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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

1.7 A Web Server

Go’s libraries makes it easy to write a web server that responds to client requests like those made by fetch. In this section, we’ll show a minimal server that returns the path component of the URL used to access the server. That is, if the request is for http://localhost:8000/hello, the response will be URL.Path = "/hello".

   // Server1 is a minimal "echo" server.
   package main

   import (

   func main() {
       http.HandleFunc("/", handler) // each request calls handler
       log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe("localhost:8000", nil))

   // handler echoes the Path component of the requested URL.
   func handler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "URL.Path = %q\n", r.URL.Path)

The program is only a handful of lines long because library functions do most of the work. The main function connects a handler function to incoming URLs whose path begins with /, which is all URLs, and starts a server listening for incoming requests on port 8000. A request is represented as a struct of type http.Request, which contains a number of related fields, one of which is the URL of the incoming request. When a request arrives, it is given to the handler function, which extracts the path component (/hello) from the request URL and sends it back as the response, using fmt.Fprintf. Web servers will be explained in detail in Section 7.7.

Let’s start the server in the background. On Mac OS X or Linux, add an ampersand (&) to the command; on Microsoft Windows, you will need to run the command without the ampersand in a separate command window.

$ go run src/gopl.io/ch1/server1/main.go &

We can then make client requests from the command line:

$ go build gopl.io/ch1/fetch
$ ./fetch http://localhost:8000
URL.Path = "/"
$ ./fetch http://localhost:8000/help
URL.Path = "/help"

Alternatively, we can access the server from a web browser, as shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2. A response from the echo server.

It’s easy to add features to the server. One useful addition is a specific URL that returns a status of some sort. For example, this version does the same echo but also counts the number of requests; a request to the URL /count returns the count so far, excluding /count requests themselves:

   // Server2 is a minimal "echo" and counter server.
   package main

   import (

   var mu sync.Mutex
   var count int

   func main() {
       http.HandleFunc("/", handler)
       http.HandleFunc("/count", counter)
       log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe("localhost:8000", nil))

   // handler echoes the Path component of the requested URL.
   func handler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "URL.Path = %q\n", r.URL.Path)

   // counter echoes the number of calls so far.
   func counter(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "Count %d\n", count)

The server has two handlers, and the request URL determines which one is called: a request for /count invokes counter and all others invoke handler. A handler pattern that ends with a slash matches any URL that has the pattern as a prefix. Behind the scenes, the server runs the handler for each incoming request in a separate goroutine so that it can serve multiple requests simultaneously. However, if two concurrent requests try to update count at the same time, it might not be incremented consistently; the program would have a serious bug called a race condition (§9.1). To avoid this problem, we must ensure that at most one goroutine accesses the variable at a time, which is the purpose of the mu.Lock() and mu.Unlock() calls that bracket each access of count. We’ll look more closely at concurrency with shared variables in Chapter 9.

As a richer example, the handler function can report on the headers and form data that it receives, making the server useful for inspecting and debugging requests:

   // handler echoes the HTTP request.
   func handler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "%s %s %s\n", r.Method, r.URL, r.Proto)
       for k, v := range r.Header {
           fmt.Fprintf(w, "Header[%q] = %q\n", k, v)
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "Host = %q\n", r.Host)
       fmt.Fprintf(w, "RemoteAddr = %q\n", r.RemoteAddr)
       if err := r.ParseForm(); err != nil {
       for k, v := range r.Form {
           fmt.Fprintf(w, "Form[%q] = %q\n", k, v)

This uses the fields of the http.Request struct to produce output like this:

GET /?q=query HTTP/1.1
Header["Accept-Encoding"] = ["gzip, deflate, sdch"]
Header["Accept-Language"] = ["en-US,en;q=0.8"]
Header["Connection"] = ["keep-alive"]
Header["Accept"] = ["text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;..."]
Header["User-Agent"] = ["Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_7_5)..."]
Host = "localhost:8000"
RemoteAddr = ""
Form["q"] = ["query"]

Notice how the call to ParseForm is nested within an if statement. Go allows a simple statement such as a local variable declaration to precede the if condition, which is particularly useful for error handling as in this example. We could have written it as

err := r.ParseForm()
if err != nil {

but combining the statements is shorter and reduces the scope of the variable err, which is good practice. We’ll define scope in Section 2.7.

In these programs, we’ve seen three very different types used as output streams. The fetch program copied HTTP response data to os.Stdout, a file, as did the lissajous program. The fetchall program threw the response away (while counting its length) by copying it to the trivial sink ioutil.Discard. And the web server above used fmt.Fprintf to write to an http.ResponseWriter representing the web browser.

Although these three types differ in the details of what they do, they all satisfy a common interface, allowing any of them to be used wherever an output stream is needed. That interface, called io.Writer, is discussed in Section 7.1.

Go’s interface mechanism is the topic of Chapter 7, but to give an idea of what it’s capable of, let’s see how easy it is to combine the web server with the lissajous function so that animated GIFs are written not to the standard output, but to the HTTP client. Just add these lines to the web server:

handler := func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
http.HandleFunc("/", handler)

or equivalently:

http.HandleFunc("/", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {

The second argument to the HandleFunc function call immediately above is a function literal, that is, an anonymous function defined at its point of use. We will explain it further in Section 5.6.

Once you’ve made this change, visit http://localhost:8000 in your browser. Each time you load the page, you’ll see a new animation like the one in Figure 1.3.

Exercise 1.12: Modify the Lissajous server to read parameter values from the URL. For example, you might arrange it so that a URL like http://localhost:8000/?cycles=20 sets the number of cycles to 20 instead of the default 5. Use the strconv.Atoi function to convert the string parameter into an integer. You can see its documentation with go doc strconv.Atoi.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3. Animated Lissajous figures in a browser.

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