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Python Idioms in Go

In the development world, Python is my native language. It all started in 2015 with a little project called itopy. Python is my favorite way to translate thought into applications due to its minimal learning curve, simplicity and elegance.

But like in real life, learning a second language has tons of benefits. You become able to navigate within other countries, talk to strangers across borders, understand their culture and way of living. It opens your mind to think differently about things and to construct new knowledge on top of established ideas. The last point is very important: naturally, we learn new concepts by comparing them to the ones we already know.

Studying a second programming language is no different. We compare their syntax, semantics, patterns and idioms. If something is the same, it just clicks! Otherwise, time is needed to build up knowledge.

In 2019 I choose Golang for my next adventure. It is vastly used in infrastructure projects (which I love!), has a community full of Pythonistas and is becoming very very popular. My path to get it was full of: “I can do X in Python, how do I do it in Go”? This article is a collection of those moments.

PS1: I won’t go in detail for the examples. A quick Googling will help you to understand them in depth.
PS2: I didn’t include import statements in Go for the sake of brevity.

Popping from a List

List are beautifully managed in Python:

words = ["guess", "whos", "back"]
word = words.pop()
# back
# ['guess', 'whos']

Slices – Go’s lists – are a bit more complicated, but the SliceTricks guide will help out.

words := []string{"guess", "whos", "back"}
word, words := words[len(words)-1], words[:len(words)-1]
// back
// [guess whos]

Pushing to a List

Pushing – or appending – is very similar:


words = ["mangoes", "peaches", "limes"]
words.append("the sweet life")
# ['mangoes', 'peaches', 'limes', 'the sweet life']


words := []string{"mangoes", "peaches", "limes"}
words = append(words, "the sweet life")
// [mangoes peaches limes the sweet life]

List Comprehension

Personally, the most beautiful sugary diet of Python:

numbers = [1,2,3,4]                        
double = [number * 2 for number in numbers]
# [2, 4, 6, 8]

Unfortunately, in Go, more work is needed:

numbers := []int{1, 2, 3, 4}
var double []int
for _, number := range numbers {
    double = append(double, number*2)
// [2 4 6 8]

Dictionary Comprehension

Like a list comprehension, but iterating over values and keys in dictionary:

numbers = {'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3}
double = {key: value * 2 for key, value in numbers.items()}
# {'a': 2, 'b': 4, 'c': 6}

Again, with Golang, more work:

numbers := map[string]int{"a": 1, "b": 2, "c": 3}
double := make(map[string]int)
for key, value := range numbers {
    double[key] = value * 2
// map[a:2 b:4 c:6]

Sets (and intersection)

Sets are like lists, but they have no duplicated items and some special properties. One of them is called intersection, which returns items showing up in both sets.

Python has a set data structure with all these features:

dna1 = {"loyalty", "royalty", "dna"}
dna2 = {"power", "poison", "pain", "dna"}
print(dna1 & dna2)
# {'dna'}

Sometimes Golang is too simple. It has no concept of set nor intersection. However, the same can be accomplish using a map and two loops. Not as elegant as Python, that’s for sure.

dna1 := make(map[string]bool)
dna1["loyalty"] = true
dna1["royalty"] = true
dna1["dna"] = true
dna2 := make(map[string]bool)
dna2["power"] = true
dna2["poision"] = true
dna2["pain"] = true
dna2["dna"] = true
intersection := make(map[string]bool)
for d1, _ := range dna1 {
    _, exists := dna2[d1]
    if exists {
        intersection[d1] = true
// map[dna:true]

Thanks Tamás for the tip on using a key check on dna2!


In Python, we use enumerate() to loop over a list with its index:

words = ["i'll", "tell", "what", "I", "want"]
for index, word in enumerate(words):
    print(index, word)

In Go, this is the default behavior:

words := []string{"i'll", "tell", "what", "I", "want"}
for index, word := range words {
    fmt.Println(index, word)


0 i'll
1 tell
2 what
3 I
4 want

x in y

Python’s in operator is used to tell if something is inside another thing, like in a list:

words = ["i'm", "a", "bad", "guy"]
if "bad" in words:
# duh!

Or to verify if a key exists in a dict:

words = {"tough": "guy", "rough": "guy", "enough": "guy"}
if "tough" in words:
    print("billie is the best")
# billie is the best

Go has no in operator ? The verbose road needs to be taken:

words := []string{"i'm", "a", "bad", "guy"}
for _, word := range words {
    if word == "bad" {
// duh!

A bit of sugar is available to check keys in a map:

words := map[string]string{"tough": "guy", "rough": "guy", "enough": "guy"}
_, ok := words["tough"]
if ok {
    fmt.Println("billie is the best")
// billie is the best

Lambda Functions

Lambdas, or anonymous functions, are nameless functions usually doing only one very simple thing. In Python, a lambda function any number of arguments but is restricted to a single expression – just one thing can happen after the ::

multiply = lambda x: x*x
# 4

Golang also has lambda functions, but they can spawn multiple statements:

double := func(x int) int { return x * 2 }
// 4
printAndDouble := func(x int) int { fmt.Println("one thing"); return x * 2}
// one thing
// 4

Context Manager

A context manager is a very powerful pattern in Python. It’s usually used to manage resources, like closing a file automatically so you don’t forget it. This is a very simplified explanation, it can do a lot more. Here is a link for further explanation.

with open('/etc/passwd', 'r') as file:
# all your passwords ?
# ValueError: I/O operation on closed file.

Golang has a kinda similar concept called defer. It ensures that a function call is performed at the end of the current function, so you don’t forget to close your file after you’ve opened it.

func main() {
    file, _ := os.Open("/etc/passwd")
    // called when this function block finishes 
    defer file.Close()
    data, _ := ioutil.ReadAll(file)
    // all your passwords, in bytes ?

Assignment Expressions

In Python 3.8, assignment expressions define a new notation: NAME := expr, where you can assign a value to a variable during an expression. An example is using the if statement:

def x():
    return 10
if (number := x()) is number == 10:
# 10

Go also supports it:

func x() int { return 10 }
func main() {
    if x := x(); x == 10 {
// 10

Classes with initialization and methods

Python has Classes to create a new type with properties and methods, which can be used to create instances of that type:

class Double: 
    def __init__(self, x): 
        self.x = x 
    def double(self): 
        return self.x * 2 
instance = Double(2) 
# 4

You can accomplish basically the same with Golang’s struct:

type Double struct {
    x int
func (d *Double) double() int {
    return d.x * 2
func main() {
    instance := Double{x: 2}
    // 4

Sugary Python, Simple Go

Even though I don’t add sugar to my coffee, I’d pour some over Go. Learning Go after Python was full of surprises: I was used to a lot of tricks and one-liners. To this day, I read the SliceTricks page more than I’d be proud of.

Besides frustrations here and there, I love Go. Statically typed, easy coroutines, single binary, multi-architecture compilation and more! It has so many great features!

Both languages have their place in my tool belt and my heart ❤️

Thanks to the people from Twitter and DEV to share their favorite idioms ?

Share your favorite idioms in the comments below and let’s try to find its Go-like implementation ✨

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