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Receiver Parameter Idiom in Golang

Internship at OpenGenus

Get this book -> Problems on Array: For Interviews and Competitive Programming

I came across this line of code in a GoLang code base today:

func (us UserStore) GetUsers(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) { 
    // implementation 
    // making use of `us` object/variable
}

and my honest reaction was ... humm!

To me, this wasn't new but also something that I haven't paid much attention to either. I had just realized that the variable us is actually not in the argument list.

If we take look at the above snippet, the us variable is being passed separately to the function before the function name, and this is what refers to as Receiver Parameter Idiom in Go, where the idiom bit signifies a common or established pattern.

In Go, a receiver parameter is a special parameter in a method declaration that allows a type to define methods that can be called on its instances.

This pattern is primarily used to tie functions to a specific type, which in this case happens to be UserStore. It is less strict imitation of an Object Oriented Programming approach called Encapsulation, which means ensuring the privacy of the content of an object.

Since Go does not qualify as purely Object Oriented language, it doesn't have any explicit constructs for data hiding like private or protected which are present in languages like C++ and Java, for example. So the attempt at encapsulation is not an enforcement but rather a suggestion.

The associating of methods to a certain type also introduces modularity because functionality related to certain type is closely coupled to that type only, and the functions defined that type basically act as an extensional interface towards outside world.

Let's see a short example,

package main
import "math"

// Let's define a struct type Point which represents a 2D point.
type Point struct {
    x, y float64 
}

// constructs a point and returns it
// acts as a constructor
func NewPoint(x, y float64) Point {
    return Point{x, y}  
}

func (p *Point) Distance(q Point) float64 {
    dx := p.x - q.x
    dy := p.y - q.y
    return math.Sqrt(dx*dx + dy*dy)
}

I have defined a Point struct and a couple of methods surrounding its usage. The NewPoint constructs a new Point object and returns it while the Distance method calculates the Euclidian distance between two such points. If we look closely, the later one uses receiver parameter which means we can call this method directly on a Point object or a pointer to its object. Choosing between passing an object by value or by reference to a method depends on whether we want to modify the original object or if the object size is relatively larger, making the copy operation an expensive choice.

in the main function:

package main
func main() {
    // create a Point without using NewPoint method
    origin := Point{0,0}
    
    // Create instances of the Point type using the constructor
    p := NewPoint(1, 2)
    q := NewPoint(4, 6)

    // Use the Distance method to calculate the distance between points
    distance := p.Distance(q)
    fmt.Printf("Distance between points: %f\n", distance)
}

In the main function, we create two points and then calculate the distance between them.

This is is the essence of associating a method with an object, we get to use . (dot) syntax call this function which is a bit more OOPs like. It is also evident that the NewPoint is not inherently connected to the Point because doesn't receive its object unlike Distance. This can be confirmed by the first line of the main function where we create a point without involving the NewPoint method. This isn't to say that we can't do the same for finding the distance without using Distance method rather to convey the fact that the user of this function will immediately recognize the connection between the Point and Distance.

Moreover, in case if were importing these functions from and outside package or module, the second method would automatically seem to be more closely related to the Point because it already operates on its object.

Thanks for reading!

Receiver Parameter Idiom in Golang
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