These days, I don’t build hierarchical types through inheritance even when writing languages that support it. Type composition has replaced almost all of my use cases where I would’ve reached for inheritance before.

I’ve written1 about how to escape the template pattern2 hellscape and replace that with strategy pattern3 in Python before. While by default, Go saves you from shooting yourself in the foot by disallowing inheritance, it wasn’t obvious to me how I could apply the strategy pattern to make things more composable and testable.

Also, often the Go community exhibits a knee-jerk reaction to the word “pattern,” even when it has nothing to do with OO. However, I feel it’s important to use a specific term while explaining a concept, and I’d rather not attempt to relabel a concept when an established term already exists for it.

Just a quick recap: the strategy pattern is a design approach where you can choose from a set of methods to solve a problem, each method wrapped in its own class. This way, you can swap out these methods easily without messing with the rest of your code, making it simple to adjust behaviors on the fly.

Let’s say you’re writing a display service that prints a message in either plain text or JSON formats. Imperatively you could do this:

# main.rb
require 'json'

def display(message, format)
  if format == :text
    puts message
  elsif format == :json
    json_output = { message: message }.to_json
    puts json_output
    puts "Unknown format"

# Usage
display("Hello, World!", :text) # Prints "Hello, World!"
display("Hello, World!", :json)  # Prints "{"message":"Hello, World!"}"

While this is a trivial example, you can see that adding more formats means we’ll need to extend the conditionals in the display function, and this gets out of hand pretty quickly in many real-life situations where you might have a non-trivial amount of cases.

However, the biggest reason why the imperative solution isn’t ideal is because of how difficult it is to test. Imagine each of the conditionals triggers some expensive side effects when the corresponding block runs. How’d you test display then in an isolated manner without mocking the whole universe?

Strategy pattern tells us that each conditional can be converted into a class with one method. We call these classes strategies. Then, we initialize these strategy classes at runtime and explicitly pass the instances to the display function. The function knows how to use the strategy instances and executes a specific strategy to print a message in a particular format based on a certain condition.

Here’s how you could rewrite the previous example. In the first phase, we’ll wrap each formatter in a separate class:

# main.rb
require 'json'

# Formatter Interface
class MessageFormatter
  def output(message)
    raise NotImplementedError, "This method should be overridden"

# Concrete Formatter for Text
class TextFormatter < MessageFormatter
  def output(message)

# Concrete Formatter for JSON
class JsonFormatter < MessageFormatter
  def output(message)
    { message: message }.to_json

Here, the TextFormatter and JsonFormatter classes implement the MessageFormatter interface. This interface requires the downstream classes to implement the output method. The output methods of the respective formatters know how to format and print the messages.

The display function simply takes a message and a formatter, and calls formatter.output(message) without knowing anything about what the formatter does.

# main.rb

# Display Function with direct unknown format handling
def display(message, formatter)
  unless formatter.is_a?(MessageFormatter)
    puts "Unsupported format"
  output = formatter.output(message)
  puts output

Finally, at runtime, you can instantiate the strategy classes and pass them explicitly to the display function as necessary:

# main.rb

require_relative 'formatter'

text_formatter =
json_formatter =

display("Hello, World!", text_formatter) # Prints "Hello, World!"
display("Hello, World!", json_formatter) # Prints "{"message":"Hello, World!"}"

Now whenever you need to test the display function, you can just create a fake formatter and pass that as an argument. The display function will happily accept any formatter as long as the strategy class satisfies the MessageFormatter interface.

The same thing can be achieved in a more functional4 manner and we’ll see that in the Go example.

But Ruby is still primarily an OO language and it has classes. How’d you model the same solution in a language like Go where there’s no concept of a class or explicit interface implementation? This wasn’t clear to me from the get-go until I started playing with the language a little more and digging through some OSS codebases.

Turns out, in Go, you can do the same thing using interfaces and custom types, and with even fewer lines of code. Here’s how:

// main.go

// Formatter interface defines a method for outputting messages
type Formatter interface {
    Output(message string) string

// OutputFunc is a function type that matches the signature of the Output
// method in the Formatter interface
type OutputFunc func(message string) string

// Output method makes OutputFunc satisfy the Formatter interface
func (f OutputFunc) Output(message string) string {
    return f(message)

Above, we’re defining a Formatter interface that contains only a single method Output. Then we define an OutputFunc type that implements the Output method on the function to satisfy the Formatter interface. We could opt in for a struct type here instead of defining a function type but since we don’t need to hold any state, a function type keeps things concise.

The display function will look as follows:

func Display(message string, format Formatter) {

Similar to the Ruby example, Display intakes a string message and an object of any type that implements the Formatter interface. Next, it calls the Output method on format without having any knowledge of what that does, achieving polymorphism.

Also, notice that we aren’t handling the “unknown formatter” case explicitly because now it’ll be a compile-time error if an unknown formatter is passed to the caller.

Next, you’ll define your strategies and pass them to the Display function as follows:

func main() {
    message := "Hello, World!"

    // Each strategy needs to be wrapped in OutputFunc so that the
    // underlying function satisfies the Formatter interface.
    TextFormatted := OutputFunc(func (message string) string {
        return message

    JSONFormatted := OutputFunc(func (message string) string {
        jsonData, _ := json.Marshal(map[string]string{"message": message})
        return string(jsonData)

    Display(message, TextFormatted) // Prints "Hello, World!"
    Display(message, JSONFormatted) // Prints "{"message":"Hello, World!"}"

We’re defining each formatting strategy as a function and casting it to the OutputFunc so that it satisfies the Formatter interface. Then we just pass the message and the strategy instance to the Display function as before. Notice how your data and strategies are also decoupled in this case; one has no knowledge of the existence of the other.

And voila, you’re done!

Update: The original Go example used struct types rather than a function type to meet the Formatter interface requirements. In this particular case, the function type makes things simpler. However, if your strategy needs to do multiple things, then a struct with multiple methods is probably going to be better.

  1. Escaping the template pattern hellscape in Python ↩︎

  2. Template method pattern in Ruby ↩︎

  3. Strategy pattern in Ruby ↩︎

  4. All of these festivities can be avoided in languages that support first-class functions. You could just define your strategies as functions and pass them to the caller during runtime; same idea, different implementation. ↩︎

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