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The Go Programming Language: A Tutorial

This chapter from The Go Programming Language is a tour of the basic components of Go. The examples here are aimed at tasks that you might have to do in the real world. This tutorial gives you a taste of the diversity of programs that one might write in Go, ranging from simple file processing and a bit of graphics to concurrent Internet clients and servers.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

This chapter is a tour of the basic components of Go. We hope to provide enough information and examples to get you off the ground and doing useful things as quickly as possible. The examples here, and indeed in the whole book, are aimed at tasks that you might have to do in the real world. In this chapter we’ll try to give you a taste of the diversity of programs that one might write in Go, ranging from simple file processing and a bit of graphics to concurrent Internet clients and servers. We certainly won’t explain everything in the first chapter, but studying such programs in a new language can be an effective way to get started.

When you’re learning a new language, there’s a natural tendency to write code as you would have written it in a language you already know. Be aware of this bias as you learn Go and try to avoid it. We’ve tried to illustrate and explain how to write good Go, so use the code here as a guide when you’re writing your own.

1.1 Hello, World

We’ll start with the now-traditional “hello, world” example, which appears at the beginning of The C Programming Language, published in 1978. C is one of the most direct influences on Go, and “hello, world” illustrates a number of central ideas.

   package main

   import "fmt"

   func main() {
       fmt.Println("Hello, icon-1.jpg")

Go is a compiled language. The Go toolchain converts a source program and the things it depends on into instructions in the native machine language of a computer. These tools are accessed through a single command called go that has a number of subcommands. The simplest of these subcommands is run, which compiles the source code from one or more source files whose names end in .go, links it with libraries, then runs the resulting executable file. (We will use $ as the command prompt throughout the book.)

$ go run helloworld.go

Not surprisingly, this prints

Hello, icon-1.jpg

Go natively handles Unicode, so it can process text in all the world’s languages.

If the program is more than a one-shot experiment, it’s likely that you would want to compile it once and save the compiled result for later use. That is done with go build:

$ go build helloworld.go

This creates an executable binary file called helloworld that can be run any time without further processing:

$ ./helloworld
Hello, icon-1.jpg

We have labeled each significant example as a reminder that you can obtain the code from the book’s source code repository at gopl.io:


If you run go get gopl.io/ch1/helloworld, it will fetch the source code and place it in the corresponding directory. There’s more about this topic in Section 2.6 and Section 10.7.

Let’s now talk about the program itself. Go code is organized into packages, which are similar to libraries or modules in other languages. A package consists of one or more .go source files in a single directory that define what the package does. Each source file begins with a package declaration, here package main, that states which package the file belongs to, followed by a list of other packages that it imports, and then the declarations of the program that are stored in that file.

The Go standard library has over 100 packages for common tasks like input and output, sorting, and text manipulation. For instance, the fmt package contains functions for printing formatted output and scanning input. Println is one of the basic output functions in fmt; it prints one or more values, separated by spaces, with a newline character at the end so that the values appear as a single line of output.

Package main is special. It defines a standalone executable program, not a library. Within package main the function main is also special—it’s where execution of the program begins. Whatever main does is what the program does. Of course, main will normally call upon functions in other packages to do much of the work, such as the function fmt.Println.

We must tell the compiler what packages are needed by this source file; that’s the role of the import declaration that follows the package declaration. The “hello, world” program uses only one function from one other package, but most programs will import more packages.

You must import exactly the packages you need. A program will not compile if there are missing imports or if there are unnecessary ones. This strict requirement prevents references to unused packages from accumulating as programs evolve.

The import declarations must follow the package declaration. After that, a program consists of the declarations of functions, variables, constants, and types (introduced by the keywords func, var, const, and type); for the most part, the order of declarations does not matter. This program is about as short as possible since it declares only one function, which in turn calls only one other function. To save space, we will sometimes not show the package and import declarations when presenting examples, but they are in the source file and must be there to compile the code.

A function declaration consists of the keyword func, the name of the function, a parameter list (empty for main), a result list (also empty here), and the body of the function—the statements that define what it does—enclosed in braces. We’ll take a closer look at functions in Chapter 5.

Go does not require semicolons at the ends of statements or declarations, except where two or more appear on the same line. In effect, newlines following certain tokens are converted into semicolons, so where newlines are placed matters to proper parsing of Go code. For instance, the opening brace { of the function must be on the same line as the end of the func declaration, not on a line by itself, and in the expression x + y, a newline is permitted after but not before the + operator.

Go takes a strong stance on code formatting. The gofmt tool rewrites code into the standard format, and the go tool’s fmt subcommand applies gofmt to all the files in the specified package, or the ones in the current directory by default. All Go source files in the book have been run through gofmt, and you should get into the habit of doing the same for your own code. Declaring a standard format by fiat eliminates a lot of pointless debate about trivia and, more importantly, enables a variety of automated source code transformations that would be infeasible if arbitrary formatting were allowed.

Many text editors can be configured to run gofmt each time you save a file, so that your source code is always properly formatted. A related tool, goimports, additionally manages the insertion and removal of import declarations as needed. It is not part of the standard distribution but you can obtain it with this command:

$ go get golang.org/x/tools/cmd/goimports

For most users, the usual way to download and build packages, run their tests, show their documentation, and so on, is with the go tool, which we’ll look at in Section 10.7.

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