How to start a Go project in 2018
2018/05/10 (1750 words)

This post is fairly old. See the updated version Starting a Go project in 2023

Getting started with a Go project in 2018 is frankly a little more painful then getting anything else started IMHO. With that here is what I have been doing to get started.

The first thing to do is download and install Go. I would suggest always installing from the Go website itself and following the instructions for your OS of choice.

The next step is the one that trips a lot of new players up. You need to either set your $GOPATH or be aware of what it is. Setting it has not been a requirement for a while as it defaults to your home directory like so ~/go/ but it can be quite handy to set it anyway. Reasons you may want to set it yourself include,

The reason it is needed at all is because of how Go organizes dependencies. From the official documentation $GOPATH must be set to get, build and install packages outside the standard Go tree.. It’s easiest to think of the $GOPATH as being a workspace that contains all of your projects and dependencies. So long as all your go code lives inside it you are going to have an easier time working with go.

If you look in the $GOPATH directory you will see three directories, bin pkg and src. The bin directory is where installed binaries that have a main package are placed after you run go install. If you install a project without a main package it is moved into the pkg directory. Lastly src which is where you should do all your development work.

You can check your go environment variables with the command go env.

One other thing I do is I update my machines path to point to the bin directory of my $GOPATH, export PATH=$PATH:$(go env GOPATH)/bin so that I can install anything I am working on quickly and have it available everywhere. For example,

├── bin
│   ├── caire
│   ├── dep
│   ├── gocloc
│   ├── gocode.exe
│   ├── lc
│   ├── lc.exe
│   ├── license-detector
│   ├── scc
│   ├── scc.exe
│   └── waveform

The above is what my $GOPATH looks like and with the exported path I can run scc, gocloc and lc anywhere I want. I go a little further than most and have my GOPATH shared between Windows and Linux using the WSL so I can work on the same code-base in either, hence the .exe files in the above. To do that you just need to do a symlink inside the WSL to the Windows directory.

Go dependencies are a little odd the first time you run into them. I suspect this is because Google runs a mono-repo and as such the decisions around it were made with that in mind.

When you use the command go get what happens is that a copy of the github repository is cloned into your $GOPATH/src/github/boyter/scc/ directory. Go get works with other source control systems as well so you are not limited to git.

To start a new project there a few options. The first is to create a repository then go get it and then hack away in your editor of choice. The second is to create the directory manually then clone into it yourself. So long as the path matches your repository endpoints you are going to have a good time.

For example imagine you are working on a client site who have their own bitbucket instance at and you want to clone a repository inside that has a clone URL of the code would be checked out if you run go get would be, $GOPATH/src/


To search for anything about Go in your search engine of choice use the word golang rather than go when searching. For example to search for how to open a file I would search for golang open file.

Building / Installing

For commands which have package main

go build   builds the command and leaves the result in the current working directory.
go install builds the command in a temporary directory then moves it to $GOPATH/bin.

For packages

go build   builds your package then discards the results.
go install builds then installs the package in your $GOPATH/pkg directory.

If you want to cross compile, that is build on Linux for Windows or vice versa you can set what architecture your want to target and the OS through environment variables. You can view your defaults in go env but to change them you would do something like,

GOOS=darwin GOARCH=amd64 go build
GOOS=windows GOARCH=amd64 go build
GOOS=linux GOARCH=amd64 go build

Unit Testing

To run all the unit tests for your code (with caching there is no reason to not run them all anymore) you should run the following which will run all the unit tests

go test ./...

To run benchmarks run the below inside the directory where the benchmark is. Say you have ./processor/ inside your project with a benchmark file inside there go to that directory and run,

go test --bench .

To create a test file you need only create a file with _test as a suffix in the name. For example to create a file test you may call the file file_test.go.

If you want to run an individual test you can do so,

go test ./... -run NameOfTest

Which will attempt to any test in all packages that have the name NameOfTest. Keep in mind that the argument NameOfTest supports regular expressions so its possible to target groups of tests assuming you name them well.

If you find yourself wanting or needing to run tests ignoring the cache you can do the following,

GOCACHE=off go test ./...

The standard practice with Go tests is to put them next to the file you are testing. However this is not actually required. So long as you can import the code (that is it is made exposed with an uppercase prefix) you can put the tests anywhere you like. This of course means you cannot test the private code which some consider an anti-pattern anyway.


By default go get makes your dependencies global. As such if another project does a go get to update the code you may end up being unable to build your own code. This I believe was a deliberate design choice by Google as they work in a mono-repo and with quick build times they can make global re-factors easier.

If you are reading this you are most likely not Google and the thought of someone updating something and you not being able to build your code again scares the crap out of you. If you want to manage them locally so you can lock down the version using the vendor directory and dep

Inside the root of your go project dependencies are checked to exist inside the vendor directory before looking at $GOPATH. As such if you place your dependencies in there they will be the ones your code builds and links against. To move them into the location is thankfully simple. Install dep then run dep ensure which will inspect your code and move what is required into vendor. Check the dep docs for details on how to update/remove dependencies. Keep in mind that dep will place a Gopkg.lock and Gopkg.toml file in the root path for tracking these.

When you have your vendor dependencies setup you can commit the contents of the vendor folder and then anyone can build your project without issue so long as they have a compatible compiler.

Multiple Main Entry Points

There are times where you want to potentially have multiple entry points into an application by having multiple main.go files in the main package. One way to achieve this is to have shared code in one repository, and then import it into others. However this can be cumbersome when you want to use vendor imports.

One common pattern for this is to have a directory inside the root of the application and place your main.go files in there. For example,

├── cmd
│   ├── commandline
│   │   └── main.go
│   ├── webhttp
│   │   └── main.go
│   ├── convert1.0-2.0
│   │   └── main.go

Then each entry point can import from the root package and you can compile and run multiple entry points into your application. Assuming your application lives in you would need to import like so in each application,

package main

import (

With the above you can now call into code exposed by the repository package in the root.

OS Specific Code

Occasionally you will require code in your application that will not compile or run on different operating systems. The most common way to deal with this is to have the following structure in your application,


Assuming that the above just contained definitions for line breaks on multiple operating systems EG const LineBreak = "\n\r" or const LineBreak = "\n" the you can import and refer to LineBreak however you wish. The same technique will work for functions or anything else you wish to include.


Using the above techniques you can run inside Docker using multiple entry points easily. A sample dockerfile to achieve this is below using code from our hypothetical repository at

The below would build and run the main application,

FROM golang:1.10

COPY ./ /go/src/
WORKDIR /go/src/

RUN go build main.go

CMD ["./main"]

The below would build and run from the one of the alternate entry point’s for the application,

FROM golang:1.10

COPY ./ /go/src/
WORKDIR /go/src/

RUN go build main.go

CMD ["./main"]

A few people who have read this post suggested using multi stage docker builds which works well with Docker 17.05 or higher. More details here An example would be,

FROM golang:1.10
COPY . /go/src/
WORKDIR /go/src/
RUN CGO_ENABLED=0 go build main.go

FROM alpine:3.7
RUN apk add --no-cache ca-certificates
COPY --from=0 /go/src/ .
CMD ["./main"]

The result is much smaller images to run your code which is always nice.

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