How to Write Go Code - ActiveState ActiveGo 1.8

How to Write Go Code


This document demonstrates the development of a simple Go package and introduces the go tool, the standard way to fetch, build, and install Go packages and commands.

The go tool requires you to organize your code in a specific way. Please read this document carefully. It explains the simplest way to get up and running with your Go installation.

A similar explanation is available as a screencast.

Code organization


  • Go programmers typically keep all their Go code in a single workspace.
  • A workspace contains many version control repositories (managed by Git, for example).
  • Each repository contains one or more packages.
  • Each package consists of one or more Go source files in a single directory.
  • The path to a package's directory determines its import path.

Note that this differs from other programming environments in which every project has a separate workspace and workspaces are closely tied to version control repositories.


A workspace is a directory hierarchy with three directories at its root:

  • src contains Go source files,
  • pkg contains package objects, and
  • bin contains executable commands.

The go tool builds source packages and installs the resulting binaries to the pkg and bin directories.

The src subdirectory typically contains multiple version control repositories (such as for Git or Mercurial) that track the development of one or more source packages.

To give you an idea of how a workspace looks in practice, here's an example:

    hello                          # command executable
    outyet                         # command executable
            stringutil.a           # package object
        .git/                      # Git repository metadata
	    hello.go               # command source
	    main.go                # command source
	    main_test.go           # test source
	    reverse.go             # package source
	    reverse_test.go        # test source
        .git/                      # Git repository metadata
	    reader.go              # package source
	    writer.go              # package source
    ... (many more repositories and packages omitted) ...

The tree above shows a workspace containing two repositories (example and image). The example repository contains two commands (hello and outyet) and one library (stringutil). The image repository contains the bmp package and several others.

A typical workspace contains many source repositories containing many packages and commands. Most Go programmers keep all their Go source code and dependencies in a single workspace.

Commands and libraries are built from different kinds of source packages. We will discuss the distinction later.

The GOPATH environment variable

The GOPATH environment variable specifies the location of your workspace. It defaults to a directory named go inside your home directory, so $HOME/go on Unix, $home/go on Plan 9, and %USERPROFILE%\go (usually C:\Users\YourName\go) on Windows. If you would like to work in a different location, you will need to set GOPATH to the path to that directory. (Another common setup is to set GOPATH=$HOME.) Note that GOPATH must not be the same path as your Go installation.

The command go env GOPATH prints the effective current GOPATH; it prints the default location if the environment variable is unset.

For convenience, add the workspace's bin subdirectory to your PATH:

$ export PATH=$PATH:$(go env GOPATH)/bin

The scripts in the rest of this document use $GOPATH instead of $(go env GOPATH) for brevity. To make the scripts run as written if you have not set GOPATH, you can substitute $HOME/go in those commands or else run:

$ export GOPATH=$(go env GOPATH)

To learn more about the GOPATH environment variable, see 'go help gopath'.

To use a custom workspace location, set the GOPATH environment variable.

Import paths

An import path is a string that uniquely identifies a package. A package's import path corresponds to its location inside a workspace or in a remote repository (explained below).

The packages from the standard library are given short import paths such as "fmt" and "net/http". For your own packages, you must choose a base path that is unlikely to collide with future additions to the standard library or other external libraries.

If you keep your code in a source repository somewhere, then you should use the root of that source repository as your base path. For instance, if you have a GitHub account at, that should be your base path.

Note that you don't need to publish your code to a remote repository before you can build it. It's just a good habit to organize your code as if you will publish it someday. In practice you can choose any arbitrary path name, as long as it is unique to the standard library and greater Go ecosystem.

We'll use as our base path. Create a directory inside your workspace in which to keep source code:

$ mkdir -p $GOPATH/src/

Your first program

To compile and run a simple program, first choose a package path (we'll use and create a corresponding package directory inside your workspace:

$ mkdir $GOPATH/src/

Next, create a file named hello.go inside that directory, containing the following Go code.

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
	fmt.Printf("Hello, world.\n")

Now you can build and install that program with the go tool:

$ go install

Note that you can run this command from anywhere on your system. The go tool finds the source code by looking for the package inside the workspace specified by GOPATH.

You can also omit the package path if you run go install from the package directory:

$ cd $GOPATH/src/
$ go install

This command builds the hello command, producing an executable binary. It then installs that binary to the workspace's bin directory as hello (or, under Windows, hello.exe). In our example, that will be $GOPATH/bin/hello, which is $HOME/work/bin/hello.

The go tool will only print output when an error occurs, so if these commands produce no output they have executed successfully.

You can now run the program by typing its full path at the command line:

$ $GOPATH/bin/hello
Hello, world.

Or, as you have added $GOPATH/bin to your PATH, just type the binary name:

$ hello
Hello, world.

If you're using a source control system, now would be a good time to initialize a repository, add the files, and commit your first change. Again, this step is optional: you do not need to use source control to write Go code.

$ cd $GOPATH/src/
$ git init
Initialized empty Git repository in /home/user/work/src/
$ git add hello.go
$ git commit -m "initial commit"
[master (root-commit) 0b4507d] initial commit
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)
  create mode 100644 hello.go

Pushing the code to a remote repository is left as an exercise for the reader.

Your first library

Let's write a library and use it from the hello program.

Again, the first step is to choose a package path (we'll use and create the package directory:

$ mkdir $GOPATH/src/

Next, create a file named reverse.go in that directory with the following contents.

// Package stringutil contains utility functions for working with strings.
package stringutil

// Reverse returns its argument string reversed rune-wise left to right.
func Reverse(s string) string {
	r := []rune(s)
	for i, j := 0, len(r)-1; i < len(r)/2; i, j = i+1, j-1 {
		r[i], r[j] = r[j], r[i]
	return string(r)

Now, test that the package compiles with go build:

$ go build

Or, if you are working in the package's source directory, just:

$ go build

This won't produce an output file. To do that, you must use go install, which places the package object inside the pkg directory of the workspace.

After confirming that the stringutil package builds, modify your original hello.go (which is in $GOPATH/src/ to use it:

package main

import (


func main() {
	fmt.Printf(stringutil.Reverse("!oG ,olleH"))

Whenever the go tool installs a package or binary, it also installs whatever dependencies it has. So when you install the hello program

$ go install

the stringutil package will be installed as well, automatically.

Running the new version of the program, you should see a new, reversed message:

$ hello
Hello, Go!

After the steps above, your workspace should look like this:

    hello                 # command executable
    linux_amd64/          # this will reflect your OS and architecture
            stringutil.a  # package object
            hello.go      # command source
            reverse.go    # package source

Note that go install placed the stringutil.a object in a directory inside pkg/linux_amd64 that mirrors its source directory. This is so that future invocations of the go tool can find the package object and avoid recompiling the package unnecessarily. The linux_amd64 part is there to aid in cross-compilation, and will reflect the operating system and architecture of your system.

Go command executables are statically linked; the package objects need not be present to run Go programs.

Package names

The first statement in a Go source file must be

package name

where name is the package's default name for imports. (All files in a package must use the same name.)

Go's convention is that the package name is the last element of the import path: the package imported as "crypto/rot13" should be named rot13.

Executable commands must always use package main.

There is no requirement that package names be unique across all packages linked into a single binary, only that the import paths (their full file names) be unique.

See Effective Go to learn more about Go's naming conventions.


Go has a lightweight test framework composed of the go test command and the testing package.

You write a test by creating a file with a name ending in _test.go that contains functions named TestXXX with signature func (t *testing.T). The test framework runs each such function; if the function calls a failure function such as t.Error or t.Fail, the test is considered to have failed.

Add a test to the stringutil package by creating the file $GOPATH/src/ containing the following Go code.

package stringutil

import "testing"

func TestReverse(t *testing.T) {
	cases := []struct {
		in, want string
		{"Hello, world", "dlrow ,olleH"},
		{"Hello, 世界", "界世 ,olleH"},
		{"", ""},
	for _, c := range cases {
		got := Reverse(
		if got != c.want {
			t.Errorf("Reverse(%q) == %q, want %q",, got, c.want)

Then run the test with go test:

$ go test
ok 0.165s

As always, if you are running the go tool from the package directory, you can omit the package path:

$ go test
ok 0.165s

Run go help test and see the testing package documentation for more detail.

Remote packages

An import path can describe how to obtain the package source code using a revision control system such as Git or Mercurial. The go tool uses this property to automatically fetch packages from remote repositories. For instance, the examples described in this document are also kept in a Git repository hosted at GitHub If you include the repository URL in the package's import path, go get will fetch, build, and install it automatically:

$ go get
$ $GOPATH/bin/hello
Hello, Go examples!

If the specified package is not present in a workspace, go get will place it inside the first workspace specified by GOPATH. (If the package does already exist, go get skips the remote fetch and behaves the same as go install.)

After issuing the above go get command, the workspace directory tree should now look like this:

    hello                           # command executable
            stringutil.a            # package object
            stringutil.a            # package object
	.git/                       # Git repository metadata
            hello.go                # command source
            reverse.go              # package source
            reverse_test.go         # test source
            hello.go                # command source
            reverse.go              # package source
            reverse_test.go         # test source

The hello command hosted at GitHub depends on the stringutil package within the same repository. The imports in hello.go file use the same import path convention, so the go get command is able to locate and install the dependent package, too.

import ""

This convention is the easiest way to make your Go packages available for others to use. The Go Wiki and provide lists of external Go projects.

For more information on using remote repositories with the go tool, see go help importpath.

What's next

Subscribe to the golang-announce mailing list to be notified when a new stable version of Go is released.

See Effective Go for tips on writing clear, idiomatic Go code.

Take A Tour of Go to learn the language proper.

Visit the documentation page for a set of in-depth articles about the Go language and its libraries and tools.

Getting help

For real-time help, ask the helpful gophers in #go-nuts on the Freenode IRC server.

The official mailing list for discussion of the Go language is Go Nuts.

Report bugs using the Go issue tracker.