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Using Go-Flags in Golang A Comprehensive Guide

By David Li on 2023-05-30T19:37:46.189Z

Using GoFlags in Golang

Go, also known as Golang, is a statically-typed, compiled language developed by Google. One of the many reasons developers love Go is its simplicity and ease of use. When it comes to command-line tools and applications, argument parsing is an important aspect to consider. That’s where the go-flags library comes in. This versatile and powerful package is designed to parse command-line arguments in Go applications, making it easy to define and use flags.

In this article, we will explore the go-flags library, how to install it, and how to use it effectively in your Go programs.

Table of Contents

  1. Installing go-flags
  2. Defining Flags
  3. Parsing Flags
  4. Nested Commands
  5. Error Handling
  6. Help Messages
  7. Conclusion

Installing go-flags

To get started, you’ll need to install the go-flags package. You can do this by running the following command:

go get -u github.com/jessevdk/go-flags

This will download and install the go-flags package in your Go workspace.

Defining Flags

Before you can use go-flags, you must define your flags. Flags are defined using Go’s struct tags. To define a flag, create a struct field with the appropriate type and add a short and/or long tag with the desired flag name. You can also provide a description tag for documentation purposes.

Here’s an example of a struct with some flags defined:

import "github.com/jessevdk/go-flags"

type Options struct {
    Verbose bool `short:"v" long:"verbose" description:"Show verbose debug information"`
    Port    int  `short:"p" long:"port" description:"Port to listen on" default:"8080"`
    Config  string `short:"c" long:"config" description:"Path to the configuration file"`

In this example, we’ve defined three flags: verbose, port, and config. The verbose flag is a boolean, while port is an integer, and config is a string.

Parsing Flags

After defining your flags, you can now parse the command-line arguments using the flags.Parse function. Here’s an example of how you can parse flags and use them in your program:

package main

import (

func main() {
    var opts Options
    _, err := flags.Parse(&opts)
    if err != nil {
        // Handle error

    fmt.Printf("Verbose: %v\n", opts.Verbose)
    fmt.Printf("Port: %d\n", opts.Port)
    fmt.Printf("Config: %s\n", opts.Config)

If you run this program with the following command:

./myprog -v -p 9000 --config=config.toml

The output will be:

Verbose: true
Port: 9000
Config: config.toml

Nested Commands

go-flags also supports nested commands. This is useful when building complex command-line tools that have multiple subcommands. To define a nested command, you create a struct field with the command tag and the desired command name.

Here’s an example of a program with two nested commands, serve and version:

type ServeCommand struct {
	Port int `short:"p" long:"port" description:"Port to listen on" default:"8080"`

type VersionCommand struct {
	Revision bool `short:"r" long:"revision" description:"Show revision number"`

type Options struct {
	Serve   ServeCommand   `command:"serve" description:"Start the server"`
	Version VersionCommand `command:"version" description:"Show version information"`

To handle the execution of the nested commands, you can use the flags.Command struct and flags.Parse function:

func main() {
	var opts Options
	parser := flags.NewParser(&opts, flags.Default)

	cmd, err := parser.Parse()
	if err != nil {
		// Handle error

	switch cmd.Name {
	case "serve":
		fmt.Printf("Starting server on port %d\n", opts.Serve.Port)
	case "version":
		fmt.Println("Version 1.0")
		if opts.Version.Revision {
			fmt.Println("Revision: 12345")

Error Handling

When parsing flags, go-flags returns an error if the user provides invalid or unexpected input. It’s important to handle these errors appropriately in your program.

Here’s an example of how to handle errors when parsing flags:

func main() {
    var opts Options
    _, err := flags.Parse(&opts)
    if err != nil {
        // Check the specific error type
        if flagsErr, ok := err.(*flags.Error); ok {
            // If it's a help request, print the help message and exit gracefully
            if flagsErr.Type == flags.ErrHelp {
        // For other errors, print the error message and exit with a non-zero status
        fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Error: %v\n", err)

In this example, we check if the error is of type flags.Error. If it’s a help request (e.g., the user typed -h or --help), we print the help message and exit gracefully. For other errors, we print the error message and exit with a non-zero status to indicate that an error occurred.

Help Messages

One of the great features of go-flags is that it automatically generates help messages based on your flag definitions. By default, when the user types -h or --help, go-flags will display a help message and return a flags.ErrHelp error.

The help message includes the flag names, their types, default values, and descriptions. You can customize the help message by providing a description tag for each flag, as shown in the examples above.

Here’s an example of a generated help message:

  myprog [OPTIONS]

Application Options:
  -v, --verbose  Show verbose debug information
  -p, --port     Port to listen on (default: 8080)
  -c, --config   Path to the configuration file

Help Options:
  -h, --help     Show this help message


In this article, we’ve explored the go-flags library and how to use it effectively in your Go programs. We’ve seen how to define and parse flags, handle nested commands, manage errors, and leverage the built-in help messages.

By using go-flags, you can make your command-line tools and applications more user-friendly and maintainable. Give it a try in your next Go project, and you’ll quickly appreciate the power and flexibility it offers.

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