14 Jan 2024, 18:47

The VS Code Flatpak is useless

I installed Fedora 39 the other day. (More on that in one of the next posts.) It has a nifty software installer thing named “Discover”. When I typed “Visual Studio Code” into the search box, it dutifully installed VS Code. As a Flatpak.

This was the first time I interacted with Flatpak, and it did not go well.

Aside: Why VS Code

I want to use VS Code for editing Go code, with gopls, since it provides a really good integration. It turns out that a majority of Go developers use VS Code, so the language server integration is well tested and complete. In short, it’s the well-lit path.

Specifically for myself, there is a second reason: At work, we use a bespoke web-based IDE based on VS Code, with all sorts of integrations to make developers more productive. I have gotten very familiar with this setup, so it makes sense for me to write open source code in this way too and benefit from the muscle memory, so to speak.

There is a philosophical argument that you should avoid VS Code because it is controlled by Microsoft, and it gives Microsoft a certain leverage over the open source Go ecosystem. For what it’s worth, the same argument applies to using GitHub: Such a large percentage of open source code is developed on GitHub these days, and Microsoft could “enshittify” it at any moment if they wanted to. But for both of these, I personally think that it would be easily doable to switch away from them to something free – for instance, move over to Neovim’s LSP integration. In the meantime, I remain pragmatic and use what works for me.

Why not Flatpak

Back to Fedora. I installed Go and gopls from pkgsrc, as you do. However, the Go plugin tells me that it cannot find gopls, or any of the toolchain. Why!? Issue golang/vscode-go#263 has a bunch of people rather confused about this failure mode.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: Flatpaks run isolated from the host OS, which is fundamentally incompatible with developing code in an IDE. Despite the allowlist for access to OS paths, there is no way to allow access to /usr, /lib, etc. This is fundamental to the Flatpak security model. The app runs in a container that is cordoned off from the main OS.

But an IDE for developing native code does need host OS access! It needs to run a build tool, toolchain, native tools, etc. Not only does the VS Code Flatpak not allow doing this, it also does not provide an easy way to install a toolchain into the container. Never mind that I do not want a second copy of my tools. An IDE also needs to be able to run a shell in a terminal.

At this point, I am left wondering: who can actually use this Flatpak, if native compilation is all but impossible? Is it made for frontend devs writing only JS, with all the tooling in JS as well?


I am also wondering why the Flatpak is the default type of installation for VS Code on Fedora, given that Upstream has a repository of perfectly fine RPM packages. See https://code.visualstudio.com/docs/setup/linux#_rhel-fedora-and-centos-based-distributions.

The other container-like option would be a Snap, if you are into additional packaging systems on your distro. You can install the Snap in “classic” mode, where it has file system access:

sudo snap install --classic code

My choice has been the native package, and now everything is running fine.