Go provides a mechnism to update variables and inspect their values at run time, to call their mehtods, and to apply the operations intrinsic to their representation, all without their types at compile time. This mechnism is called reflection.

reflect.Type and reflect.Value

Reflection is provided by the reflect package. It defines two important types, Type and Value. A Type represents a Go type. It is an interface with many methods for discriminating among types and inspecting their components, like the fields of a struct or the parameters of a function. The sole implementation of reflect.Type is the type decriptor, the same entity that identifies the dynamic type of an interface value.

The reflect.TypeOf function accepts any interface{} and returns its dynamic type as reflect.Type. Becaulse reflect.TypeOf returns an interface value’s dynamic type, it always returns a concrete type.

	var w io.Writer = os.Stdout
	fmt.Println(reflect.TypeOf(w)) // *os.File
	fmt.Printf("%T\n", w)          // *os.File

A reflect.Value can hold a value of any type. The reflect.ValueOf function accepts any interface{} and returns a reflect.Value containing the interface’s dynamic value.

The inverse operation to reflect.ValueOf is the reflect.Value.Interface method. It returns an interface{} holding the same concrete value as the reflect.Value.

	v := reflect.ValueOf(3) // a reflect value
	x := v.Interface()      // an interface{}
	w := x.(int)
	fmt.Println(v)        // 3
	fmt.Printf("%v\n", w) // 3

A reflect.Value and an interface{} can both hold arbitrary values. The difference is that a Value has many methods for inspecting its contents, regardless its type.

Although there are infinitely many types, there are only a finite number of kinds of type: the basic types Bool, String, and all the numbers; the aggregate types Array and Struct; the reference types Chan, Func, Ptr, Slice, and Map; Interface types; and finally Invalid, meaning no value at all. (The zero value of a refelect.Value has kind Invalid.)

A variable is an addressable storage location that contains a value, and its value may be updated through that address.

A simimar distinction applies to reflect.Values. Some are addressable; others are not.

To recover the variable from an addressable reflect.Value requires three steps. First, we call Addr(), which returns a Value holding a pointer to the variable. Next, we call Interface() on this Value, which returns an interface{} value containing the pointer. Finally, if we know the type of the variable, we can use a type assertion to retrieve the contents of the interface as an oridinary pointer.

	x := 2
	d := reflect.ValueOf(&x).Elem()   // d refers to the variable x
	px := d.Addr().Interface().(*int) // px := &x
	*px = 3                           // x = 3
	fmt.Println(x)                    // "3"

We can update the variable referred to by an addressable reflect.Value directly, without using a pointer, by calling the reflect.Value.Set method:

	fmt.Println(x) // "4"
	fmt.Println(x) // "5"

The same checks for assignablility that are oridinarily performed by the compiler are done at runtime by the Set methods.


  1. Alan A. A. Donovan, Brian W. Kernighan. The Go Programming Language, 2015.11.