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Karan Kumar
Karan Kumar

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Protocol Buffers and GRPC in Go

We will cover:

  • Protocol Buffers
  • Protocol Buffer Language
  • Compiling a protocol buffer with protoc
  • GRPC

The code can be found here GitHub

Protocol Buffers

Protocol buffers is a data exchange format similar to JSON. Protobuf vs JSON Both are for serialization, however, the key difference is that Protobuf is binary data –interchange format whereas JSON stores data in human-readable text format.

Protocol Buffers are strongly typed. As per definition by Google: You can update your datastructure without breaking deployed programs that are compiled against the old datastructure format. Interesting right? It is, we will see how that works.

Protocol Buffers allow us to define the data contract between multiple systems. Once a proto-buff file has beenn defined, we can compile it to a target programming language. The output of the compilation will be classes and functions of the target programming language. In Go, protocol buffers can be transported over different transports, such as HTTP/2
and Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP).


Protocol Buffer Language

A protocol buffer is a file, which when compiled, will generate a file accessible to the targetted programming language. In go, it will be a .go file which will be a structs mapping.

Let us write a simple message in protobuf:

syntax 'proto3'

message UserInterace {
  int      index         = 1;
  string   firstName     = 2;
  string   lastName      = 3;
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Here we just define a message type called UserInterface. It we were to write the same using JSON:

  "index": 0,
  "firstName": "John",
  "lastName": "Doe"
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The field names are changed to comply with the JSON style guide, but the essence and structure are the same.

But, what are the sequential numbers(1,2,3) in the protobuf file?

Those are the ordering tags used to serialize and deserialize proto-bufs between two systems. It tells the system to write the data in that particular order with the specified types. So when this proto-buf is compiled for targetted language Go, it will be a struct with the empty default values.

Different types that are used in protobuf:

  • Scalar
  • Enumerations
  • Nested

Scalar Values

Exmaples of scalar type values: int, int32, int64, string, bool etc. These types are converted to the corresponding language types after the compilation.

Since we are using Go in our case, the equivalent types in Go for these scalar types are:


Enumerations (enums)

Lets take an example of a proto file using enums:

syntax 'proto3'
message Schedule {
  enum Days {
    SUNDAY = 0;
    MONDAY = 1;
    FRIDAY = 2;
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And in case we want to assign the same values to multiple enum members:

syntax 'proto3'
message Schedule {
  enum Days {
    option allow_aias = true; 👈
    UNKNOWN  = 0;
    ACTIVE   = 1;
    INACTIVE = 1;
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repeated field is equavalent to array/list:

message CarInfo {
  string type = 1;
  repeated string cars = 2;
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This means, the cars could be []string like ["bmw", "toyota", "honda"].

Nested Fields

We can also use message as a type for another message.


message User{
  string firstName  = 1;
  string lastName  = 2;
  repeated Comment comments= 3;

message Comment{
  int id = 1;
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Compiling Protocol Buffer with protoc

To transfer data between the systems, we will make use of the compiled files from the proto proto files. We will make use of the structs (gotten from the compiled files) to create the binary data.

Steps we will follow:

  1. Install the protoc comman-line tool and the proto library
  2. Write .proto file
  3. Compile the file for Go target language
  4. Import the structs from the generated file and create data using those
  5. Serialize the data into binary format and send it to the other system
  6. On the remote machine, de-serialize the data and consume it

We will install he protoc command line from

I am on windows, so I will install download the latest stable package and set the environment variable from Edit the system environment variable setting in the control panel.

Download and unzip (for Windows) :

  • I will extract it in the C:\Program Files\protoc folder (by creating the protoc folder). It must now have bin folder.
  • Now search for Edit the system environment variable setting on start menu, double click on Path in the list.
  • Now click on New and then Browse...
  • Browse until C:\Program Files\protoc\bin and click ok.
  • Now open a fresh terminal and type protoc --version to confirm the installation. The output must be:
$ protoc --version
libprotoc 3.17.3
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For MAC and Linux

On mac

$ brew install protobuf

On Ubuntu or Linux, we can copy protoc to the /usr/bin folder:

Make sure you grab the latest version

curl -OL


unzip -d protoc3

Move only protoc* to /usr/bin/

sudo mv protoc3/bin/protoc /usr/bin/protoc

After installing and setting up the command line tool, make sure you are able to access it from your terminal:

$ protoc --version
libprotoc 3.17.3
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Now in our project directory, create a new folder protofiles and then in it let us create a proto file representing/modeling a person's information:


syntax = "proto3"
package protofiles;
option go_package = "./";

message Person {
  string     name     =    1;
  int32      id       =    2;
  string     email    =    3;
  repeated   PhoneNumber  phones = 4;

  enum PhoneType {
    MOBILE  =  0;
    HOME    =  1;
    WORK    =  2;

  message PhoneNumber {
    string      number  = 1;
    PhoneType   type    = 2;

message AddressBook {
  repeated   Person  people = 1;
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So we just created two main messages called Person and AddressBook. The AddressBook contains the list of Persons.
A person has a name, id, email and list of PhoneNumbers.

The second line package protofiles is the package name for go to compile.

To compile our person.proto proto-buf file, cd to the protofiles directory and run:

  1. go get -u
    protoc-gen-go is a plugin for the Google protocol buffer compiler to generate Go code.

  2. protoc --go_out=. *.proto
    this will create a Go target file in the present working directory from where the command is run (the dot) and make use of all the proto files to do so

This will generate a person.pb.go file. If you open this file you will see that it contains the auto generated code for us.
This will have multiple getter and setter methods for the structs to get and set the values.

Once done, make sure you push the repository on github to import the package in the main.go file.

Now let us write code to create Person struct from the auto generated file/package(person.pb.go) and serialize it into a buffer string using the proto package.


package main

import (
    pb ""

func main() {

    // using the profo created struct
    p := &pb.Person{
        Id: 1234,
        Name: "John Doe",
        Email: "",
        Phones: []*pb.Person_PhoneNumber{
            {Number: "555-444", Type: pb.Person_HOME},

    // Serializing the struct and assigning it to body
    body, _ := proto.Marshal(p)

    // De-serializing the body and saving it to p1 for testing
    p1 := &pb.Person{}
    _ = proto.Unmarshal(body, p1)

    fmt.Println("Original struct loaded from proto file:", p)
    fmt.Println("Marshalled proto data: ", body)
    fmt.Println("Unmarshalled struct: ", p1)

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Let us run the code now using go run main.go:

$ go run main.go
Original struct loaded from proto file: name:"John Doe" id:1234
email:"" phones:{number:"555-444" type:HOME}

Marshalled proto data:  [10 8 74 111 104 110 32 68 111 101 16
210 9 26 13 116 101 115 116 64 116 101 115 116 46 99 111 109 34
11 10 7 53 53 53 45 52 52 52 16 1]

Unmarshalled struct:  name:"John Doe" id:1234 email:""
phones:{number:"555-444" type:HOME}
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The second output is the binary bytes which has been serialized into by the proto library. This serialized binary data needs a medium to move between the two or more systems. This is where gRPC kicks in. Using gRPC (Google Remote Procedure Call), a server and client(not frontend) can talk which each other in the protocol buffer format.


GRPC is a transport mechanism that sends and receives messages (protocol buffers) between two systems. The two parties are referred to as server and client.

The main advantage of gRPC is that it can be understood by multiple programming languages (via their respective grpc packages mostly) making the communication easy between different tech stacks

We need to install the grpc Go library and a protoc-gen plugin before writing the
services. Install them using the following commands:

go get

go get -u (already did in the previous section)

In this section we will create a money transaction service which will communicate over GRPC:

  1. Create a proto-buf with the definistion of service and messages
  2. Compile the protocol buffer file
  3. Use the generated file package to create a gRPC server
  4. Create a gRPC client to talk to the server

We will follow the SAME steps to create protobuf and compile package as we did in the last example.

Let us create a transaction.proto file nad put it in the protofiles directory.

syntax = "proto3";
package protofiles;
option go_package = "./";

message TransactionRequest {
  string    from   =   1;
  string    to     =   2;
  float     amount =   3;

message TransactionResponse {
  bool     confirmation = 1;

service MoneyTransaction {
  rpc MakeTransaction(TransactionRequest) returns (TransactionResponse) {}
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The new keyword service defines the GRPC service. Here we are defining another type (type of function) for our RPC system, which will take in a type of TransactionRequest and return a TransactionResponse. Once compiled using protoc, the compiled file will contain an interface to invoke this function.

Read more here:

Now let us cd into the parent directory to the protofiles directory and run the command to compile the transaction.proto:

$ ls


$ protoc -I protofiles/ protofiles/transaction.proto --go_out=plugins=grpc:protofiles

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NOTE This time we have used a grpc plugin to compile the package.

Now ls protofiles/ to confirm if the go package has been compiled:

-a----        06-09-2021     16:13           7672 transaction.pb.go
-a----        06-09-2021     16:13            357 transaction.proto
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Now let us setup the GRPC server. The code explanation is done in the code comments:

Create a folder and file server/main.go

package main

import (
    pb ""

type server struct{}

func main() {

    // NewServer creates a gRPC server which has no service registered and has not started
    // to accept requests yet.
    s := grpc.NewServer()
    lis, err := net.Listen("tcp", ":8000")
    if err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("Failed to listen: %v", err)

    // We are making use of the function that compiled proto made for us to register
    // our GRPC server so that the clients can make use of the functions tide to our
    // server remotely via the GRPC server (like MakeTransaction function)

    // The first argument is the grpc server instance
    // The second argument is the service who's methods we want to expose (in our case)
    // we have put it in this program only
    pb.RegisterMoneyTransactionServer(s, &server{})

    // Serve accepts incoming connections on the listener lis, creating a new ServerTransport
    // and service goroutine for each. The service goroutines read gRPC requests and then
    // call the registered handlers to reply to them.
    err = s.Serve(lis)
    if err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("Failed to serve: %v", err)


// [ctx] is used by the goroutines to interact with GRPC
// [in] is the type of TransactionRequest
    This function signature matches the service that we mentioned in the protobuf
func (s *server) MakeTransaction(ctx context.Context, in *pb.TransactionRequest) (*pb.TransactionResponse, error) {
    // Business logic will come here
    fmt.Println("Got amount ", in.Amount)
    fmt.Println("Got from ", in.From)
    fmt.Println("For ", in.To)
    // Returning a response of type Transaction Response
    return &pb.TransactionResponse{Confirmation: true}, nil
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This is it for the server side. The idea is that if the client makes a request to invoke the MakeTransaction function remotely, the server should go ahead and execute it (here it will only print the data received).

Now let us write down code for the client side as well:

Folder and file : client/main.go

package main

import (
    pb ""

// grpc server address
const address = "localhost:8000"

func main() {
    // Set up connection with the grpc server
    conn, err := grpc.Dial(address, grpc.WithInsecure())
    if err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("Error while making connection, %v", err)

    // Create a client instance
    c := pb.NewMoneyTransactionClient(conn)

    // Lets invoke the remote function from client on the server
            From: "John",
            To: "Alice",
            Amount: float32(120.15),
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This client code will make connection to the grpc server we created through the GRPC package and make use of the protofile to run the MakeTransaction function remotely.

Now if we run both together. First we will run the server code:

cd server
go run main.go

This will start the server code, now open a new terminal and start the client code as well. As soon as we do that, we should see the logs on the server side terminal.

cd client
go run main.go

That's it, the client now made a connection with the server and invoked the MakeTransaction function remotely.
The server must have the following logs:

$ go run main.go
Got amount  120.15
Got from  John
For  Alice
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Congratulations, you have successfully created the server and client side grpc connection. A gRPC client can request a gRPC server to perform a computationheavy/secure operation. The client can be a mobile device too.

The code can be found here GitHub

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