Getting Started

This guide walks you through writing a complete service in goa. The simple service implements the basic example found in the github repository. The instructions assume the use of Go modules and as such require Go version 1.11 or greater.


The instructions below create a new project under your home directory. You can replace $HOME with any other location. The only caveat is that if you choose a directory that lives under your GOPATH then you need to make sure that modules are enabled by setting the environment variable GO111MODULE to on.

cd $HOME
mkdir -p calc/design
cd calc
go mod init calc

Next make sure the Goa module is installed and up-to-date:

go get -u
go get -u

The service makes use of gRPC and as such requires both protoc and protoc-gen-go.

  • Download the protoc binary from releases.
  • Make sure protoc is in your path.
  • Install the protoc plugin for Go: go get -u


In this next step we are going to design our service API. This step being explicit is one of the key differentiator of the Goa framework: Goa lets you think about your APIs independently of any implementation concern and then review that design with all stakeholders before writing the implementation. This is a big boon in larger organizations where different teams may need to implement and consume services. Open the file $HOME/calc/design/design.go and write the following code:

package design

import (
	. ""

var _ = API("calc", func() {
	Title("Calculator Service")
	Description("Service for adding numbers, a Goa teaser")
    Server("calc", func() {
        Host("localhost", func() {

var _ = Service("calc", func() {
	Description("The calc service performs operations on numbers.")

	Method("add", func() {
		Payload(func() {
			Field(1, "a", Int, "Left operand")
			Field(2, "b", Int, "Right operand")
			Required("a", "b")


		HTTP(func() {

		GRPC(func() {

	Files("/openapi.json", "../../gen/http/openapi.json")

The design describes a service named calc defining a single method add. add takes a payload as input that consists of two integers and returns an integer. The method also describes transport mappings to both HTTP and gRPC. The HTTP transport uses URL parameters to carry the input integers while the gRPC transport uses a message (not explicitly shown in the design as it is the default behavior). Both the HTTP and gRPC transports use the status code OK in responses (also the default).

Finally, the design exposes a HTTP file server endpoint which serves the generated OpenAPI specification.

The example above covers a fraction of what Goa can do. More examples can be found in the examples repo. The Goa DSL package GoDoc lists all the DSL keywords together with a description and example usage for each.

Code Generation

goa gen Command

Now that we have a design for our service, we can run the goa gen command to generate the boilerplate code. The command takes the design package import path as an argument. It also accepts the path to the output directory as an optional flag. Since our design package was created under the calc module the command line is:

goa gen calc/design

The command outputs the names of the files it generates. If the target directory is not specified, the command generates the files in the current working directory. The generated files should look like this:

├── calc
│   ├── client.go
│   ├── endpoints.go
│   └── service.go
├── grpc
│   ├── calc
│   │   ├── client
│   │   │   ├── cli.go
│   │   │   ├── client.go
│   │   │   ├── encode_decode.go
│   │   │   └── types.go
│   │   ├── pb
│   │   │   ├── calc.pb.go
│   │   │   └── calc.proto
│   │   └── server
│   │       ├── encode_decode.go
│   │       ├── server.go
│   │       └── types.go
│   └── cli
│       └── calc
│           └── cli.go
└── http
    ├── calc
    │   ├── client
    │   │   ├── cli.go
    │   │   ├── client.go
    │   │   ├── encode_decode.go
    │   │   ├── paths.go
    │   │   └── types.go
    │   └── server
    │       ├── encode_decode.go
    │       ├── paths.go
    │       ├── server.go
    │       └── types.go
    ├── cli
    │   └── calc
    │       └── cli.go
    ├── openapi.json
    └── openapi.yaml

The gen directory contains the calc sub-directory which houses the transport-independent service code. The endpoints.go file creates a Goa endpoint which exposes the transport-agnostic service code to the transport layers.

The grpc directory contains the protocol buffer file (pb/calc.proto) that describes the calc gRPC service as well as the output of the protoc tool (pb/calc.pb.go). The directory also contains the server and client code which hooks up the protoc-generated gRPC server and client code along with the logic to encode and decode requests and responses. Finally the cli subdirectory contains the CLI code to build gRPC requests from the command line.

The http sub-directory describes the HTTP transport which defines server and client code with the logic to encode and decode requests and responses and the CLI code to build HTTP requests from the command line. It also contains the Open API 2.0 specification files in both json and yaml formats.

goa example Command

We can now run the goa example command to generate a basic implementation of the service along with buildable server files that spins up goroutines to start a HTTP and a gRPC server and client files that can make requests to the server.

Note: the code generated by goa gen cannot be edited. This directory is re-generated entirely from scratch each time the command is run (e.g. after the design has changed). This is by design to keep the interface between generated and non generated code clean and using standard Go constructs (i.e. function calls). The code generated by goa example however is your code. You should modify it, add tests to it etc. This command generates a starting point for the service to help bootstrap development - in particular it is NOT meant to be re-run when the design changes. Instead simply edit the files accordingly.

goa example calc/design

The goa example command creates the following files

├── calc.go
├── cmd
│   ├── calc
│   │   ├── grpc.go
│   │   ├── http.go
│   │   └── main.go
│   └── calc-cli
│       ├── grpc.go
│       ├── http.go
│       └── main.go

calc.go contains a dummy implementation of the add method described in the design. The only thing left for us to do is to provide the actual implementation, build, and run the server and client.

Open the file calc.go and implement the Add method:

func (s *calcsrvc) Add(ctx context.Context, p *calc.AddPayload) (res int, err error) {
  return p.A + p.B, nil

The goa example command uses the optional Server DSL described in the design to generate buildable server and client files. It builds one directory in cmd for each Server DSL specified in the design. Here we defined a single server calc which listens for HTTP requests on port 8000.

Building and Running the Service

The generated server and client code are built and run as follows:

go build ./cmd/calc && go build ./cmd/calc-cli

# Run the server

[calcapi] 21:35:36 HTTP "Add" mounted on GET /add/{a}/{b}
[calcapi] 21:35:36 HTTP "../../gen/http/openapi.json" mounted on GET /openapi.json
[calcapi] 21:35:36 serving gRPC method calc.Calc/Add
[calcapi] 21:35:36 HTTP server listening on "localhost:8000"
[calcapi] 21:35:36 gRPC server listening on "localhost:8080"

# Run the client

# Contact HTTP server
$ ./calc-cli --url="http://localhost:8000" calc add --a 1 --b 2

# Contact gRPC server
$ ./calc-cli --url="grpc://localhost:8080" calc add --message '{"a": 1, "b": 2}'

Summary and Next Steps

As you can Goa accelerates service development by making it possible to write the single source of truth from which server and client code as well as documentation is automatically generated. The ability to focus on API design enables a robust and scalable development process where teams can review and agree on APIs prior to starting the implementation. Once the design is finalized the generated code takes care of all the laborious work involved in writing the marshaling and unmarshaling of data including input validation (try calling the calc service using a non-integer value for example).

This example only touches on the basics of Goa, the design overview covers many other aspects. You may also want to take a look at the other examples. Finally, the DSL package GoDoc includes many code snippets and provides a great reference when writing designs.