Playing with Go: Channels and Go-Routines

Edit:  I’m implementing a new version of this that isn’t limited by overflow.  I’m doing this by adding the numbers on a per digit basis, carefully managing the overflow, and storing the numbers as strings.  Theoretically, we should be able to calculate LARGE Fibonacci numbers like this.

When I heard about Google’s new programming language Go last week, I immediately jumped on it.  I had used Limbo before for a distributed programming course, so I thought that I might write some code to help other people get their feet wet.

My example is a simple Fibonacci number calculator.  It works by creating a new Go-routine every time it needs to calculate the next number.  There are a couple different approaches to doing this:  Create the entire pipeline first (faster calculation, slower set up), Create the pipeline as we go (not a bad way to go, smaller overhead), or create a ring and have the calculation take place within the ring.  Communication between the Go-routines and the main thread are handled via channels.

I heavily documented the code so that beginners might be able to make sense of what’s going on.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

Download the code here.

* Name:   fibonacci.go
* Date:   November 16, 2009
* Author: Jack Slingerland (
* Description:  This program is a Fibonacci number calculator.
*   It may be invoked as follows:  “./8.out [goal]”, where [goal]
*   is the Fibonacci number that you want to computer.  Currently
*   the program is limited to the 46th Fibonacci number due to
*   overflow, however a new implementation is in the works that
*   won’t have that limitation.  The real purpose of this program
*   is to show how Go-routines work, and how communication and
*   sychronization between them is handled using channels.

package main

import (

*  This ADT holds all the information needed to calculate the next
*  Fibonacci number in the sequence.  Current is the current index
*  in the series (ex, 5 = We’re on the 5th number in the sequence).
*  Goal is of course, the number in the sequence that we’d like to
*  achieve.
type fibonacci struct {
a int;
b int;
current int;
goal int;

func main() {
//Check the command line arguments for sanity.
goal, err := checkArgs();
if(err != “”) {
fmt.Fprintf(os.Stdout, “Error: %s”, err);

//Special case:  If the goal is 2 or less, the Fibonacci number is always
//1.  This isn’t really worth creating channels + go routines for.
if(goal <= 2) {
fmt.Fprintf(os.Stdout, “Fibnonacci Value %d is: %d\n”, goal, 1);
} else {
//Construct two channels, the input channel acts as our communication
//between the Go routines.  As you can see, it can be typed as an
//ADT(struct), which makes passing data REALLY easy between go routines.
//The final channel is for passing back the goal Fibonacci number to
//the main thread.
input := make(chan fibonacci);
final := make(chan int);

//Create a new fibonacci object and set it’s values.
var x fibonacci;
x.a = 1;
x.b = 1;
x.current = 2;
x.goal = goal;

//Create a new Go routine with the addNumber function.  We pass it the
//two channels that were declared earlier.  This is similiar to “spawn”
//in Limbo.
go addNumber(input, final);

//The first addNumber() Go routine will block until it gets input from
//the input channel.  So, we pass it our fibonacci object.
input <- x;

//Now, we block and wait for the Go routines (addNumber()) to finish up
//and send us back the final value.
number := <- final;

//Print the value out and we’re done!
fmt.Fprintf(os.Stdout, “Fibnonacci Value %d is: %d\n”, x.goal, number);

* The addNumber() function takes two channels as parameters.  One is a
* channel of fibonacci, which holds information about which number to
* calculate and when to stop, and then a channel of type int, which will
* be used to send the final goal number back to the main thread.
func addNumber(input chan fibonacci, final chan int) () {
//Block here and wait for input from the previous thread
//or the main thread, depending on the situation.
x := <- input;

//Here we check to see if we have met our goal, if we
//have, we return the goal value back to the main thread
//via the final channel.  Otherwise, we calculate the
//next number in the sequence.
if(x.current < x.goal) {
fib := x.a + x.b;

//This is fun because you can assign multiple values at once.
//x.a <- x.b and x.b <- fib.  🙂
x.a, x.b  = x.b, fib;
x.current = x.current + 1;

//Make a new channel of type fibonacci so that we can communicate
//with the new Go routine that we are about to create.
output := make(chan fibonacci);

//Pass the new Go routine the newly created channel, as well as the
//final channel that was passed in from the caller.
go addNumber(output, final);

//Send the fibonacci object out on the channel.
output <- x;
} else {
//Send the goal value out on the channel back to main.
final <- x.b;
//Go routine dies now.

* The checkArgs() function is a great example of returning multiple
* values.  We return an integer and a string to the caller, so handling
* errors is fairly straight forward.
func checkArgs() (int, string) {
//Fetch the command line arguments.
args := os.Args;

//Check the length of the arugments, return failure if that are too
//long or too short.
if((len(args) < 2) || (len(args) >= 3)) {
return -1, “Invalid number of arguments.\n”;

//Convert the goal argument to an integer.
goal, err := strconv.Atoi(args[1]);

//Make sure the conversion went correctly, otherwise return failure.
if(err != nil) {
return -1, “Invalid argument.  Argument must be an integer.\n”;

//Since this implementation is limited, make sure the user can’t go
//beyond the program’s limits.
if(goal > 46) {
return -1, “This program only calculates up to the 46th Fibonacci number.\n”;

//Check the lower bound as well.
if(goal < 1) {
return -1, “Invalid range.  Number must be >= 1.\n”;

//On success, return the goal value and an empty string indicating
//that everything is good.
return goal, “”;