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✍️What I learned while writing Go

I have been writing Go for about 6 months now at my new job. Coming from a Java world, it is a joy to write Go. Some may call the language boring, because it is easy to learn and easy to write. This is precisely what I love the most about Go. There usually isn’t more than one way of achieving the same result.

If you are able to work through the gotour, I believe you should be able to understand 99% of the open source Go code. There are no threads, no pointer arithmetic operations, no semi-colons, no inheritance, and well, no generics either (cough).

The things I have learned are mostly things I have found interesting or surprising. These are biased opinions, and more like notes to self.

1. Encapsulation in Go

Names are important in Go. Naming of an identifier decides its visibility (eg. like private or public in Java). An identifier is exported (or public) if the first character of a name is in upper case.

Confusingly, if you use golint, you might encounter this warning-

exported func NewMagicPuppy returns unexported type *magicPuppy, which can be
annoying to use (golint)

I disagree with this linter warning. It’s totally fine to return an unexported type from an exported type. This is a common pattern of enforcing encapsulation. This makes it impossible for someone to create a type like magicPuppy manually and miss some of the set-up steps, and it becomes the responsibility of the function NewMagicPuppy to create a correctly formed magic puppy.

For eg. consider the hypothetical puppy package

package puppy
import "fmt"
// an unexported type can contain exported fields
type magicPuppy struct {
    // Name is exported, can be changed 
    Name string
    // breed is unexported, it cannot be changed
    breed string
func (p *magicPuppy) secretMagicBark() {
func (p *magicPuppy) Bark() {
    fmt.Println("woof boink boink 🐶")
func NewMagicPuppy() *magicPuppy {
     return &magicPuppy{"sparkles ✨", "Westie"}
func (p *magicPuppy) Description() string {
     return fmt.Sprintf("I am a %s and my magic puppy name is %s",
         p.breed, p.Name)

And it’s corresponding main function-

package main
import (
func main() {
    var p *puppy.magicpuppy  // compilation error
    p := puppy.NewMagicPuppy()
    p.secretMagicBark()  // compilation error
    fmt.Println(p.breed) // compilation error
    fmt.Println(p.Name) // sparkles ✨
    p.Name = "🦄💖"
    fmt.Println(p.Description()) // I am a Westie and my magic puppy name is 🦄💖

2. context.Background()

Do not create a new context.Background() unless you want it to live for the lifetime of your programme. If you don’t watch out for its usage, you might encounter memory leaks.

From the documentation-

// Background returns an empty Context. It is never canceled, has no deadline,
// and has no values. Background is typically used in main, init, and tests,
// and as the top-level Context for incoming requests.

You would be better off using WithCancel or WithTimeout.


// this is very bad!! Don't ignore the context cancellation
ctx, _ := context.WithCancel(parentCtx)
ctx, cancel := context.WithCancel(parentCtx)
defer cancel()
// do some work
// you shouldn't wait for timeout, cancel immediately after work is complete
ctx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(parentCtx, time.Minute)
defer cancel()
// do some work

3. Errors as values

I find Rob Pike’s blog on error handling very interesting. At the same time, it frustrates me because now there are multiple accepted ways of error handling.

For eg, this is the common pattern you would see in a Go codebase-

// daily tasks for the magic puppy
if err := pup.Train(); err != nil {
    return err
if err := pup.Walk(); err != nil {
     return err
if err := pup.Feed(); err != nil {
     return err

// Train is an example magic puppy training implmentation
func (p *magicPuppy) Train() error {
    if pup.isHungry() {
        return errors.New("Magic puppy 😿cannot train on a hungry stomach!"
    // train

Most functions return an error type as the last returned value. But sometimes, you can be caught off-guard if an operation does not return an error. With the “error as value” pattern, the error is abstracted away while you finish doing a series of operations, and then make the error check later.

For eg.

// finish doing the series of tasks first, the next sequence of tasks
// become a no-op when the first failure is encountered

if pup.err != nil {
    return pup.err
func (p *magicPuppy) Train() {
    // no-op if there was an error while executing daily tasks
    if pup.err != nil {
    if pup.isHungry() {
        // the first instance of the error is recorded
        pup.err = errors.New("Magic puppy 😿cannot train on a hungry stomach!"
    // train

// ... similar implementations for functions Walk and Feed

I have been caught by this once when I forgot to check the error value 🙈

Honestly, I prefer the former error check pattern to the latter, and there’s a couple of reasons for it:

  • The second approach causes a side-effect by writing to the error value. The implementation of Train, Walk, and Feed is now less obvious. You have to read their implementation to make the correct error check. (Or atleast I had to, when I missed it.)
  • How does one decide what is the best time to decide that the sequence of operations is done, so that now you should error check?

Well, these three have been my small annoyances and gotchas. The focus of Go 2 seems to be on error handling, error values and generics. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll learn in the next 6 months 😃

Edited - Apr 08, 2019

After I shared this post on Twitter, Ruben pointed out another thing about types that can be unintuitive. Pointer types can be embedded within non-pointer types, which may cause a nil panic if you call a method on the (non-pointer) type. This is valid Go.

A tweet in response to this blog pointing out that pointer types can be embedded within non-pointer types, and can panic.

Consider the following example-

package main

import "fmt"

type magicPuppy struct {
	hungry bool

func (p *magicPuppy) barkSound() string {
	if p.hungry {
		return "meow 😿👊"
	return "woof woof bork 🐶👅"

// myPuppy has an embedded pointer type of magicPuppy
type myPuppy struct {

// barkSound returns the bark sound of the magical puppy
func (p myPuppy) barkSound() string {
	return p.magicPuppy.barkSound()

func main() {
	var c myPuppy
    // forget to initialise my puppy
	fmt.Println(c.barkSound()) // nil panic

I find this behaviour unintuitive because neither the method receiver or the return type of barkSound indicate that it is possible to encounter a nil panic in this method. You would again have to read its implementation to use it correctly.