Rethinking Error Handling in Golang

Sudaraka Jayathilaka
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJun 13, 2020

Errors are one of the most important aspects of a programming language. The way you handle errors impacts the performance of the application in many ways such as,

  • Consistency
  • Traceability
  • Debuggability
  • Maintainability

How errors are defined in Golang is a bit different from languages like Java. In Go, errors are values. For example, you can assign an error to a variable in the same way you assign an integer to a variable. Consider the following example,

config, err := ioutil.ReadFile("config.json")
if err!=nil{

We can handle Go errors mainly in two ways,

  • We can panic (Will crash the application)
  • We can handle gracefully. (Can log the error and return)

When to panic

When some unexpected issue happens, panic can be used. Mostly panic is being used to fail the application in case of any issue which interrupts the normal operation of the application. For example, we can think of a program which uses a MySQL database to store data. Usually, the application would try to establish a connection with the MySQL database when initializing. But if the application fails to establish the connection with the database, the application can’t continue to function properly. So in this kind of scenarios, the application should panic.

db, err := sql.Open("mysql", "username:pw@tcp(localhost:3306)/db")
if err != nil {

Panic will result in a stack trace which will allow us to trace the error. Here is an example,

goroutine 11 [running]:
/usr/local/go/src/testing/testing.go:711 +0x2d2
panic(0x53f820, 0x594da0)
/usr/local/go/src/runtime/panic.go:491 +0x283*Set).Max(0xc42000a940, 0x0)
../src/ +0x89
../src/ +0x337
testing.tRunner(0xc420092690, 0x57f5e8)
/usr/local/go/src/testing/testing.go:746 +0xd0
created by testing.(*T).Run
/usr/local/go/src/testing/testing.go:789 +0x2de

When not to panic

But consider an application which allows users to login. What if a user tries to login with an email which doesn’t exist in the database. In this kind of scenarios, we can’t panic. We have to handle the error gracefully. We can log the error with the login details that the user entered and return an error response to the user.

There is no hard and fast rule for handling errors gracefully in Golang. So here is a better way to handle errors in your application gracefully.

Handling errors gracefully

We will be using a custom-defined struct in order to wrap the error rather than passing the plain error. Let’s define an errors package inside our application.

package errors

import ""

type Operation string

type ErrorType string

const (
NotFoundError ErrorType = "NOT_FOUND"
UnAuthorizedError ErrorType = "UNAUTHORIZED"
Unexpected ErrorType = "UNEXPECTED"

type Error struct {
operations []Operation
errorType ErrorType
error error
severity logrus.Level
  • Operation field is meant to contain the names of the functions, where the errors were wrapped.
  • Type field contains the type of the error. For example, an error can be of type NotFoundError . This error type is very useful when we are translating the error into an error code or an HTTP error response.
  • Error will contain the error object before wrapping it using the struct.
  • Severity will contain log level, which makes it very easy when we are logging the error in our application.

We need to define some helper methods for getting and setting values inside the struct,

Now our error struct implementation is complete. Let’s see how we can use this custom error effectively,

  • When an error occurs, we can wrap the error using our custom error implementation,
const operation errors.Operation = "UserStore.GetUserById"
db := dbConn()
selDB, err := db.Query("SELECT * FROM User ORDER BY id DESC")
if err!=nil{
return nil, errors.NewError(operation, errors.Unexpected, err, logrus.ErrorLevel)
  • While passing the error to the upper level, pass it with the operation name
const operation errors.Operation = "UserService.GetUser"
User, err := userStore.getUserById(id)
if err != nil {
return nil, err.WithOpetation(operation)
  • We can log the error using the log level set in the error and we can log the operations array as well. It will result in something like,
["UserStore.GetUserById", "UserService.GetUser"]
  • Operations array is much cleaner and parsable when debugging errors. We can trace the error using the operations array.
  • When returning the error response, we can use the ErrorType to determine the response code
switch err.ErrorType() {
case errors.NotFoundError:

Final Thoughts

In Golang, we have the liberty to handle the errors however we want. But it comes with great responsibility since error handling is very critical to the application. Depending on the nature of our application, we can adjust the data we keep in our Error object and even add more data in order to improve the traceability.

This idea was inspired by the talk given by Marwan Sulaiman on the topic Handling Go Errors (