Design First API Development with Goa

Tue, Jan 9, 2024 7-minute read is a golang tool for developing APIs using a design first approach. By leveraging Goa it is possible to generate server and client code automatically, documentation through OpenAPI (version 2 and 3 are supported) as well as gRPC code.

This blog post introduces Goa, it’s concepts and showcases some short examples. It does not walk through the installation, or intend to supersede its tutorial/walkthrough which you should look over, here

Goa is broken into three parts; the design language (DSL), code generation and the Go package itself.

What is a DSL?

A DSL (Domain-Specific Language) is a programming language or a set of rules and syntax specifically designed to solve problems within a particular domain or industry. It provides a higher-level abstraction that allows programmers to express solutions in a more concise and declarative manner.

The above statement sums it up succinctly. In our case the domain or industry specifics relate to HTTP and RPC communication via network calls. A lot of API work is boilerplate and can be hard to implement all the things considered best practise. Goa strives to reduce the amount of programmer work required to build out well crafted APIs.

Instead of writing out an OpenAPI document and then converting it to Go code such as oapi-codegen, Goa uses its DSL to generate it (and the code).

Personally, I find the DSL quite powerful and easy to understand. What’s more, it starts simple but provides rich ways to extend it as your requirements dictate. The creator (raphael) is also very active on github and golang’s slack.

Here’s a snippet of the DSL.

package design

import . ""

// API describes the global properties of the API server.
var _ = API("check-redirects", func() {
	Title("HTTP Redirection Detection Service")
	Description("HTTP service detecting and reporting any and all redirects in a HTTP request")
	Server("server", func() {
		Host("localhost", func() { URI("http://localhost:9090") })

var _ = Service("health", func() {
	Description("endpoints for determining service uptime and status")
	HTTP(func() {
	Method("healthz", func() {
		HTTP(func() {
	Method("version", func() {
		HTTP(func() {
var AppVersion = Type("version", func() {
	Description("Application version information")
	Attribute("version", String, "Application version", func() {

Without going too deep right now, this will create an API called server, a service called health and within the health service build two endpoints; healthz and version. A custom type called version will also be created and used in the /version endpoint.

The DSL provides an abstraction which lets you craft your API in a declarative way. One big benefit is its just Go code meaning you can easily extend, simplify or create generic functions when working with it.

Code generation

Writing the DSL by itself does not generate code or documentation. The goa CLI does that. Specifically, goa gen.

After installing Goa, you can generate the client and server code.

To generate the code run goa gen. Typically, Goa suggests a pattern of placing all DSL files into a directory called design. You don’t have to do this, but I think it makes sense for most use cases.

For the above code snippet, if it were at this path design/design.go you would run goa gen In this example is my module that I used during go mod init.

Example generation

With this directory structure:

├── design
│   └── design.go
├── go.mod
└── go.sum

After I run goa gen, it will create a directory called gen with the following files:

├── design
│   └── design.go
├── gen # New
│   ├── health
│   │   ├── client.go
│   │   ├── endpoints.go
│   │   └── service.go
│   └── http
│       ├── cli
│       │   └── server
│       │       └── cli.go
│       ├── health
│       │   ├── client
│       │   │   ├── client.go
│       │   │   ├── cli.go
│       │   │   ├── encode_decode.go
│       │   │   ├── paths.go
│       │   │   └── types.go
│       │   └── server
│       │       ├── encode_decode.go
│       │       ├── paths.go
│       │       ├── server.go
│       │       └── types.go
│       ├── openapi3.json
│       ├── openapi3.yaml
│       ├── openapi.json
│       └── openapi.yaml
├── go.mod
└── go.sum

Now we have our Go code which we can import into our services. Note, this is all auto generated and should not be edited as it’ll be overwritten whenever we run goa gen.

Creating the services

Now that the package code has been generated we can create the entrypoint, and service files automatically with another command; goa example. Running this results in some new files:

├── cmd # New
│   ├── server
│   │   ├── http.go
│   │   └── main.go
│   └── server-cli
│       ├── http.go
│       └── main.go
├── design
│   └── design.go
├── gen # Truncated for brevity
├── go.mod
├── go.sum
└── health.go # New

Unlike goa gen this is a one-shot deal; if the generated files already exist it will not re-create them. This is because all your business logic will be inside these files and it may override things you don’t want overridden.

If we peek at health.go it will have stubbed out all the handlers, ready to be populated which your business logic.

package checkredirects

import (

	health ""

// health service example implementation.
// The example methods log the requests and return zero values.
type healthsrvc struct {
	logger *log.Logger

// NewHealth returns the health service implementation.
func NewHealth(logger *log.Logger) health.Service {
	return &healthsrvc{logger}

// Healthz implements healthz.
func (s *healthsrvc) Healthz(ctx context.Context) (err error) {

// Version implements version.
func (s *healthsrvc) Version(ctx context.Context) (res *health.Version2, err error) {
	res = &health.Version2{}

So after writing only 40 lines (design/design.go) we were able to auto generate a complete and working web server with two endpoints.

The responses as expected do not return anything but work as demonstrated below.

$ curlie :9090/healthz
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Tue, 09 Jan 2024 04:44:21 GMT
Content-Length: 0

$ curlie :9090/version
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/json
Date: Tue, 09 Jan 2024 04:44:28 GMT
Content-Length: 3



Another great feature of Goa is how well it documents the code and that it can generate valid OpenAPI documents.

This is the document it created:

openapi: 3.0.3
    title: HTTP Redirection Detection Service
    description: HTTP service detecting and reporting any and all redirects in a HTTP request
    version: 0.0.1
    - url: http://localhost:9090
                - health
            summary: healthz health
            operationId: health#healthz
                    description: OK response.
                - health
            summary: version health
            operationId: health#version
                    description: OK response.
                                $ref: '#/components/schemas/Version'
                                version: 6b51bebe0f965a5fffa8ff9db5aa702c76ec47f2
            type: object
                    type: string
                    description: Application version
                    example: 6b51bebe0f965a5fffa8ff9db5aa702c76ec47f2
                version: 6b51bebe0f965a5fffa8ff9db5aa702c76ec47f2
    - name: health
      description: endpoints for determining service uptime and status

Goa also provides powerful constructs to enhance the documents. For example to define a field on a schema we can use Attribute or Field type. For this post we’re only focusing on HTTP which uses Attribute whereas Field is for both HTTP and gRPC.

Example of a Goa Payload and how we can add more context to it.

// Truncated
Payload(func() {
    Attribute("username", String, "Username", func () {
// Truncated

This will create an OpenAPI document which provides an example of MyUsername. The Pattern will also enforce the regex and automatically handle payload validation without the need to write any logic.


This post sought to introduce Goa in the most simple of terms. It hardly scratches the surface of its capabilities. I chose the most simplistic example I could because it will lay the groundwork for some follow-up posts which show how to add more realistic endpoints. In the next post I will create a service which accepts and returns JSON leveraging Goa’s Type, Error and Payload DSL primitives. This will be published with source code.

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