Using go generate to reduce boilerplate code

Use the go generate command line tool to simplify code generation and improve code maintainability and reusability. The post Using go generate to reduce boilerplate code appeared first on LogRocket Blog.

Using go generate to reduce boilerplate code

Boilerplate code is a section of code that is repeated in multiple parts of programs throughout a software application with little to no variation. Boilerplate code is usually necessary for application functionality without directly contributing to its primary purpose or functionality.

Boilerplate code may include operations like setting up basic file structures, initializing variables, defining functions, or importing libraries or modules. In some cases, packages provide boilerplate code as a starting point for developers to build upon, usually by generation after code behavior configurations.

Although boilerplate code may be necessary and valuable for application functionality, it can also be wasteful and redundant. For this reason, there are many tools to minimize boilerplate code.

go generate is a command-line tool for the Go programming language that allows for automatic code generation. You can use go generate to generate specific code for your project that is easy to modify, making the tool powerful for reducing boilerplate.

Jump ahead in this article:

Getting started with go generate

The go generate command allows you to run code generators as part of the go build process. Code generators are third-party programs that generate Go code based on specific inputs, such as protobuf files, database schemas, or configuration files. Popular Go packages like Gqlgen use Go generate to generate code for the build process.

There are many benefits to using go generate for boilerplate code:

go generate simplifies code generation: You can automate the process with go generate instead of manually running code generators. This method makes it easier to generate code and reduces the chances of errors or typos.

Improves code maintainability and reusability: By automating code generation, you can ensure that generated code is always up-to-date with the latest changes to your input files, making it easier to maintain your codebase and avoid bugs caused by outdated code. You can also use generated code in multiple projects, making it easier to reuse code and reduce duplication (reducing boilerplate code).

Enables integration with other tools: Using go generate for code generation means allowing you to inter-operate with other tools, such as go fmt or go vet, to automate common development tasks.

Generating code from annotations: You can use go generate to generate code based on annotations in the source code. You can define a custom struct tag to represent a field in a database schema, then use go generate to generate code to convert between the struct and the database schema automatically.

Generating code from external sources: You can use go generate to generate code from external sources such as API specifications or database schemas. For example, you can use go generate to generate client code for a REST API based on its Swagger definition.

go generate is built into Go’s toolchain, and starting with the tool is easy. You’ll need to add a special code comment to your Go code that specifies generators and their arguments.

Here’s an example of the special comments you can use with go generate:

//go:generate protoc --go_out=. myproto.proto

The comment specifies that go generate should run the protoc command with the --go_out flag and generate the Go code from the myproto.proto file.

You can have multiple go:generate comments in a single file; go generate will run the comments in the order they appear in the file.

After specifying the comments, run go generate in the same directory as your Go file to run the files and generate the code:

go generate

You can learn more about the go generate command-line tool by specifying the help command before the generate command:

go help generate

The command returns information about go generate and the options and functionalities you can explore with the tool:

Go Generate Options And Functionalities

go generate does not parse the file, so lines that look like directives in comments or multiline strings will be treated as directives.

Generating Go code with go generate

You can use many code generators for your Go programs, each with their own pros and cons.

Here’s an overview the Stringer generator; one of the most popular code generators in the Go ecosystem.

The Stringer code generator

Stringer is a code generator that automatically creates string methods for Go types. The generated methods are used to convert the values of the type to strings, which can be helpful for debugging and printing output.

Add this line of comment to your code to use the Stringer generator:

//go:generate stringer -type=MyType

The comment specifies that go generate should run the Stringer generator with the MyType type. After generating, the argument must be executable with the directive to perform an action.

Here’s an example of how you can use go generate to generate boilerplate code with the stringer code generation tool.

stringer implements a String() method for any type, allowing you to convert the instance of a custom type to a string.

Run this command in the terminal of your current working directory to install the Stringer tool:

go install[email protected] 

Stringer generates Go code to implement the Stringer interface for any type. Here’s an example Stringer interface:

type Stringer interface {
    String() string

Implementing the interface allows type conversion to string implementation. To use go generate with stringer, you’ll need to define a type that needs a string representation:

type Color int

const (
    Red Color = iota

Create a separate Go file and add this go:generate directive at the top to specify the command that generates the stringer code:

//go:generate stringer -type=Color

package main

The directive tells go generate to run the stringer command with the -type flag set to Color.

Run the go generate command in your working directory to generate the resulting file named colour_string.go in the same directory containing the implementation of the String method for the Colour type:

go generate ./...

The command runs all go generate directives in your working directory.

Here’s the code generated by the stringer tool:

// Code generated by "stringer -type=Color"; DO NOT EDIT.

package main

import "strconv"

func _() {
        // An "invalid array index" compiler error signifies that the constant values have changed.
        // Re-run the stringer command to generate them again.
        var x [1]struct{}
        _ = x[Red-0]
        _ = x[Green-1]
        _ = x[Blue-2]

const _Color_name = "RedGreenBlue"

var _Color_index = [...]uint8{0, 3, 8, 12}

func (i Color) String() string {
        if i < 0 || i >= Color(len(_Color_index)-1) {
                return "Color(" + strconv.FormatInt(int64(i), 10) + ")"
        return _Color_name[_Color_index[i]:_Color_index[i+1]]

The program provides the functionality you need to return the string representation of constant values.

You can now use the String() method to convert a Color value to a string:

func main() {
    c := Red
    fmt.Println(c.String()) // Output: "Red"

Here’s the result of accessing the Red constant and printing the string representation:

Using Go Generate And Stringer To Automate The Generation Of String Methods

That’s how you can use go generate and stringer to automate the generation of string methods for custom types to save time and reduce errors.

Best practices for using go generate to reduce boilerplate code

When using go generate to reduce boilerplate code, it is important that you adhere to best practices for the best output during code generation.

Here are a few tips you’ll want to consider when using the go generate tool:

  1. Use go generate with other Go tools like go fmt and go vet to automate common development tasks
  2. Ensure that the generated code is updated with the latest changes to your input files for easier maintainability
  3. Document the go generate directive to prevent confusion
  4. Use separate files for the go generate directive instead of adding the directives to existing files to keep your code organized and easier to modify
  5. Use go generate for repetitive code like serializers, deserializers, and mock implementations, and avoid using the tool for dynamic code
  6. Always test the generated code to ensure it works as expected to catch bugs and issues early


In this article, you learned about the go generate tool and how you can use it to generate code and reduce boilerplate and redundant code in your projects.

go generate simplifies code generation, improves code maintainability and reusability, and enables integration with other tools. Using go generate with other best practices can reduce boilerplate code and save time while avoiding errors or typos.

The post Using go generate to reduce boilerplate code appeared first on LogRocket Blog.