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How to Handle Concurrency with Goroutines and Channels in Go

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How to Handle Concurrency with Goroutines and Channels in Go

Concurrency is the ability of a program to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. It is a crucial aspect of building scalable and responsive systems.

Go’s concurrency model is based on the concept of goroutines, lightweight threads that can run multiple functions concurrently, and channels, a built-in communication mechanism for safe and efficient data exchange between goroutines.

Go’s concurrency features enable developers to write programs that can:

  • Handle multiple requests simultaneously, improving responsiveness and throughput.
  • Utilize multi-core processors efficiently, maximizing system resources.
  • Write concurrent code that is safe, efficient, and easy to maintain.

Go’s concurrency model is designed to minimize overhead, reduce latency, and prevent common concurrency errors like race conditions and deadlocks.

With Go, developers can build high-performance, scalable, and concurrent systems with ease, making it an ideal choice for building modern distributed systems, networks, and cloud infrastructure.

Table of Contents

Let’s consider a scenario to illustrate concurrency:

Case Study: A Bank Teller

Imagine a busy bank with two tellers, Maria and David. Customers arrive at the bank to conduct various transactions like deposits, withdrawals, and transfers. The goal is to serve customers quickly and efficiently.

Sequential Processing (No Concurrency)

Maria and David work sequentially, one at a time. When a customer arrives, Maria helps the customer, and David waits until Maria is finished before helping the next customer. This leads to a long wait time for customers.

Concurrency

Maria and David work concurrently, serving customers simultaneously. When a customer arrives, Maria helps the customer with a transaction, and David simultaneously helps another customer with a different transaction. They work together, sharing resources like the bank’s database and cash supplies, to serve multiple customers at the same time.

In this scenario, concurrency enables Maria and David to work together efficiently, serving multiple customers simultaneously, and improving the overall customer experience. This same concept applies to computer programming, where concurrency enables multiple tasks to run simultaneously, improving responsiveness, efficiency, and performance.

What are Goroutines and Channels?

A goroutine is a lightweight thread managed by the Go runtime. It is a function that runs on the Go runtime. It helps address concurrency and async flow requirements.

Goroutines allow you to start up and run other threads of execution concurrently within your program.

Channels are used to communicate between goroutines. It is a typed conduit through which you can send and receive values with the channel operator: <-.

How to Implement a Goroutine

To use and implement a goroutine, the go keyword is used to precede a function.

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "math/rand"
  "time"
)

func pause() {
  time.Sleep(time.Duration(rand.Intn(1000)) * time.Millisecond)
}

func sendMsg(msg string) {
  pause()
  fmt.Println(msg)
}

func main() {
  sendMsg("hello") // sync

  go sendMsg("test1") // async
  go sendMsg("test2") // async
  go sendMsg("test3") // async

  sendMsg("main") // sync

  time.Sleep(2 * time.Second)
}

From the example above,

  • The sendMsg function is called synchronously and asynchronously.
  • The sendMsg function is called synchronously when the sendMsg function is called without the go keyword.
  • The sendMsg function is called asynchronously when the sendMsg function is called with the go keyword.

How Does a Goroutine Work?

When the sendMsg function is called with the go keyword, the main function will not wait for the sendMsg function to finish executing before it continues to the next line of code and will return immediately after the sendMsg function is called.

Otherwise, the function is called synchronously, and the main function will wait for the sendMsg function to finish executing before it continues to the next line of code.

The order of the output when you run the above example will differ from the order of the code because the three goroutine all run concurrently and since the functions pause for a period of time, the order which they wake will differ and be outputted.

The time.Sleep(2 * time.Second) is a quick and simple method used to keep the main function running for 2 seconds to allow the goroutine to finish executing before the main function exits. Otherwise, the main function will exit immediately after the goroutine is called and the goroutine will not have enough time to finish executing resulting to errors.

What are WaitGroups?

Unlike the time.Sleep(2 * time.Second) used in the example above, the WaitGroups are more standard to wait for a collection of goroutines to finish executing. It is a simple way to synchronize multiple goroutines.

A goroutine can also be declared with anonymous functions

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "sync"
  "time"
  "math/rand"
)

func pause() {
  time.Sleep(time.Duration(rand.Intn(1000)) * time.Millisecond)
}

func sendMsg(msg string, wg *sync.WaitGroup) {
  defer wg.Done()
  pause()
  fmt.Println(msg)
}

func main() {
  var wg sync.WaitGroup

  wg.Add(3)

  go func(msg string) {
    defer wg.Done()
    pause()
    fmt.Println(msg)
  }("test1")


  go sendMsg("test2", &wg)
  go sendMsg("test3", &wg)

  wg.Wait()
}

From the example above, the sync.WaitGroup is used to wait for the three goroutine to finish executing before the main function exits. It synchronizes the three goroutine and the main function.

  • The sync.WaitGroup (wg) manages the goroutines and keeps track of the number of goroutines that are running.
  • The sync.WaitGroup.Add (wg.Add) method is used to add the number of goroutines as arguments that are running.
  • The sync.WaitGroup.Done (wg.Done) method is used to decrement the number of goroutines that are running.
  • The sync.WaitGroup.Wait (wg.Wait) method is used to wait for all the goroutines to finish executing before the main function exits.

What are Channels?

Channels are used to communicate between goroutines. It is a typed conduit through which you can send and receive messages with the channel operator, <-.

In their simplest form, one goroutine writes messages into the channel and another goroutine reads the same messages out of the channel.

Channels are created using the make method and the chan keyword together with its type. Channels are used to transfer messages of which type it was declared with.

Example:

package main

func main(){
	msgChan := make(chan string)
}

The example above creates a channel msgChan of type string.

How to Write Data to a Channel

To write data to a channel, first specify the name (msgChan) of the channel, followed by the <- operator and the message. This is considered the Sender.

msgChan <- "hello world"

How to Read Data from a Channel

To read data from a channel, simple move the operator (<-) to front of the channel name (msgChan) and you can assign it to a variable. This is considered the Receiver.

msg := <- msgChan

How to Implement Channels with Goroutine

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "math/rand"
  "time"
)

func main() {

  msgChan := make(chan string)

  go func() {
    time.Sleep(time.Duration(rand.Intn(1000)) * time.Millisecond)
    msgChan <- "hello" // Write data to the channel
    msgChan <- "world" // Write data to the channel
  }()

  msg1 := <- msgChan
  msg2 := <- msgChan

  fmt.Println(msg1, msg2)
}

The example above shows how to write and read data from a channel. The msgChan channel is created and the go keyword is used to create a goroutine that writes data to the channel. The msg1 and msg2 variables are used to read data from the channel.

Channels behave as a first-in-first-out queue. So, when one goroutine writes data to the channel, the other goroutine reads the data from the channel in the same order it was written.

What are Channel Buffers?

Channels can be buffered or unbuffered. The previous examples include the use of an unbuffered channels.

What is an Unbuffered Channel?

An unbuffered channel causes the sender to block immediately after sending a message into the channel until the receiver receives the message.

What is a Buffered Channel?

A buffered channel allows the sender to send messages into the channel without blocking until the buffer is full. So, the sender blocks only once the buffer has filled up and waits until another goroutine reads off the channel, making sure the space size becomes available before unblocking.

How to Create a Buffered Channel

When creating a buffered channel, use the make function and specify a second parameter to indicate the buffer size.

msgBufChan := make(chan string, 2)

The example above creates a buffered channel msgBufChan of type string with a buffer size of 2. This means that the channel can hold up to two messages before it blocks.

package main

import (
  "time"
)

func main() {
  size := 3
  msgBufChan := make(chan int, size)

  // reader (receiver)
  go func() {
    for {
      _ = <- msgBufChan
      time.Sleep(time.Second)
    }
  }()

  //writer (sender)
  writer := func() {
    for i := 0; i <=> 10; i++ {
      msgBufChan <- i
      println(i)
    }
  }

  writer()
}

The example above creates a buffered channel msgBufChan of type int with a buffer size of 3.

  • The writer function writes data to the channel and the reader function reads data from the channel.
  • When the program runs, you will see that the number 0 through to 3 printed out immediately and the remaining numbers 5 through to 10 are printed out slowly about one per second (time.Sleep(time.Second).
  • This is showing the effect of buffered channel that specify the size it can hold before it blocks.

What are Channel Directions?

When using channels as function parameters, by default, you can send and receive messages within the function. To provide additional safety at compile time, channel function parameters can be defined with a direction. That is, they can be defined to be read-only or write-only.

Example:

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "time"
)

func writer(channel chan<- string, msg string) {
  channel <- msg
}

func reader(channel <-chan string) {
  msg := <- channel
  fmt.Println(msg)
}

func main() {
  msgChan := make(chan string, 1)

  go reader(msgChan)


  for i :- 0; i < 10; i++ {
    writer(msgChan, fmt.Sprintf("msg %d", i))
  }

  time.Sleep(time.Second * 5)
}

The example above shows how to define a channel with a direction.

  • The writer function is defined with a write-only channel and
  • The reader function is defined with a read-only channel.

The msgChan channel is created with a buffer size of 1. The writer function writes data to the channel and the reader function reads data from the channel.

How to Handle Multiple Communication Operations with Channel Select

The select statement lets a goroutine wait on multiple communication operations. A select blocks until one of its cases can run, then it executes that case. It chooses one at random if multiple are ready.

The select and case statements are used to simplify the management and readability of wait across multiple channels.

Example:‌

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "time"
  "math/rand"
)

func pause() {
  time.Sleep(time.Duration(rand.Intn(1000)) * time.Millisecond)
}

func test1(c chan<- string) {
  for {
    pause()
    c <- "hello"
  }
}

func test2(c chan<- string) {
  for {
    pause()
    c <- "world"
  }
}

func main() {
  rand.Seed(time.Now().Unix())

  c1 := make(chan string)
  c2 := make(chan string)

  go test1(c1)
  go test2(c2)

  for {
    select {
    case msg1 := <- c1:
      fmt.Println(msg1)
    case msg2 := <- c2:
      fmt.Println(msg2)
    }
  }
}

The example above shows how to use the select statement to wait on multiple channels. The test1 and test2 functions write data to the c1 and c2 channels respectively. The main function reads data from the c1 and c2 channels using the select statement.

The select statement will block until one of the channels is ready to send or receive data. If both channels are ready, the select statement will choose one at random.

How to Timeout Long Running Processes in a Channel

The time.After function is used to create a channel that sends a message after a specified duration. This can be used to implement a timeout for a channel.

It can be specified in a select statement to help manage situations where it’s taking too long to receive a message from any of the channels being monitored.

Also consider using timeout when working with external resources as you can never guarantee the response time and, therefore may need to proactively take action after a predetermined time has passed.

Implementing a timeout with a select statement is very straightforward.

Example:

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "time"
)

func main() {
 	c1 := make(chan string)

	go func(channel chan string) {
		time.Sleep(1 * time.Second)
		channel <- "hello world"
	}(c1)

	select {
	case msg2 := <-c1:
		fmt.Println(msg2)
	case <-time.After(2 * time.Second): //Timeout after 2 second
		fmt.Println("timeout")
  }
}
  • The example above shows how to use the time.After function to create a channel that sends a message after a specified duration.
  • The main function reads data from the c1 channel using the select statement.
  • The select statement will block until one of the channels is ready to send or receive data.
  • If the c1 channel is ready, the main function will print the message.
  • If the c1 channel is not ready after 2 seconds, the main function will print a timeout message.

How to Close a Channel

Closing a channel is used to indicate that no more values will be sent on the channel. It is used to signal to the receiver that the channel has been closed and no more values will be sent.

Go channels can be explicitly closed to help with synchronization issues. The default implementation will close the channel when all the values have been sent.

Closing a channel is done by invoking the built-in close function.‌

close(channel)

Example:

package main

import (
  "fmt"
  "bytes"
)

func process(work <-chan string, fin chan<- string) {
  var b bytes.Buffer
  for {
    if msg, notClosed := <-work; notClosed {
      fmt.Printf("%s received...\n", msg)
    } else {
      fmt.Println("Channel closed")
      fin <- b.String()
      return
    }
  }
}

func main() {
  work := make(chan string, 3)
  fin := make(chan string)

  go process(work, fin)

  word := "hello world"

  for i := 0; i < len(word); i++ {
    letter := string(word[i])
    work <- letter
    fmt.Printf("%s sent ...\n", letters)
  }

  close(work)

  fmt.Printf("result: %s\n", <-fin)
}

The example above shows how to close a channel. The work channel is created with a buffer size of 3. The process function reads data from the work channel and writes data to the fin channel. The main function writes data to the work channel and closes the work channel. The process function will print the message if the work channel is not closed. If the work channel is closed, the process function will print a message and write the data to the fin channel.

How to Iterate Over Channel Messages

Channels can be iterated over by using the range keyword, similar to arrays, slice, and/or maps. This allows you to quickly and easily iterate over the messages within a channel.

Example:

package main

import (
  "fmt"
)

func main() {
  c := make(chan string, 3)

  go func() {
    c <- "hello"
    c <- "world"
    c <- "goroutine"
    close(c) // Closing the channel is very important before proceeding to the iteration hence deadlock error
  }()

  for msg := range c {
    fmt.Println(msg)
  }
}

The example above shows how to iterate over a channel using the range keyword. The c channel is created with a buffer size of 3. The go keyword is used to create a goroutine that writes data to the c channel. The main function iterates over the c channel using the range keyword and prints the message.

Conclusion

In this article, we learned how to handle concurrency with goroutines and channels in Go. We learned how to create goroutines, and how to use WaitGroups and channels to communicate between goroutines.

We also learned how to use channel buffers, channel directions, channel select, channel timeout, channel closing, and channel range.

Goroutines and channels are powerful features in Go that help address concurrency and async flow requirements.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the article and learned something new. If you want, you can also follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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