Search anything:

Go Interfaces : A beginner's guide

Binary Tree book by OpenGenus

Open-Source Internship opportunity by OpenGenus for programmers. Apply now.


An interface at its best, is an interaction point where two different systems meet in order to interact with each other.
Interfaces in Go are none different, they can be understood as interaction points for two or more apparently unrelated types.

The interface in Go language is a built-in construct to introduce custom types. Interfaces are abstract which means that we are not allowed to instantiate them. For some type to be compatible with an interface, it has to implement the methods specified in the interface. This process is referred to as satisfying of the interface.

In short, the primary purpose of their existence is a behavioral one; they enable us to treat different types as the same as long as these types share some common behavior.

In Go, an interface can be declared as follows:

type Duck interface {
    // declare methods here ... 

The name can be anything apart from Duck but there's a reason I chose that name, let's dig deeper.

The Duck Typing Test

Go is a strongly typed language. This means we cannot have a type opt in to hold different type of data once it has been declared. That gives huge benefits in terms of code predictability, static analysis and, just-in-time debugging, but it comes with a cost - we no longer have type flexibility.

Strong nature of a language prevents the programmer from inventing unanticipated types. There's a set of types built into the language that are to be utilized and hence, there's no middle ground between types. It is either one way or the another.
Either you got a string or you have an int; nothing in between... or is it?

Introducing Duck Typing... test, it goes like this:

If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck - Wikipedia

The crux of Duck Typing principle is the idea that code does not care whether an object is a duck but rather it concerns with the fact that it quacks or not.

Let's make sense out of it with some code. We define the glorious Duck interface as before:

type Duck interface {
    // our methods go here

We declare a type interface named Duck. The Duck interface characterizes a contract for any subsequent types that satisfy it. But as of now, it is quite vague since there are no rules defined here. This is where methods come in handy. Methods describe the kind of behavior a type would need to exhibit in order to satisfy the interface.

We know that a duck should be able to walk and quack. Let's add these two methods to our interface;

type Duck interface {

We have added the required rules of the contract. It is now job of the type in question to implement these methods to be given the perk of being categorised as a duck.

An important distinction to note here is that this mechanism in Go is called Structural Typing as it has a static type system.
Duck Typing is more suited for languages which are dynamic in nature such as Python and/or Elixir, etc. But nonetheless, goal of both design patterns is the same.

Implementing the Interface

There are countless types of ducks out there with varied attributes, such as color, size or flying capabilities. Let's take for example, the Mandarin and Grebes.

Grebes are primarily found in lakes. They are known for their diving abilities. Mandarin ducks prefer wooded areas near ponds. They often like to remain static. That's quite an array of differences, right?

let's create the structs named after these types of ducks;
For Grebe:

type Grebe struct {
    isGoodDiver bool

similarly, for Mandarin:

type MandarinDuck struct {
    size int
    habitat string

These are different types by definition, we cannot assign their instances to one another.

What if we have a function that expects just any type of duck regardless of their differences? Mandarin and Grebe are both reasonable candidates. After all, they are ducks. They can walk and quack.
Essentially what we need here is some sort of polymorphic behavior.

Interfaces for Polymorphism

The ability of an object to behave in multiple ways is called Polymorphism. It is evident from our discussion that we need both duck types to exhibit the behavior of a general duck. Let us suppose there is a function that expects an object which satisfies the Duck interface:

func DuckAcceptor(duck Duck) {

As of now, we cannot pass in the instances of Grebe or MandarinDuck. This can only be achieved once we implement the Duck interface on both duck types.

The basic syntax to implement the methods of an interface in Go is pretty similar to defining normal functions. We just provide an object of the type which we intend to implement the interface on.
For MandarinDuck:

func (md MandarinDuck) Walk() {
    fmt.Println("This is MandarinDuck walking... I walk simple!!!")

func (md MandarinDuck) Quack() {
    fmt.Println("quack quack!!")

similarly, for Grebe type:

func (g Grebe) Walk() {
    fmt.Println("This is Grebe duck walking!")

func (g Grebe) Quack() {
    fmt.Println("quuaackkkkk quuaaackkkk!!")

Now, we can pass an object of any of these types to our DuckAcceptor(d Duck) function. d is now a generic duck type. The is the power polymorhism. A single type automatically binding to an appropriate sub type without programmer's intervention. And we achieved this through interfaces.

let's see how this affects our program. We instantiate both structs,

var grebe Grebe
var mandarinDuck MandarinDuck 

Now if we call our DuckAcceptor(d Duck) function twice passing an object of each type respectively, we see that the Walk() and Quack() functions respond to the internal type change.


We can already envision the output, that is:

This is Grebe duck walking!
quuaackkkkk quuaaackkkk!!

This is MandarinDuck walking... I walk simple!!!
quack quack!!

Obvious... right?

Summarizing it, interfaces are a powerful tool that enable us to achieve polymorphism in our code. They help us group related functionality together and make our code reusable.

The Empty Interface

There's only piece to the puzzle that remains to be solved and that is the Empty Interface.

Go is primarily a statically typed language which means that every type needs to be known at compile time before the code is executed. This prevents type flexibility. Luckily, Go allows the programmer to make assumptions about types and this can be achieved through the empty interface, so what's an empty interface?

An interface which has zero contract protocols(methods) is called empty interface

let's quickly define one:

type EmptyInterface interface{}

What good does it do? glad you asked! every type in go automatically implements the empty interface because it does not put any rules(methods) in place to be satisfied with. So we can basically start to qualify even our simple data types such as, int or string as interface{}. let's see an example from the official docs:

var any interface{}

any = 42

any = "hello"

The output is:

(42, int)
(hello, string)

As we can see, any variable can take on any(no pun intended) type of data. The describe() is a custom function that describes type of information of the passed in arguments.

Empty interfaces are of great use when creating Go packages and libraries. There are some pitfalls or caveats to this approach such as the need of constant Type Assertions but that's a story for some another time.

I hope you had a very good time here and picked up a thing or two. Happy Go-ing!!!

Go Interfaces : A beginner's guide
Share this