Context in Go

1 minute read

The context package standardizes a way of running go routines which are cancellable. Each context.Context object can have children, and when a parent is cancelled, so are its children.


A go routine with context has a context object as its first argument:

go heartbeatMessage(ctx, d, msg)

Creating Context Objects

Context objects represent a tree, the root of the tree is the Background:

ctx := context.Background()

From the background context, we can create:

ctx, cancel := context.WithCancel(ctx)
ctx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(ctx, time.Second)

If a timeout is specified, the context will automatically be cancelled when the timeout expires.

Note: cancel must always be called regardless of whether the timeout is triggered. We can safely call cancel multiple times; only the first call matters. A good pattern is to use defer:

ctx, cancel := context.WithCancel(ctx)
defer cancel()

Determining if a context has been cancelled

The go routine determines when it is cancelled by checking:


Simple example

The following is a simple heartbeat which either times out or gets cancelled by context.

package main

import (

func heartbeatMsg(ctx context.Context, 
                  d time.Duration, msg string) {
	for {
		select {
		case <-time.After(d):
		case <-ctx.Done():
			fmt.Println("Ending heartbeat")

func main() {
	ctx := context.Background()
	ctx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(ctx, 2*time.Second)
	defer cancel()
	go heartbeatMsg(ctx, 200*time.Millisecond, "ba-dum")
	select {
	case <-time.After(1*time.Second):
		fmt.Println("Cancel context")
	case <-ctx.Done():
		fmt.Println("Context timeout triggered")
	// let heartbeat end properly