One of Go’s simplest and most used interfaces is Stringer:

type Stringer interface {
    String() string

Defined by the fmt package, a type that implements it can be textually described with its String() method. The fmt package printing functions check if your types implement it to know how to print your values. Implementing Stringer is useful for many purposes, such as for logging and debugging.

Well, there’s not much to it, right? So I thought.

Pointer and value receivers

A couple days ago, I had implemented Stringer for a type of mine:

package dog

import "fmt"

type Dog struct {
    name string
    breed string

func (d *Dog) String() string {
    return fmt.Sprintf("My name is %s, I'm a %s! Woof!",, d.breed)

When I tried printing a Dog:

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    d := dog.Dog{"Rex", "poodle"}

For some reason, Go refused to work and output {Rex poodle} instead of my cute custom message.

After some googling, I found the explanation in the Effective Go page (actually, a link to it in Stack Overflow, but you know what I mean):

The rule about pointers vs. values for receivers is that value methods can be invoked on pointers and values, but pointer methods can only be invoked on pointers. This is because pointer methods can modify the receiver; invoking them on a copy of the value would cause those modifications to be discarded.

Since my String() method was implemented on a *Dog pointer receiver, it could not be called for my Dog value.

There are at least two possible solutions for this problem:

  1. Change your String() method to a value receiver so that it may be invoked for both values and pointers;
  2. Keep the pointer receiver and always pass a pointer when you want your String() method to be invoked.

Solution #2 is specially recommended if copying your value is too costly.

After changing my method to a value receiver, I finally got the message I wanted:

My name is Rex, I'm a poodle! Woof!

Stringer for enumerations

An idiomatic manner to building enums in Go is to define an alias type for int and then define constants correspoding to the possible enum values with iota:

package dog

type Breed int

const (
    Poodle Breed = iota

Let’s change our Dog struct to use this enum:

type Dog struct {
    name string
    breed Breed

// we now have a value receiver
func (d Dog) String() string {
    return fmt.Sprintf("My name is %s, I'm a %s! Woof!",, d.breed)

If we try to print our example Dog again:

func main() {
    d := dog.Dog{"Rex", dog.Poodle}

We get a weird message:

My name is Rex, I'm a %!s(main.Breed=0)! Woof!

This happens because the Breed type is not a string nor does it implement the Stringer interface.

To solve this problem, we could implement the String() method for Breed:

func (b Breed) String() string {
    switch b {
        case Poodle: return "poodle"
        case Beagle: return "beagle"
        // and so on...

This is very error-prone. We would need to change this method each time we add, remove or change an enum value.

To overcome this issue, we can use Go’s stringer tool:

Stringer is a tool to automate the creation of methods that satisfy the fmt.Stringer interface.

You can download and install it with:

go get`

Running stringer -type Breed from our dog package folder will generate a breed_string.go file containing a String method for the Breed type which is exactly as we would expect.

We can even add a Go generate directive to our file so that this file is programatically created with go generate:

//go:generate stringer -type=Breed

No more manual writing of String() methods for enums.

You’ll find all there is to know about stringer on its GoDoc page.