Monthly Archives: January 2017

Context is for cancelation

In my previous post I suggested that the best way to break the compile time coupling between the logger and the loggee was passing in a logger interface when constructing each major type in your program. The suggestion has been floated several times that logging is context specific, so maybe a logger can be passed around via a context.Context. I think this suggestion is flawed (as are most uses of context.Value, but that’s another story). This post explains why.

context.Value() is goroutine thread local storage

Using context.Context to pass a logger into a function is a poor design pattern. In effect context.Context is being used as a conduit to arbitrarily extend the API of any method that takes a context.Context value. It’s like Python’s **kwargs, or whatever the name is for that Ruby pattern of always passing a hash. Using context.Context in this way avoids an API break by smuggling data in the unstructured bag of values attached to the context. It’s thread local storage in a cheap suit.

It’s not just that values are boxed into an interface{} inside context.WithValue that I object to. The far more serious concern is there is no schema to this data, so there is no way for a method that takes a context to ensure that it contains the specific key required to complete the operation. context.Value returns nil if the key is not found, which means any code doing the naïve

log := ctx.Value("logger").(log.Logger)
log.Warn("something you'll ignore later")

will blow up if the "logger" key is not present.

Sure, you can check that the assertion succeeded, but I feel pretty confident that if this pattern were to become popular then people would eschew the two arg form of type assertion and just expect that the key always returned a valid logger. This would be especially true as logging in error paths is rarely tested, so you’ll hit this when you need it the most.

In my opinion passing loggers inside context.Context would be the worst solution to the problem of decoupling loggers from implementations. We’d have gone from an explicit compile time dependency to an implicit run time dependency, one that could not be enforced by the compiler.

To quote @freeformz

Loggers should be injected into dependencies. Full stop.

It’s verbose, but it’s the only way to achieve decoupled design.

The package level logger anti pattern

This post is a spin-off from various conversations around improving (I’m trying not to say standardising, otherwise I’ll have to link to XKCD) the way logging is performed in Go projects.

Consider this familiar pattern for establishing a package level log variable.

package foo

import “mylogger”

var log = mylogger.GetLogger(“github.com/project/foo”)

What’s wrong with this pattern?

The first problem with declaring a package level log variable is the tight coupling between package foo and package mylogger. Package foo now depends directly on package mylogger at compile time.

The second problem is the tight coupling between package foo and package mylogger is transitive. Any package that consumes package foo is itself dependant on mylogger at compile time.

This leads to a third problem, Go projects composed of packages using multiple logging
libraries, or fiefdoms of projects who can only consume packages that use their particular logging library.

Avoid source level coupling

The solution to this anti pattern is to delay the binding between the type that does the logging, and the type that needs to log, until it is needed. That is, until the variable is declared.

package foo

import "github.com/pkg/log"

type T struct {
        logger log.Logger
        // other fields
}

Now, the consumer of  type T supplies a value of type log.Logger when constructing new T‘s, and the methods on T use the logger they were provided when they want to log.

Interfaces to the rescue

The eagle eyed reader will note that the previous selection removed the package level log variable, but the coupling between package foo and package log remains.

However, this can be remedied by the consumer of the logger type declaring its own interface for the behaviour it expects.

package foo

type logger interface {
        Printf(string, ...interface{})
}

type T struct {
        logger
        // other fields
}

As long as the type assigned to foo.T.logger implements foo.logger the decision for which specific type to use can be deferred until run time in the same way that io.Copy escapes any knowledge of the io.Reader and io.Writer implementations in use until it is invoked.

It’s not just logging

Logging is a cross cutting concern, but the anti patterns associated with it also apply to other common areas like metrics, telemetry, and auditing.

Get involved

The Go 1.9 development window is opening next month. If this topic is important to you, get involved.