GopherCon 2015: Sam Helman & Kyle Erf - The Many Faces of Struct Tags

By: Gopher Academy

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Uploaded on 07/28/2015

Struct tags are a great feature of Go, but in the general Go community they receive almost no attention. In this talk we want to show you some of the cleverest and weirdest uses of struct tags we’ve seen. Specifying json and xml fields in struct tags is commonplace, but have you thought about using tags for object-relational mapping, validation functions, defining middleware, or command line options? Come join us for a tour of our favorite practical and impractical uses of an underutilized part of Go.

Comments (2):

By anonymous    2017-09-20

A tag for a field allows you to attach meta-information to the field which can be acquired using reflection. Usually it is used to provide transformation info on how a struct field is encoded to or decoded from another format (or stored/retrieved from a database), but you can use it to store whatever meta-info you want to, either intended for another package or for your own use.

As mentioned in the documentation of reflect.StructTag, by convention the value of a tag string is a space-separated key:"value" pairs, for example:

type User struct {
    Name string `json:"name" xml:"name"`
}

The key usually denotes the package that the subsequent "value" is for, for example json keys are processed/used by the encoding/json package.

If multiple information is to be passed in the "value", usually it is specified by separating it with a comma (','), e.g.

Name string `json:"name,omitempty" xml:"name"`

Usually a dash value ('-') for the "value" means to exclude the field from the process (e.g. in case of json it means not to marshal or unmarshal that field).

Example of accessing your custom tags using reflection

We can use reflection (reflect package) to access the tag values of struct fields. Basically we need to acquire the Type of our struct, and then we can query fields e.g. with Type.Field(i int) or Type.FieldByName(name string). These methods return a value of StructField which describe / represent a struct field; and StructField.Tag is a value of type StructTag which describes / represents a tag value.

Previously we talked about "convention". This convention means that if you follow it, you may use the StructTag.Get(key string) method which parses the value of a tag and returns you the "value" of the key you specify. The convention is implemented / built into this Get() method. If you don't follow the convention, Get() will not be able to parse key:"value" pairs and find what you're looking for. That's also not a problem, but then you need to implement your own parsing logic.

Also there is StructTag.Lookup() (was added in Go 1.7) which is "like Get() but distinguishes the tag not containing the given key from the tag associating an empty string with the given key".

So let's see a simple example:

type User struct {
    Name  string `mytag:"MyName"`
    Email string `mytag:"MyEmail"`
}

u := User{"Bob", "bob@mycompany.com"}
t := reflect.TypeOf(u)

for _, fieldName := range []string{"Name", "Email"} {
    field, found := t.FieldByName(fieldName)
    if !found {
        continue
    }
    fmt.Printf("\nField: User.%s\n", fieldName)
    fmt.Printf("\tWhole tag value : %q\n", field.Tag)
    fmt.Printf("\tValue of 'mytag': %q\n", field.Tag.Get("mytag"))
}

Output (try it on the Go Playground):

Field: User.Name
    Whole tag value : "mytag:\"MyName\""
    Value of 'mytag': "MyName"

Field: User.Email
    Whole tag value : "mytag:\"MyEmail\""
    Value of 'mytag': "MyEmail"

GopherCon 2015 had a presentation about struct tags called:

The Many Faces of Struct Tags (slide) (and a video)

Here is a list of commonly used tag keys:

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