compiling Go code

To compile Go code, you’ll need to install and set up the Go tools:

  1. download the installer for your platform from
  2. run the installer
  3. create a directory under which you want to keep all of your Go source code
  4. create an environment variable called GOPATH, setting it to your new directory
  5. if you don’t have it already, install Git

The Go tools are meant to be run from the command line because we need to pass in arguments. The first argument to go is the subcommand, which specifies what you want to do, e.g. run, build, install.


Go source files are organized into packages. The first line of code in a source file must be a package statement stating the name of its containing package:

package foo;            // this source file is part of a package called 'foo'

The source files of a package should all be stored in a directory under GOPATH/src (‘src’ is short for ‘source’). The relative path to this directory is the package’s import path. For example, a package stored at GOPATH/src/foo/bar/ack has import path foo/bar/ack.

By convention, the last component of a package’s import path should be the same as its name, e.g. each source file in GOPATH/src/foo/bar/ack would have package ack; as its first statement.


To use code from another package in a source file, you must import that package by its import path using an import statement:

import "foo/bar/ack";    // import the package at path foo/bar/ack

The import statements in a file must all go underneath the package statement but before anything else.

To use the elements of an imported package, we prefix their names with the package name, separated by a dot. For example, if we import a package called foo, we refer to Bar defined in foo by writing foo.Bar .

Only names beginning with capital letters can be accessed by name from other packages. If you only need something in the local package, it’s generally best to keep it ‘private’ to the current package by giving it a name beginning with a lowercase letter.

main function

Execution of a program begins by calling the function main inside a package named main. The main function takes no input and returns no output.


A library is a body of existing code meant to be incorporated by other programs. Libraries typically solve common, general problems. A language’s standard library is a body of code that comes stock with the language.

Go’s standard library is made up of several dozen packages. The standard library packages have short import paths like “fmt”, “os”, and “time”.

run subcommand

The run subcommand is meant only for running very small example programs. It compiles the specified source file(s) into an executable, runs it, and then deletes the executable when the program ends.

go run file1.go file2.go

…where file1.go file2.go are the paths of Go code source files. The specified source files must end in the extension .go, and they must all have package main; at the top. One (and just one) of these files must have a main function.

build subcommand

The build subcommand compiles a package. If the package’s name is main, build creates an executable. The package to build is specified by its import path:

go build foo/bar

If the package imports other packages, those packages automatically get compiled first.

install subcommand

The GOPATH/bin directory (‘bin’ short for ‘binary’, as in binary machine code) is for storing executables. The GOPATH/pkg directory (‘pkg’ short for ‘package’) is for storing object files (files of compiled but unlinked machine code). When a package imports another, the compiler first looks under GOPATH/pkg for already existing object files. Only if the source files have changed since the last recompilation will Go recompile the package.

The install subcommand builds a package just like build, but it also puts any resulting executable in GOPATH/bin, and it puts any resulting object files under respective directories of GOPATH/pkg (for example, the object file generated from a package GOPATH/src/foo/bar gets placed under GOPATH/pkg/foo/bar).

We generally prefer install over build because it effectively caches the compiled packages. Subsequent install and build commands only recompile packages in which the source files have changed since the package was last installed.

get subcommand

The get subcommand downloads a package and then installs it. This only works when the import path matches a git or mercurial repo URL. For example, say I have a repo at URL in which the base directory is a package with import path “”. Running go get will download the contents of this repo to GOPATH/src/ and install the package.

The get subcommand is handy when you want to use a package someone has posted on (or a similar repo hosting service).