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<2012-10-10> by Lorenzo

URL Counter in GO

After having tinkered with Haskell for quite a bit, I decided that I needed some rest from theory and esoteric concepts, and a more pragmatic programming language to explore.

I've spent the last few days refreshing my memories on Go: I hadn't touched it for almost 2 years and I must say that I find it changed: for the better.

Here is a short tutorial on how to write a simple web application in Go, and publish it on Google App Engine. The application is not a mere exercise, but scratches an itch I recently had: it counts how many times each of its handlers is hit. So, for example, visiting: http://go-count-urls.appspot.com/hello returns how many times the /hello handler has been visited. You can use it as a trivial real-time tracker.

For example, I used it to verify that an email I sent to someone was actually opened (and presumably read). I just picked a random URL path (like http://go-count-urls.appspot.com/random-string-here) and created an html email with an empty img tag pointing to it: <img src"http://go-count-urls.appspot.com/random-string-here" width=0 height=0 />=. Every time the email client opens the email, it requires that URL and the hit is recorded. I admit that this use is pretty lame, and that there are other services doing this, but I needed a real-world problem to work on!

So here we go!

Setup your development environment

First of all, download and install the App Engine Go software development kit. Then create the following directory structure:


Show me the code!

The whole application is made of just one file =[counter.go=]6. Here it is, comments inline:

package counter
import (

// Object to store in Google's Datastore. Keeps track of how many times a
// URL was hit and when.
type Counter struct {
    Path      string
    Count     int
    Timestamp time.Time

// Return a brand new Counter
func getEmptyCounter(path string) Counter {
    return Counter{Path: path, Count: 0, Timestamp: time.Now()}

// Increment the counter for a URL. If it's the first time this URL is
// visited, create a brand new Counter before incrementing it.
// On error, return and empty counter and an error.
func inc(c appengine.Context, key *datastore.Key, path string) (Counter, error)
    var x Counter

    if err := datastore.Get(c, key, &amp;x); err != nil &amp;&amp; err !=
datastore.ErrNoSuchEntity {
        return getEmptyCounter(path), err

    // Increment it, and update the last modified time
    x.Path = path
    x.Timestamp = time.Now()

    // Save the counter
    if _, err := datastore.Put(c, key, &amp;x); err != nil {
        return getEmptyCounter(path), err

    return x, nil

// This is the only handler. It just picks the paths, removed the leading
// slash and stores it in the Datastore. As a key in the Datastore, the URL
// itself is used.
func handle(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {

    key := r.URL.Path[1:]
    if key == "" {
        // Return 404 on the root handler (we might want a splash page here...)
        http.NotFound(w, r)
    } else if key == "favicon.ico" {
        // We are not interested in tracking favicon.ico

    c := appengine.NewContext(r)

    // For how to use the Datastore see
    count, err := inc(c, datastore.NewKey(c, key, "singleton", 0, nil),
    if err != nil {
        http.Error(w, err.Error(), http.StatusInternalServerError)

    // Write something
    w.Header().Set("Content-Type", "text/plain; charset=utf-8")
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "Path=%s, Count=%d, When=%s", count.Path, count.Count,

// Initialize the application, binding URLS to handlers.
func init() {
    http.HandleFunc("/", handle)

Try it out!

Launch the application using the SDK; from go-count-urls directory type:

$> $GAE_PATH/dev_appserver.py .

Now visit http://localhost:8080/hello. Refresh. Refresh again. And again…


Publishing the application on Google infrastructure is a matter of seconds:

$> $GAE_PATH/appcfg.py update .

You can visit it at: http://go-count-urls.appspot.com/hello. The code is available here: https://github.com/lbolla/go-count-urls.