Go Functions vs Methods


If you’ve wondered whether a certain piece of Go code should be declared as a function or as a method on a type, you’ve probably ended up reading either this excellent post by Dave Cheney or the Go spec which states that :

The type of a method is the type of a function with the receiver as first argument.

So Go handles methods as functions where the first formal parameter is the receiver. Let’s see where this is implemented under the hood in the Go 1.14 release branch.

Main Course

The types package is responsible for declaring the data types and implements the algorithm for type-checking Go packages.

If we dive in src/go/types/call.go, we can find all the typechecking code of function call and selector expressions along with the following two methods

func (check *Checker) call(x *operand, e *ast.CallExpr) exprKind {
func (check *Checker) selector(x *operand, e *ast.SelectorExpr) {

Looking more carefully in the selector method (as a method call does include a selector expression), we can see the following code snippet

func (check *Checker) selector(x *operand, e *ast.SelectorExpr) {
		// the receiver type becomes the type of the first function
		// argument of the method expression's function type
		var params []*Var
		sig := m.typ.(*Signature)
		if sig.params != nil {
			params = sig.params.vars
		x.mode = value
		x.typ = &Signature{
			params:   NewTuple(append([]*Var{NewVar(token.NoPos, check.pkg, "", x.typ)}, params...)...),
			results:  sig.results,
			variadic: sig.variadic,


Essentially, it does what the spec describes; it substitutes the parameters of the method with a NewTuple which takes in the NoPos (zeroth argument) token, of the receiver x.typ type, and then appends all of the other function parameters!

You might have noticed that this selector method is unexported and thus internal to the types package.

Then where, is it used? As it currently stands, in two places.

The first of these is in the exprInternal method which contains the core logic for type checking all expressions

func (check *Checker) exprInternal(x *operand, e ast.Expr, hint Type) exprKind {
    switch e := e.(type) {
	case *ast.SelectorExpr:
		check.selector(x, e)

which is then called by rawExpr on various places where the Checker needs to, well check an expression.

The second place is in the typInternal method, which drives the checking of various types

func (check *Checker) typInternal(e ast.Expr, def *Named) Type {
	switch e := e.(type) {
	case *ast.BadExpr:
	case *ast.SelectorExpr:
		var x operand
        check.selector(&x, e)
        switch x.mode {
		case typexpr:
			typ := x.typ
			return typ

and is then called by definedType where the Checker needs to either declare a type or retrieve the type of an expression.


So that’s pretty much it! The code that makes up Go itself is surprisingly easy to dive into; if you want to learn more, I’d recommend looking at how the Checker object is defined and initialized, as well as how the type package starts evaluating expressions.

I hope this was an interesting read, and provided some waypoints to start looking into the Go codebase.

Any comments, corrections and advice are highly welcomed; you’ll probably make my day by reaching out, so don’t hesitate to do so!

Until next time, bye!

Written on May 25, 2020