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Pythonic interfaces in Go Generators

Written by Lucas Lira Gomes at


One of the amazing things about Python is that once you embody the so called Zen of Python, no matter which language you are using, the philosophy will prevail. Or, in other words, even if you are learning the Go language, the extent of the pythonistas’ ethos will probably find its way in. So, in order to contextualise a bit, this post will dwell on the implementation of a lazy list evaluation mechanism, equivalent to Python’s generators, in the Go language.

Among Python’s many superpowers, generators is clearly a major one. Brought from functional languages, like Haskell, which have demonstrated how better being lazy is in terms of speed and memory management, especially when collections’ size can grow indefinitely.

In Python, besides list comprehension, there are also the less known dictionary and generator comprehensions. Being the later, what we are interested in the scope of this post. So, considering we want a program that receives an user input and then print all the multiples of 2 up to a certain limit, unknown a priori. For such, we could:

from itertools import (count, takewhile)

limit = int(input())
multiples_of_2 = takewhile(lambda x: x <= limit, (x*2 for x in count()))

for x in multiples_of_2:
    print(x)

For the sake of simplicity, note that no error checking concerning the user input was done in the previous example. The same rule will apply for next examples. Despite that, one could use the yield operator instead of employing generator comprehension:

from itertools import count

def multiples_of_2(limit):
    for x in (x*2 for x in count()):
        if limit > 25:
            raise StopIteration
        yield x

limit = int(input())

for x in multiples_of_2(limit):
    print(x)

For your information, those Python’s examples were meant to Python 3. As some of you may know, the input() function, in Python 2, also evals the input string, behaviour that can lead to serious security flaws. Therefore, if you still use Python 2, favour the raw_input() function instead.

Even though we do not have the same constructs in Go, we still can employ Go’s channels to end with a very similar effect. In such effort, two channels could be used. One for passing the data per se and another to signal that the upper bound limit was reached, therefore closing the data’s channel. That is needed to emulate the Python’s StopIteration exception, which signals that the generator is now empty. So, without further ado:

package main

import "fmt"

func multiples_of_2(c chan int, quit chan struct{}, limit int) {
    for x := 0; true; x += 2 {
        if x > limit {
            quit <- struct{}{}
            break
        }

        c <- x
    }
}

func main() {
    var limit int
    fmt.Scan(&limit)

    c := make(chan int)
    quit := make(chan struct{})

    defer close(c)
    defer close(quit)

    go multiples_of_2(c, quit, limit)
    for {
        select {
        case x := <-c:
            fmt.Println(x)
        case <-quit:
            return
        }
    }
}

Note that the quit channel uses an empty struct. The reason is twofold. First, empty structs does not occupy memory space, amount that could be substantial at scale. Second, as the Zen of Python states: “explicit is better than implicit”. So, by passing an empty struct we make it clear that the whole point of that particular channel is for signalling only, therefore avoiding users to wonder if there is a difference between true and false if, otherwise, we have declared that channel as a bool channel for instance.

Besides that, the multiples_of_2’s interface expose a lot about the business logic of our custom generator. Besides that, the whole process of initialising/closing a channel is quite repetitive. And as the DRY principle preaches, repetition is the root of all evil. Not to mention the fact that we could solve this problem with a single channel, instead of two. But fear not, that required channel can be encapsulated inside multiples_of_2, leading to an interface that is very similar to the pythonic one.

package main

import "fmt"

func multiples_of_2(limit int) (chan int) {
    c := make(chan int)

    go func() {
        defer close(c)
        for x := 0 ; true; x+=2 {
            if x > limit { break }

            c <- x
        }
    }()

    return c
}

func main() {
    var limit int
    fmt.Scan(&limit)

    for x:= range multiples_of_2(limit) {
        fmt.Println(x)
    }
}

So, that is all. At the expense of some extra work in our APIs, we can provide very pythonic interfaces for lazy evaluated lists in Go. Now without the need to worry about channels or concurrency at all. As a matter of fact, synchronous APIs, like the last example, should be favoured in Go, given using synchronous APIs in a asynchronous manner is easy in Go, while the contrary is not.

Connected, but still not interoperable
On Integration Testing and Microservices

golang python zen generators

Lucas Lira Gomes

Passionate Hacker, KDE/ArchLinux Zealot, and FOSS Enthusiast. I'm fond of Startups, Big Data, AI, NoSQL, Python, C++/Qt, Git, Cloud, IoT and all that jazz.

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