Getting Started with Go

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Over the last year, I’ve been slowly teaching myself Go. As a Python programmer who previously studied Java and Perl (veeeery briefly), I wanted to know what learning Go would teach me about programming and problem solving in general (à la the Blub Paradox). However, as I’ve continued learning Go, I’ve become increasingly curious about some of the unique features of the language (e.g. automatic memory management and Goroutines), and how they might help me to solve classes of problems I haven’t yet encountered. But… before we get to all that, this is just a quick post that goes over some of the basics of getting started with Go, including notes on installation, the go tool, and workspaces.

Notes on Installing Go (Assuming OSX)

When you download and open the Go distribution, and follow the installation prompts, the package installs the Go distribution to /usr/local/go and puts the /usr/local/go/bin directory in your PATH environment variable. Check by opening up your bash profile:

cd ~
open .bash_profile

After installation, you should see a new line:

# Golang
export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/go/bin

The Go Tool

The current distribution of Go comes packaged with the go tool, a command line interface for performing common tasks like running, building, and installing code, and also retrieving public packages and necessary dependencies from distributed version control systems like GitHub.

Some commands include (in the below examples, imagine that add.go is an example source file that has package main as the first line, and ballast is a local Go package, potentially with multiple files):

  • go run: go run add.go runs the code from the hypothetical add.go file. It uses a temporary directory to build, execute, and clean up, but does not produce an executable artifact. Note: this can be useful for development.
  • go build: assuming our add.go file is package main, go build add.go explicitly compiles the file to produce an executable that can be deployed and run without the go tool. go build puts the executable in the current directory.
  • go install: go install add.go also compiles add.go and produces an executable, but puts it in $GOPATH/bin.
  • go get: go get github.com/rebeccabilbro/ballast will clone the ballast repo from GitHub user rebeccabilbro onto our local machine, placing it inside $GOPATH/src, in a local folder src/github.com/rebeccabilbro/ballast. It will also automatically build and install ballast into $GOPATH/pkg, storing a package object ballast.a in a folder pkg/darwin_amd64/github.com/rebeccabilbro. Note: the darwin_amd64 part is an automated way of capturing semantically which operating system and processor architecture were used in the local build/install process.
  • go fmt: go fmt src/github.com/rebeccabilbro/ballast automatically reformats code (e.g. spacing, line breaks, etc) in all the files in the hypothetical ballast package to conform with current idiomatic practice.
  • go help: go help will list out all the go tool commands, while go help <command> will provide more information about that command, as well as any optional flags.

Code Organization in Go

The next step is to establish your Go “workspace”. But… what’s a workspace? The idea of a workspace is one of the things that makes the practice of writing Go code a bit different than with other languages. When I’m writing Python code, it can go anywhere.

So maybe I’ll have something like:

~
└─ random_python_script.py
└── Desktop
|    └── another_random_script.py
└── stuff                            
|    └── yellowbrick
|    |    └── yellowbrick
|    |    |    └── __init__.py
|    |    |    └── anscombe.py
|    |    |    └── base.py
|    |    |    └── bestfit.py
|    |    |    └── classifier
|    |    |    |    └── __init__.py
|    |    |    |    └── base.py
|    |    |    |    └── boundaries.py
|    |    |    └── ...
|    |    └── ...
|    └── ...
| ...

My .py files are all over the place - some in standalone scripts and others in packages with __init__.py files, and everything still runs fine!

Go imagines a different approach to code organization, the workspace.

Your Go Workspace (GOPATH)

A Go workspace is a directory hierarchy to house the Go source code for a project. It will also end up containing the package objects and command binaries that the compiler produces from your source code. Technically, workspaces can live anywhere, and you could even have multiple ones, but that’s not considered a best practice in the Go community.

Let’s create a workspace called goplaces inside my Projects directory:

~$ cd ~
~$ cd Projects
~$ mkdir goplaces                                           # create workspace dir
~$ export GOPATH=/Users/rebeccabilbro/Projects/goplaces     # make Go tool aware of workspace

Where to Put Your Source Code

Now let’s create a folder to store the source code (src) for my Go projects. By convention, we create a subfolder for the remote version control system we will be using to host the code, which theoretically for me might include both personal projects hosted on GitHub and work projects hosted on Gitlab, e.g.:

~$ cd goplaces
~$ mkdir src/github.com/rebeccabilbro     
~$ mkdir src/gitlab.com/rbilbro     

We create folders with the same names as my Github and Gitlab usernames because when I go get packages from other developers that are publicly hosted, the go tool will create subfolders named after their usernames to store those packages in.

Where Go Puts Things

Remember in the part above where we were talking about go install? Assuming the package we’re installing is package main, go install compiles it and produces an executable that it will put in $GOPATH/bin. So let’s create a directory to store those executable commands:

~$ mkdir bin

And also add the GOBIN to our path, which will tell Go explicitly where to put the results of go install:

~$ export GOBIN=/Users/rebeccabilbro/Projects/goplaces/bin      

Lastly, we’ll create a directory to store package objects

~$ mkdir pkg   

Note: the workplace subdirectories pkg and bin will be created automatically by the go tool when they are needed, but it’s useful to create them explicitly so that we understand their purposes and have all our paths set correctly.

An Example Workspace

So here’s an example of what a workspace might look like:

goplaces
└── bin
|   └── ballast              # example executable, result of installing ballast from src
└── pkg                            
|   └── darwin_amd64
|    |   └── github.com
|    |    |   └── bbengfort  # package objects from `go get`-ing bbengfort's source code
|    |    |        └── capillary.a
└── src                              
|    └── github.com
|    |    └── rebeccabilbro
|    |    |    └── axiomatic  # in dev mode (`go run` only, so no `/bin` executables)
|    |    |    |    └── raise.go
|    |    |    |    └── resolve.go
|    |    |   └── ballast    # a finished project, installed via `go install`
|    |    |    |    └── add.go
|    |    |    |    └── add_test.go
|    |    └── bbengfort       # another user's source code retrieved via `go get`
|    |    |    └── capillary
|    |    |    |    └── pump.go
|    |    |    |    └── ...
|    └── gitlab.com
|    |    └── rbilbro
|    |    |    └── dumbledore # project made for work
| ...

What About GOROOT?

It used to be necessary to set a lot of other paths manually in addition to GOPATH. Following changes made to the Go distribution & installation package, we no longer need to set GOROOT. The correct value is already embedded in the Go tool. More about that here.

Ok, that’s all for now!

Further Reading

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