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      Learning Go Functions, Loops, and Errors – A Tutorial


      Updated by Linode Contributed by Mihalis Tsoukalos

      Introduction

      Go is a modern, open source, and general-purpose programming language that began as an internal Google project and was officially announced at the end of 2009. Go was inspired by many other programming languages including C, Pascal, Alef, and Oberon. Its spiritual fathers were Robert Griesemer, Ken Thomson, and Rob Pike, who all designed Go as a language for professional programmers that want to build reliable, robust, and efficient software. Apart from its syntax and its standard functions, Go comes with a rich standard library.

      In this Guide

      This guide will cover the following topics:

      Note

      This guide was written with Go version 1.13.

      Before You Begin

      1. You will need Go installed on your computer. To get it, go to Go’s official download page and get the installer for your operating system, or you can install it from source. Follow the installation instructions for your operating system.

      2. Add /usr/local/go/bin to the PATH environment variable:

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

        You may need to restart your shell for this change to apply.

      The Advantages of Go

      Although Go is not perfect, it has many advantages, including the following:

      • It is a modern programming language that was made by experienced developers for developers.
      • The code is easy to read.
      • Go keeps concepts orthogonal, or simple, because a few orthogonal features work better than many overlapping ones.
      • The compiler prints practical warnings and error messages that help you solve the actual problem.
      • It has support for procedural, concurrent, and distributed programming.
      • Go supports garbage collection so you do not have to deal with memory allocation and deallocation.
      • Go can be used to build web applications and it provides a simple web server for testing purposes.
      • The standard Go library offers many packages that simplify the work of the developer.
      • It uses static linking by default, which means that the produced binary files can be easily transferred to other machines with the same OS and architecture. As a consequence, once a Go program is compiled successfully and the executable file is generated, the developer does not need to worry about dependencies and library versions.
      • The code is portable, especially among UNIX machines.
      • Go can be used for writing UNIX systems software.
      • It supports Unicode by default which means that you do not need any extra code for printing characters from multiple human languages or symbols.

      Executing Go code

      There are two kinds of Go programs: autonomous programs that are executable, and Go libraries. Go does not care about an autonomous program’s file name. What matters is that the package name is main and that there is a single main() function in it. This is because the main() function is where program execution begins. As a result, you cannot have multiple main() functions in the files of a single project.

      A Simple Go program

      This is the Go version of the Hello World program:

      ./helloworld.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func main() {
          fmt.Println("Hello World!")
      }
      • All Go code is delivered within Go packages. For executable programs, the package name should be main. Package declarations begin with the package keyword.

      • Executable programs should have a function named main() without any function parameters. Function definitions begin with the func keyword.

      • Go packages might include import statements for importing Go packages. However, Go demands that you use some functionality from each one of the packages that you import. There is a way to bypass this rule, however, it is considered a bad practice to do this.

        The helloworld.go file above imports the fmt package and uses the fmt.Println() function from that package.

        Note

        All exported package functions begin with an uppercase letter. This follows the Go rule: if you export something outside the current package, it should begin with an uppercase letter. This rule applies even if the field of the Go structure or the global variable is included in a Go package.

      • Go statements do not need to end with a semicolon. However, you are free to use semicolons if you wish. For more information on formatting with curly braces, see the section below.

      1. Now that you better understand the helloworld.go program, execute it with the go run command:

        go run helloworld.go
        

        You will see the following output:

          
        Hello World!
        
        

        This is the simplest of two ways that you can execute Go code. The go run command compiles the code and creates a temporary executable file that is automatically executed and then it deletes that temporary executable file. This is similar to using a scripting programming language.

      2. The second method to execute Go code is to use the build command. Run the following command to use this method:

        go build helloworld.go
        

        The result of that command is a binary executable file that you have to manually execute. This method is similar to the way you execute C code on a UNIX machine. The executable file is named after the Go source filename, which means that in this case the result will be an executable file named helloworld. Go creates statically linked executable files that have no dependencies to external libraries.

      3. Execute the helloworld file:

        ./helloworld
        

        You will see the following output:

          
        Hello World!
        
        

        Note

        The go run command is usually used while experimenting and developing new Go projects. However, if you need to transfer an executable file to another system with the same architecture, you should use go build.

      Formatting Curly Braces

      The following version of the “Hello World” program will not compile:

      ./curly.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func main()
      {
          fmt.Println("Hello World!")
      }
      1. Execute the program above, and observer the error message generated by the compiler:

        go run curly.go
        
          
        # command-line-arguments
        ./curly.go:7:6: missing function body
        ./curly.go:8:1: syntax error: unexpected semicolon or newline before {
        
        
      • This error message is generated because Go requires the use of semicolons as statement terminators in many contexts and the compiler automatically inserts the required semicolons when it thinks that they are necessary. Putting the opening curly brace ({) on its own line makes the Go compiler look for a semicolon at the end of the previous line (func main()), which is the cause of the error message.

      • There is only one way to format curly braces in Go; the opening curly brace must not appear on it’s own line. Additionally, you must use curly braces even if a code block contains a single Go statement, like in the body of a for loop. You can see an example of this in the first version of the helloworld.go program or in the Loops in Go section.

      The Assignment Operator and Short Variable Declarations

      • Go supports assignment (=) operators and short variable declarations (:=).
      • With := you can declare a variable and assign a value to it at the same time. The type of the variable is inferred from the given value.
      • You can use = in two cases. First, to assign a new value to an existing variable and second, to declare a new variable, provided that you also give its type.

        For example, var aVariable int = 10, is equivalent to aVariable := 10 assuming aVariable is an int.

      • When you specifically want to control a variable’s type, it is safer to declare the variable and its type using var and then assign a value to it using =.

      Loops in Go

      The file loops.go demonstrates loops in Go:

      ./loops.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func main() {
          for loopIndex := 0; loopIndex < 20; loopIndex++ {
              if loopIndex%10 == 0 {
                  continue
              }
      
              if loopIndex == 19 {
                  break
              }
              fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
          }
          fmt.Println()
      
          // Use break to exit the for loop
          loopIndex := 10
          for {
              if loopIndex < 0 {
                  break
              }
              fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
              loopIndex--
          }
          fmt.Println()
      
          // This is similar to a while(true) do something loop
          loopIndex = 0
          anExpression := true
          for ok := true; ok; ok = anExpression {
              if loopIndex > 10 {
                  anExpression = false
              }
      
              fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
              loopIndex++
          }
          fmt.Println()
      
          anArray := [5]int{0, 1, -1, 2, -2}
          for loopIndex, value := range anArray {
              fmt.Println("index:", loopIndex, "value: ", value)
          }
      }
      • There are two types of for loops in Go. Traditional for loops that use a control variable initialization, condition, and afterthought; and those that iterate over the elements of a Go data type such as an array or a map using the range keyword.

      • Go has no direct support for while loops. If you want to use a while loop, you can emulate it with a for loop.

      • In their simplest form, for loops allow you to iterate, a predefined number of times, for as long as a condition is valid, or according to a value that is calculated at the beginning of the for loop. Such values include the size of a slice or an array, or the number of keys on a map. However, range is more often used for accessing all the elements of a slice, an array, or a map because you do not need to know the object’s cardinality in order to process its elements one by one. For simplicity, this example uses an array, and a later example will use a slice.

      • You can completely exit a for loop using the break keyword. The break keyword also allows you to create a for loop without an exit condition because the exit condition can be included in the code block of the for loop. You are also allowed to have multiple exit conditions in a for loop.

      • You can skip a single iteration of a for loop using the continue keyword.

      1. Execute the loops.go program:

        go run loops.go
        

        You will see the following output:

          
        1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
        10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
        0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
        index: 0 value:  0
        index: 1 value:  1
        index: 2 value:  -1
        index: 3 value:  2
        index: 4 value:  -2
            
        

      Functions in Go

      Functions are first class citizens in Go, which means that functions can be parameters to other functions as well as returned by functions. This section will illustrate various types of functions.

      Go also supports anonymous functions. These can be defined inline without the need for a name and they are usually used for implementing operations that require a small amount of code. In Go, a function can return an anonymous function or take an anonymous function as one of its arguments. Additionally, anonymous functions can be attached to Go variables. In functional programming terminology anonymous functions are called closures. It is considered a good practice for anonymous functions to have a small implementation and a local focus.

      Regular functions

      This section will present the implementation of some traditional functions.

      ./functions.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func doubleSquare(firstNum int) (int, int) {
          return firstNum * 2, firstNum * firstNum
      }
      
      func namedMinMax(firstNum, secondNum int) (min, max int) {
          if firstNum > secondNum {
              min = secondNum
              max = firstNum
          } else {
              min = firstNum
              max = secondNum
          }
          return
      }
      
      func minMax(firstNum, secondNum int) (min, max int) {
          if firstNum > secondNum {
              min = secondNum
              max = firstNum
          } else {
              min = firstNum
              max = secondNum
          }
          return min, max
      }
      
      func main() {
          secondNum := 10
      
          square := func(numberToSquare int) int {
              return numberToSquare * numberToSquare
          }
          fmt.Println("The square of", secondNum, "is", square(secondNum))
      
          double := func(numberToDouble int) int {
              return numberToDouble + numberToDouble
          }
          fmt.Println("The double of", secondNum, "is", double(secondNum))
      
          fmt.Println(doubleSquare(secondNum))
          doubledNumber, squaredNumber := doubleSquare(secondNum)
          fmt.Println(doubledNumber, squaredNumber)
      
          value1 := -10
          value2 := -1
          fmt.Println(minMax(value1, value2))
          min, max := minMax(value1, value2)
          fmt.Println(min, max)
          fmt.Println(namedMinMax(value1, value2))
          min, max = namedMinMax(value1, value2)
          fmt.Println(min, max)
      }
      • The main() function takes no arguments and returns no arguments. Once the special function main() exits, the program automatically ends.

      • The doubleSquare() function requires a single int parameter and returns two int values, which is defined as (int, int).

      • All function arguments must have a name – variadic functions are the only exception to this rule.

      • If a function returns a single value, you do not need to put parenthesis around its type.

      • Because namedMinMax() has named return values in its signature, the min and max parameters are automatically returned in the order in which they were put in the function definition. Therefore, the function does not need to explicitly return any variables or values in its return statement at the end, and does not. minMax() function has the same functionality as namedMinMax() but it explicitly returns its values demonstrating that both ways are valid.

      • Both square and double variables in main() are assigned an anonymous function. However, nothing stops you from changing the value of square, double, or any other variable that holds the result of an anonymous function, afterwards. This means that both variables may have a different value in the future.

      1. Execute the functions.go program.

        go run functions.go
        

        Your output will resemble the following:

          
        The square of 10 is 100
        The double of 10 is 20
        20 100
        20 100
        -10 -1
        -10 -1
        -10 -1
        -10 -1
            
        

      Variadic functions

      Variadic functions are functions that accept a variable number of arguments. The most popular variadic functions in Go can be found in the fmt package. The code of variadic.go illustrates the creation and the use of variadic functions.

      ./variadic.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func varFunc(input ...string) {
          fmt.Println(input)
      }
      
      func oneByOne(message string, sliceOfNumbers ...int) int {
          fmt.Println(message)
          sum := 0
          for indexInSlice, sliceElement := range sliceOfNumbers {
              fmt.Print(indexInSlice, sliceElement, "t")
              sum = sum + sliceElement
          }
          fmt.Println()
          sliceOfNumbers[0] = -1000
          return sum
      }
      
      func main() {
          many := []string{"12", "3", "b"}
          varFunc(many...)
          sum := oneByOne("Adding numbers...", 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, -1, 10)
          fmt.Println("Sum:", sum)
          sliceOfNumbers := []int{1, 2, 3}
          sum = oneByOne("Adding numbers...", sliceOfNumbers...)
          fmt.Println(sliceOfNumbers)
      }
      • The ... operator used as a prefix to a type like ...int is called the pack operator, whereas the unpack operator appends a slice like sliceOfNumbers.... A slice is a Go data type that is essentially an abstraction of an array of unspecified length.

      • Each variadic function can use the pack operator once. The oneByOne() function accepts a single string and a variable number of integer arguments using the sliceOfNumbers slice.

      • The varFunc function accepts a single argument and just calls the fmt.Println() function.

      • Another note about slices: the second call to oneByOne() is using a slice. Any changes you make to that slice inside the variadic function will persist after the function exits because this is how slices work in Go.

      1. Execute the variadic.go program:

        go run variadic.go
        

        The output will resemble the following

          
        [12 3 b]
        Adding numbers...
        0 1     1 2     2 3     3 4     4 5     5 -1     6 10
        Sum: 24
        Adding numbers...
        0 1     1 2     2 3
        [-1000 2 3]
            
        

      Functions and pointer variables

      Go supports pointers and this section will briefly present how functions can work with pointers. A future Go guide will talk about pointers in more detail, but here is a brief overview.

      ./fPointers.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func getPointer(varToPointer *float64) float64 {
          return *varToPointer * *varToPointer
      }
      
      func returnPointer(testValue int) *int {
          squareTheTestValue := testValue * testValue
          return &squareTheTestValue
      }
      
      func main() {
          testValue := -12.12
          fmt.Println(getPointer(&testValue))
          testValue = -12
          fmt.Println(getPointer(&testValue))
      
          theSquare := returnPointer(10)
          fmt.Println("sq value:", *theSquare)
          fmt.Println("sq memory address:", theSquare)
      }
      • The getPointer() function takes a pointer argument to a float64, which is defined as varToPointer *float64, where returnPointer() returns a pointer to an int, which is declared as *int.
      1. Execute the fPointers.go program:

        go run fPointers.go
        

        The output will resemble the following:

          
        146.8944
        144
        sq value: 100
        sq memory address: 0xc00001a0b8
            
        

      Functions with Functions as Parameters

      Go functions can have functions as parameters.

      ./fArgF.go
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      package main
      
      import "fmt"
      
      func doubleIt(numToDouble int) int {
          return numToDouble + numToDouble
      }
      
      func squareIt(numToSquare int) int {
          return numToSquare * numToSquare
      }
      
      func funFun(functionName func(int) int, variableName int) int {
          return functionName(variableName)
      }
      
      func main() {
          fmt.Println("funFun Double:", funFun(doubleIt, 12))
          fmt.Println("funFun Square:", funFun(squareIt, 12))
          fmt.Println("Inline", funFun(func(numToCube int) int { return numToCube * numToCube * numToCube }, 12))
      }
      • The funFun() function accepts two parameters, a function parameter named functionName and an int value. The functionName parameter should be a function that takes one int argument and returns an int value.

      • The first fmt.Println() call in main() uses funFun() and passes the doubleIt function, without any parentheses, as its first parameter.

      • The second fmt.Println() call uses funFun() with squareIt as its first parameter.

      • In the last fmt.Println() statement the implementation of the function parameter is defined inside the call to funFun() using an anonymous function.

      1. Execute the fArgF.go program:

        go run fArgF.go
        

        The output will resemble the following:

          
        function1: 24
        function2: 144
        Inline 1728
            
        

      Functions Returning Functions

      Go functions can return functions.

      ./fRetF.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "fmt"
      )
      
      func squareFunction() func() int {
          numToSquare := 0
          return func() int {
              numToSquare++
              return numToSquare * numToSquare
          }
      }
      
      func main() {
          square1 := squareFunction()
          square2 := squareFunction()
      
          fmt.Println("First Call to square1:", square1())
          fmt.Println("Second Call to square1:", square1())
          fmt.Println("First Call to square2:", square2())
          fmt.Println("Third Call to square1:", square1())
      }
      • squareFunction() returns an anonymous function with the func() int signature.

      • As squareFunction() is called two times, you will need to use two separate variables, square1 and square2 to keep the two return values.

      1. Execute the fRetF.go program:

        go run fRetF.go
        

        Your output will resemble the following:

          
        First Call to square1: 1
        Second Call to square1: 4
        First Call to square2: 1
        Third Call to square1: 9
            
        

        Notice that the values of square1 and square2 are not connected even though they both came from squareFunction().

      Errors in Go

      Errors and error handling are two important topics in Go. Go puts so much importance on error messages that it has a dedicated data type for errors, aptly named error. This also means that you can easily create your own error messages if you find that what Go gives you is not adequate. You will most likely need to create and handle your own errors when you are developing your own Go packages.

      Recognizing an error condition is one task, while deciding how to react to an error condition is another task. Therefore, some error conditions might require that you immediately stop the execution of the program, whereas in other error situations, you might just print a warning message and continue.

      ./errors.go
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      package main
      
      import (
          "errors"
          "fmt"
          "strconv"
      )
      
      func main() {
      
          customError := errors.New("My Custom Error!")
          if customError.Error() == "My Custom Error!" {
              fmt.Println("!!")
          }
      
          stringToConvert1 := "123"
          stringToConvert2 := "43W"
          _, err := strconv.Atoi(stringToConvert1)
          if err != nil {
              fmt.Println(err)
              return
          }
      
          _, err = strconv.Atoi(stringToConvert2)
          if err != nil {
              fmt.Println(err)
              return
          }
      }
      • The strconv.Atoi() function tries to convert a string into an integer, provided that the string is a valid integer, and returns two things, an integer value and an error variable. If the error variable is nil, then the conversion was successful and you get a valid integer. The _ character tells Go to ignore one, as in this case, or more of the return values of a function.

      • Most of the time, you need to check whether an error variable is equal to nil and then act accordingly. This kind of Go code is very popular in Go programs and you will see it and use it multiple times.

      • Also presented here is the errors.New() function that allows you to create a custom error message and errors.Error() function that allows you to convert an error variable into a string variable.

      1. Execute the errors.go program:

        go run errors.go
        

        Your output will resemble the following:

          
        !!
        strconv.Atoi: parsing "43W": invalid syntax
            
        

      Summary

      In this guide you learned the basics about the Go programming language, how to execute programs, how to write loops, how to handle errors, and you saw examples for various function types.

      More Information

      You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

      Find answers, ask questions, and help others.

      This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.



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