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An Overview of Go in Five Examples

Mark Summerfield provides a series of five explained examples of the Go programming language. Although the examples are tiny, each of them (apart from "hello who?") does something useful, and between them they provide a rapid overview of Go's key features and some of its key packages.
This chapter is from the book
  • 1.1. Getting Going → 7
  • 1.2. Editing, Compiling, and Running → 9
  • 1.3. Hello Who? → 14
  • 1.4. Big Digits—Two-Dimensional Slices → 16
  • 1.5. Stack—Custom Types with Methods → 21
  • 1.6. Americanise—Files, Maps, and Closures → 29
  • 1.7. Polar to Cartesian—Concurrency → 40

This chapter provides a series of five explained examples. Although the examples are tiny, each of them (apart from “Hello Who?”) does something useful, and between them they provide a rapid overview of Go’s key features and some of its key packages. (What other languages often call “modules” or “libraries” are called packages in Go terminology, and all the packages supplied with Go as standard are collectively known as the Go standard library.) The chapter’s purpose is to provide a flavor of Go and to give a feel for the scope of what needs to be learned to program successfully in Go. Don’t worry if some of the syntax or idioms are not immediately understandable; everything shown in this chapter is covered thoroughly in subsequent chapters.

Learning to program Go the Go way will take a certain amount of time and practice. For those wanting to port substantial C, C++, Java, Python, and other programs to Go, taking the time to learn Go—and in particular how its object-orientation and concurrency features work—will save time and effort in the long run. And for those wanting to create Go applications from scratch it is best to do so making the most of all that Go offers, so again the upfront investment in learning time is important—and will pay back later.

1.1. Getting Going

Go programs are compiled rather than interpreted so as to have the best possible performance. Compilation is very fast—dramatically faster than can be the case with some other languages, most notably compared with C and C++.

The standard Go compiler is called gc and its toolchain includes programs such as 5g, 6g, and 8g for compiling, 5l, 6l, and 8l for linking, and godoc for viewing the Go documentation. (These are 5g.exe, 6l.exe, etc., on Windows.) The strange names follow the Plan 9 operating system’s compiler naming conventions where the digit identifies the processor architecture (e.g., “5” for ARM, “6” for AMD64—including Intel 64-bit processors—and “8” for Intel 386.) Fortunately, we don’t need to concern ourselves with these tools, since Go provides the high-level go build tool that handles the compiling and linking for us.

All the examples in this book—available from http://www.qtrac.eu/gobook.html—have been tested using gc on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows using Go 1. The Go developers intend to make all subsequent Go 1.x versions backward compatible with Go 1, so the book’s text and examples should be valid for the entire 1.x series. (If incompatible changes occur, the book’s examples will be updated to the latest Go release, so as time goes by, they may differ from the code shown in the book.)

To download and install Go, visit golang.org/doc/install.html which provides instructions and download links. At the time of this writing, Go 1 is available in source and binary form for FreeBSD 7+, Linux 2.6+, Mac OS X (Snow Leopard and Lion), and Windows 2000+, in all cases for Intel 32-bit and AMD 64-bit processor architectures. There is also support for Linux on ARM processors. Go prebuilt packages are available for the Ubuntu Linux distribution, and may be available for other Linuxes by the time you read this. For learning to program in Go it is easier to install a binary version than to build Go from scratch.

Programs built with gc use a particular calling convention. This means that programs compiled with gc can be linked only to external libraries that use the same calling convention—unless a suitable tool is used to bridge the difference. Go comes with support for using external C code from Go programs in the form of the cgo tool (golang.org/cmd/cgo), and at least on Linux and BSD systems, both C and C++ code can be used in Go programs using the SWIG tool (http://www.swig.org).

In addition to gc there is also the gccgo compiler. This is a Go-specific front end to gcc (the GNU Compiler Collection) available for gcc from version 4.6. Like gc, gccgo may be available prebuilt for some Linux distributions. Instructions for building and installing gccgo are given at golang.org/doc/gccgo_install.html.

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