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Using Golang in Production - My Experiences

Published May 02, 2017Last updated May 09, 2017
Using Golang in Production - My Experiences

For the last year, I was working with the development team of a leading media entertainment company in India and developed a cloud platform to distribute DCPs across the globe in a uniform, scalable and cost-effective manner.

We built the entire platform using golang and event-driven microservices architecture. It was an exciting journey, and this blog post summarizes my experiences of using golang in this project.

The Learning Curve

Golang is a simple language to learn. Any developer who has some good experience in any programming language can pick it in a month. It took me two weeks to understand the language.

I've also learned a lot from the code review comments from the other developers of my team who are already familiar with the language.

The official golang site has done an excellent job in coming up two important learning resources for the beginners.

  • A Tour of Go - Through a series of in-browser hands-on tutorials you can get a good feel of the language in few hours.
  • Effective Go - It is one the best introduction as well as best practices documentation of a programming language that I have read. Right from package naming convention to how to do state sharing, this documentation will provide all it required to write an idiomatic golang code.

In addition to these resources, I recommend the Golang FAQs and the GoByExample for the beginners.

Go Routines, Channels and Select

In my perspective, go routines, channels and select are the sweet spots of golang. These abstractions are elegant and enable you to write concurrent programs without any hassles.

We have made substantial use of golang concurrency whenever it made sense, and the benefits were incredible. The blog post on Go Concurrency Patterns is an excellent read to get a feel of it.

Interfaces in golang

My favorite feature in golang is its support for interfaces.

Unlike C# or Java, you don't need to specify the name of the interface when a type implements an interface. Because of this, the package in which the type present, doesn't need to refer the package in which the interface has been declared.

Yan Cui has written a great blog post about its elegance.

The design for Go’s interface stems from the observation that patterns and abstractions only become apparent after we’ve seen it a few times. So rather than locking us in with abstractions at the start of a project when we’re at the point of our greatest ignorance, we can define these abstractions as and when they become apparent to us. - Yan Cui

The Go Proverbs

The Go Proverbs provides a set of principles and guidelines while developing software in golang.

Though certain principles (A little copying is better than a little dependency.) look weird, they have profound meaning behind it.

Like the saying, "You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.", to appreciate these proverbs you need to spend a decent amount time in developing software in go.

Golang Standard Library

The golang standard library is futuristic. It has pretty much all that is required for solving the general problems efficiently.

The surprising factor for me is treating JSON as a first class citizen in the standard library.

Most of the languages rely on an open source library to deal with JSON. Having JSON handling as part of the standard library shows how much thought and care has been put in.

Declared and Not used Compiler Error

Another good thing that golang got it right is showing compiler errors for unused variables and packages.

The software which we write evolve along with its business requirements. Continuous refactoring, feature addition or deletion, changing the architecture to meet the new demands are some the stuff that we do during the evolution of the software. During these activities often we miss removing the unused code and the packages that we were using before.

Through this compiler error, golang forces the developer to write better code. The biggest advantage is while reading the code written by someone, you can be sure that the variables and the packages are always being used.

Also removing unused packages results in smaller binary size.

go Command (Command Line Interface) and go tools

The go command is an another well thought out feature in golang which comes by default with the installation.

Using go command, you can compile & build the code, download and install external packages, run the tests and lot more without relying on any other external tools. The go test command is incredibly fast and it made our job easier while doing Test-Driven development.

The gofmt command enabled our team to follow a consistent formatting of golang source files. Thanks to this awesome tool we hardly had code review comments on the format of the code.

The golang tools, especially goimports and gorename has been extremely useful

go install and Single executable binary

The command which I loved the most in golang is the go install command. It takes care of compiling the code and produces a stand alone executable binary. Due to caching of intermediary packages, it builds the executable binary incredibly fast.

To run this resulted binary file, we don't have to install anything on the target machine (Like JVM, .NET).

It enabled us to share the microservice as an executable file with the other team members to create spikes, develop and locally test other dependent microservices.

Just like bundling the front-end assets into single javascript file and serving them via CDNs, we can even do continuous deployment of golang codebase by serving the binaries from a content provider like Amazon S3, if it makes sense!

We can also do cross-compilation of your golang code for different OSes and Architectures using go build command.

Open Source Libraries in golang

Golang has a thriving open source community, and it houses a vast collection of open source libraries and frameworks. Here is the list of some of the things that we have used heavily

  • AMQP - To interact with RabbitMQ
  • GORM - To perform database operations in PostgreSQL
  • go-uuid - To generate and use UUIDs
  • migrate - For database migrations
  • envconfig - For managing configuration data from environment variables
  • negroni - To write HTTP middlewares
  • httprouter - For handling HTTP routes. We have used this along with golang's standard HTTP handlers
  • logrus - Simple and powerful library for logging
  • testify - For unit test assertions

For most of the common things that you'd like to do in your project, you can always find an off the shelf open source library

Private methods, functions and struct fields

I was admired when I came to know that just by using a naming convention, I can specify public and private methods, functions and struct fields.

It is a smart feature in the language. If you want to expose them as public, start with an upper case letter and start with a lower case letter if you want to them to be used only inside a package or a struct.

Not So Good Features in Golang

So far in this blog post, I've shared the features that I liked very much in golang. In the rest of the post, I am about to share the not so good features in golang. The heading was intentionally started with "Not So Good" as the things that I am about to share are not bad ones according to the golang language design principles and the go proverbs that we have seen earlier.

IMHO there is no perfect programming language, and there is no silver bullet. All languages shine in certain areas and not so good in some other areas. At the end of the day, a programming language is just a tool which we use to solve the business problems. We need to pick an appropriate language that solves the problem in hand.

Disclaimer: The intention of this blog post is to share my experiences and provide honest feedback to the people who is evaluating golang.

The Golang way of handling errors

The imperative way of handling errors is one of the common complaint raised by many people.

  _, err = foobar1()
  if err != nil {
   return err
  }
  _, err = foobar2()
  if err != nil {
   return err
  }
  _, err = foobar3()
  if err != nil {
   return err
  }
  // and so on

Rob Pike addresses this concern in a detailed blog post, Errors are values and quotes a pattern using errWriter to avoid the repetition. It is a good design and elegantly wraps the nil check on the error. The downside of this approach is we need to write an extra wrapper for every new type to get rid of the repetitiveness. The wrapper approach may get complex if the foobar1, foobar2, and foobar3 are addressing different concerns.

For people who is coming from typed functional programming languages (F#, Haskell, Scala) background, like me, this may look little awkward to write it in this way. There is a proposal to include Result type in golang but I feel it may not be incorporated.

Treating nil as value

While other languages are moving away from dealing with null values and replacing it with option types, golang is taking a backward step by treating nil (equivalent for null in Go) as a valid value. So we need to be cautious while using the nil value. Lack of discipline may result in runtime exceptions (panic in go vocabulary)

This problem can be avoided to some degree by having a function/method to return two values, the actual value to be returned and the error, and ensuring that the actual value will never be nil, if the error is nil and vice versa. Unfortunately, this approach leads to the repetition concern that we just saw.

Absence of generics

This also an another typical critic in golang. There is an answer of for this question in golang FAQ saying, it is in the pipeline but my opinion is it may not be in the near future.

There are some workarounds like using an empty interface and casting it to appropriate types using type assertion.

The real concern is trying to do map, filter, reduce operations over collections. Again there are workarounds by using templating and reflection, but it has its own cost (performance and boilerplate code). After fiddling around with different options, We went back to the classic way of iterating through for loop.

Mutable variables and imperative coding

For developers who is coming from the functional programming background, the mutable variables and imperative way of writing code are speed breakers in the golang journey.

Though golang has some good support for doing functional programming, the presence of mutable variables and imperative way doing certain things, hinder the progress.

Summary

Apart from these few concerns, I've liked golang and enjoyed using it.

The language design principles of golang are my important takeaways. I strongly recommend watching the talks of Rob Pike on golang design; even you are not going to use golang.

I'd consider using golang in an another project in future for sure if it is an appropriate language for the problem at hand.

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Leveraging interfaces in golang - Part 1