Chapter 6. Methods

An object is a value or variable that has methods, and a method is a function associated with a particular type. An object-oriented program uses methods to express the properties and operations of each data structure so that clients need not access the object's representation directly.


This chapter discusses the following topics on methods:

Method Declarations

A method is declared with a variant of the ordinary function declaration in which an extra parameter appears before the function name. The parameter attaches the function to the type of that parameter.

package geometry

import "math"

type Point struct{ X, Y float64 }

// traditional function
func Distance(p, q Point) float64 {
    return math.Hypot(q.X-p.X, q.Y-p.Y)

// same thing, but as a method of the Point type
func (p Point) Distance(q Point) float64 {
    return math.Hypot(q.X-p.X, q.Y-p.Y)

The extra parameter p is called the method's receiver, a legacy from early object-oriented languages that described calling a method as "sending a message to an object".

In Go, the receiver does not have a special name like this or self; it's naming is similar to any other parameter. Since the receiver name will be frequently used, it's a good idea to choose something short and to be consistent across methods. A common choice is the first letter of the type name, like p for Point.

In a method call, the receiver argument appears before the method name. This parallels the declaration, in which the receiver parameter appears before the method name.

p := Point{1, 2}
q := Point{4, 6}
fmt.Println(Distance(p, q)) // "5", function call
fmt.Println(p.Distance(q))  // "5", method call

There's no conflict between the two declarations of functions called Distance above:

Since each type has its own name space for methods, we can use the name Distance for other methods as long as they belong to different types. The following example defines a type Path that represents a sequence of line segments and a Distance method:

// A Path is a journey connecting the points with straight lines.
type Path []Point

// Distance returns the distance traveled along the path.
func (path Path) Distance() float64 {
    sum := 0.0
    for i := range path {
        if i > 0 {
            sum += path[i-1].Distance(path[i])
    return sum

Although Path is a named slice type, not a struct type like Point, we can still define methods for it.

Unlike many other object-oriented languages, Go allows methods to be associated with any type, such as numbers, strings, slices, maps, and even functions. Methods may be declared on any named type defined in the same package, so long as its underlying type is neither a pointer nor an interface.

The two Distance methods have different types. They're not related to each other at all, though Path.Distance uses Point.Distance internally to compute the length of each segment that connects adjacent points.

The following code calls the new method to compute the perimeter of a right triangle:

perim := Path{
    {1, 1},
    {5, 1},
    {5, 4},
    {1, 1},

fmt.Println(perim.Distance()) // "12"

In the two examples above, there are two calls to methods named Distance. The compiler determines which function to call based on both the method name and the type of the receiver.

All methods of a given type must have unique names, but different types can use the same name for a method, like the Distance methods for Point and Path; there's no need to qualify function names (for example, PathDistance) to disambiguate. The first benefit to using methods over ordinary functions is: method names can be shorter. This benefit is magnified for calls originating outside the package, since they can use the shorter name and omit the package name:

import ""
perim := geometry.Path{{1, 1}, {5, 1}, {5, 4}, {1, 1}}
fmt.Println(geometry.PathDistance(perim)) // "12", standalone function
fmt.Println(perim.Distance())             // "12", method of geometry.Path

Methods with a Pointer Receiver

Calling a function makes a copy of each argument value. If either of the following occurs, we must pass the address of the variable using a pointer:

The same goes for methods that need to update the receiver variable: we attach them to the pointer type, such as *Point. For example:

func (p *Point) ScaleBy(factor float64) {
    p.X *= factor
    p.Y *= factor

The name of this method is (*Point).ScaleBy. The parentheses are necessary; without them, the expression would be parsed as *(Point.ScaleBy).

Convention dictates that if any method of Point has a pointer receiver, then all methods of Point should have a pointer receiver, even ones that don't strictly need it. We've broken this rule for Point so that we can show both kinds of method.

Named types (Point) and pointers to them (*Point) are the only types that may appear in a receiver declaration. To avoid ambiguities, method declarations are not permitted on named types that are themselves pointer types:

type P *int
func (P) f() { /* ... */ } // compile error: invalid receiver type

The (*Point).ScaleBy method can be called by providing a *Point receiver. The following three cases are equivalent:

r := &Point{1, 2}
fmt.Println(*r) // "{2, 4}"
p := Point{1, 2}
pptr := &p
fmt.Println(p) // "{2, 4}"
p := Point{1, 2}
fmt.Println(p) // "{2, 4}"

The last two cases are verbose; if the receiver p is a variable of type Point but the method requires a *Point receiver, the compiler will perform an implicit &p on the variable. So we can use the following shorthand:


This works only for variables, including struct fields like p.X and array or slice elements like perim[0]. We cannot call a *Point method on a non-addressable Point receiver, because there's no way to obtain the address of a temporary value. For example:

Point{1, 2}.ScaleBy(2) // compile error: can't take address of Point literal

However, we can call a Point method (e.g. Point.Distance) with a *Point receiver, because there is a way to obtain the value from the address by loading the value pointed to by the receiver. The compiler will perform an implicit * on the variable. These two function calls are equivalent:


Summary of three cases *

In every valid method call expression, exactly one of these three statements is true.

Case 1: the receiver argument has the same type as the receiver parameter. For example, both have type T or both have type *T:

Point{1, 2}.Distance(q) // Point
pptr.ScaleBy(2)         // *Point

Case 2: the receiver argument is a variable of type T and the receiver parameter has type *T. The compiler implicitly takes the address of the variable. For example:

p.ScaleBy(2) // implicit (&p)

Case 3: the receiver argument has type *T and the receiver parameter has type T. The compiler implicitly dereferences the receiver, in other words, loads the value. For example:

pptr.Distance(q) // implicit (*pptr)

If all the methods of a named type T have a receiver type of T itself (not *T), it is safe to copy instances of that type; calling any of its methods necessarily makes a copy. For example, time.Duration values are liberally copied, including as arguments to functions.

But if any method has a pointer receiver, you should avoid copying instances of T because doing so may violate internal invariants. For example, copying an instance of bytes.Buffer would cause the original and the copy to alias (Section 2.3.2) the same underlying array of bytes. Subsequent method calls would have unpredictable effects.

Nil Is a Valid Receiver Value

Some methods allow nil pointers as their receivers, especially if nil is a meaningful zero value of the type (e.g. maps and slices), just as some functions allow nil pointers as arguments. For example, nil represents the empty list:

// An IntList is a linked list of integers.
// A nil *IntList represents the empty list.
type IntList struct {
    Value int
    Tail *IntList

// Sum returns the sum of the list elements.
func (list *IntList) Sum() int {
    if list == nil {
        return 0
    return list.Value + list.Tail.Sum()

When you define a type whose methods allow nil as a receiver value, it's worth documenting this explicitly in the comment, as in the example above.

The following is part of the definition of the Values type from the net/url package:

package url

// Values maps a string key to a list of values.
type Values map[string][]string

// Get returns the first value associated with the given key,
// or "" if there are none.
func (v Values) Get(key string) string {
    if vs := v[key]; len(vs) > 0 {
        return vs[0]
    return ""

// Add adds the value to key.
// It appends to any existing values associated with key.
func (v Values) Add(key, value string) {
    v[key] = append(v[key], value)

It exposes its representation as a map but also provides methods to simplify access to the map, whose values are slices of strings; it's a multimap. Its clients can use its intrinsic operators (make, slice literals, m[key], and so on), or its methods, or both:

m := url.Values{"lang": {"en"}} // direct construction
m.Add("item", "1")
m.Add("item", "2")

fmt.Println(m.Get("lang")) // "en"
fmt.Println(m.Get("q"))    // ""
fmt.Println(m.Get("item")) // "1"      (first value)
fmt.Println(m["item"])     // "[1 2]"  (direct map access)

m = nil
fmt.Println(m.Get("item")) // ""
m.Add("item", "3")         // panic: assignment to entry in nil map

In the final call to Get, the nil receiver behaves like an empty map. It is equivalent to being written as Values(nil).Get("item")), not nil.Get("item"), which will not compile because the type of nil has not been determined (see modified version of the example above). By contrast, the final call to Add panics as it tries to update a nil map.

Because url.Values is a map type and a map refers to its key/value pairs indirectly, any updates and deletions that url.Values.Add makes to the map elements are visible to the caller. However, as with ordinary functions, any changes a method makes to the reference itself, like setting it to nil or making it refer to a different map data structure, will not be reflected in the caller.

Composing Types by Struct Embedding

The following example defines a ColoredPoint type:

import "image/color"

type Point struct{ X, Y float64 }

type ColoredPoint struct {
    Color color.RGBA

We could have defined ColoredPoint as a struct of three fields, but instead we embedded a Point to provide the X and Y fields. As discussed in Section 4.4.3, embedding enables us to take a syntactic shortcut to defining a ColoredPoint that contains all the fields of Point, plus some more. We can select the fields of ColoredPoint that were contributed by the embedded Point without mentioning Point:

var cp ColoredPoint
cp.X = 1
fmt.Println(cp.Point.X) // "1"
cp.Point.Y = 2
fmt.Println(cp.Y) // "2"

A similar mechanism applies to the methods of Point. We can call methods of the embedded Point field using a receiver of type ColoredPoint, even though ColoredPoint has no declared methods:

red := color.RGBA{255, 0, 0, 255}
blue := color.RGBA{0, 0, 255, 255}
var p = ColoredPoint{Point{1, 1}, red}
var q = ColoredPoint{Point{5, 4}, blue}
fmt.Println(p.Distance(q.Point)) // "5"
fmt.Println(p.Distance(q.Point)) // "10"

The methods of Point have been promoted to ColoredPoint. In this way, embedding allows complex types with many methods to be built up by the composition of several fields, each providing a few methods.

Note that it is a mistake to view Point as a base class and ColoredPoint as a subclass or derived class, or to interpret the relationship between these types as if a ColoredPoint "is a" Point, from a object-oriented language perspective. Notice the calls to Distance above. Distance has a parameter of type Point, and q is not a Point, so although q does have an embedded field of that type, we must explicitly select it. Attempting to pass q would be an error:

p.Distance(q) // compile error: cannot use q (ColoredPoint) as Point

A ColoredPoint is not a Point, but it "has a" Point, and it has two additional methods Distance and ScaleBy promoted from Point. In terms of implementation, the embedded field instructs the compiler to generate additional wrapper methods that delegate to the declared methods, equivalent to these:

func (p ColoredPoint) Distance(q Point) float64 {
    return p.Point.Distance(q)
func (p *ColoredPoint) ScaleBy(factor float64) {

When Point.Distance is called by the first of these wrapper methods, its receiver value is p.Point, not p. There is no way for the Point.Distance method to access the ColoredPoint in which the Point is embedded.

The type of an anonymous field may be a pointer to a named type, in which case fields and methods are promoted indirectly from the pointed-to object. Adding another level of indirection enables us to share common structures and vary the relationships between objects dynamically. The declaration of ColoredPoint below embeds a *Point:

type ColoredPoint struct {
    Color color.RGBA

p := ColoredPoint{&Point{1, 1}, red}
q := ColoredPoint{&Point{5, 4}, blue}
fmt.Println(p.Distance(*q.Point)) // "5"
q.Point = p.Point                 // p and q now share the same Point
fmt.Println(*p.Point, *q.Point) // "{2 2} {2 2}"

A struct type may have more than one anonymous field. If the declaration of ColoredPoint is:

type ColoredPoint struct {

Then a value of this type would have the following:

When the compiler resolves a selector such as p.ScaleBy to a method, it looks for that method in the following order:

  1. Directly declared method named ScaleBy
  2. Methods promoted once from ColoredPoint's embedded fields
  3. Methods promoted twice from embedded fields within Point and RGBA, and so on

The compiler reports an error if the selector was ambiguous because two methods were promoted from the same rank.

Methods can be declared only on named types (e.g. Point) and pointers to them (e.g. *Point). With embedding, it's possible and sometimes useful for unnamed struct types to have methods.

The following example shows part of a simple cache implemented using two package-level variables, a mutex (Section 9.2) and the map that it guards:

var (
    mu sync.Mutex // guards mapping
    mapping = make(map[string]string)

func Lookup(key string) string {
    v := mapping[key]
    return v

The version below is functionally equivalent but groups together the two related variables in a single package-level variable, cache:

var cache = struct {
    mapping map[string]string
} {
    mapping: make(map[string]string),

func Lookup(key string) string {
    v := cache.mapping[key]
    return v

The new variable gives more expressive names to the variables related to the cache, and because the sync.Mutex field is embedded within it, its Lock and Unlock methods are promoted to the unnamed struct type, allowing us to lock the cache with a self-explanatory syntax.

Method Values and Expressions

Method Values *

Usually, we select and call a method in the same expression, as in p.Distance(), but it's possible to separate these two operations. The selector p.Distance yields a method value, a function that binds a method (Point.Distance) to a specific receiver value p. This function can then be invoked without a receiver value; it needs only the non-receiver arguments.

p := Point{1, 2}
q := Point{4, 6}
distanceFromP := p.Distance // method value
fmt.Println(distanceFromP(q)) // "5"
var origin Point // {0, 0}
fmt.Println(distanceFromP(origin)) // "2.23606797749979", √5
scaleP := p.ScaleBy // method value
scaleP(2) // p becomes (2, 4)
scaleP(3) // then (6, 12)
scaleP(10) // then (60, 120)

Method values are useful when a package's API requires a function value and the clients' desired behavior for that function is to call a method on a specific receiver.

For example, the function time.AfterFunc calls a function value after a specified delay. The following program uses it to launch the rocket r after 10 seconds:

type Rocket struct { /* ... */ }
func (r *Rocket) Launch() { /* ... */ }
r := new(Rocket)
time.AfterFunc(10 * time.Second, func() { r.Launch() })

The last line above can be replaced with a shorter equivalent method value synatx:

time.AfterFunc(10 * time.Second, r.Launch)

Method Expressions *

Related to the method value is the method expression. When calling a method, as opposed to an ordinary function, we must supply the receiver in a special way using the selector syntax. A method expression, written T.f or (*T).f where T is a type, yields a function value with a regular first parameter taking the place of the receiver, so it can be called in the usual way.

p := Point{1, 2}
q := Point{4, 6}
distance := Point.Distance // method expression
fmt.Println(distance(p, q)) // "5"
fmt.Printf("%T\n", distance) // "func(Point, Point) float64"
scale := (*Point).ScaleBy
scale(&p, 2)
fmt.Println(p) // "{2 4}"
fmt.Printf("%T\n", scale) // "func(*Point, float64)"

Method expressions can be helpful when you need a value to represent a choice among several methods belonging to the same type so that you can call the chosen method with many different receivers.

In the following example, the variable op represents either the addition or the subtraction method of type Point, and Path.TranslateBy calls it for each point in the Path:

type Point struct{ X, Y float64 }
func (p Point) Add(q Point) Point { return Point{p.X + q.X, p.Y + q.Y} }
func (p Point) Sub(q Point) Point { return Point{p.X - q.X, p.Y - q.Y} }

type Path []Point

func (path Path) TranslateBy(offset Point, add bool) {
    var op func(p, q Point) Point
    if add {
        op = Point.Add
    } else {
        op = Point.Sub
    for i := range path {
        // Call either path[i].Add(offset) or path[i].Sub(offset).
        path[i] = op(path[i], offset)

Example: Bit Vector Type

Sets in Go are usually implemented as a map[T]bool, where T is the element type. Although a set represented by a map is very flexible, a specialized representation may outperform it. A bit vector is ideal in the following example cases:

A bit vector uses a slice of unsigned integer values or "words", each bit of which represents a possible element of the set. The set contains i if the i-th bit is set. The following program demonstrates a simple bit vector type with three methods:

// An IntSet is a set of small non-negative integers.
// Its zero value represents the empty set.
type IntSet struct {
    words []uint64

// Has reports whether the set contains the non-negative value x.
func (s *IntSet) Has(x int) bool {
    word, bit := x/64, uint(x%64)
    return word < len(s.words) && s.words[word]&(1<<bit) != 0

// Add adds the non-negative value x to the set.
func (s *IntSet) Add(x int) {
    word, bit := x/64, uint(x%64)
    for word >= len(s.words) {
        s.words = append(s.words, 0)
    s.words[word] |= 1 << bit

// UnionWith sets s to the union of s and t.
func (s *IntSet) UnionWith(t *IntSet) {
    for i, tword := range t.words {
        if i < len(s.words) {
            s.words[i] |= tword
        } else {
            s.words = append(s.words, tword)

Since each word has 64 bits, to locate the bit for x, we use the quotient x/64 as the word index and the remainder x%64 as the bit index within that word. The UnionWith operation uses the bitwise OR operator | to compute the union 64 elements at a time.

The following code defines a method to print an IntSet as a string:

// String returns the set as a string of the form "{1 2 3}".
func (s *IntSet) String() string {
    var buf bytes.Buffer
    for i, word := range s.words {
        if word == 0 {
        for j := 0; j < 64; j++ {
            if word&(1<<uint(j)) != 0 {
                if buf.Len() > len("{") {
                    buf.WriteByte(' ')
                fmt.Fprintf(&buf, "%d", 64*i+j)
    return buf.String()

Notice the similarity of the String method above with intsToString in Section 3.5.4:

The following code demonstrates the use of IntSet:

var x, y IntSet
fmt.Println(x.String()) // "{1 9 144}"

fmt.Println(y.String()) // "{9 42}"

fmt.Println(x.String()) // "{1 9 42 144}"

fmt.Println(x.Has(9), x.Has(123)) // "true false"

Note that we declared String and Has as methods of the pointer type *IntSet not out of necessity, but for consistency with the other two methods (Add and UnionWith), which need a pointer receiver because they assign to s.words. Consequently, an IntSet value does not have a String method:

fmt.Println(&x)         // "{1 9 42 144}"
fmt.Println(x.String()) // "{1 9 42 144}"
fmt.Println(x)          // "{[4398046511618 0 65536]}"
  1. In the first case, we print an *IntSet pointer, which does have a String method.
  2. In the second case, we call String() on an IntSet variable; the compiler inserts the implicit & operation, giving us a pointer, which has the String method.
  3. In the third case, because the IntSet value does not have a String method, fmt.Println prints the representation of the struct instead. It's important not to forget the & operator. Making String a method of IntSet, not *IntSet, might be a good idea, but this is a case-by-case judgment.


A variable or method of an object is said to be encapsulated if it is inaccessible to clients of the object. Encapsulation, sometimes called information hiding, is a key aspect of object-oriented programming.

Go has only one mechanism to control the visibility of names: capitalized identifiers are exported from the package in which they are defined, and uncapitalized names are not. This mechanism not only limits access to members of a package, but also limits access to the fields of a struct or the methods of a type. As a consequence, to encapsulate an object, it must be made into a struct.

That's the reason the IntSet type from the previous section was declared as a struct type, even though it has only a single field:

type IntSet struct {
    words []uint64

IntSet could be defined as a slice type as follows (we also have to replace each occurrence of s.words by *s in its methods):

type IntSet []uint64

Although this version of IntSet would be essentially equivalent, it would allow clients from other packages to read and modify the slice directly. In other words, whereas the expression *s could be used in any package, s.words may appear only in the package that defines IntSet.

Another consequence of this name-based mechanism is that the unit of encapsulation is the package, not the type as in many other languages. The fields of a struct type are visible to all code within the same package. Whether the code appears in a function or a method makes no difference.

Benefits of encapsulation *

Encapsulation provides three benefits.

First, because clients cannot directly modify the object's variables, one need inspect fewer statements to understand the possible values of those variables.

Second, hiding implementation details prevents clients from depending on things that might change, which gives the designer greater freedom to evolve the implementation without breaking API compatibility.

For example, the bytes.Buffer type is frequently used to accumulate very short strings. For optimization, it reserves a little extra space in the object to avoid memory allocation in this common case. Since Buffer is a struct type, this space takes the form of an extra field of type [64]byte with an uncapitalized name. When this field was added, because it was not exported, clients of Buffer outside the bytes package were unaware of any change except improved performance. Buffer and its Grow method are shown below (simplified for clarity):

type Buffer struct {
    buf []byte
    initial [64]byte
    /* ... */

// Grow expands the buffer's capacity, if necessary,
// to guarantee space for another n bytes. [...]
func (b *Buffer) Grow(n int) {
    if b.buf == nil {
        b.buf = b.initial[:0] // use preallocated space initially
    if len(b.buf)+n > cap(b.buf) {
        buf := make([]byte, b.Len(), 2*cap(b.buf) + n)
        copy(buf, b.buf)
        b.buf = buf

Third, encapsulation prevents clients from setting an object's variables arbitrarily. Because the object's variables can be set only by functions in the same package, the author of that package can ensure that all those functions maintain the object's internal invariants. For example, the Counter type below permits clients to increment the counter or to reset it to zero, but not to set it to some arbitrary value:

type Counter struct { n int }
func (c *Counter) N() int     { return c.n }
func (c *Counter) Increment() { c.n++ }
func (c *Counter) Reset()     { c.n = 0 }

Functions that only access or modify internal values of a type, such as the methods of the Logger type from log package as shown below, are called getters and setters. However, when naming a getter method, we usually omit the Get prefix. This convention applies to all methods and to other redundant prefixes as well, such as Fetch, Find, and Lookup.

package log

type Logger struct {
    flags int
    prefix string
    // ...

func (l *Logger) Flags() int
func (l *Logger) SetFlags(flag int)
func (l *Logger) Prefix() string
func (l *Logger) SetPrefix(prefix string)

Go does not forbid exported fields; once exported, a field cannot be unexported without an incompatible change to the API. Therefore, the initial choice should be deliberate and should consider:

Other aspects of encapsulation *

Encapsulation is not always desirable. For example, time.Duration reveals its representation as an int64 number of nanoseconds, which enables us to use all the arithmetic and comparison operations, and even to define constants of this type:

const day = 24 * time.Hour
fmt.Println(day.Seconds()) // "86400"

As another example, contrast the IntSet example with the geometry.Path example. Path was defined as a slice type, allowing its clients to construct instances using the slice literal syntax, to iterate over its points using a range loop, and so on, whereas these operations are denied to clients of IntSet.

The crucial difference is:

Methods are crucial to object-oriented programming, but they're only half the picture; the other half, interfaces, is discussed in the next chapter.

Doubts and Solution


p161 on pointer receiver

Any changes a method makes to the reference itself, like setting it to nil or making it refer to a different map data structure, will not be reflected in the caller.

Question: What does it mean?


The "will not be reflected in the caller" probably means "no effect" in the caller function. This is similar to setting an argument (within the callee function) to nil or making it refer to another object.

p168 on pointer receiver

First, because clients cannot directly modify the object's variables, one need inspect fewer statements to understand the possible values of those variables.

Question: Not sure what it means.