Notes from my presentation on Go plugins in 1.8
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Go plugins in 1.8

adorable gopher

What is a Go Plugin

The Plugin (Shared Object)

A Go plugin is essentially a shared object. We recognize these from our close neighbors: the C and C++ programming languages.

Go plugin's are NOT part of the original program. They are standalone binaries that adhere to an ABI (Application Binary Interface) that another Go program can choose to attempt to run.

The Program

A Go program can choose to implement a Go plugin (remember this is a shared object or .so file) at runtime. This is huge because we no longer have to recompile anything to drastically change the behavior of a Go program.


Attach to the Official golang:1.8 Docker Container


Which is essentially a wrapper for

docker run \
    -i \
    -t \
    -v $GOPATH/src/ \
    -w /go/src/ \

Compile all the things

From the docker container we can go ahead and natively compile the main program, as well as all the plugins.

make build

Run the Program

By default we will be running plugin1. Run the program with

make run

Change the Plugin at Runtime

make run

Inspecting Our Plugins

How They're Parsed

Let's look at the Go source code here. The standard library has a Cgo implementation!

#cgo linux LDFLAGS: -ldl
#include <dlfcn.h>
#include <limits.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdint.h>

This includes the dlfcn.h file, and uses the traditional Linux linking functions. As in this prototype:

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <dlfcn.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
    void *handle;
    void (*run)();
    char *error;

    handle = dlopen ("../plugins/", RTLD_LAZY);
    if (!handle) {
        fputs (dlerror(), stderr);

    // Here we tell the handle to look for the known golang symbol.
    run = dlsym(handle, "plugin/unnamed-4dc81edc69e27be0c67b8f6c72a541e65358fd88.init");
    if ((error = dlerror()) != NULL)  {
        fputs(error, stderr);

    // Here we actually run the function (with no arguments) that we referenced earlier.

This gives us a hint into how Go plugins work, and explains why they are only supported in Linux right now. They use POSIX dynamic loading more information.

Right now there is only support for handling the linux version in the C implementation. The good news is that there is already resources for building shared objects for Windows and other archtypes.

Using Plugins in Kubernetes Kops

k8s logo

See the original plugin library proposal here.. We are now thinking about implementing a bring your own Go plugin model to kops!


  • We will need to standardize all symbols for our plugin library.
    • We are experimenting with self-validation. This would require users to implement a well known interface, and have some sort of magic to validate their plugin can be asserted.
  • Another graph walker to dynamically load plugins at runtime.
    • We would be building in a lot of boilerplate for users to have a flexible plugin model.
    • We could use a *.so model... and use the filename as the plugin unique ID.
  • Support and repeatability
    • One of the big features of Go is the fact that everything ships in one nice and neet statically linked binary.
    • We now start running into permutation problems with trying to support our tool (i.e., which version of kops and with which version of a plugin).