Catching return values from goroutines

Why is it not possible to fetch a return value from a goroutine assigning it to a variable?

Run goroutine (asynchronously) and fetch return value from function are essentially contradictory actions. When you say go you mean "do it asynchronously" or even simpler: "Go on! Don't wait for the function execution be finished". But when you assign function return value to a variable you are expecting to have this value within the variable. So when you do that x := go doSomething(arg) you are saying: "Go on, don't wait for the function! Wait-wait-wait! I need a returned value be accessible in x var right in the next line below!"


The most natural way to fetch a value from a goroutine is channels. Channels are the pipes that connect concurrent goroutines. You can send values into channels from one goroutine and receive those values into another goroutine or in a synchronous function. You could easily obtain a value from a goroutine not breaking concurrency using select:

func main() {

    c1 := make(chan string)
    c2 := make(chan string)

    go func() {
        time.Sleep(time.Second * 1)
        c1 <- "one"
    go func() {
        time.Sleep(time.Second * 2)
        c2 <- "two"

    for i := 0; i < 2; i++ {
        // Await both of these values
        // simultaneously, printing each one as it arrives.
        select {
        case msg1 := <-c1:
            fmt.Println("received", msg1)
        case msg2 := <-c2:
            fmt.Println("received", msg2)

The example is taken from Go By Example

CSP & message-passing

Go is largerly based on CSP theory. The naive description from above could be precisely outlined in terms of CSP (although I believe it is out of scope of the question). I strongly recommend to familiarize yourself with CSP theory at least because it is RAD. These short quotations give a direction of thinking:

As its name suggests, CSP allows the description of systems in terms of component processes that operate independently, and interact with each other solely through message-passing communication.

In computer science, message passing sends a message to a process and relies on the process and the supporting infrastructure to select and invoke the actual code to run. Message passing differs from conventional programming where a process, subroutine, or function is directly invoked by name.

The strict answer is that you can do that. It's just probably not a good idea. Here's code that would do that:

var x int
go func() {
    x = doSomething()

This will spawn off a new goroutine which will calculate doSomething() and then assign the result to x. The problem is: how are you going to use x from the original goroutine? You probably want to make sure the spawned goroutine is done with it so that you don't have a race condition. But if you want to do that, you'll need a way to communicate with the goroutine, and if you've got a way to do that, why not just use it to send the value back?