A Tutorial for Learning Go Functions, Loops, and Errors

Updated by Linode Contributed by Mihalis Tsoukalos

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After you’ve learned the syntax of a simple “Hello World” script in Go, you’ll likely want to start making more complicated programs. This guide will introduce language constructs that help with structuring your programs, including:

Before You Begin

If you’re just starting with Go, we recommend reading our Beginner’s Guide to Go guide first.

To run the examples in this guide, your workstation or server will need to have Go installed, and the go CLI will need to be set in your terminal’s PATH:

If you prefer to experiment with Go without installing it first, you can run the examples found in this guide using the Go Playground.

Note
This guide was written with Go version 1.13.

Loops in Go

The file loops.go demonstrates loops in Go:

./loops.go
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package main

import (
    "fmt"
)

func main() {
    for loopIndex := 0; loopIndex < 20; loopIndex++ {
        if loopIndex%10 == 0 {
            continue
        }

        if loopIndex == 19 {
            break
        }
        fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
    }
    fmt.Println()

    // Use break to exit the for loop
    loopIndex := 10
    for {
        if loopIndex < 0 {
            break
        }
        fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
        loopIndex--
    }
    fmt.Println()

    // This is similar to a while(true) do something loop
    loopIndex = 0
    anExpression := true
    for ok := true; ok; ok = anExpression {
        if loopIndex > 10 {
            anExpression = false
        }

        fmt.Print(loopIndex, " ")
        loopIndex++
    }
    fmt.Println()

    anArray := [5]int{0, 1, -1, 2, -2}
    for loopIndex, value := range anArray {
        fmt.Println("index:", loopIndex, "value: ", value)
    }
}
  • There are two types of for loops in Go. Traditional for loops that use a control variable initialization, condition, and afterthought; and those that iterate over the elements of a Go data type such as an array or a map using the range keyword.

  • Go has no direct support for while loops. If you want to use a while loop, you can emulate it with a for loop.

  • In their simplest form, for loops allow you to iterate, a predefined number of times, for as long as a condition is valid, or according to a value that is calculated at the beginning of the for loop. Such values include the size of a slice or an array, or the number of keys on a map. However, range is more often used for accessing all the elements of a slice, an array, or a map because you do not need to know the object’s cardinality in order to process its elements one by one. For simplicity, this example uses an array, and a later example will use a slice.

  • You can completely exit a for loop using the break keyword. The break keyword also allows you to create a for loop without an exit condition because the exit condition can be included in the code block of the for loop. You are also allowed to have multiple exit conditions in a for loop.

  • You can skip a single iteration of a for loop using the continue keyword.

  1. Execute the loops.go program:

    go run loops.go
    

    You will see the following output:

      
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
    index: 0 value:  0
    index: 1 value:  1
    index: 2 value:  -1
    index: 3 value:  2
    index: 4 value:  -2
        
    

Functions in Go

Functions are first class citizens in Go, which means that functions can be parameters to other functions as well as returned by functions. This section will illustrate various types of functions.

Go also supports anonymous functions. These can be defined inline without the need for a name and they are usually used for implementing operations that require a small amount of code. In Go, a function can return an anonymous function or take an anonymous function as one of its arguments. Additionally, anonymous functions can be attached to Go variables. In functional programming terminology anonymous functions are called closures. It is considered a good practice for anonymous functions to have a small implementation and a local focus.

Regular functions

This section will present the implementation of some traditional functions.

./functions.go
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package main

import (
    "fmt"
)

func doubleSquare(firstNum int) (int, int) {
    return firstNum * 2, firstNum * firstNum
}

func namedMinMax(firstNum, secondNum int) (min, max int) {
    if firstNum > secondNum {
        min = secondNum
        max = firstNum
    } else {
        min = firstNum
        max = secondNum
    }
    return
}

func minMax(firstNum, secondNum int) (min, max int) {
    if firstNum > secondNum {
        min = secondNum
        max = firstNum
    } else {
        min = firstNum
        max = secondNum
    }
    return min, max
}

func main() {
    secondNum := 10

    square := func(numberToSquare int) int {
        return numberToSquare * numberToSquare
    }
    fmt.Println("The square of", secondNum, "is", square(secondNum))

    double := func(numberToDouble int) int {
        return numberToDouble + numberToDouble
    }
    fmt.Println("The double of", secondNum, "is", double(secondNum))

    fmt.Println(doubleSquare(secondNum))
    doubledNumber, squaredNumber := doubleSquare(secondNum)
    fmt.Println(doubledNumber, squaredNumber)

    value1 := -10
    value2 := -1
    fmt.Println(minMax(value1, value2))
    min, max := minMax(value1, value2)
    fmt.Println(min, max)
    fmt.Println(namedMinMax(value1, value2))
    min, max = namedMinMax(value1, value2)
    fmt.Println(min, max)
}
  • The main() function takes no arguments and returns no arguments. Once the special function main() exits, the program automatically ends.

  • The doubleSquare() function requires a single int parameter and returns two int values, which is defined as (int, int).

  • All function arguments must have a name – variadic functions are the only exception to this rule.

  • If a function returns a single value, you do not need to put parenthesis around its type.

  • Because namedMinMax() has named return values in its signature, the min and max parameters are automatically returned in the order in which they were put in the function definition. Therefore, the function does not need to explicitly return any variables or values in its return statement at the end, and does not. minMax() function has the same functionality as namedMinMax() but it explicitly returns its values demonstrating that both ways are valid.

  • Both square and double variables in main() are assigned an anonymous function. However, nothing stops you from changing the value of square, double, or any other variable that holds the result of an anonymous function, afterwards. This means that both variables may have a different value in the future.

  1. Execute the functions.go program.

    go run functions.go
    

    Your output will resemble the following:

      
    The square of 10 is 100
    The double of 10 is 20
    20 100
    20 100
    -10 -1
    -10 -1
    -10 -1
    -10 -1
        
    

Variadic functions

Variadic functions are functions that accept a variable number of arguments. The most popular variadic functions in Go can be found in the fmt package. The code of variadic.go illustrates the creation and the use of variadic functions.

./variadic.go
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package main

import (
    "fmt"
)

func varFunc(input ...string) {
    fmt.Println(input)
}

func oneByOne(message string, sliceOfNumbers ...int) int {
    fmt.Println(message)
    sum := 0
    for indexInSlice, sliceElement := range sliceOfNumbers {
        fmt.Print(indexInSlice, sliceElement, "\t")
        sum = sum + sliceElement
    }
    fmt.Println()
    sliceOfNumbers[0] = -1000
    return sum
}

func main() {
    many := []string{"12", "3", "b"}
    varFunc(many...)
    sum := oneByOne("Adding numbers...", 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, -1, 10)
    fmt.Println("Sum:", sum)
    sliceOfNumbers := []int{1, 2, 3}
    sum = oneByOne("Adding numbers...", sliceOfNumbers...)
    fmt.Println(sliceOfNumbers)
}
  • The ... operator used as a prefix to a type like ...int is called the pack operator, whereas the unpack operator appends a slice like sliceOfNumbers.... A slice is a Go data type that is essentially an abstraction of an array of unspecified length.

  • Each variadic function can use the pack operator once. The oneByOne() function accepts a single string and a variable number of integer arguments using the sliceOfNumbers slice.

  • The varFunc function accepts a single argument and just calls the fmt.Println() function.

  • Another note about slices: the second call to oneByOne() is using a slice. Any changes you make to that slice inside the variadic function will persist after the function exits because this is how slices work in Go.

  1. Execute the variadic.go program:

    go run variadic.go
    

    The output will resemble the following

      
    [12 3 b]
    Adding numbers...
    0 1     1 2     2 3     3 4     4 5     5 -1     6 10
    Sum: 24
    Adding numbers...
    0 1     1 2     2 3
    [-1000 2 3]
        
    

Functions and pointer variables

Go supports pointers and this section will briefly present how functions can work with pointers. A future Go guide will talk about pointers in more detail, but here is a brief overview.

./fPointers.go
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package main

import (
    "fmt"
)

func getPointer(varToPointer *float64) float64 {
    return *varToPointer * *varToPointer
}

func returnPointer(testValue int) *int {
    squareTheTestValue := testValue * testValue
    return &squareTheTestValue
}

func main() {
    testValue := -12.12
    fmt.Println(getPointer(&testValue))
    testValue = -12
    fmt.Println(getPointer(&testValue))

    theSquare := returnPointer(10)
    fmt.Println("sq value:", *theSquare)
    fmt.Println("sq memory address:", theSquare)
}
  • The getPointer() function takes a pointer argument to a float64, which is defined as varToPointer *float64, where returnPointer() returns a pointer to an int, which is declared as *int.
  1. Execute the fPointers.go program:

    go run fPointers.go
    

    The output will resemble the following:

      
    146.8944
    144
    sq value: 100
    sq memory address: 0xc00001a0b8
        
    

Functions with Functions as Parameters

Go functions can have functions as parameters.

./fArgF.go
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package main

import "fmt"

func doubleIt(numToDouble int) int {
    return numToDouble + numToDouble
}

func squareIt(numToSquare int) int {
    return numToSquare * numToSquare
}

func funFun(functionName func(int) int, variableName int) int {
    return functionName(variableName)
}

func main() {
    fmt.Println("funFun Double:", funFun(doubleIt, 12))
    fmt.Println("funFun Square:", funFun(squareIt, 12))
    fmt.Println("Inline", funFun(func(numToCube int) int { return numToCube * numToCube * numToCube }, 12))
}
  • The funFun() function accepts two parameters, a function parameter named functionName and an int value. The functionName parameter should be a function that takes one int argument and returns an int value.

  • The first fmt.Println() call in main() uses funFun() and passes the doubleIt function, without any parentheses, as its first parameter.

  • The second fmt.Println() call uses funFun() with squareIt as its first parameter.

  • In the last fmt.Println() statement the implementation of the function parameter is defined inside the call to funFun() using an anonymous function.

  1. Execute the fArgF.go program:

    go run fArgF.go
    

    The output will resemble the following:

      
    function1: 24
    function2: 144
    Inline 1728
        
    

Functions Returning Functions

Go functions can return functions.

./fRetF.go
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package main

import (
    "fmt"
)

func squareFunction() func() int {
    numToSquare := 0
    return func() int {
        numToSquare++
        return numToSquare * numToSquare
    }
}

func main() {
    square1 := squareFunction()
    square2 := squareFunction()

    fmt.Println("First Call to square1:", square1())
    fmt.Println("Second Call to square1:", square1())
    fmt.Println("First Call to square2:", square2())
    fmt.Println("Third Call to square1:", square1())
}
  • squareFunction() returns an anonymous function with the func() int signature.

  • As squareFunction() is called two times, you will need to use two separate variables, square1 and square2 to keep the two return values.

  1. Execute the fRetF.go program:

    go run fRetF.go
    

    Your output will resemble the following:

      
    First Call to square1: 1
    Second Call to square1: 4
    First Call to square2: 1
    Third Call to square1: 9
        
    

    Notice that the values of square1 and square2 are not connected even though they both came from squareFunction().

Errors in Go

Errors and error handling are two important topics in Go. Go puts so much importance on error messages that it has a dedicated data type for errors, aptly named error. This also means that you can easily create your own error messages if you find that what Go gives you is not adequate. You will most likely need to create and handle your own errors when you are developing your own Go packages.

Recognizing an error condition is one task, while deciding how to react to an error condition is another task. Therefore, some error conditions might require that you immediately stop the execution of the program, whereas in other error situations, you might just print a warning message and continue.

./errors.go
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package main

import (
    "errors"
    "fmt"
    "strconv"
)

func main() {

    customError := errors.New("My Custom Error!")
    if customError.Error() == "My Custom Error!" {
        fmt.Println("!!")
    }

    stringToConvert1 := "123"
    stringToConvert2 := "43W"
    _, err := strconv.Atoi(stringToConvert1)
    if err != nil {
        fmt.Println(err)
        return
    }

    _, err = strconv.Atoi(stringToConvert2)
    if err != nil {
        fmt.Println(err)
        return
    }
}
  • The strconv.Atoi() function tries to convert a string into an integer, provided that the string is a valid integer, and returns two things, an integer value and an error variable. If the error variable is nil, then the conversion was successful and you get a valid integer. The _ character tells Go to ignore one, as in this case, or more of the return values of a function.

  • Most of the time, you need to check whether an error variable is equal to nil and then act accordingly. This kind of Go code is very popular in Go programs and you will see it and use it multiple times.

  • Also presented here is the errors.New() function that allows you to create a custom error message and errors.Error() function that allows you to convert an error variable into a string variable.

  1. Execute the errors.go program:

    go run errors.go
    

    Your output will resemble the following:

      
    !!
    strconv.Atoi: parsing "43W": invalid syntax
        
    

Summary

In this guide you learned the basics about the Go programming language, how to execute programs, how to write loops, how to handle errors, and you saw examples for various function types.

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

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This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.