Tag Archives: empty struct

The empty struct


This post explores the properties of my favourite Go data type, the empty struct.

The empty struct is a struct type that has no fields. Here are a few examples in named and anonymous forms

type Q struct{}
var q struct{}

So, if an empty struct contains no fields, contains no data, what use is it ? What can we do with it ?


Before diving into the empty struct itself, I wanted to take a brief detour to talk about width.

The term width comes, like most terms, from the gc compiler, although its etymology probably goes back decades.

Width describes the number of bytes of storage an instance of a type occupies. As a process’s address space is one dimensional, I think width is a more apt than size.

Width is a property of a type. As every value in a Go program has a type, the width of the value is defined by its type and is always a multiple of 8 bits.

We can discover the width of any value, and thus the width of its type using the unsafe.Sizeof() function.

var s string
var c complex128
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(s))	 // prints 8
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(c))	 // prints 16


The width of an array type is a multiple of its element type.

var a [3]uint32
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(a)) // prints 12


Structs provide a more flexible way of defining composite types, whose width is the sum of the width of the constituent types, plus padding

type S struct {
        a uint16
        b uint32
var s S
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(s)) // prints 8, not 6

The example above demonstrates one aspect of padding, that a value must be aligned in memory to a multiple of its width. In this case there are two bytes of padding added by the compiler between a and b.

Update Russ Cox has kindly written to explain that width is unrelated to alignment. You can read his comment below.

An empty struct

Now that we’ve explored width it should be evident that the empty struct has a width of zero. It occupies zero bytes of storage.

var s struct{}
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(s)) // prints 0

As the empty struct consumes zero bytes, it follows that it needs no padding. Thus a struct comprised of empty structs also consumes no storage.

type S struct {
        A struct{}
        B struct{}
var s S
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(s)) // prints 0


What can you do with an empty struct

True to Go’s orthogonality, an empty struct is a struct type like any other. All the properties you are used to with normal structs apply equally to the empty struct.

You can declare an array of structs{}s, but they of course consume no storage.

var x [1000000000]struct{}
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(x)) // prints 0


Slices of struct{}s consume only the space for their slice header. As demonstrated above, their backing array consumes no space.

var x = make([]struct{}, 1000000000)
fmt.Println(unsafe.Sizeof(x)) // prints 12 in the playground


Of course the normal subslice, len, and cap builtins work as expected.

var x = make([]struct{}, 100)
var y = x[:50]
fmt.Println(len(y), cap(y)) // prints 50 100


You can take the address of a struct{} value, when it is addressable, just like any other value.

var a struct{}
var b = &a

Interestingly, the address of two struct{} values may be the same.

var a, b struct{}
fmt.Println(&a == &b) // true


This property is also observable for []struct{}s.

a := make([]struct{}, 10)
b := make([]struct{}, 20)
fmt.Println(&a == &b)       // false, a and b are different slices
fmt.Println(&a[0] == &b[0]) // true, their backing arrays are the same


Why is this? Well if you think about it, empty structs contain no fields, so can hold no data. If empty structs hold no data, it is not possible to determine if two struct{} values are different. They are in effect, fungible.

a := struct{}{} // not the zero value, a real new struct{} instance
b := struct{}{}
fmt.Println(a == b) // true


note: this property is not required by the spec, but it does note that Two distinct zero-size variables may have the same address in memory.

struct{} as a method receiver

Now we’ve demonstrated that empty structs behave just like any other type, it follows that we may use them as method receivers.

type S struct{}

func (s *S) addr() { fmt.Printf("%p\n", s) }

func main() {
        var a, b S
        a.addr() // 0x1beeb0
        b.addr() // 0x1beeb0


In this example it shows that the address of all zero sized values is 0x1beeb0. The exact address will probably vary for different versions of Go.

Wrapping up

Thank you for reading this far. At close to 800 words this article turned out to be longer than expected, and there was still more I was planning to write.

While this article concentrated on language obscura, there is one important practical use of empty structs, and that is the chan struct{} construct used for signaling between go routines

I’ve talked about the use of chan struct{} in my Curious Channels article.


Update Damian Gryski pointed out that I had omitted Brad Fitzpatrick’s iter package. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to explore the profound implications of Brad’s contribution.