The easiest way to setup a Haskell environment on Windows

August 30, 2019

What is chocolatey

Windows has had quite a push lately to provide script-able ways to install packages. One such attempt that has gained quite a lot of traction is Chocolatey ( Chocolatey’s populary is quickly growing.

Chocolatey is supported out of the box in all major cloud CI services including AppVeyor, CircleCI, Travis CI and Azure Pipelines. It’s also supported by full system building software such as BoxStarter that are used by companies to provision new machines and also supported by system management software such as Puppet and Ansible.

The reason for this is that Chocolatey is not only easy to use, but safe and secure. Every package is initially hand verified through moderation until the package becomes trusted. Packages are always passed through automated verification and packages are downloaded and uploaded through https. The package metadata itself is verified after downloaded which checks that the package wasn’t tampered with during download. Furthermore any files downloaded (such as cabal or ghc) have to have a sha256 checksum provided for them which will be verified. If you don’t trust the signatures you can provide your own that it uses to check against. Once uploaded every binary the package installs is ran through a host of virus checkers and the results publicly posted.

Read more on Chocolatey security here and see for yourself why it’s trusted by so many companies.


Chocolatey contains some of my own packages for installing GHC and cabal

The GHC package ( goes all the way back to GHC 6.10.1 and the cabal-install package ( to cabal-install 0.6.0.

These are quite handy for those who use the cabal+ghc workflow like myself and like to switch compiler versions easily, or script environment setups.

After installing Chocolatey one can install GHC simply using the command

choco install ghc cabal
NOTE: For a longer introduction see Introduction to Chocolatey.

For the longest time the complaint here was that these packages do not install msys2 and so are unsuitable to fully replace the Haskell Platform.

With the release of Cabal this is no longer the case.

What’s new in the chocolatey packages

There are a couple of new things in both the Cabal and GHC 8.8.1 packages

NOTE: No 32-bit GHC 8.8.1 package has produced by GHC HQ.
Publishing the GHC 8.8.1 package without a 32-bit release would block 32-bit users from using the unversioned package head (i.e. from being able to install the latest GHC without needing to give an explicit version).

As such the GHC 8.8.1 package will install GHC 8.6.5 on 32-bit machines so that you get a working compiler.

Cabal 3.0+

The cabal package on chocolatey will now automatically detect the presence of msys2 on the system and configure it to work with cabal seamlessly. It also configures some default cabal options such that cabal works fully out of the box on Windows. This means that packages such as network or threadscope will install without problem from ANY shell, including cmd and powershell.

A second change is that the package will detect the presence of it being installed on AppVeyor and will configure the cabal such that it works without any issue there using the AppVeyor provided msys2.

Since this functionality is provided by the cabal 3.0+ package, you can use any GHC version (or even multiple by using the choco flag -m when installing GHC) and it will just work.

Because of this change AppVeyor scripts can be much simpler. As an example the Win32 script looks like this now

clone_folder: "c:\\WORK"
clone_depth: 5

# Do not build feature branch with open Pull Requests
skip_branch_with_pr: true

  - x86_64
  - x86
 - "C:\\SR"

    CABOPTS:  --store-dir=C:\\SR --http-transport=plain-http
    CHOCOCMD: ghc --version %GHCVER%
    - GHCVER: 8.6.2
    - GHCVER: 8.4.2
    - GHCVER: 8.2.2
    - GHCVER: 8.0.2
    - GHCVER:
    - GHCVER:
    - GHCVER:

        - platform: x86
        GHCOPTS: --forcex86

 - choco source add -n mistuke -s
 - choco install %CHOCOCMD% -y %GHCOPTS% %CHOCOPTS% --ignore-dependencies
 - choco install -y cabal %CHOCOPTS%
 - refreshenv

 - cabal --version
 - ghc --version
 - cabal %CABOPTS% v2-update
 - IF EXIST bash -c "autoreconf -i"

 - echo packages:. > cabal.project
 - cabal %CABOPTS% v2-build -j all

This script should work for 99% of all packages.

The last thing the cabal package now provides is a new command mingw64-pkg. One of the common mistakes people make is installing the wrong package from msys2 causing ghc(i) to not be able to find or load the package.

mingw64-pkg is a script that can be called from any shell to download the right packages into msys2 such that GHC and cabal will find them without hassle.

mingw64-pkg install pkg-config
mingw64-pkg install gtk2

Will give you a fully working and configured gtk2 and pkg-config. This script also provides additional functionality documented on the cabal chocolatey page.

GHC 8.8+

The GHC 8.8+ packages will automatically detect Travis CI as well, however due to the way Travis CI is setup, calling the default refreshenv will have no effect since travis doesn’t use a Windows shell by default and instead uses a unix shell such as bash.

The GHC 8.8+ packages will register a bash alias refreshenv such which will re-export your environment variables such that they pick up new GHC installs.

Travis CI does not install msys2 automatically like AppVeyor, as such we have to install it manually. On travis

choco install ghc cabal msys2

gets you all you need.


In order to make this easier for beginners chocolatey has a new package called Haskell-Dev.

Haskell-Dev is a full replacement for the minimal Haskell-Platform with no additional configuration needed. It will set up a 100% working Haskell environment using a single chocolatey command:

choco install haskell-dev
NOTE: At this time the package is still undergoing moderation but is taking a long
time due to an infrastructure issue with the automatic verification of packages on
chocolatey.  For now to install you need to specify both the package name and version:

choco install haskell-dev --version 0.0.1

The benefits of using this package are that you can afterwards still manage each individual component (such as upgrading ghc alone) or upgrade everything as a whole.

NOTE: Don't use this package for AppVeyor, you may needlessly duplicate work as it
already provides `msys2`. Please install the `cabal` and `ghc` packages directly.
choco upgrade haskell-dev

Will always get you the most up-to-date version of everything. Speaking of updates one of the major advantages of using chocolatey to install msys2 is the fact that it does not use a stale tarball for msys2. During the installation a full msys2 system update is done. Giving you the latest working version of msys2. This is very important for security and compatibility issues. Having an too out of date msys2 install will also prohibit you from installing newer versions of packages and if it gets too out of date pacman may no longer have the right pgp keys to work.

But what about setting up an IDE? I have a package that I am still putting together and testing. The package will install all of the above but on top of this install vscode and pre-built hie binaries and automatically configure the extensions to work together out of the box.

This will be available soon.

NOTE: I don't particularly use anything in an IDE aside from syntax highlighting so I may not be fully in tune with the needs of people who do.  As such I am looking for two things:

- What do people want the IDE package to do/come with out of the box.
- I am looking for co-maintainers, as mentioned I won't be using this much myself so I'd like people who have slightly more skin in the game to help shape this.  The only hard requirement is that this *has* to stay `cabal` centric.

– Tamar