Go Relax

June 28, 2014

I’ve been writing a lot of Go code over the last week, and I’m finally coming around. I’ve been previously kept at arm’s length due to its lack of generics, primitive dependency management system, and questionable enforced conventions (like workspaces), but a deep dive into the language has gone a long way to convince me.

Go’s may great features have already been covered to exhausation elsewhere: speed, conurrency, minimal syntax, fast compilation, pragmatic OO approach, nice standard library abstractions, and so on. I’ll skip talking about those for now.

What struck me most about Go was how relaxing it was to use. Relaxing in the sense that I don’t have a constant fear that I’m making the wrong decision about design or implementation. I don’t think about whether I should be forking, using OS threads, a callback system like EventMachine, fibers, or a higher level actor framework like Celluloid. I use Goroutines and channels, and it’s fine. I don’t worry about which of six different HTTP clients have the most technical merit. I use the standard library, and it’s fine. I don’t worry about which style of loop will fit best relative to local conventions or whether I should be writing in a more functional style. I use for and imperative style, and it’s fine. I don’t think about exception control flow or how granular my error subclasses should be. I use the error convention, and it’s fine. I don’t think about whether I should be running it on the reference implementation, or the JVM for better parallelism. I pull down the official runtime, and it’s fine.

In so many cases, basic decisions that were made during a language’s design phase balloon out into big unexpected side effects. Those might look like anything from added layers to wrap the standard library to alternate runtime implementations that work around defects in the original. Go didn’t do anything special here, but as a more recent language, did base design based on pitfalls observed elsewhere over time.

Go’s real winning decision was the convention. As a developer, I don’t want to spend my time agonizing over which concurrency strategy I should use. I want to see one obvious choice which is well-designed and effective. Go has gone all in on this strategy.

It’s far from perfect of course, but it doesn’t matter because Go is good enough — unlike so many other languages, the wheel doesn’t need to be re-invented just to make it palatable. This has the added side effect of making almost any Go program easily readable.

I’ll continue to remain a steadfast proponent of other great modern languages like Rust and Swift, but Go has a bright future as a balanced approach to engineering for big and small problems alike.

Go Relax was published on June 28, 2014.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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