Go Interfaces as Requirements, not Capabilities

This is a hard-won lesson that's taken me many years to learn, and I have seen others follow a similar path, so I'm writing it down in hopes that maybe some people will find a shortcut.

Go's type system is, in my experience, fairly unique. There's a family of object-oriented type systems that's fairly common in C++, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby and others. These have the idea of subclassing—following the entirely-overused analogy of Linnean taxonomy, that a Dog is a Mammal is an Animal. They tend to have the concept, either as keyword or convention, of "protected" or "private" methods, implementation details of a class. They often have some kind of interface or abstract class that defines some kind of API (though some, like Ruby, tend to lean toward duck typing).

Go, superficially, resembles these object-oriented languages. It has the keyword interface! You can "embed" a struct, and isn't that basically subclassing?

No. It is, deeply, not.

Where Java-esque Dependency Inversion Failed

But this superficial similarity lured me in. I tried to apply the textbook, Java-centric, version of the "dependency inversion principle." And that did lead to improvements—but very much a local maxima.

// duck_interface.go
package duckterface

type Duck interface {
	Quack() string

// makes_duck.go
package makes_duck

import "duckterface"

type duck struct {
	Q string

func New(q string) duckterface.Duck {
	return &duck{
		Q: q,

func (d *duck) Quack() string {
	return fmt.Sprintf("QUACK! %s!", d.Q)

// needs_duck.go
package needs_duck

import (

func Bread(d duckterface.Duck) {

The cracks started to show, however, when it came to bigger interfaces. Big interfaces are an antipattern for a good reason. When it comes to testing, duckterface.Duck is a fairly small interface to implement:

package needs_duck_tests

// this is OK
type mockDuck struct {}
func (*mockDuck) Quack() string {
	return "Quack!"

func TestBread(t *testing.T) {
	md := &mockDuck{}
	actual := needs_duck.Bread(md)
	// ...

But something like a repository, that may provide several methods, like Create, Get, List, Update, Delete becomes onerous:

package baserepository

type Repository interface {
	CreateWidget(*Widget) error
	GetWidget(id int64) (*Widget, error)
	ListWidget() ([]Widget, error)
	UpdateWidget(id int64, Thing1) error
	DeleteWidget(id int64) error
	CreateDoodad(*Doodad) error
	// ... etc ...

Mocking this becomes painful quickly. We turn to tools that generate complicated mock code. Those mocks, in turn, require their own documentation and learning curve. I prefer the mockDuck from before—simple, comprehensible, and only a couple of lines of code.

Dependency Inversion for Go

Over time, I've learned that a Go-specific version of dependency inversion scales even better. One where, rather than using interfaces to declare what functionality something provides, you use small, locally defined interfaces to declare what something needs.

Consider a piece of business logic that creates Widgets. It does some validation, checks for uniqueness, and sets some defaults. It needs something that implements GetWidget and CreateWidget:

// not exported--this is only for defining our requirements
type widgetGetCreator {
	GetWidget(id int64) (*Widget, error)
	CreateWidget(*Widget) error

type WidgetUseCase struct {
	Widgets widgetGetCreator

The Repository type from above clearly implements this widgetGetCreator (a name inspired by io.ReadCloser) interface, so we can  use anything that is a Repository (even if we changed that into a struct!) for WidgetUseCase.Widgets. And in tests, we have a much smaller interface to implement.

type mockWGC struct {
	widget *Widget
	err error

func (m *mockWGC) GetWidget(int64) (*Widget, error) {
	return m.widget, m.err

func (m *mockTGC) CreateWidget(*Widget) error {
	return m.err

This tiny struct also implements widgetGetCreator, but it does not implement Repository. With mockWGC, we can write tests that are very self-contained:

func TestWidgetUseCase_FailsOnDuplicate(t *testing.T) {
	// Arrange
	mwgc := &mockWGC{widget: Widget{}}
	creator := WidgetUseCase{Widgets: mwgc}

	// Act
	err := creator.MakeWidget(&Widget{})

	// Assert
	if err == nil {

We can control exactly what is returned, reducing the system under test to a single unit of code. And we can do so in the confines of a single test: everything we need to know about this behavior is contained within the test.

Using interfaces this way even allows us to skip around. When I'm writing code in Go, it's pretty common for me to run into a situation where I realize I need something—say I'm building a WebFinger handler, and realize I need something to fetch a user definition:

type userGetter interface {
	GetUser(context.Context, string) (*models.User, error)

type Handler struct {
	Users userGetter

func (h *Handler) ServeHTTP(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
	u, err := h.Users.GetUser(r.Context(), r.URL.Query().Get("resource"))
    // ... etc ...

While writing the code, I can ignore all implementation details of that userGetter. It is enough to know I will have a userGetter. I can test this code. I can write simple implementations, and see that things fail correctly:

package repository

type UserRepo struct{}

func (*UserRepo) GetUser(context.Context, string) (*models.User, error) {
	return nil, errors.New("not implemented yet")

This lets me limit and encapsulate where I might be hard-coding things, while still building for a more general future. And I can move on to the areas I want to think about next, rather than letting the dependency graph force me onto a particular path. It's also easier to have multiple team members contribute, since we can parallelize and encapsulate the work.

And the Exception: Libraries

The one major exception I have discovered is in libraries. Including interface definitions makes it easier for consumers to not need to repeat the interface.

For example, a SQL library I worked on exposed an interface like this:

type DB interface {
	Get(context.Context, any, string, ...any) error
	Select(context.Context, any, string, ...any) error
	Exec(context.Context, string, ...any) error
	Begin(context.Context) error
	Commit(context.Context) error
	Rollback(context.Context) error

In this case, the library provides the interface because otherwise every consumer would need to define it as their own requirement. The interface is still small enough to mock by hand, but having a common definition is convenient.