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Go Rubric

This document lists conventions to follow when writing Go in the Fuchsia Source Tree. These conventions are a combination of best practices, project preferences, and some choices made for the sake of consistency.

The conventions described here can be considered as adding or amending common best practices as detailed in Effective Go and Go Code Review Comments.


Ordering of declarations in a file

How declarations are organized within a Go file varies considerably, especially since it is frequent to have one large file with all-the-things, or many smaller files with each a-thing. We provide a few rules of thumb here.

For ordering of top-level declarations (constants, interfaces, types along with their associated methods), it is common to list by group of functionality, with the following order in each group:

  • Constants (which includes enumerations);
  • Exported interfaces, types, and functions;
  • Unexported interfaces, types, and functions in support of the exported types.

As an example, a group of functionality in fidlgen lib may be the handling of names, while another group may be reading and denormalizing the JSON IR. Such groupings are good candidates to become their own separate files as they grow.

For a type with methods, it is common to list in order:

  • The type declaration (e.g. type myImpl struct { ...);
  • The type assertion(s), if any;
  • Methods, with exported methods first, and unexported methods second;
  • It is best to group methods implementing an interface if applicable, i.e. all methods for interface Foo, then all methods for interface Bar;
  • Often, despite being exported, the String() method will be last.

For an enumeration, see how to define an enum.

Naming convention

Go is quite opinionated about how to name things. Some conventions:

  • var err error
  • var buf bytes.Buffer
  • var buf strings.Builder
  • var mu sync.Mutex
  • var wg sync.WaitGroup
  • var ctx context.Context
  • _, ok := someMap[someKey]
  • _, ok := someValue.(someType)

When defining methods, ensure that the name of the receiver is consistent (when present). See also pointers vs values.

Avoid exporting

In Go, identifiers can be unexported or exported (the public/private terminology is not used). An exported declaration starts with a capital letter MyImportantThing, while an unexported declaration starts with a lowercase letter myLocalThing.

Only export things you really need, and that you intend to reuse. Keep in mind that exporting in a follow up change is relatively easy so prefer to not export until necessary. This keeps the documentation cleaner.

If your type will be used by reflection, e.g. within templates or automatic diffing à la go-cmp, you can have an unexported identifier with exported fields. Again, prefer unexported fields except in the situation where you are forced to do otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with a local variable having the same name as a type. If you would write server := Server{...} for an exported type, then server := server{...} is fine for an unexported type.

Never use named return values

Semantics are confusing, and error prone. Even if it might be a good usage at some point (rare, and doubtful), evolutions typically cause this not to be the case anymore, which then introduces a diff that is larger than the actual change.

You'll see advice saying that "it's fine to use named return values for this special case", or "that special case is perfect for named return values". Our rule is simpler, never use named return values.

(When defining interfaces, it is fine to name things. This is different from named returns in implementations, it has no semantic implications.)

Defining an enum

The standard pattern to define an enumeration is:

type myEnumType int

const (
    _ myEnumType = iota

The type can only be elided when using iota. With an explicit value, you must repeat the type:

const (
    _ myEnumType = iota
    // ...
    myCombinedValue myEnumType = 100

Additionally, if you want this enum to have a textual representation:

var myEnumTypeStrings = map[myEnumType]string{
    myFirstEnumValue:  "myFirstEnumValue",
    mySecondEnumValue: "mySecondEnumValue",

func (val myEnumType) String() string {
    if fmt, ok := myEnumTypeStrings[val]; ok {
        return fmt
    return fmt.Sprintf("myEnumType(%d)", val)

For instance mdlint: TokenKind. Using a map is preferred over using a switch since it is very common to evolve the code to compute things off of the map, e.g. a FromString constructor (inefficiently by searching, or by pre-computing a stringsToMyEnum reverse map).

You should only use an enum member with value 0 if it is a natural default. For more details, see the enum FIDL API Rubric entry.

Another option is to use cmd/stringer to generate enumerations. This generates more efficient code, but requires a little more effort to maintain. You can use this approach when the enumeration has stabilized.


To represent a set, use map to an empty struct:

allMembers := map[uint32]struct{}{
    5: {},
    8: {},

Instantiating maps

If you're going to define the map using a literal, then map[K]T{ ... } is the way to go.

Otherwise use make(map[string]struct{}) to create an empty map, i.e. do not use myEmptyMap := map[K]T{}.

Non-normal returns

When an function needs to communicate a non-normal return, i.e. a 'failure', there are a few patterns:

  1. func doSomething(...) (data, bool), i.e. either return the data, or false.
  2. func doSomething(...) *data, i.e. either return the data, or nil.
  3. func doSomething(...) (data, error), i.e. either return the data, or an error.
  4. func doSomething(...) dataWrapper, i.e. return a wrapper which carries structured information about the result of the operation.

Giving hard and fast rules for when to use which-flavor-where is not possible, but there are some general principles that apply.

Relying on nil vs present is error prone in Go when used in polymorphic contexts: nil is not a unit, there are many nil and they do not equal each other! Therefore, prefer returning an extra ok boolean when uses of the method will likely be in polymorphic contexts. Only use nil vs present as an indication when the method will be used solely in monomorphic contexts. Or said another way, using pattern (2) is simpler than (1) and a good replacement when all callers will be using the function without looking at the returned value through the lens of an interface.

Returning an error indicates that something problematic occurred, the caller is provided with an explanation for what happened. It is expected for the caller to bubble up the error, possibly wrapping it along the way, or do some sort of error handling and recovery. A key distinction from a method returning an ok boolean (or nil data), is that when returning an error the method is asserting that it knows enough of the context to classify what is happening as erroneous.

For instance, a LookupUser(user_id uint64) would favor returning an ok boolean if no user was found, but a LookupCountryCode(code IsoCountryCode) would favor returning an error to identify that something is misconfigured if a country cannot be lookup up (or an invalid country was requested).

Returning some sort of wrapper should be considered in cases where the result of a method is complex, and requires structured data to describe. For instance, a natural candidate to use a data wrapper is a validation API which traverses an XML document, and returns a list of faulty paths, each with warnings or errors attached to them.

Static type assertions

Since Go uses structural subtyping, i.e. whether a type implements an interface is determined by its structure (not by a declaration). It is easy to think a type implements some interface, when in fact it does not. This results in breakage at a distance, at the use site, and makes for confusing compiler errors.

To remedy this, it is required to write type assertions for all interfaces a type implements (yes, those in the standard library too):

var _ MyInterface = (*myImplementation)(nil)

This creates a typed nil, whose assignment forces the compiler to check for type conformance.

Often, we have many implementations which have to implement the same interface, e.g. representing an abstract syntax tree with individual nodes all implementing the Expression interface. In these cases, you should do all type assertions at once thus also documenting all subtypes which are expected:

var _ = []MyInterface{

A rule of thumb about where these type assertions should be placed is as follows:

  • Prefer having a single type assertion below the implementation when each implementation stands on its own, e.g. here;
  • Prefer a grouped type assertion below the interface when all implementations are meant to be used in concert (e.g. expression nodes of an Expression interface representing an AST), e.g. here.


Embedding is a very powerful concept in Go. Make use of it. Read Embedding for an introduction.

When embedding an interface or a struct type, these should be listed first in their enclosing interface or struct type, i.e. the embedded type(s) should appear as the first field(s).

Pointers vs Values

For method receivers, read Pointers vs. Values and Receiver Type. tl;dr is to keep things consistent, but when in doubt, use a pointer receiver. For a given type, always be consistent about how it is passed around, i.e. always pass by value, always pass by reference, and this flows from whether methods are defined on this type (with value or pointer receiver).

It is also worth noting that passing a struct by value, thinking that the caller will not mutate it, is incorrect. You can easily hold maps, slices, or references to objects, and therefore mutate those. So in Go it's an incorrect association to think "pass by value is const".

Refer to implementing interfaces for specific advice about method receivers.

Implementing interfaces

Generally implement interfaces using a pointer receiver; implementing an interface using a value receiver causes that interface to be implemented by both value and pointer, which complicates type assertions that attempt to enumerate possible implementations of an interface. See for instance

There are some specific cases where implementing an interface using a value receiver is appropriate:

  • When the type is never used as a pointer. For example, custom sorting is often done by defining type mySlice []myElement and implementing sort.Interface on mySlice. The type *mySlice would never be used because []myElement is already a reference. Example here.
  • When it is never expected to use a type assertion or type switch on values of the interface type. For example, Stringer is often implemented on value types. It would be unusual for a function accepting val Stringer to switch on val.(type).

When in doubt, always implement interfaces using a pointer receiver.


Read Commentary, in particular:

Doc comments work best as complete sentences, which allow a wide variety of automated presentations. The first sentence should be a one-sentence summary that starts with the name being declared.

// Compile parses a regular expression and returns, if successful,
// a Regexp that can be used to match against text.
func Compile(str string) (*Regexp, error) {

Doc comments on types may have a leading article "A", "An", or "The". All documentation in the Go standard library follows this practice, e.g. // A Buffer is a variable-sized ....

For comments which are more than a sentence long, the style generally prefers one summary sentence, then an empty line, then a paragraph providing further details. See for instance the FileHeader struct.

Error wrapping

When propagating errors using fmt.Errorf, always use %w to include the inner error. See Working with Errors in Go 1.13.

There are some specific cases where error propagation must be done in a way that satisfies an API contract, e.g. often the case in a RDBMS driver where specific error codes returned indicate situations callers may recover from. In such cases, it is necessary to specifically wrap underlying errors rather than rely on fmt.Errorf.

fmt verbs

Avoid %v when possible, preferring specific fmt verbs that are supported by the operand. This has the benefit of allowing go vet to check that the verb is indeed supported by the operand.

In cases where the operand is a struct that doesn't implement fmt.Stringer, %v is unlikely to produce a good result anyhow; %+v or %#v are likely much better choices.

A common exception to this rule is an operand that may be nil at run-time - nil values are well handled by %v but not all other verbs.

When quoting strings, use %q instead of explicitly calling strconv.Quote.

When propagating errors, see error wrapping.

GN targets

When defining GN targets, name the package<path>. For example:

go_library("gopkg") {
  name = ""
  sources = [ "main.go" ]
go_binary("foo") {
  gopackage = ""
  deps = [ ":gopkg" ]

If you have nested packages (and only in this case), use the<path>/... form in go_library to enable recursive package dependencies:

go_library("gopkg") {
  name = ""
  sources = [ "main.go", "subdir/bar.go", "extra/baz.go" ]


Packages ending in _test

Usually a _test.go file is in the same package as the code it tests (e.g. package foo), and it can access unexported declarations. Go also allows you to suffix the package name with _test (e.g. package foo_test), in which case it is compiled as a separate package, but linked and run with the main binary. This approach is called external testing, as opposed to internal testing. Do not name a package with the _test suffix unless you are writing external tests, see instead testing package.

Prefer external tests when doing integration level testing, or to interact with the exported only portion of a package under test.

Using packages ending in _test is also interesting to provide compiled example code, which is copy pastable as-is with the package selector. For instance example code and its source.

Test utilities

Testing utilities are helpers used within a package, to help with testing. It is 'testing code' in that it lives in a file with a _test.go suffix. Place testing utilities in a file named testutils_test.go file; this convention is interpreted by the compiler such that this code is not included in non-test binaries, which ensures it isn't used outside of tests.

Testing packages

A testing package is a library whose focus is to make writing tests easier. It is 'production code' — does not end in _test.go suffix — but intended only to be used from test code.

The naming convention for testing packages is to use a "test" suffix with the package name it is used to test. Examples in the standard library are httptest and iotest, in the Fuchsia tree fidlgentest, and emulatortest.

Additional resources