Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Methods on structs

We have learnt that structs can contain data. structs can also contain behavior in the form of methods. The definition of a method attached to or associated with a struct or any other type for that matter, is quite similar to a normal func definition, the only difference being that you need to additionally specify the type.

A normal function that we name my_func that takes no parameters and returns an int would be defined similar to that shown below.

Partial code
func my_func() int {
//code
}

A function or method that we name my_func that takes no parameters and returns an int, but which is associated with a type we name my_type would be defined similar to that shown below.

Partial code
type my_type struct { }

func (m my_type) my_func() int {
//code
}

Let’s extend our earlier Rectangle struct to add an Area function. This time we will define that the Area function works explicitly with the Rectangle type with func (r Rectangle) Area() int.

Full code
package main

import "fmt"

type Rectangle struct {
length, width int
}

func (r Rectangle) Area() int {
return r.length * r.width
}

func main() {
r1 := Rectangle{4, 3}
fmt.Println("Rectangle is: ", r1)
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", r1.Area())
}

Rectangle is: {4 3}
Rectangle area is: 12

Many object oriented languages have a concept of this or self that implicitly refers to the current instance. Go has no such keyword. When defining a function or method associated with a type, it is given as a named variable - in this case (r Rectangle) and then within the function the variable r is used.

In the above call to Area, the instance of Rectangle is passed as a value. You could also pass it by reference. In calling the function, there would be no difference whether the instance that you call it with is a pointer or a value because Go will automatically do the conversion for you.

Full code
package main

import "fmt"

type Rectangle struct {
length, width int
}

func (r Rectangle) Area_by_value() int {
return r.length * r.width
}

func (r *Rectangle) Area_by_reference() int {
return r.length * r.width
}

func main() {
r1 := Rectangle{4, 3}
fmt.Println("Rectangle is: ", r1)
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", r1.Area_by_value())
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", r1.Area_by_reference())
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", (&r1).Area_by_value())
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", (&r1).Area_by_reference())
}

Rectangle is: {4 3}
Rectangle area is: 12
Rectangle area is: 12
Rectangle area is: 12
Rectangle area is: 12

In the above code, we have defined two similar functions, one which takes the Rectangle instance as a pointer and one that takes it by value. We have called each of the functions, via a value r1 and once as an address &r1. The results however are all the same since Go performs appropriate conversions.

Just to extend the example, let’s do one more function that works on the same type. In the below example, we ‘attach’ a function to calculate the perimeter of the Rectangle type.

Full code
package main

import "fmt"

type Rectangle struct {
length, width int
}

func (r Rectangle) Area() int {
return r.length * r.width
}

func (r Rectangle) Perimeter() int {
return 2* (r.length + r.width)
}

func main() {
r1 := Rectangle{4, 3}
fmt.Println("Rectangle is: ", r1)
fmt.Println("Rectangle area is: ", r1.Area())
fmt.Println("Rectangle perimeter is: ", r1.Perimeter())
}

Rectangle is: {4 3}
Rectangle area is: 12
Rectangle perimeter is: 14

You might be tempted now to see if you can attach methods and behavior to any type, say like an int or time.Time - not possible. You will be able to add methods for a type only if the type is defined in the same package.

Partial code
func (t time.Time) first5Chars() string {
return time.LocalTime().String()[0:5]
}

cannot define new methods on non-local type time.Time

However, if you absolutely need to extend the functionality, you can easily use what we learnt about anonymous fields and extend the functionality.

Full code
package main

import "fmt"
import "time"

type myTime struct {
time.Time //anonymous field
}

func (t myTime) first5Chars() string {
return t.Time.String()[0:5]
}

func main() {
m := myTime{*time.LocalTime()} //since time.LocalTime returns an address, we convert it to a value with *
fmt.Println("Full time now:", m.String()) //calling existing String method on anonymous Time field
fmt.Println("First 5 chars:", m.first5Chars()) //calling myTime.first5Chars
}

Full time now: Tue Nov 10 23:00:00 UTC 2009
First 5 chars: Tue N

Methods on anonymous fields

There was another item that we slipped into the previous program - method calls on anonymous fields. Since time.Time was an anonymous field within myTime, we were able to refer to a method of Time as if it were a method of myTime. i.e. we were able to do myTime.String(). Let’s do one program using an earlier example.

In the following code we go back to our house where we have a Kitchen as an anonymous field in House. As we learnt with member fields, we can also access methods of anonymous fields as if they belong directly to the composing type. So House has an anonymous Kitchen which in turn has a method totalForksAndKnives(); so now House.totalForksAndKnives() is a valid call.

Full code
package main

import "fmt"

type Kitchen struct {
numOfForks int
numOfKnives int
}

func(k Kitchen) totalForksAndKnives() int {
return k.numOfForks + k.numOfKnives
}

type House struct {
Kitchen //anonymous field
}

func main() {
h := House{Kitchen{4, 4}} //the kitchen has 4 forks and 4 knives
fmt.Println("Sum of forks and knives in house: ", h.totalForksAndKnives())  //called on House even though the method is associated with Kitchen
}

Sum of forks and knives in house: 8

1. Thank you, learn from your articles golang:)

2. Thank you, great tutorial :D

3. I believe you can replace the code:
type myTime struct {
time.Time //anonymous field
}
with the following:
type myTime time.Time

It does essentially the same thing but saves a bit of keyboarding and feels a bit cleaner.

1. does not work for me.... seems like the function you want to inherit is not visible as they should be.

4. Another point to add as well -
lets say you had a function like so
func totalInKitchen(k *Kitchen) int {
return k.numOfForks + k.numOfKnives
}
func main() {
h := House{Kitchen{4, 4}}
totalInKitchen(&h) // Will fail to compile wrong argument type, but
totalInKitchen(&h.Kitchen) // Will work !!
}

nz

1. func totalInKitchen(h *House) int {
return h.Kitchen.numOfForks + h.Kitchen.numOfKnives
}
func main() {
h := House{Kitchen{4, 4}}
}

5. first5Chars example doesn't work for me.

I copied and pasted the code and got this error:
# _/C_/Users/michael/Desktop/Go/prac
.\methods.go:15: undefined: time.LocalTime

6. same here:
undefined: time.LocalTime

7. same here undefined on Time
Go version:
go version go1.2.1 linux/amd64
thanks

8. i'm using go version go1.2 windows/amd64 and got same error. i changed to time.Now() and got a Time but not in format as in example

9. love these tutorials

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