It is all in the name

Go is a programming language. Go is also an ancient far-eastern board game. But, just to confuse things, there is also Go!, with an exclamation mark, which is also a programming language.

So just to make this clear, we mean the language called “Go” which is sometimes also know as “Golang” after the Internet domain.

Okay, but what IS it?

Go is a computer programming language, originally invented at Google in 2007. OK but that probably doesn’t help you much!

A programming language is a man-made language that a programmer uses to give instructions to a computer. A programming language looks a little like a combination of English and Mathematics. They are used to create the programs that a computer runs. The web browser you are using now to read this is just a computer program.

That’s a lot of stuff, so let’s explain this a little more. Go is a computer language, but it is a man-made language. It is not like English, French, German or Spanish. These are all natural languages. They just evolved from the sounds people make when they speak. No one invented them.

A programming language is different. Someone did invent it. A programming language is more like man-made languages found in books like Elvish from The Lord of the Rings or TV like Klingon from StarTrek.

Go was invented by three people. Ken Thompson (who is a very famous computer scientist), Rob “Commander” Pike (who is another famous computer scientist) and Robert Griesemer (who is famous for his work on the JavaScript and Java computer languages).

A programming language can, at least in theory, be used to write any program to do anything. We say in theory because you have to be able to describe the problem in the programming language first.

Okay, but what does it look like

Go is textural computer language. Scratch or Alice or Kodo are visual or graphical programming languages. In these languages you program by moving snapping coloured blocks together to create a program.

Textural computer languages are different. You have to type everything - Sorry, but this is actually what real programmers do most days. And if you find you have a talent for it, there is so much more you can do with textual computer languages that aren’t possible with visual ones.

Notes

If you have to install Go, you will have to do this to. We will show you how in the install instructions.

The simplest way to explain the difference is with an example. The most famous computer program in the world is known as “Hello World”. It prints “Hello, world!” to the screen. Programmers often use this program as a test to show that a language is correctly installed and working.

Hello World in Scratch looks like this:

Fig-1: Hello World written in Scratch

    1 package main
    2 
    3 import "fmt"
    4 
    5 func main() {
    6     fmt.Println("Hello World!")
    7 }
Fig-2. Hello World written in Go

Notes

You would not need to type the line numbers on the left. We have added these to the program code to make it easier to talk about a specific line.

The first time you look at these programs they appear to be quite different, even though they do the same thing. But if you look carefully you can see that they are also similar.

In the Scratch program the middle, purple say block is the one that prints “Hello, world! to the screen.

In the Go program, it is line 6 that prints “Hello, World!” to the screen.

The programs are similar because they both solve the same problem, how do you print “Hello, world!” to the screen. But they are different because they are written in two very different programming languages.

What is a gopher?

A gopher is not small furry rodent. A gopher is the name the Go community uses for someone who can program in Go. Once you learn Go you too will be a Gopher.

The mascot of the Go language is also a gopher, the “Go Gopher”. The Go Gopher was drawn by Renee French and has an interesting history all of his own.

The GopherCoders gopher is based on a drawing Ben did on a Post-It note!

Ben's original Post-It! note

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