The story of a nil pointer receiver

[Originally published at:]

Let’s assume we want to store Gender as an attribute for our users.

And since we use PostgreSQL we can define an enum for gender like this:


Now let’s see how should we use gender_type in our code. I always prefer to have as much similarity as possible between my models and my database design so I create a new type for Gender as I did in database and implement the Scanner interface:

package gender
// Gender type is nothing more than a string
type Gender string
import (
const (
MALE Gender = "MALE"
func (g *Gender) Scan(src interface{}) (err error) {
switch val := src.(type) {
case []byte:
*g = Gender(string(val))
err = fmt.Errorf("unexpected type: %q", src)
func (g Gender) Value() (value driver.Value, err error) {
if g == MALE || g == FEMALE || g == OTHER {
return string(g), nil
return nil, fmt.Errorf("Invalid Gender value: %q", g)

Now let’s use our Gender type in the user model:

package model
type User struct {
ID int
Name string
// ...
Gender gender.Gender `sql:"type:gender_type"`

and everything works fine now…except when we want to be able to have NULL values for gender and we modify the model to this

Gender *gender.Gender `sql:"type:gender_type"`

Now when we create an empty instance of user model to scan from database the Gender field is nil and when the Scan method is called the pointer receiver(g) is nil too. And when we try to dereference the g to update its value we receive panic: runtime error: invalid memory address or nil pointer dereference.
The instant solution that comes to mind is to do this:

// instead of *g = Gender(string(val))
g = &Gender(string(val))

But as soon as you find this solution, you find it useless because this is what happens.

  1. you create an empty instance of user so the gender field is a nil pointer (a pointer pointing to nothing)
  2. you call the scan method and go sees that you want a pointer receiver, so it creates a new pointer pointing the the value of gender(which is currently nil)
  3. you create a new Gender instance and put its address in the pointer you receieved.
  4. But this is the new pointer that go created for you and the pointer in user model is still untouched
  5. And BOOM!


Be really careful with these pointer receivers and as long as you can don’t dereference a pointer receiver!
I’d be glad to see what do you think of the problem and what’s your solution?


The solution I used was to look other similar types out there and see what they do and here is what they do:

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