Using Object-Oriented Web Servers in Go

Written by: Nick Gauthier
8 min read

The first thing a web developer does when they try out a new language is to make a Hello World web application. The simple example in Go is pretty straightforward, but it can be hard to grow to suit the needs of a larger web application. In this post, we'll take the canonical Hello World Go web app example and refactor it twice into a solution that's much easier to work with in the long run.

Part 1: Hello World

Go's net/http docs include an example for running your first web application:

http.Handle("/foo", fooHandler)
http.HandleFunc("/bar", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "Hello, %q", html.EscapeString(r.URL.Path))
log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe(":8080", nil))

I would call this first way of creating a web application the "functional" way or the "package level" way. We use package level functions to access a hidden global http server and a hidden global logger instance, and we're just using an inline function for our handler.

Let's rewrite this example to make something runnable as a main package file that responds to /foo and logs request to foo using Go's log package:

package main
import (
func main() {
    http.HandleFunc("/foo", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
        log.Println("request to foo")
    http.ListenAndServe(":8080", nil)

For the purposes of this post, we are going to care about two things that our application does:

  • It handles /foo

  • It logs using Go's standard log package to log request to foo

These super simple requirements encapsulate the two techniques that we're going to be focusing on while we refactor:

  • Mapping paths to handlers (a.k.a., routing)

  • Accessing a shared context (our logger)

So let's talk about growth. As we add more routes and handler functions, our main will get really, really long. Not only that, it will contain all the functionality of our application that we don't extract to a library. So it's going to get big! Also, this http server can only exist compiled into a binary that doesn't contain any other http servers with conflicting routes. Since it uses the global http package handler functions, it will share the routing namespace with any other http servers. Likewise, our logger will collide with anyone else using the global logger (this is mainly an issue for settings on the logger, like tagging).

Part 2: Better routing with our own globals

Let's address the problems with the previous solution. First, we'll extract the logger into our own package level global variable so we can control creating the instance. This way it will be global to our package, but not conflict with other users of the package level log. Second, we'll make our own http.Server instance onto which we'll map paths to handler functions. Again, this will remove any conflicts with other package level servers. Let's check it out:

package main
import (
var (
    logger *log.Logger
func main() {
    logger = log.New(os.Stdout, "web ", log.LstdFlags)
    server := &http.Server{
        Addr:    ":8080",
        Handler: routes(),
func routes() *http.ServeMux {
    r := http.NewServeMux()
    r.HandleFunc("/foo", foo)
    return r
func foo(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    logger.Println("request to foo")

Okay, so we have a logger var that we can set in main and access throughout our package. Now we can tag the logger with web and also turn on timestamps. That's a nice improvement!

Next up we have two new functions: routes and foo. routes will give us an http.ServeMux that's in charge of mapping paths to functions. So now we have one single place where we handle routing, and it doesn't have any of our implementation. foo is an http.HandlerFunc compliant function, so it can just focus on doing what it's supposed to do. It's also nice and readable as its own separate function, instead of being inlined.

That leaves us with our new main. Here, we initialize our global logger, and we also define our http server. We can set its port here and then point the Handler to the mux we create with routes. Then we can call ListenAndServe(). All in all, we've split our previous solution into much more distinct components. So now we have:

  • main which actually runs the server

  • routes which defines which paths map to which functions

  • foo which does our actual web server functionality; in this case, just some logging

Let's talk about growth. When we add a new route, we add one line in our routes, and we have to create a new handling function. Additionally, we can even have those handling functions come from other packages. So we can chop up our app into subapplications based on task. Much nicer!

We've also left the global context for log and http. That means our app won't get screwed up by any other libraries that try to attach anything to http or log. We also have better control over our logger and server. Great!

But we can do even better. The problem we still have here is that this application is still very much a main style binary, not a package or library. That makes it hard to share and hard to test. It would also be nice to not rely on global variables at all (e.g., our logger) and encapsulate them within the web server itself.

Part 3: Object oriented to the rescue

In this refactor, we're going to make our application server a real object so that it can encapsulate its dependencies (like logger) and also play nicer with other packages and even be easier to test. Let's check it out:

package main
import (
func main() {
    http.ListenAndServe(":8080", New())
func New() http.Handler {
    mux := http.NewServeMux()
    log := log.New(os.Stdout, "web ", log.LstdFlags)
    app := &app{mux, log}
    return app
type app struct {
    mux *http.ServeMux
    log *log.Logger
func (a *app) ServeHTTP(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    a.mux.ServeHTTP(w, r)
func (a *app) foo(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    a.log.Println("request to foo")

Starting with main, you can see that all it does is start a web server on a port, and it uses New() to get a http.Handler. If we wanted to, New() could easily be a function inside a package, like myapp.New(), and we could move all the significant code outside of the main package.

New() is a function that returns an http.Handler. By sticking to this interface and not some custom Application interface, we'll create a much better Go citizen. It will be understood that the object you get back from our library is going to work well with anything that can work with http.Handlers. That means we can wrap them with middleware easily and also test them easily or even embed them in another web application. Also, it means we don't have to export our Application type (since the polite thing to do is export any types returned by exported functions). This keeps our API leaner and clearer.

So, New() creates our mux like before, but it also creates our log. Note that we could easily add options to New() to change how the logging works, or we could even take the log as an option for doing dependency injection.

We then go on to create an app wrapping the mux and log. Next, we do our routing by mapping /foo to The cool thing about this is that our handler will now run on app, giving us access to our entire web application context.

Let's look at app the struct. Notice that this is an unexported struct. By having New() return http.Handler, we can use completely unexported objects to build our app, which lowers our package footprint. app simply embeds our mux and logger.

Next up, we have app's ServeHTTP. This is the only method we have to implement to satisfy the http.Handler interface. All we have to do is delegate it right to our mux. What we're saying here is that we want our mux to respond to all web requests and then use our routing definitions to call the function that handles the route.

Finally, we have our humble foo which is almost unchanged. The only difference is that it is called on app and it logs via the app's logger.

So, let's talk about growth! First of all, we can very easily move our app to its own package. That's great because we can isolate its dependencies and completely protect its unexported methods. When we grow our app, we don't have to change our main at all. We simply add more handlers to the mux in New() and map them to functions.

Additionally, as our dependencies grow, we have an obvious place to put them: the app struct. We could add a third party API client object, a metrics reporter, a database, and whatever else! It's also clear that these should be initialized in New, and any configuration they need should become parameters for New(). Most of the time, this becomes an environment variable that main reads and sends right to New(). It's a great pattern.

Finally, when we go to test our app, we can bypass New() and construct an app struct directly (since tests are part of the package being tested). We can then inject fakes for our app's dependencies and make sure they're used properly. We can also test each handling function individually.

The bottom line here is we've created our web app as a package with a concise and usable API. We've encapsulated and protected our dependencies and removed them from the global scope. And last but not least, we've created clear places to add code when more functionality is added later. This helps the code stay clean in the future.

Questions for Nick? Leave them in the comments!

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