Graeme Hill's Dev Blog

The weird world of Golang type conversions

Star date: 2019.324

Note: most of this post is about Go type conversions. In the official Go documentation there are a lot of examples of specific conversions but I could not find an authoritative explanation for how they work in a generic sense. As such some of the information in this post is educated speculation based on trial and error.

I recently saw a snippet of Go in a test that looked like this:

require.Equal(t, []string{"foo"}, ([]string)(myStrings))

Because of the parenthesis around ([]string) in the type conversion I thought for a second that I was looking at a C or Java style type cast that I didn't know existed in Go. After my brain recalibrated I realized that it could have been written without the parenthesis:

require.Equal(t, []string{"foo"}, []string(myStrings))

Okay, so it's doing that magic Go type constructor thing that you see with number conversions and string to []byte conversions. So this got me wanting to know what that feature is actually called and how it works in a more generic sense. Is this a core feature of Go, or have they just hard coded it for built-in types?

After some awkward Googling I learned some things:

Type conversions vs type assertions

The normal way that we "cast" things in go is with a type assertion:

type Foo struct {}

func DoThing(obj interface{}) {
    // This is a type *assertion*
    foo, ok := obj.(Foo)
    if ok {
        fmt.Printf("It's a foo: %v", foo)
    } else {
        fmt.Printf("It's not a foo: %v", obj)

And this is called a type conversion:

func DoThing(s string) {
    // This is a type *conversion*
    bytes := []byte(s)
    fmt.Printf("Here's the bytes from your string: %v", bytes)


A type assertion is an attempted dynamic cast that will return a shallow copy of the object casted to the desired type and a boolean telling you whether it was successful. Since it is a shallow copy, if the type is a pointer to something then just the pointer is copied. The value it points to is the same.

A type conversion is equal to creating a new instance of the target type will the same value(s). For primitive types like int64 this is like defining a new variable with the same literal. For structs this is like defining a new variable where all the struct fields are assigned the same value (ie: each field is shallow copied).

Type assertions

In this statement:

b, ok := a.(B)

In order for the assertion to be successfull (ie: ok is true) a must already have type B. This is useful when you just have an interface (including the empty interface interface{}) and you want to attempt a cast to a concrete type that implements that interface, or else do some other behaviour if it does not.

Type conversions

b := B(a)

In order for this to compile (because this is checked statically) one of the following must be valid:

1. `b` could have been initialized with the same literal primitive as `a`
2. `B` is a struct with all the same fields contained in `a`

Because of rule #1 we can do number conversion like this:

var x uint64 = 7
var y int32 = int32(x)

Because of rule #2 we can do struct conversion like this:

type Person struct {
    Email string

type User struct {
    Email string

func main() {
    person := Person{Email: ""}
    user := User(person)
    // ...

The line user := User(person) is the same as creating a new user and setting all of the fields to the same value as the fields from person including the private fields.

Rule #2 could also explain why Go supports this idiomatic conversion:

s := "Hello"
b := []byte(s)

Behind the scenes a slice is just an array container with a length, and a string is basically the same thing: a length and some bytes that represent the characters in the string. They have the same duck type and can therefore be converted to/from one another.