specific command.

canonical version: A correctly formatted version without a build metadata suffix other than +incompatible. For example, v1.2.3 is a canonical version, but v1.2.3+meta is not.

current module: Synonym for main module.

cue.mod/module.cue file: The file that defines a module’s path, requirements, and other metadata. Appears in the module’s root directory. See the section on cue.mod/module.cue files.

import path: A string used to import a package in a CUE source file. Synonymous with package path.

main module: The module in which the cue command is invoked. The main module is defined by a cue.mod/module.cue file in the current directory or a parent directory. See Modules, packages, and versions.

major version: The first number in a semantic version (1 in v1.2.3). In a release with incompatible changes, the major version must be incremented, and the minor and patch versions must be set to 0. Semantic versions with major version 0 are considered unstable.

major version suffix: A module path suffix that matches the major version number. For example, @v2 in foo.example/mod@v2. See the section on Major version suffixes.

minimal version selection (MVS): The algorithm used to determine the versions of all modules that will be used in a build. See the section on Minimal version selection for details.

minor version: The second number in a semantic version (2 in v1.2.3). In a release with new, backwards compatible functionality, the minor version must be incremented, and the patch version must be set to 0.

module: A collection of packages that are released, versioned, and distributed together.

module cache: A local directory storing downloaded modules, located in $CUE_CACHE_DIR. See Module cache.

module graph: The directed graph of module requirements, rooted at the main module. Each vertex in the graph is a module; each edge is a version from an entry in the deps field in a cue.mod/module.cue file.

module path: A path that identifies a module and acts as a prefix for package import paths within the module. For example, "".

module root directory: The directory that contains the cue.mod/module.cue file that defines a module.

package: A collection of source files, usually in the same directory, that are evaluated together. See the Packages section in the CUE Language Specification.

package path: The path that uniquely identifies a package. A package path is a module path joined with a subdirectory within the module. For example "" is the package path for the package in the module "" in the "html" subdirectory. Synonym of import path.

patch version: The third number in a semantic version (3 in v1.2.3). In a release with no changes to the module’s public interface, the patch version must be incremented.

pre-release version: A version with a dash followed by a series of dot-separated identifiers immediately following the patch version, for example, v1.2.3-beta4. Pre-release versions are considered unstable and are not assumed to be compatible with other versions. A pre-release version sorts before the corresponding release version: v1.2.3-pre comes before v1.2.3. See also release version.

release version: A version without a pre-release suffix. For example, v1.2.3, not v1.2.3-pre. See also pre-release version.

repository root path: The portion of a module path that corresponds to a version control repository’s root directory. See Module paths.

selected version: The version of a given module chosen by minimal version selection. The selected version is the highest version for the module’s path found in the module graph.

version: An identifier for an immutable snapshot of a module, written as the letter v followed by a semantic version. See the section on Versions.