Go actions responses

May 02, 2015

Anyone who's written a website or webservice in Go is probably familiar with the http.Handler interface and its ServeHTTP(res http.ResponseWriter, req *http.Request) function. Many of the 3rd party web frameworks expose something similar, often with a custom Request parameter.

Personally, I've never been a fan of having the response passed into actions like that. I understand why the standard library took this approach: some scenarios require the consumer to have access and control over the response. In most cases though, I find it more natural to think of the response as the action's return value.

To achieve this, the first thing I do is create a Response interface and a simple implementation:

var (
  NotFound    = Empty(404)
  ServerError = Empty(500)

type Response interface {
  WriteTo(out http.ResponseWriter)

type NormalResponse struct {
  status int
  body   []byte
  header http.Header

func (r *NormalResponse) WriteTo(out http.ResponseWriter) {
  header := out.Header()
  for k, v := range r.header {
    header[k] = v

func (r *NormalResponse) Cache(ttl string) *NormalResponse {
  return r.Header("Cache-Control", "public,max-age=" + ttl)

func (r *NormalResponse) Header(key, value string) *NormalResponse {
  r.header.Set(key, value)
  return r

// functions to create responses

func Empty(status int) *NormalResponse {
  return Respond(status, nil)

func Json(status int, body interface{}) *NormalResponse {
  return Respond(status, body).Header("Content-Type", "application/json")

func Error(message string, err error) *NormalResponse {
  log.Println(message, err)
  return ServerError

func Respond(status int, body interface{}) *NormalResponse {
  var b []byte
  var err error
  switch t := body.(type) {
  case []byte:
    b = t
  case string:
    b = []byte(t)
    if b, err = json.Marshal(body); err != nil {
      return Error("body json marshal", err)
  return &NormalResponse{
     body: b,
     status: status,
     header: make(http.Header),

I normally end up with a number of Response implementations to handle different types of bodies, such as streaming from an io.Reader, something that needs to be released after we've written it, or even something more tightly related to a database query which is able to return an array of results and paging information.

With this approach, an action's signature looks like:

func ListUsers(req *http.Request) Response {
  return NotFound

We then create a wrapper function to glue the two worlds together:

// setup the route:
http.Handle("/users", wrap(ListUsers))

func wrap(action func(req *http.Request) Response) func(http.ResponseWriter, *http.Request) {
  return func(out http.ResponseWriter, req *http.Request) {
    res := action(req)
    if res == nil {
      res = ServerError

Admittedly, it's a small change. I do find that it improves readability and makes the flow much more natural though.

// let's pretend *http.Request has a Params map
func ShowUser(out http.ResponseWriter, req *http.Request) {
  user, err := LoadUser(req.Params["id"])
  if err != nil {
    serverError(out, "load user", err)
  if user == nil {
  // yes, could be turned into helper functions like the above
  // serverError and notFound
  out.Header().Set("Cache-Control", "public,max-age=60")
  out.Header().Set("Content-Type", "application/json")
  //todo: serialize

// VS

func ShowUser(req *http.Request) Response {
  user, err := LoadUser(req.Params["id"])
  if err != nil {
    return Error("load user", err)
  if user == nil {
    return NotFound
  return Json(200, user).Cache("60")