The proposal to enhance Go’s HTTP router

July 2023

Go’s standard library has always included a solid, production-quality HTTP server. However, the built-in request router, http.ServeMux, is so minimalist that you often need to write your own routing code.

In particular, it doesn’t support matching on the HTTP method (to distinguish GET and POST, for example), and it doesn’t have support for wildcard paths such as /users/{user}/settings. Both of those features are needed by almost all REST-like API servers.

You can do those things yourself, of course. I’ve written before about different approaches to HTTP routing in Go: there are several good third party packages that do more advanced routing, and it only takes 30 or so lines of code to add similar functionality without any third party library.

But it’s likely that the workarounds and third party packages might not be needed for long. There’s an active proposal – including a reference implementation – to enhance ServeMux to match HTTP methods and wildcard paths.

The proposal, as well as the prior discussion, is headed by Jonathan Amsterdam of Google’s Go team. Jonathan was responsible for the successful proposal to add structured logging to the standard library – his log/slog package will be included in Go 1.21 (due out in August 2023).

What it looks like

Currently, if you want to match GET requests to /users/{user}/settings, you have to write a bunch of boilerplate like this (though in practice you’d probably end up using a third party library):

mux.HandleFunc("/users/", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    if r.Method != "GET" {
        http.Error(w, "method not allowed", http.StatusMethodNotAllowed)
    remainder := r.URL.Path[len("/users/"):]
    userId, subPath, _ := strings.Cut(remainder, "/")
    switch subPath {
    case "settings":
        fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", userId)
    // cases for other sub-paths could go here
        http.NotFound(w, r)

If the proposal is accepted, you’ll be able to write this:

mux.HandleFunc("GET /users/{user}/settings", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", r.PathValue("user"))

Much nicer!

It’s also very similar to the syntax used by other popular routers:

router.Get("/users/{user}/settings", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", chi.URLParam(r, "slug"))

router.HandleFunc("/users/{user}/settings", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", mux.Vars(r)["user"])

router.Get("/users/:user/settings", http.HandlerFunc(func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", r.URL.Query().Get(":user"))

router.GET("/users/:user/settings", func(c *gin.Context) {
    fmt.Fprintf(w, "user %s", c.Param("user"))

One of the interesting decisions with this proposal is that they’re not adding a new method to ServeMux; they’re extending the existing Handle and HandleFunc methods to allow a method prefix and {wildcard} path segments.

I understand the desire to avoid adding new methods, but I’m not sure about this decision. Unfortunately, old versions of ServeMux accept patterns like Handle("GET /foo", h). This would mean code written for the enhanced ServeMux would compile and appear to run fine on older versions of Go, but of course the routes wouldn’t match anything – a bit error-prone. I probably would have added new methods instead, like HandleMatch / HandleMatchFunc or Route / RouteFunc.

The proposal also has a lengthy description of how it handles precedence when two patterns overlap, but it boils down to a simple rule: “if two patterns overlap (have some requests in common), then the more specific pattern takes precedence”.

For example, if you register the pattern /users/ (which matches /users/*) as well as the pattern /users/{user}, when a request for /users/ben comes in, it matches the second, more-specific pattern. This is similar to how, in the existing ServeMux, host-specific patterns win over patterns without a hostname.

The match-end-of-URL wildcard

The proposal also adds {$} as a “special wildcard” that matches only the end of the URL. This will mostly be useful for a route that you want to only match the homepage. This is surprisingly annoying to do right now, because a pattern that ends in / matches everything under / as well; this also applies to a pattern that is / alone.

So currently, to match only the home page you have to do this:

mux.HandleFunc("/", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
    if r.URL.Path != "/" { // ensure path is exactly "/"
        http.NotFound(w, r)
    serveHomepage(w, r)
mux.HandleFunc("/users", serveUsers)

This is tedious, and if you forget the path check, you’ll end up serving the home page for all other URLs instead of a not-found page, because everything is under /.

Under the new proposal, that will become much simpler:

mux.HandleFunc("/{$}", serveHomepage)
mux.HandleFunc("/users", serveUsers)

Reference implementation

Jonathan has written a sample implementation of the enhanced ServeMux in the package. The only difference is that, because it’s in a separate package, he can’t change the http.Request type, so you fetch path values using mux.PathValue(request, "name") instead of request.PathValue("name").

I’ve added a PR on my go-routing repo that adds a version of my widget API using muxpatterns. It’s very similar to chi version – simple and readable:

r.HandleFunc("GET /{$}", home)
r.HandleFunc("GET /contact", contact)
r.HandleFunc("GET /api/widgets", apiGetWidgets)
r.HandleFunc("POST /api/widgets", apiCreateWidget)
r.HandleFunc("POST /api/widgets/{slug}", apiUpdateWidget)
r.HandleFunc("POST /api/widgets/{slug}/parts", apiCreateWidgetPart)
r.HandleFunc("POST /api/widgets/{slug}/parts/{id}/update", apiUpdateWidgetPart)
r.HandleFunc("POST /api/widgets/{slug}/parts/{id}/delete", apiDeleteWidgetPart)
r.HandleFunc("GET /{slug}", widgetGet)
r.HandleFunc("GET /{slug}/admin", widgetAdmin)
r.HandleFunc("POST /{slug}/image", widgetImage)

I actually found a couple of minor bugs in the reference implementation when I first tested it, but they’ve already been fixed.


Despite having reservations about extending the existing Handle and HandleFunc methods, I’m very happy this is being considered. Given the care Jonathan put into the proposal, his track record with log/slog, and the positive response from the community, it seems likely the proposal will be accepted.

It would be great to have this in the standard library – almost every website and REST-like API I’ve developed has needed this functionality. You can already do a lot with the Go standard library, but this will eliminate the need for third party routers almost entirely.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this lands in Go 1.22, due out in February 2024. But we’ll see!

I’d love it if you sponsored me on GitHub – it will motivate me to work on my open source projects and write more good content. Thanks!