This blog post from 2019 titled Go advanced concurrency patterns: part 3 (channels) – despite its unassuming name – is an exercise I found fun to read and enlightening.
Go has a package called
sync in its standard library. It contains a few useful tools like
WaitGroup, allowing for traditional concurrency patterns in your code. These are called the concurrency primitives. They’re definitely useful if you’re thinking in the traditional object-oriented way. At former roles, when I wrote in Java, I would have reached for these.
However, a principle in the culture of Go is to “share by communicating.” You’ll see this repeated in many places. This means that when your instinct is to look for a concurrency primitive that will satisfy your requirements, see if there’s a way to use channels instead. Using channels to communicate data across goroutines (threads) makes software easier to reason about and debug. The handoffs (sending to and receiving from channels) are natural boundary points that help with clarity and simple design.
I’m using the word simple here the way Rich Hickey uses it in this talk. Concurrent code is complex by default, and any opportunity to simplify is a gift. Channels are a natural simplifier.
The above blog post takes the primitives in the
sync package and implements each one using channels. This is a simple and effective demonstration of how expressive channels truly are. It’s hard to appreciate channels, which seem like not that big of a deal at first glance, until you see idiomatic code like this.
If you’re not so familiar with how concurrency works in Go, here are some resources I’ve found useful.
If you’d like a primer on concurrency patterns in Go, I recommend this book: Concurrency in Go, by Katherine Cox-Buday.
Go advanced concurrency patterns: part 3 (channels) has given me a new perspective on concurrency, not just in Go, but as a concept generally. I will continue to make fun of its unwieldy title, though.
Even if you don’t program in Go, I’d recommend that you take a look at the entire series of posts, each of which is interesting in its own way.