Advanced gRPC Error Usage

How to best handle errors in Go is a divisive issue, leading to opinion pieces by illustrious bloggers such as Dave Cheney, the commander himself Rob Pike as well as the official Go blog. I’m not going to tackle those opinions here, instead I’m going to talk about best practices for errors when using gRPC and Go.

The gRPC Status package

The Go gRPC implementation has a status package which exposes a nice simple interface for creating rich gRPC errors.

For example, lets say you have a method that takes an ID as a parameter, but the requested ID did not exist in your store. You could just return the error your store backend returned, but a good gRPC server should make use of the gRPC error codes. In this case, codes.NotFound is the appropriate code.

err := status.Error(codes.NotFound, "id was not found")
return nil, err

To find which code you should be returning when, make sure to read the extensive documentation for the grpc/codes package. These errors translate the code and message to the grpc-message and grpc-status trailers respectively in the gRPC HTTP2 protocol spec.

Extracting the message and code in a gRPC client is also done through the status package, with the Status.FromError.

st, ok := status.FromError(err)
if !ok {
    // Error was not a status error
// Use st.Message() and st.Code()

The Go gRPC implementation guarantees that all errors returned from RPC calls are status type errors. Because of this, you can usually use the status.Convert method instead.

Advanced usage

The status package also comes with the power to attach arbitrary protobuf metadata to your errors, courtesy of the protobuf Any message type and the Status.WithDetails method.

For example, if a request is provided with a parameter that is incorrect regardless of the state of the system, you may want to return more information about which field caused the error and why. You could stuff all of this into the error message, but it is not meant for long messages. Here’s an example of using the errdetails package to attach extra error metadata to an error:

st := status.New(codes.InvalidArgument, "invalid username")
desc := "The username must only contain alphanumeric characters"
v := &errdetails.BadRequest_FieldViolation{
    Field: "username",
    Description: desc,
br := &errdetails.BadRequest{}
br.FieldViolations = append(br.FieldViolations, v)
st, err := st.WithDetails(br)
if err != nil {
    // If this errored, it will always error
    // here, so better panic so we can figure
    // out why than have this silently passing.
    panic(fmt.Sprintf("Unexpected error attaching metadata: %v", err))
return st.Err()

In order to extract these errors on the other side, for printing a nicely formatted error message to the user for example, you can use the status.Details method:

st := status.Convert(err)
for _, detail := range st.Details() {
    switch t := detail.(type) {
    case *errdetails.BadRequest:
        fmt.Println("Oops! Your request was rejected by the server.")
        for _, violation := range t.GetFieldViolations() {
            fmt.Printf("The %q field was wrong:\n", violation.GetField())
            fmt.Printf("\t%s\n", violation.GetDescription())

Note about using GoGo Protobuf with status


TL:DR; gogo/googleapis types work with grpc/status.

While investigating another issue relating to gogo/protobuf and the grpc-gateway, github user @glerchundi pointed out that gogo/protobuf types could potentially circumvent issues with golang/protobuf/ptypes referring to its own registry by implementing XXX_MessageName() string on its types. This turned out to fix all compatibility issues with grpc/status, so gogo/protobuf was quickly updated to support this function in gogo/protobuf/types and gogo/googleapis. As a result of this, gogo/googleapis types now work transparently with grpc/status.

gogo/status is still necessary if you want to use types that only register with gogo/protobuf and don’t make use of either the goproto_registration or messagename GoGo Protobuf extensions.

I’ve preserved the old advice here, but it no longer applies. The gogo/grpc-example repo has been updated to make use of grpc/status again.

I mentioned above that the status package uses the Any protobuf message type under the hood. This, combined with the Status.WithDetails and Status.Details methods using the golang/protobuf/ptypes directly causes it to be generally incompatible with gogo/protobuf messages. One workaround for this is to register your error metadata messages with golang/protobuf through the goproto_registration extension. This will work for your own types, but what if you don’t have control over the extensions used? What if you want to use types from gogo/googleapis as I suggested in my post on gogo/protobuf compatibility?

To help with this issue, I submitted a PR to the Go gRPC project to allow the creation of status.Status types from arbitrary error types that implement a specific interface. This, in combination with the new gogo/status package allows the user the same simple status interface that works with arbitrary gogo/protobuf registered message types.

For an example of this in use, please check out the gogo/grpc-example repo, which was created to showcase this and other solutions when using gogo/protobuf, especially together with the gRPC-Gateway. Please ensure you use gRPC Go v1.11.0 or greater to make use of the gogo/status package.

Further reading

The Google API Design Guide has a section on errors with a thorough discussion of the Status Protobuf type which I encourage you to read if you want to learn more about general protobuf API error handling.

If you enjoyed this blog post, have any questions or input, don’t hesitate to contact me on @johanbrandhorst or under jbrandhorst on the Gophers Slack. I’d love to hear your thoughts!