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# C? Go? Cgo!
17 Mar 2011
Tags: cgo, technical
Summary: How to use cgo to let Go packages call C code.
OldURL: /c-go-cgo
Andrew Gerrand
## Introduction
Cgo lets Go packages call C code. Given a Go source file written with some special features,
cgo outputs Go and C files that can be combined into a single Go package.
To lead with an example, here's a Go package that provides two functions -
`Random` and `Seed` - that wrap C's `random` and `srandom` functions.
package rand
#include <stdlib.h>
import "C"
func Random() int {
return int(C.random())
func Seed(i int) {
Let's look at what's happening here, starting with the import statement.
The `rand` package imports `"C"`, but you'll find there's no such package
in the standard Go library.
That's because `C` is a "pseudo-package",
a special name interpreted by cgo as a reference to C's name space.
The `rand` package contains four references to the `C` package:
the calls to `C.random` and `C.srandom`, the conversion `C.uint(i)`,
and the `import` statement.
The `Random` function calls the standard C library's `random` function and returns the result.
In C, `random` returns a value of the C type `long`,
which cgo represents as the type `C.long`.
It must be converted to a Go type before it can be used by Go code outside this package,
using an ordinary Go type conversion:
func Random() int {
return int(C.random())
Here's an equivalent function that uses a temporary variable to illustrate the type conversion more explicitly:
func Random() int {
var r C.long = C.random()
return int(r)
The `Seed` function does the reverse, in a way.
It takes a regular Go `int`, converts it to the C `unsigned int` type,
and passes it to the C function `srandom`.
func Seed(i int) {
Note that cgo knows the `unsigned int` type as `C.uint`;
see the [cgo documentation]( for a complete
list of these numeric type names.
The one detail of this example we haven't examined yet is the comment above the `import` statement.
#include <stdlib.h>
import "C"
Cgo recognizes this comment. Any lines starting with `#cgo` followed by
a space character are removed;
these become directives for cgo.
The remaining lines are used as a header when compiling the C parts of the package.
In this case those lines are just a single `#include` statement,
but they can be almost any C code.
The `#cgo` directives are used to provide flags for the compiler and linker
when building the C parts of the package.
There is a limitation: if your program uses any `//export` directives,
then the C code in the comment may only include declarations (`extern int f();`),
not definitions (`int f() { return 1; }`).
You can use `//export` directives to make Go functions accessible to C code.
The `#cgo` and `//export` directives are documented in the [cgo documentation](
## Strings and things
Unlike Go, C doesn't have an explicit string type. Strings in C are represented by a zero-terminated array of chars.
Conversion between Go and C strings is done with the `C.CString`,
`C.GoString`, and `C.GoStringN` functions.
These conversions make a copy of the string data.
This next example implements a `Print` function that writes a string to
standard output using C's `fputs` function from the `stdio` library:
package print
// #include <stdio.h>
// #include <stdlib.h>
import "C"
import "unsafe"
func Print(s string) {
cs := C.CString(s)
C.fputs(cs, (*C.FILE)(C.stdout))
Memory allocations made by C code are not known to Go's memory manager.
When you create a C string with `C.CString` (or any C memory allocation)
you must remember to free the memory when you're done with it by calling ``.
The call to `C.CString` returns a pointer to the start of the char array,
so before the function exits we convert it to an [`unsafe.Pointer`](
and release the memory allocation with ``.
A common idiom in cgo programs is to [`defer`](
the free immediately after allocating (especially when the code that follows
is more complex than a single function call),
as in this rewrite of `Print`:
func Print(s string) {
cs := C.CString(s)
C.fputs(cs, (*C.FILE)(C.stdout))
## Building cgo packages
To build cgo packages, just use [`go build`](
or [`go install`]( as usual.
The go tool recognizes the special `"C"` import and automatically uses cgo for those files.
## More cgo resources
The [cgo command]( documentation has more
detail about the C pseudo-package and the build process.
The [cgo examples]( in the Go tree demonstrate
more advanced concepts.
Finally, if you're curious as to how all this works internally,
take a look at the introductory comment of the runtime package's [cgocall.go](