12 Things to Know About Google's Go Programming Language

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-11-13 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Google's new programming language, called Go, took the application development world by storm when the search giant released it Nov. 10. The ambitious technology's pedigree features programming experts from the Unix world, including Ken Thompson, who teamed with Dennis Ritchie to create Unix. Created as a systems programming language to help speed up development of systems inside Google, Go is now viewed as a general-purpose language for Web development, mobile development, addressing parallelism and a lot more.

Google's new programming language, called Go, took the application development world by storm when the search giant released it Nov. 10.

The ambitious technology comes with a pedigree featuring programming experts from the Unix world, including Ken Thompson, who teamed with Dennis Ritchie to create Unix. Created as a systems programming language to help speed up development of systems inside Google, Go is now viewed as a general-purpose language for Web development, mobile development, addressing parallelism and a lot more.

Ironically, Google launched Go just a week before Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, which typically dominates the software development landscape while it is running. This time there might be a little Go buzz at the event.

Go is an experimental language that is still in the process of being tweaked and maturing, but it holds huge potential. The Google Go team blogged about Go, saying, "Go combines the development speed of working in a dynamic language like Python with the performance and safety of a compiled language like C or C++. Typical builds feel instantaneous; even large binaries compile in just a few seconds. And the compiled code runs close to the speed of C."

Moreover, having released Go as an open-source effort, Google is opening up the ongoing development of the language to the community at large. Will it be the next big thing? Could it supplant Java? Rob Pike, one of the three founders of the Go project, spoke with eWEEK about the overall effort. Here are 12 things to know about Go. 

1. Where did the idea for Go come from?

Pike, Thompson and Robert Griesemer of Java HotSpot virtual machine and V8 JavaScript engine fame, decided to make a go of developing a new language out of frustration with the pace of building software. Said Pike:

"In Google we have very large software systems and we spent so long literally waiting for compilations, even though we have distributed compilation and parallelism in all of these tools to help, it can take a very long time to build a program. Even incremental builds can be slow. And we looked at this and realized many of the reasons for that are just fundamental in working in languages like C and C++, and we needed a different approach. We also decided the tools that everybody used were also slow. So we wanted to start from scratch to write the kind of programs we need to write here at Google in a way that the tools could be really efficient and the build cycles could be very short." 

2. Go is a multipurpose language

Pike said Go is appropriate for a broad spectrum of uses, including Web programming, mobile programming and systems programming. "We based it on our ideas of what we think systems programming should be like," he said.

Then a Google engineer told the team he wanted to do a port to ARM processors for the Go language because he wanted to do some work in robotics. With the ARM support, "We can now run Go code in Android phones, which is a pretty exciting possibility," Pike said. "Of course, ARMs also run inside a lot of the other phones out there, so maybe it's a mobile language."

He added, "I think people, once they absorb it a little bit more, will see the advantage of having a modern language in some ways that actually runs really fast. And it's an interesting candidate to think of as an alternative for JavaScript in the browser.

"Although getting Go supported inside browsers is going to be a seriously challenging undertaking ... but it is an interesting thing to think about because it has a lot of the advantages of JavaScript as a lightweight, fun language to play with. But it's enormously more efficient. So some of the big, heavy, client-oriented applications out there like Google Wave would be much zippier if they were written in Go, but of course they can't be written in Go because it doesn't run in a browser yet. But I'd like to see some stuff in that direction, too, although how that's going to happen I don't know." 



 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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