What Makes Go So Different?

Go is currently one of the most desirable languages to use. Here is its secret ingredient for success

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Go vs. other languages (Illustration by Author)

Introduction

Programming languages can clearly be considered as a primary tool in every programmer’s arsenal. Thus, we tend to associate ourselves with the chosen ones. By that, I mean we are forming massive communities, writing articles, making YouTube videos, mascots, and more importantly — memes. Just kidding, and yet it’s hard to deny the existence of some close, almost personal connection between us and these abstract tools.

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Gopher look (Illustration by the author using Go’s iconic mascot)

Creation Context

In order to fully comprehend Golang’s nature, let’s dive into the context of its creation. Since at the time Google was facing issues, which it couldn’t overcome with the existing tools, Go was born in a strong need for changes:

“The goals of the Go project were to eliminate the slowness and clumsiness of software development at Google, and thereby to make the process more productive and scalable. The language was designed by and for people who write and read and debug and maintain large software systems.” — Rob Pike, creator of Golang

That’s being said, Go was designed while having a set of particular problems to solve and initially possessing a solid base of the best features from such noble programming languages as C, Pascal, Modula, and Oberon. It also kept in mind useful characteristics of languages — Python, C++, Java, and so on — criticism of which Go was meant to address.

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As seen, Go’s developers have managed to come up with a greatly efficient system of language-based constraints to achieve some of its greatest characteristics and features. This practice is very impressive in such a way that by using every single constraint, it manages to simultaneously achieve not one but multiple major features at once.

I should point out that the method of basing Go features on its constraints, which I am defining here, is not entirely based on its creators’ quotes, blog-posts, or speeches, the language’s official documentation, or other writer’s articles but is, in fact, my individual way of understanding and describing the nature of Golang as well as its uniqueness. Surely, you can either agree or disagree with the point of my thoughts. It is perfectly fine for you to love or hate it. Furthermore, I encourage you not to believe me but rather to do your own research on the topic.

Also, at this point, it becomes clear that Go is, in fact, unlike other languages, since they are evolving commonly by adding new features, thereafter growing their complexity and becoming convergent. Whereas Go uses an approach to constrain itself in the first place and then stays mostly finite from its very beginning.

“Many newcomers to Go ask for features from languages they know. But those features do not belong in Go — and the language is fixed. Adding features to Go would not make it better, just bigger. That would make Go less interesting by being less different.” — Rob Pike, creator of Golang

Distinct Features

However, that does not necessarily mean that Go is deficient or missing some important functional features. This would, in fact, make programming useless, since why not use an assembly language in the first place. But this isn’t the case with Go. It surely has some features. The thing is, though, that in order to stay simple, Go is very deliberate about not having features that bring more complexity without solving the problem. This is, in fact, one of those things that makes Go “idiomatic,” as it famously used to be called.

Needless features bring complexity without clarity (Drawing by Renee French)

So what about features that have managed to become a part of Go? Well actually, the rule of intentional simplicity is very much acting for them too. And by saying that, I mean that Golang’s creators have done an incredible job of creating what seems to be something so simple and easy to use, while under the hood is actually highly complicated.

“Go is actually complex. It is, in fact, one of the most complicated things I ever worked on, and yet, it feels simple … It requires a lot of design, thinking, implementation work, refinement. Simplicity is the art of hiding complexity!” — Rob Pike, creator of Golang

Let’s have a look at a few “simple” things in Go:

  • Garbage collector is, in fact, the most simple feature of Go, since it doesn’t have any control interface. Yet also it is reasonably its most complex one because it manages to provide complete memory safety while saving an exceedingly high runtime speed and providing surprising resource efficiency. Bravo to the creators!

Yes, by all means, Go isn’t the fastest programming language, since we have Rust, Julia, C++, and C for sure. But none of these languages have GC and therefore aren’t even close to being as simple as Go — and it isn’t that slow, actually. In most cases, though, this is possible also due to the next exceptionally simple feature.

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