Monday, April 30, 2012

GoLang Highlights

I have been using Go quite frequently lately, and I would like to talk about the experience. There are several introductions to Go floating around, and reactions to its different conventions and ways of doing things than some people are used to. First, I would like to make it clear, though, that I have only used the gc compiler, as it was impossible to install gccgo on Mac OS X at the time of this writing.

What makes Go similar to X?

  • garbage collection
  • interface embedding
  • struct embedding
What makes Go better than X?
  • type syntax (backwards = fowards)
  • typed channels (no serialization)
  • implicit interfaces
  • segmented stacks


Every scripting language has some form of garbage collection, so Go is not unique in that respect. Interface embedding is when you used a named interface type instead of a method when defining an interface type. It is similar to Haskell's => when constraining a type class. Struct embedding is when you use a named struct type instead of a field declaration when defining a struct type. This is very similar to inheritance in OOP languages, and it also gives the method sets of those child structs to the parent struct. Both of these are called embedding because they are syntactically similar, you just list the typename. However, they mean different things, and it's important to remember this.

Type Syntax

One of the distinguishing features of Go is its beautiful type syntax. Many programmers have noticed that writing types in C can be a headache, because when you read the type aloud, you have to read backward, or sometimes you have to skip around, back and forth in order to read the type properly. In Go there is no such problem, because the types are written exactly how you would say them in English. While this may be an issue in other languages, most speakers of languages of languages with SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) structure would be happy to see this change. It makes programming in Go a pleasure, and contributed greatly to my own productivity in my Go projects.

Typed Channels

Another Go feature is channels. Go channels are different from most other forms of I/O found in other languages because they are not based on bytes or characters, but data. Typed data. Which means instead of being required to serialize and deserialize your data when communicating between threads, or parts of a larger design, you can send them over a channel as is, knowing that you can use the data immediately instead of validating it first. Serialization is also a big issue with large software projects, since they may be written in many languages, which requires serialization in order to get data from one component to another. Go also has a serialization format, called gob, which can be considered a codec for most major types in the language. So you don't have to serialize, but if you want to, then it's available.

Implicit Interfaces

Another distinguishing feature of Go is implicit interfaces. Most languages with interfaces require explicit statements of implementation, such as Java and Haskell (for type classes). Go has no such requirement (and no such syntax). An interfaces is a collection of methods. A named type has an associated set of methods attached to it, called its method set. A named type implements an interface iff the methods it requires are a subset of the named type's method set. That's it! It's that simple. And because you don't have to make it explicit, it allows you to focus on more important things.

Segmented Stacks

The first and foremost under-appreciated and under-documented feature found only in Go is that of segmented stacks. Segmented stacks is what Go developers call the combination of implementation choices that led to the Go calling convention. It is an intersection of many features, such as: dynamic stack allocation, runtime checks, variable arguments, and deferred functions. Simply put, there is so much that happens between 'return' the statement, and 'RET' the instruction. First, the Go runtime has to check to see if there are any deferred functions to run, then it has to see if it allocated any stack space for the current function, and if it did and it isn't required anymore, then it frees the stack. Similarly, when a function is called, one of the first things that happens is the Go runtime checks to see if more stack space is required. What this means is that - in Go - there are no stack overflows!

Since segmented stacks are such an interesting feature, I suspect that I will revisit them in the future with a more in-depth discussion than I can ever hope to achieve in one paragraph.