go:linkname compiler directive


This is a short post about the go:linkname compiler directive. The documentation explains:

The //go:linkname directive instructs the compiler to use “importpath.name” as the object file symbol name for the variable or function declared as “localname” in the source code. Because this directive can subvert the type system and package modularity, it is only enabled in files that have imported “unsafe”.


This directive is not used very often in practice. I advise against using it. As the doc says it can “subvert the type system and package modularity”. However, it is a good idea to understand what it does when reading the standard library. It is used in the standard library to access unexported functions of another package. This quote explains the motivation behind it:

It’s primarily a hack that lets certain functions live in the runtime package, and access runtime internals, but still pretend that they are unexported functions of some different package.


Let’s look at an example. Here is the definition of the time.Now function.

func Now() Time {
  sec, nsec, mono := now()
  t := unixTime(sec, nsec)
  return t

It calls the now function. Let’s look at its definition.

// Provided by package runtime.
func now() (sec int64, nsec int32, mono uint64)

The now function has no body. This is valid syntax as described in the spec. It is used when a function is defined elsewhere, e.g., assembly or in another Go package using go:linkname. In the case of the now function, the function is defined and linked in the runtime package.

//go:linkname time_now time.now
func time_now() (sec int64, nsec int32, mono uint64) {
  sec, nsec = walltime()
  return sec, nsec, uint64(nanotime() - startNano + 1)

Notice the directive is linking a local function (time_now) to time.now. The first argument is the local name, and the second argument is the import path of the linked function. Here is another example:

//go:linkname hellofunc a/b/pkg2.hola

In our time.Now example, the logic for getting the current time is performed in the runtime package. Without the go:linkname directive, runtime would have had to export time_now. The API is designed so that users should fetch the current time using time.Now, and not a function in runtime.


  • the directive comment could be in either two packages.
  • to compile a package A with a function that is linked and defined in package B, we need to import package B to allow the compiler/linker find the definition.
  • we cannot compile a program with go:linkname using go-build command, because go-build enables the -complete compiler flag. With this flag, the compiler does not allow declaration of functions without body. It expects all functions to be defined in the package or idiomatically exported/imported from another package.

To see more examples of go:linkname see the runtime package or see this example.