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Simple, Clutter-free Programming with Go

By Chris Ward

GoLang (generally shortened to Go) is the latest language-that-everyone-wants-to-learn-and-use. In this article, I'll provide an introduction to the language, its features, its potential, and whether you should care about Go or not.

Why Go Was Created

Go gopher

Go gopher, by Renee French

Go is not as new as you may think. Its origins lie in 2007 with Google internal projects, until its public release in 2009. The turning point for the project was the release of version 1 in March 2012, with the aims of the project succinctly communicated by one of the project's creators in an infamous blog post.

Go was created due to a frustration with existing languages suitable for large-scale and infrastructure-level programming. No option combined efficient compilation, execution and programming ease. A language choice was always a compromise on one or more of these.

The core features of Go (covered later) contribute towards its stability and efficiency, and the language was designed to be as simple and clutter-free as possible—starting from a modern outlook, instead of building upon decades of development.

Who's Using Go?

It may feel that everyone is talking about Go, but its rise in popularity is debatable. Much like Docker, the increasing need for scalable applications mean that everyone's talking about several new buzzword-laden technologies. That doesn't mean they're used extensively in production (yet). Disclaimer aside, Go is a rising star, and is attracting a lot of contributors and big-name supporters. Definitely a language to learn and appreciate, but maybe not to convert all your projects to tomorrow.

With large-scale applications, no one language dominates an entire stack, but here are some well known projects and companies that use Go in significant quantity:

Features of Go

Many of the reasons Go is chosen for large-scale, distributed and network-heavy applications are due to its feature set.

Minimalistic Design

Go is designed with a pragmatic, minimal feature set. A lot of complexity and extraneous concepts have been stripped away from C and re-implemented in Go. For example, the language has object-oriented concepts, but they're stripped to bare basics.

Despite this, Go has been well planned and is capable of complex tasks—just without a lot of the coding overhead you may be used to.

Statically Typed

Languages designed for simplicity—such as JavaScript—allow you to create variables dynamically and not worry about assigning the correct type of value to these variables. The language compiler will figure out the variable types needed based on your program logic at runtime. This leads to a far simpler coding experience, but can cause execution inefficiency and error—not only because of this processing overhead, but also due to occasional miss-assignment of variables.

Statically typed languages like Go force a programmer to explicitly declare variable types, and code is checked at compilation time to see if variables are used correctly. This can lead to a longer (but better) coding process, but will identify and remove potential errors earlier and increase efficiency by removing this dynamic checking overhead.

Garbage Collection

Garbage Collection is a form of automatic memory management for applications. Its function is to ascertain which objects in memory are no longer required by the application and reclaim the space for new objects. Other resources such as network sockets and database handles are still handled manually.

Compiled

Languages like PHP and JavaScript are interpreted, with instructions executed directly via an interpreter at run time. Go is a compiled language, with code first compiled into machine language before execution.

A compiled language is generally faster and more efficient to run, but viewing code changes is a longer process, and all platforms your program supports will need individual and specifically compiled targets.

Go is renowned for its fast compilation time, bringing it almost on par with an interpreted language for development speed.

Large Standard Library

A standard library is a set of library functions available across programming languages. These functions are separate in a library for import when your code requires them. Go has a large package library, covering functionality such as compression, I/O, database access and more.

Importing a package is a simple statement. To import the gif sub-package of the image package, you simple need this:

import "image/gif"

To import the image package and its sub-packages, only this:

import "image"

Concurrency

Designed to support multiple CPUs, complex I/O pipelines and distributed infrastructure, the concurrent processing features of Go are one of its banner features and where it excels beyond other languages. By using the channels concept to control access, Go removes the problems with sharing variables that are experienced in other concurrent languages.

At its simplest, start concurrent processes using the go keyword:

    package main

    import "fmt"

    func PrintGreeting(greeting string) {
        fmt.Println("Hello " + greeting)
    }

    func main() {
      go PrintGreeting("World")
    }

This consists of two functions that run concurrently, the main function and the PrintGreeting function called within it. This is a basic example, and there's plenty of other functionality available for concurrent functions and communication between them.

Learning Go

The learning curve of Go will depend on your programming background. Developers with a C background will find the syntax similar, but with the addition of the features mentioned. If you come from a Web language background, it may be a harder start.

The developers of Go have aimed to create a language that combines the simplicity of modern interpreted languages such as Ruby and JavaScript with the reliability of traditional languages like C. If you're new to static typing and concurrent, thread-based concepts, there may be an initial learning curve. However, these paradigm changes will expose you to better overall programming practice.

Learning Resources

These are some great resources to start with:

And if that's not enough resources for you, the Go project maintains a comprehensive list of learning resources.

Taking Go Further

Of course, there's much more to this language than can be covered in an introductory article, but here are some more important features of Go.

Templating

No modern language would be complete without an option to create Web pages. Go's html/template package is part of the standard library, and allows for separation of application logic and layout. As a mixture of HTML and Handlebars, template files will be familiar to anyone who has used other templating systems. For example:

<h1>{{.Title}}</h1>

<p>{{printf "%s" .Body}}</p>

Frameworks

When a new language becomes popular, people create frameworks for it to reduce repetition and boilerplate code. Most Go frameworks are for web applications and include features such as app generators, routing, MVC and ORM Support. Options include:

Mobile

I intend to cover this topic further in a separate article, but Go has been ported to Android and iOS. Android support potentially lays the ground for a move from Java in the future, but that's pure conjecture. If you can't wait for me to finish my article, you can find more details on mobile support here.

Conclusion

Compared to other programming languages, Go is a new and young contender. Typically, this can lead to undeserved hype for an immature product. Thanks to careful and smart choices made by the creators of the language, Go lives up to the hype and consistently delivers on its promise.

Go is not suitable for every application you throw at it and will be overkill for many projects. But if what I've covered in this article appeals to you, then … get Going!

Sorry, couldn't resist that pun! If you’ve used Go, what was your experience?

  • Fred@Bootstrap

    Nice article! One disagreement though: “[Static typing] can lead to a longer but better process.” In my (and many others’) experience static typing doesn’t always lead to better code, longer yes – but not always better. That aside, very informative piece indeed.

    How do you think Go compares to other languages that occupy the same niche, such as Rust?

    • Chris Ward

      I guess there will always be long discussion between better code and the potential for better code. Static typing will lead to better code, but a badly written program is still a badly written program.

      I’m still comparing to other languages right now, ask me in 6 months :)

  • http://timseverien.nl/ Tim Severien

    Good read! I have to give it a go sometime soon!

    • Fred@Bootstrap

      Pun intended! LOL

  • simon codrington

    Thanks for the article Chris. I’m going to take a look at the introductory tutorial you mentioned. Coming from a web centric background I’d be pretty keen to see how this stacks up compared top standard PHP :)

    • Chris Ward

      PHP is changing, but has very different paradigms. I think this may be one of teh reasons people like something new like Go vs older languages like PHP. PHP has had to evolve, Go has no baggage and can start from a ‘better’ place.

  • http://tassedecafe.org Jérémy Heleine

    Thanks for this complete introduction. Now I know that Go is not for me right now! :P

    • Chris Ward

      Not a bad thing, using the right language for the job is important and so many times people just pick what is ‘cool’.

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  • Dmitriy WebMaker

    Nice article, 100% water.

    • Chris Ward

      100% water?

      • Togrul Suleymanov

        This is an example of someone who thinks in Russian and just translates verbatim into English. This Russian expression is equivalent to “milk-and-water”.

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