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Functions in Go

Function declarations and calls have been explained before. The current article will touch more function related concepts and details in Go.

In fact, function is one kind of first-class citizen types in Go. In other words, we can use functions as values. Although Go is a static language, Go functions are very flexible. The feeling of using Go functions is much like using many dynamic languages.

There are some built-in functions in Go. These functions are documented in builtin and unsafe standard code packages. Built-in functions have several differences from custom functions. These differences will be mentioned below.

Function Signatures and Function Types

The literal of a function type is composed of the func keyword and a function signature literal. A function signature is composed of two type list, one is the input parameter type list, the other is the output result type lists. Parameter and result names can appear in function type and signature literals, but the names are not important.

In practice, the func keyword can be presented in signature literals, or not. For this reason, we can think function type and function signature as the same concept.

Here is a literal of a function type:
func (a int, b string, c string) (x int, y int, z bool)
From the article function declarations and calls, we have learned that consecutive parameters and results of the same type can be declared together. So the above literal is equivalent to
func (a int, b, c string) (x, y int, z bool)
As parameter names and result names are not important in the literals (as long as there are no duplicate non-blank names), the above ones are equivalent to the following one.
func (x int, y, z string) (a, b int, c bool)
Variable (parameter and result) names can be blank identifier _. The above ones are equivalent to the following one.
func (_ int, _, _ string) (_, _ int, _ bool)
The parameter names must be either all present or all absent (anonymous). The same rule is for result names. The above ones are equivalent to the following ones.
func (int, string, string) (int, int, bool) // the standard form
func (a int, b string, c string) (int, int, bool)
func (x int, _ string, z string) (int, int, bool)
func (int, string, string) (x int, y int, z bool)
func (int, string, string) (a int, b int, _ bool)

All of the above function type literals denote the same (unnamed) function type.

Each parameter list must be enclosed in a () in a literal, even if the parameter list is blank. If a result list of a function type is blank, then it can be omitted from literal of the function type. When a result list has most one result, then the result list doesn't need to be enclosed in a () if the literal of the result list contains no result names.
// The following three function types are identical.
func () (x int)
func () (int)
func () int

// The following two function types are identical.
func (a int, b string) ()
func (a int, b string)

Variadic parameters and variadic function types

The last parameter of a function can be a variadic parameter. Each function can have at most one variadic parameter. The type of a variadic parameter is always a slice type. To indicate the last parameter is variadic, just prefix three dots ... to the element type of its (slice) type in its declaration. Example:
func (values ...int64) (sum int64)
func (sep string, tokens ...string) string

A function type with variadic parameter can be called a variadic function type. A variadic function type and a non-variadic function type are absolutely not identical.

Some variadic functions examples will be shown in a below section.

Function types are incomparable types

It has been mentioned several times in Go 101 that function types are incomparable types. But like map and slice values, function values can compare with the untyped bare nil identifier. (Function values will be explained in the last section of the current article.)

As function types are incomparable types, they can't be used as the key types of map types.

Function Prototypes

A function prototype is composed of a function name and a function type (or signature). Its literal is composed of the func keyword, a function name and the literal of a function signature literal.

A function prototype literal example:
func Double(n int) (result int)

In other words, a function prototype is a function declaration without the body portion. A function declaration is composed of a function prototype and a function body.

Variadic Function Declarations and Variadic Function Calls

General function declarations and calls have been explained in function declarations and calls. Here introduces how to declare and call variadic functions.

Variadic function declarations

Variadic function declarations are similar to general function declarations. The difference is that the last parameter of a variadic function must be variadic parameter. Note, the variadic parameter of a variadic function will be treated as a slice within the body of the variadic function.
// Sum and return the input numbers.
func Sum(values ...int64) (sum int64) {
	// The type of values is []int64.
	sum = 0
	for _, v := range values {
		sum += v

// An inefficient string concatenation function.
func Concat(sep string, tokens ...string) string {
	// The type of tokens is []string.
	r := ""
	for i, t := range tokens {
		if i != 0 {
			r += sep
		r += t
	return r

From the above two variadic function declarations, we can find that if a variadic parameter is declared with type portion as ...T, then the type of the parameter is []T actually.

In fact, the Print, Println and Printf functions in the fmt standard package are all variadic functions.
func Print(a ...interface{}) (n int, err error)
func Printf(format string, a ...interface{}) (n int, err error)
func Println(a ...interface{}) (n int, err error)

The variadic parameter types of the three functions are all []interface{}, which element type interface{} is an interface types. Interface types and values will be explained interfaces in Go later.

Variadic function calls

There are two manners to pass arguments to a variadic parameter of type []T:
  1. pass a slice value as the only argument. The slice must be assignable to values of type []T, and the slice must be followed by three dots .... The passed slice is called as a variadic argument.
  2. pass zero or more arguments which are assignable to values of type T. These arguments will be copied (or converted) as the elements of a new allocated slice value of type []T, then the new allocated slice will be passed to the variadic parameter.

Note, the two manners can't be mixed in the same variadic function call.

An example program which uses some variadic function calls:
package main

import "fmt"

func Sum(values ...int64) (sum int64) {
	sum = 0
	for _, v := range values {
		sum += v

func main() {
	a0 := Sum()
	a1 := Sum(2)
	a3 := Sum(2, 3, 5)
	// The above three lines are equivalent to
	// the following three respective lines.
	b0 := Sum([]int64{}...) // <=> Sum(nil...)
	b1 := Sum([]int64{2}...)
	b3 := Sum([]int64{2, 3, 5}...)
	fmt.Println(a0, a1, a3) // 0 2 10
	fmt.Println(b0, b1, b3) // 0 2 10

Another example:
package main

import "fmt"

func Concat(sep string, tokens ...string) (r string) {
	for i, t := range tokens {
		if i != 0 {
			r += sep
		r += t

func main() {
	tokens := []string{"Go", "C", "Rust"}
	// manner 1
	langsA := Concat(",", tokens...)
	// manner 2
	langsB := Concat(",", "Go", "C","Rust")
	fmt.Println(langsA == langsB) // true

The following example doesn't compile, for the two variadic function call manners are mixed.
package main

// See above examples for the full declarations
// of the following two functions.
func Sum(values ...int64) (sum int64)
func Concat(sep string, tokens ...string) string

func main() {
	// The following two lines both fail
	// to compile, for the same error:
	// too many arguments in call.
	_ = Sum(2, []int64{3, 5}...)
	_ = Concat(",", "Go", []string{"C", "Rust"}...)

More About Function Declarations and Calls

Functions whose names can be duplicate

Generally, the names of the functions declared in the same code package can't be duplicate. But there are two exceptions.
  1. One exception is each code package can declare several functions with the same name init and the same type func ().
  2. The other exception is multiple functions can be declared with names as the blank identifier _, in which cases, the declared functions can never be called.

Some function calls are evaluated at compile time

Most function calls are evaluated at run time. But calls to the functions of the unsafe standard package are always evaluated at compile time. Calls to some other built-in functions, such as len and cap, may be evaluated at either compile time or run time, depending on the passed arguments. The results of the function calls evaluated at compile time can be assigned to constants.

All function arguments are passed by copy

Let's repeat it again, like all value assignments in Go, all function arguments are passed by copy in Go. When a value is copied, only its direct part is copied (a.k.a., a shallow copy).

Function declarations without bodies

We can implement a function in Go assembly. Go assembly source files are stored in *.a files. A function implemented in Go assembly is still needed to be declared in a *.go file, but the only the prototype of the function is needed to be present. The body portion of the declaration of the function must be omitted in the *.go file.

Some functions with results are not required to return

If a function has return results, then the last statement in its declaration body must be a terminating statement. Other than return terminating statement, there are some other kinds of terminating statements. So a function body is not required to contain a return statement. For example,
func fa() int {
	goto a

func fb() bool {

The results of calls to custom function can be discarded, not true for calls to some built-in functions

The return results of a custom function call can be all discarded together. However, the return results of calls to built-in functions, except recover and copy, can't be discarded, though they can be ignored by assigning them to some blank identifiers. Function calls whose results can't be discarded can't be used as deferred function calls or goroutine calls.

Use function calls as expressions

A call to a function with single return result can always be used as a single value. For example, it can be nested in another function call as an argument, and can also be used as a single value to appear in any other expressions and statements.

If the return results of a call to a multi-result function are not discarded, then the call can only be used as a multi-value expression in two scenarios.
  1. The call can be used in an assignment as source values. But the call can't mix with other source values in the assignment.
  2. The call can be nested in another function call as arguments. But the call can't mix with other arguments.
An example:
package main

func HalfAndNegative(n int) (int, int) {
	return n/2, -n

func AddSub(a, b int) (int, int) {
	return a+b, a-b

func Dummy(values {}

func main() {
	// These lines compile okay.
	AddSub(AddSub(AddSub(7, 5)))
	_, _ = AddSub(7, 5)

	// The following lines fail to compile.
	_, _, _ = 6, AddSub(7, 5)
	Dummy(AddSub(7, 5), 9)
	Dummy(AddSub(7, 5), HalfAndNegative(6))

Note, for the standard Go compiler, some built-in functions break the universality of the just described rules above.

Function Values

As mentioned above, function types are one kind of types in Go. A value of a function type is called a function value. The zero values of function types are represented with the predeclared nil.

When we declare a custom function, we also declared an immutable function value actually. The function value is identified by the function name. The type of the function value is represented as the literal by omitting the function name from the function prototype literal.

Note, built-in functions can't be used as values. init functions also can't be used as values.

Any function value can be invoked just like a declared function. It is fatal error to call a nil function to start a new goroutine. The fatal error is not recoverable and will make the whole program crash. For other situations, calls to nil function values will produce recoverable panics, including deferred function calls.

From the article value parts, we know that non-nil function values are multi-part values. After one function value is assigned to another, the two functions share the same underlying parts(s). In other words, the two functions represent the same internal function object. The effects of invoking two functions are the same.

An example:
package main

import "fmt"

func Double(n int) int {
	return n + n

func Apply(n int, f func(int) int) int {
	return f(n) // the type of f is "func(int) int"

func main() {
	fmt.Printf("%T\n", Double) // func(int) int
	// Double = nil // error: Double is immutable.

	var f func(n int) int // default value is nil.
	f = Double
	g := Apply // let compile deduce the type of g
	fmt.Printf("%T\n", g) // func(int, func(int) int) int

	fmt.Println(f(9))         // 18
	fmt.Println(g(6, Double)) // 12
	fmt.Println(Apply(6, f))  // 12

In the above example, g(6, Double) and Apply(6, f) are equivalent.

In practice, we often assign anonymous functions to function variables, so that we can call the anonymous functions multiple times.
package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
	// This function returns a function (a closure).
	isMultipleOfX := func (x int) func(int) bool {
		return func(n int) bool {
			return n%x == 0

	var isMultipleOf3 = isMultipleOfX(3)
	var isMultipleOf5 = isMultipleOfX(5)
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf3(6))  // true
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf3(8))  // false
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf5(10)) // true
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf5(12)) // false

	isMultipleOf15 := func(n int) bool {
		return isMultipleOf3(n) && isMultipleOf5(n)
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf15(32)) // false
	fmt.Println(isMultipleOf15(60)) // true

All functions in Go can be viewed as closures. This is why user experiences of all kinds of Go functions are so uniform and why Go functions are as flexible as those in dynamic languages.


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