David A Good

A Pattern for Enums in Go

September 05, 2021

I’m sure I’m not alone, being new to Go and missing first-class support for enums. I do see there’s an enum proposal for Go v2, so at least this is recognized as a shortcoming with an improvement on the way.

Here’s a super lightweight pattern I found useful after doing my first few weeks of serious feature development in Golang.

type State string

const (
    Init State = "Init"
    InProgress State = "InProgress"
    Succeeded State = "Succeeded"
    Failed State = "Failed"

func (s *State) IsValid() bool {
    switch s {
    case Init, InProgress, Success, Failure:
        return true
        return false

There are still downsides like having to repeat the name and value in the declaration, having to update IsValid if a new value is added to the enum, and of course, having to actually call IsValid on any untrusted input.

I also like to throw this in for ease of use:

package mypackage

var States = struct {
    Init State
    InProgress State
    Succeeded State
    Failed State
    Init: Init
    InProgress: InProgress
    Succeeded: Succeeded
    Failed: Failed

This adds even more repetition, but I find it much more familiar coming from a Java background. When I’m coding, I might not know the enum value I want to use off the top of my head, so I just type mypackage.States. and let my IDE show me all the possible values. Presumably my IDE should infer the type and show me all the possible values without having to use this “trick”. I have spent enough time writing go (with IntelliJ) to know if it does.

The standard library takes a different approach, instead moving the repetition to a prefix, e.g. HttpStatusOk, HttpStatusBadRequest, etc. This approach (using a common prefix) actually namespaces the values, so it would prevent collisions. My approach does not.

Use it like this:

func doSomething(o ObjectWithState) error {
    if !o.state.IsValid() {
        return fmt.Errof("invalid state value: %s", o.state)
    if o.state == mypackage.States.InProgress {
        // whatever

As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if this helper struct is even worth it. I’m sure my approach will evolve over time…

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