Hackernoon logoGo: The Complete Guide to Profiling Your Code by@josie

Go: The Complete Guide to Profiling Your Code

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@josieAli Josie

Software Engineer at Harlem Next

Go is a programming language often used for applications in which performance matters. Optimizing your code based on assumptions is not a best practice of course. You need to have insights about your code performance and bottlenecks to be able to optimize it efficiently.

What is a profiler?

Profiler is a dynamic performance analysis tool that provides critical
execution insights in various dimensions which enable resolving
performance issues, locating memory leaks, thread contention and more.

Go comes with built-in support for profiling!

What kinds of profiles can I get?

Go has several built in profiles:

  • Goroutine: stack traces of all current Goroutines
  • CPU: stack traces of CPU returned by runtime
  • Heap: a sampling of memory allocations of live objects
  • Allocation: a sampling of all past memory allocations
  • Thread: stack traces that led to the creation of new OS threads
  • Block: stack traces that led to blocking on synchronization primitives
  • Mutex: stack traces of holders of contended mutexes

How to get a profile?

There are a few ways to create a profile.

1. Using “go test” to generate profile

Support for profiling built into the standard testing package. As an example, the following command runs all benchmarks and writes CPU and memory profile to


go test -cpuprofile cpu.prof -memprofile mem.prof -bench .

2. Download live profile using HTTP

If you need to have a live profile in a long-running service, package

is your ultimate solution. Solely import the package in your code and you are good to go:

import _ "net/http/pprof"

The initialization of this package is the reason you need to import it solely.

func init() {
	http.HandleFunc("/debug/pprof/", Index)
	http.HandleFunc("/debug/pprof/cmdline", Cmdline)
	http.HandleFunc("/debug/pprof/profile", Profile)
	http.HandleFunc("/debug/pprof/symbol", Symbol)
	http.HandleFunc("/debug/pprof/trace", Trace)

As you can see the package initialization registers handlers for the given URL in

. These handlers write the profile into a
which you can download. Now the only thing you need to do is running a HTTP server with a

func init() {
	go func() {
		http.ListenAndServe(":1234", nil)

Note that if you already run your http server with

, you don’t need to run another server and profiles are available on your server.

Now, you can download live profile data from the


3. Profiling in code


, You can also profile directly within the code. For example you can start a CPU profile using
and then stop it by
. Now you have the CPU profile written to the given

But wait, there is an easier option. Dave Cheney has developed a package named

which can make profiling easy as pie. First you have to get the package using following command (or using Go modules):

go get github.com/pkg/profile

Then you can use it like this:

func main() {
	defer profile.Start(profile.ProfilePath(".")).Stop()
	// do something

Above code will write CPU profile into

in working directory. The default has been set to CPU profiling but you can pass options to
to be able to get other profiles as well.

// CPUProfile enables cpu profiling. Note: Default is CPU
defer profile.Start(profile.CPUProfile).Stop()

// GoroutineProfile enables goroutine profiling.
// It returns all Goroutines alive when defer occurs.
defer profile.Start(profile.GoroutineProfile).Stop()

// BlockProfile enables block (contention) profiling.
defer profile.Start(profile.BlockProfile).Stop()

// ThreadcreationProfile enables thread creation profiling.
defer profile.Start(profile.ThreadcreationProfile).Stop()

// MemProfileHeap changes which type of memory profiling to 
// profile the heap.
defer profile.Start(profile.MemProfileHeap).Stop()

// MemProfileAllocs changes which type of memory to profile 
// allocations.
defer profile.Start(profile.MemProfileAllocs).Stop()

// MutexProfile enables mutex profiling.
defer profile.Start(profile.MutexProfile).Stop()

How to use a profile?

So we have collected the profile data, what now?

pprof is a tool for visualization and analysis of profiling data. It reads a collection of profiling samples in

format and generates reports to visualize and help analyze the data. It can generate both text and graphical reports.

All of the ways that mentioned above are using

under the hood and this package writes runtime profiling data in the format expected by the pprof visualization tool.

Write A Simple Code To Profile

For a better understanding, I’ve written the below code to profile. It is a simple HTTP server which handles requests on

URL. Every request comes in, the
function will declare a
chan int
and create a child Goroutine at line 16. The child will decode the given JSON log within the
and if it was successful it does a time consuming (~400 millisecond) write and then sends
. Meanwhile the
function blocks on select statement (line 27) until either when the child sends the result to
(line 24) or when a timeout happens (line 30).

import (
	_ "net/http/pprof"

func main() {
	http.HandleFunc("/log", logHandler)
	http.ListenAndServe(":8080", nil)

func logHandler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
	ch := make(chan int)
	go func() {
		obj := make(map[string]float64)
		if err := json.NewDecoder(r.Body).Decode(&obj); err != nil {
			ch <- http.StatusBadRequest
		// simulation of a time consuming process like writing logs into db
		time.Sleep(time.Duration(rand.Intn(400)) * time.Millisecond)
		ch <- http.StatusOK

	select {
	case status := <-ch:
	case <-time.After(200 * time.Millisecond):

I’ve compiled and run the code and have sent some loads to it using hey. Here is the output:

  Total:        0.8292 secs
  Slowest:      0.2248 secs
  Fastest:      0.0039 secs
  Average:      0.1574 secs
  Requests/sec: 241.1882Latency 

  10% in 0.0409 secs
  25% in 0.1143 secs
  50% in 0.2007 secs
  75% in 0.2013 secs
  90% in 0.2093 secs
  95% in 0.2187 secs
  99% in 0.2245 secsStatus code 

  [200] 87 responses
  [408] 113 responses

pprof Basics

After writing, running, and sending load to our service, it is time to run the pprof tool on the profile of the service to see which functions were the most consuming ones during the load.

Install pprof Tool

You can use

go tool pprof
command or install pprof to use it directly.

go get -u github.com/google/pprof

Run pprof On Interactive Mode

Now let’s run pprof on allocated objects using the following command:

pprof -alloc_objects http://:8080/debug/pprof/allocs

This will open a simple interactive shell that takes pprof commands to generate reports.

Now enter the command

, the output will be the top memory consumers.

Dropped Nodes

As you can see in the output, 11 nodes has been dropped (line 3). A node is an object entry and dropping a node can help to reduce the noise, but sometimes it may hide the root cause of the issue.

Adding the

flag or assigning it directly inside the attractive shell will include all data of the profile in the result.

Difference Between Flat And Cumulative

In the above output, you can see two columns,

. Flat means only by this function, while cum (cumulative) means by this function and functions called down the stack. For better understanding, let’s assume the following function, the flat time of function
is 4s and the cum is 11s.

func A() {
   B()             // takes 1s
   DO STH DIRECTLY // takes 4s
   C()             // takes 6s

Difference Between Allocations And Heap Profile

An important note to consider is that the difference between the allocations and heap profile is the way the pprof tool reads them at start time. Allocations profile will start pprof in a mode which displays the total number of allocated objects since the program began which includes garbage collected ones as well, but heap profile will start in a mode that displays number of live allocated objects which does not include garbage collected bytes.

That means in the pprof tool you can change the mode regardless of the
profile type (heap or allocations). It can be done using the following values. You can either set them as a pprof flag or assign them to

inside the pprof interactive shell:

  • inuse_space
    : amount of memory allocated and not released yet (heap)
  • inuse_objects
    : amount of objects allocated and not released yet (heap)
  • alloc_space
    : total amount of memory allocated (regardless of released)
  • alloc_objects
    : total amount of objects allocated (regardless of released)

Get An SVG Graph From The Profile

You can generate a graph of your profile in an SVG format, and open it
with a web browser. The following command will request for a 5s CPU
profile and will launch a browser with an SVG file.

pprof -web http://:8080/debug/pprof/profile?seconds=5

Run pprof Via A Web Interface

One of the useful pprof features is the web interface. If the

flag is specified, pprof starts a web server at the specified host:por that provides an interactive web-based interface to pprof.

pprof -http :8080 http://:8080/debug/pprof/goroutine

The preceding command should automatically open your web browser at the right page; if not, you can manually visit the specified port in your web browser.

Monitoring Goroutines From Command Line

As you can see in the Goroutine profile, 115 Goroutines are alive which is not normal for idle service. It should be a Goroutine leak. So let’s check Goroutines status using the grmon tool. grmon is a command line monitoring for Goroutines. Let’s install it and run it on host that is serving the profile data:

go get -u github.com/bcicen/grmon
grmon -host :8080

The output is:

It seems the

function blocks on a
chan send
action. After reviewing the code I found the bug. It has occurred due to sending into an unguaranteed channel. I’ve fixed that by turn the
to a buffered one channel (line 15). It was the very same mistake that I have mentioned this post.

How does a profiler work?

Although stack traces generated by profilers are often intelligible, it is sometimes necessary to understand how profilers work under the hood to get even more details from the generated profiles.

CPU Profiler

The Go CPU profiler uses a

signal to record code execution statistics. Once the signal got registered, it will deliver every specified time interval. This timer unlike typical timers will increment when the CPU is executing the process. The signal will interrupt code execution and make it possible to see which code was interrupted.

When the

function is called, the
signal handler will be registered to call every 10 milliseconds interval by default (100 Hz). On Unix, it uses a setitimer(2) syscall to set the signal timer.

On every invocation signal, the handler will trace back the execution by unwinding it from the current PC value. This will generate a stack trace and increment its hit count. The whole process will result in a list of stack traces grouped by the number of times each stack trace is seen.

After the profiler is stopped, the stack traces will be converted to pprof-supported stack frames with source file names, line numbers and function names.

Memory Profiler

The memory profiler samples heap allocations. It will show function calls allocations. Recording all allocation and unwinding thestack trace would be expensive, therefore a sampling technique is used.

The sampling process relies on a pseudo random number generator based on exponential distribution to sample only a fraction of allocations. The generated numbers define the distance between samples in terms of allocated memory size. This means that only allocations that cross the next random sampling point will be sampled.

The sampling rate defines the mean of exponential distribution . The default value is 512 KB which is specified by the

. That means to tune the size of the fraction to be sampled, you have to change
value. Setting the value to 1, will include every allocated block in the profile. Obviously this will slow down your application.

Stack traces with corresponding sampled allocations information is available any time, since the memory allocation profiler is always active. Setting the

to 0, will turn off the memory sampling entirely.

Once the stack traces got ready, those will be converted to pprof-supported stack frames.

Also published here.


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