CGO: Embedding and C Interoperability

The Go programming language, commonly known as Golang, is designed to be simple and efficient. However, there are times when you might need to leverage existing C libraries or embed Go into other languages. This tutorial dives deep into the world of CGO — Go’s gateway to the world of C and vice versa.

1. What is CGO?

CGO enables the creation of Go packages that call C code. By using CGO with Go, you get the power to use existing C libraries and also potentially optimize performance-critical portions of your application.

To use CGO, you need to have C development tools installed on your machine. This typically includes a C compiler like gcc.

2. Calling C Code from Go

2.1 Basic Interoperability

Here’s a simple example of how to call C code from Go:

#include <stdio.h>
import "C"

func main() {
    C.puts(C.CString("Hello from C!"))

In the code above:

  • The import "C" is a special import that represents the C space.
  • The C code is wrapped in a Go multi-line string comment.
  • C.puts calls the C function puts.

2.2 Using C Structs and Functions

Suppose you have the following C code:

// mathfuncs.c

#include "mathfuncs.h"
int add(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;
// mathfuncs.h
int add(int a, int b);

You can call the add function from Go like this:

#cgo CFLAGS: -I .
#cgo LDFLAGS: -L . -lmathfuncs
#include "mathfuncs.h"
import "C"
import "fmt"

func main() {
    a, b := 3, 4
    result := C.add(,
    fmt.Printf("%d + %d = %d\n", a, b, int(result))

3. Embedding Go into Other Languages

3.1 Exporting Go Functions for C

To make Go functions accessible from C (and by extension, other languages), you can use the //export directive.

// export.go

package main
import "C"
import "fmt"
//export SayHello
func SayHello(name *C.char) {
    fmt.Printf("Hello, %s!\n", C.GoString(name))
func main() {}

After compiling this Go code into a shared library, the exported SayHello function can be called from C.

3.2 Calling Go from C

After creating a shared library using go build -o -buildmode=c-shared export.go, you can use it in C:

// main.c
#include "export.h"
int main() {
    return 0;

Compile with gcc main.c -L . -lmylib -o output.

4. Best Practices

  • Safety First: Remember that CGO can bypass Go’s memory safety. Always ensure your C code is safe and doesn’t have leaks or buffer overflows.
  • Performance: Crossing the Go-C boundary can be expensive in terms of performance. Avoid frequent transitions if possible.
  • Error Handling: Ensure you handle errors gracefully, especially when transitioning between languages.

CGO offers a powerful way to bridge Go with C, allowing you to leverage existing libraries and functionalities. With careful planning and understanding of both Go and C ecosystems, you can use CGO effectively and safely.

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