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Difference between Value and Pointer variable in Defer in Go

·3 mins

defer is a useful function to do cleanup, as it will execute in LIFO order before the surrounding function returns. If you don’t know how it works, sometimes the execution result may confuse you.

How it Works and Why Value or Pointer Receiver Matters #

I found an interesting code on Stack Overflow:

type X struct {
    S string

func (x X) Close() {
    fmt.Println("Value-Closing", x.S)

func (x *X) CloseP() {
    fmt.Println("Pointer-Closing", x.S)

func main() {
    x := X{"Value-X First"}
    defer x.Close()
    x = X{"Value-X Second"}
    defer x.Close()

    x2 := X{"Value-X2 First"}
    defer x2.CloseP()
    x2 = X{"Value-X2 Second"}
    defer x2.CloseP()

    xp := &X{"Pointer-X First"}
    defer xp.Close()
    xp = &X{"Pointer-X Second"}
    defer xp.Close()

    xp2 := &X{"Pointer-X2 First"}
    defer xp2.CloseP()
    xp2 = &X{"Pointer-X2 Second"}
    defer xp2.CloseP()

The output is:

Pointer-Closing Pointer-X2 Second
Pointer-Closing Pointer-X2 First
Value-Closing Pointer-X Second
Value-Closing Pointer-X First
Pointer-Closing Value-X2 Second
Pointer-Closing Value-X2 Second
Value-Closing Value-X Second
Value-Closing Value-X First

Take a look at line 5-6, why Pointer-Closing Value-X2 Second was printed twice? According to Effective Go, “The arguments to the deferred function (which include the receiver if the function is a method) are evaluated when the defer executes, not when the call executes.”. And the function’s parameters will saved anew when evaluated.

As x2 is value and the defer function CloseP’s receiver is a pointer, once defer executes, it will create a pointer which points to x2 as function’s caller. In the following defer, it will create a pointer which point to x2 again. Although x2.S change to “Second”, x2’s address never changes. Finally, when these two defer is called, the same log was printed again.

How to Exit Program and Run all Defer #

From Golang Runtime:

runtime.Goexit() terminates the goroutine that calls it. No other goroutine is affected. Goexit runs all deferred calls before terminating the goroutine. Because Goexit is not a panic, any recover calls in those deferred functions will return nil.

Calling Goexit from the main goroutine terminates that goroutine without func main returning. Since func main has not returned, the program continues execution of other goroutines. If all other goroutines exit, the program crashes.

If you want the program to exit normally, just add defer os.Exit(0) at the top of main function. Here is the example code:

package main

import (

func subGoroutine() {
  defer fmt.Println("exit sub routine")
  for {
    fmt.Println("sub goroutine running")
    time.Sleep(1 * time.Second)

func main() {
  defer os.Exit(0)
  defer fmt.Println("calling os.Exit")

  go subGoroutine()

  time.Sleep(2 * time.Second)


sub goroutine running
sub goroutine running
sub goroutine running
calling os.Exit

Process finished with exit code 0

The defer code in main goroutine are executed, but those in subGoroutine will not be executed. As os.Exit will

Exit causes the current program to exit with the given status code. Conventionally, code zero indicates success, non-zero an error. The program terminates immediately; deferred functions are not run.

from godoc

Ref #

  1. 面向信仰编程 defer
  2. Golang defer clarification
  3. How to exit a go program honoring deferred calls?
  4. Effective Go
  5. Golang Runtime
  6. Go defer 遇上 os.Exit 時失效