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Go gotchas, surprises, puzzles.

Other lists and articles:

Other gotchas and questions

Embedded struct literal

The JSON unmarshaler works with embedded struct, while literal initialization will not.

prog.go:31:13: cannot use promoted field A.A1 in struct literal of type B

Missing high index causes out of range

The high index of a slice is not what it seems.

Question: Does the following snippet compile? Run? Panic?

package main

func main() {
    v := [6]int{0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
    w := v[:]

    w = w[:4]
    w = w[:0]

    // Question: Before you hit run! What do the following two lines result in?
    w = w[1:]
    w = w[1:3]
    // fmt.Printf("%v - len: %d, cap: %d\n", w, len(w), cap(w))

Try it out yourself:

panic: runtime error: slice bounds out of range

A struct pointer return value, that looks like nil, but is not

The zero value for a pointer is nil.

Each element of such a variable or value is set to the zero value for its type: false for booleans, 0 for numeric types, "" for strings, and nil for pointers, functions, interfaces, slices, channels, and maps. -- Zero value

If the return value is pointer to a struct, e.g. *E and we return nil, we do not actually return nil.



// go run main.go
// 2019/08/26 17:19:28 (*main.E)(nil): some error message
// exit status 1
package main

import (

type E struct{}

func (e *E) Error() string {
        return "some error message"

func mayFail(f float32) *E {
        if f < 0.5 {
                return nil
        } else {
                return &E{}

func main() {
        var err error
        err = mayFail(0.4)
        if err != nil {
                log.Fatalf("%#v: %s", err, err.Error())

A similar example:

Literal initialization of promoted fields

cannot use promoted field __ in struct literal of type

Example: One GitHub API (v3) wrapper defines different option types. The SearchOptions embed a ListOptions type for pagination.

The following would not work: "cannot use promoted field ..."

opt := &github.SearchOptions{Sort: "stars", PerPage: 10}

Workaround is to create an options value, then assign to the promoted field.

opt := &github.SearchOptions{Sort: "stars"}
opt.PerPage = 10

Three-star programming in Go

There is the concept of a star in programming languages and the concept of a programmer who uses them, e.g. ThreeStarProgrammer.

It's easy to get to three stars in Go using arithmetic and indirection.

package main

import (

func main() {
	var (
		a = new(int)
		b = &a
	**b = 3
	fmt.Printf("%d", *a***b)

Can you see the result? If not, just try it out!

Why is there no io.LimitWriter?

We do not know exactly, but maybe the semantics around the limit are less clear when writing - or there has not been enough demand.

Kubernetes has an ioutils package, which contains a LimitWriter. Minio has a LimitWriter as well.

Illustrating the point above, currently an ErrShortWrite will be returned, if the limit is hit (in some previous version it was called ErrMaximumWrite). However, we could just stop writing without returning an error, so io.Copy would work:

// Branch off a limited number of bytes from resp.Body into a buffer.
var (
    buf bytes.Buffer
    tee = io.TeeReader(resp.Body, LimitWriter(&buf, 512))
if _, err := io.Copy(ioutil.Discard, tee); err != nil {

Returning values from defer requires named result parameters

In Go we often defer function calls, e.g. defer f.Close() after we opened a file or a defer tx.Rollback() to rollback a failed SQL transaction. But what if you want to return an error or result from a deferred function call? Consider this example where we want to add additional context to an error. One might think that we can simply assign to err since it is in the closure of the deferred function.

func g() error {
    err := fmt.Errorf("new error")
    defer func() {
        err = fmt.Errorf("more context: %w", err)
    return err

Surprisingly, this will return the unmodified error.

Effective Go#Recover explains a simple panic recovery mechanism that points out what we are doing wrong:

... deferred functions can modify named return values.

After reading the section about Defer statements in Go's language specification it becomes pretty clear why we have to a named result parameter:

... deferred functions are executed after any result parameters are set by that return statement but before the function returns to its caller.

Here's a working example (playground):

func f() (err error) {
    err = fmt.Errorf("new error")
    defer func() {
        err = fmt.Errorf("more context: %w", err)
    return err

Dot or underscore prefixed files

The go tools ignore files starting with either a . or an _, e.g. _main.go would not be considered by the Go tools. Folders called testdata are also ignored. Here is the statement from Go's documentation:

Directory and file names that begin with "." or "_" are ignored by the go tool, as are directories named "testdata".


Note that embed, which was included with Go 1.16, also follows the behavior described above when determining which files to include.

If a pattern names a directory, all files in the subtree rooted at that directory are embedded (recursively), except that files with names beginning with ‘.’ or ‘_’ are excluded.


filepath.Clean only works on absolute paths

Let's say you implement a file server and thus need to map a request URL path to local path, e.g. https://<some-domain>/some/file should serve /<some-base-directory>/some/file. Without cleaning up the request path you will be open to path-traversal attacks. That means if someone requests https://<some-domain>/../../../etc/passwd your server will happily respond with passwd (if it has permission to read it). To prevent this problem you can just do a filepath.Clean(req.URL.Path), but, this will not work if req.URL.Path is not absolute. So, when using filepath.Clean make sure that the path you're passing into is absolute, when in doubt just add a / in front.


http.Client is following up to 10 redirects by default

It was surprising to me that http.Client and http.DefaultClient are following up to 10 redirects by default. I discovered this when doing a HEAD request on a resource that responds with a redirect, giving a 302 status code, and a Location header with the response. But, with the DefaultClient you will receive a 200 instead, and no Location header of course.

You can override the default behavior by setting a custom CheckRedirect function in the client like this:

httpCl := http.DefaultClient
httpCl.CheckRedirect = func(_ *http.Request, _ []*http.Request) error {
        return http.ErrUseLastResponse

Note that ErrUseLastResponse will just signal the client to stop following any more redirects.

recover won't catch panics in spawned goroutines

This one is subtle and caused many servers to crash. One thing in advance, using a recovery middleware in your web server won't safe you!

The following function will not recover and cause your program to crash:

func wontRecover() {
	defer func() {
		if err := recover(); err != nil {
			log.Println("recovered from panic:", err)

	var wg sync.WaitGroup
	go func() {
		defer wg.Done()
		time.Sleep(1 * time.Second)
		panic("panic'ed in goroutine")

	fmt.Println("waiting for goroutine to finish")

Imagine wontRecover to be an http.Handler and you will see how widespread this problem is. The workaround is to recover() in any subroutine that might panic.


Go gotchas, surprises, puzzles.




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