Mastering the Liskov Substitution Principle in Golang

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Thuoc Nguyen

Relia Software


The Liskov Substitution Principle states that objects of a superclass should be replaceable with objects of its subclasses without affecting the correctness of the program.

Mastering the Liskov Substitution Principle in Golang

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In the realm of software development, the SOLID principles serve as the cornerstone for designing robust, maintainable, and scalable systems. Among these, the Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP) holds a pivotal role, emphasizing the importance of object substitutability within a hierarchy. Conceived by Barbara Liskov in a 1987 conference, LSP challenges developers to create interchangeable modules that enhance system flexibility and reliability.

This post delves into the essence of LSP, its theoretical underpinnings, and practical application in Golang - a language renowned for its simplicity and efficiency in handling polymorphic behavior through interfaces.

>> Read more about SOLID Principle in Golang:

What is The Liskov Substitution Principle?

The Liskov Substitution Principle, introduced by Barbara Liskov, states that objects of a superclass should be replaceable with objects of its subclasses without affecting the correctness of the program. This principle ensures that a subclass can stand in for its superclass. Here is a brief explanation about this principle:

  • Interface Substitution: In Go, interfaces are used instead of class inheritance. LSP in Go implies that if a type T implements an interface I, then objects of type I can be substituted with objects of type T without altering the desirable properties of that program (correctness, task performed, etc.). This means that any implementation of an interface should behave in a manner consistent with the expectations set by the interface.
  • Behavioral Consistency: When creating different types that implement the same interface, it’s crucial that these implementations are behaviorally compatible with the interface's definition. The consumers of the interface should not need to know the specific implementation details of the interface they are using.
  • Method Signatures and Behavior: The methods implemented on a type that satisfies an interface should not only match the signature but also adhere to the semantic contract of the interface. For example, if an interface method is meant to retrieve data without altering the state, all implementations of this method across different types should adhere to this behavior.

Significance of Liskov Substitution Principle in Software Engineering

LSP's significance transcends theoretical discussions, offering practical solutions to common software design challenges. Let’s consider a scenario below.

Imagine we are building a notification system that needs to send notifications through various channels, such as email, SMS, and push notifications. By applying LSP, we can design our system in such a way that it can easily accommodate new notification methods without altering the core logic of the notification sending process.

  • Step 1: Define An Interface
package main

import "fmt"

// Notifier is an interface that all notification types will implement.
type Notifier interface {
    Send(message string) error
  • Step 2: Implement the Interface with Concrete Types
// EmailNotifier sends notifications via email.
type EmailNotifier struct{}

func (e EmailNotifier) Send(message string) error {
    fmt.Println("Sending email:", message)
    return nil // Simplified for example purposes

// SMSNotifier sends notifications via SMS.
type SMSNotifier struct{}

func (s SMSNotifier) Send(message string) error {
    fmt.Println("Sending SMS:", message)
    return nil

// PushNotifier sends notifications via push notifications.
type PushNotifier struct{}

func (p PushNotifier) Send(message string) error {
    fmt.Println("Sending push notification:", message)
    return nil
  • Step 3: Use the Interface to Send Notifications
// SendNotification accepts a Notifier and sends a notification.
func SendNotification(notifier Notifier, message string) {
    err := notifier.Send(message)
    if err != nil {
        fmt.Println("Error sending notification:", err)

func main() {
    emailNotifier := EmailNotifier{}
    smsNotifier := SMSNotifier{}
    pushNotifier := PushNotifier{}

    // Sending different types of notifications.
    SendNotification(emailNotifier, "Welcome to our service!")
    SendNotification(smsNotifier, "Your verification code is 123456")
    SendNotification(pushNotifier, "You have a new message")
  • Enhanced Modularity: The Notifier interface allows our notification system to be highly modular. We can easily add new notification methods by simply implementing the Notifier interface without modifying the SendNotification function or any other part of our system.
  • Reduced Coupling: Our system components are loosely coupled. The SendNotification function is not dependent on concrete implementations of the Notifier interface. This makes the system easier to maintain and extend, as changes to one notifier implementation don't affect others.
  • Increased Reusability: The Notifier interface and its implementations are highly reusable. They can be easily used across different parts of the application or even in other projects that require notification functionality. This design prevents code duplication and promotes a DRY approach.

Liskov Substitution Principle in Action: Application in Golang

Golang, with its distinct approach to handling object-oriented programming concepts, particularly eschews classical inheritance in favor of interfaces and composition, presenting a unique landscape for applying the Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP). This section explores how Go's design philosophy aligns with LSP and provides Golang developers with tools to create flexible, maintainable software.

Understanding Interfaces in Go

In Go, an interface is a type that specifies a contract: any type that implements the methods defined in the interface satisfies the interface itself. This mechanism allows for a form of polymorphism without inheritance. Interfaces in Go encourage developers to focus on what an object does rather than what it is. This approach is inherently compatible with LSP, as it emphasizes the behavior objects must fulfill rather than their position in a class hierarchy.

Liskov Substitution Principle Through Go's Lens

LSP in Go can be viewed through the lens of interface satisfaction. If a type A can be replaced by a type B in any context without altering the correctness of the program, then B is said to adhere to LSP in relation to A. Since Go relies on implicit interface implementation (types don't need to declare they implement an interface), this principle is naturally integrated into the language's design and usage.

Practical Example: Building a Modular System with Interfaces

To illustrate LSP in Go, consider a system that processes various types of documents. Each document type might have its method of parsing and validating, but from the system's perspective, any document must be parseable and validatable.

First, define an interface that represents the operations our system expects on a document:

type Document interface {
    Parse() error
    Validate() bool

Now, let’s implement this interface with two concrete types: XMLDocument and JSONDocument

type XMLDocument struct {
    Content string

func (x XMLDocument) Parse() error {
    fmt.Println("Parsing XML content")
    // Assume parsing logic here
    return nil

func (x XMLDocument) Validate() bool {
    fmt.Println("Validating XML content")
    // Assume validation logic here
    return true

type JSONDocument struct {
    Content string

func (j JSONDocument) Parse() error {
    fmt.Println("Parsing JSON content")
    // Assume parsing logic here
    return nil

func (j JSONDocument) Validate() bool {
    fmt.Println("Validating JSON content")
    // Assume validation logic here
    return true

Leveraging Liskov Substitution Principle for System Flexibiliy

Suppose we have a function that processes any document:

func ProcessDocument(doc Document) {
    if err := doc.Parse(); err != nil {
        fmt.Println("Error processing document:", err)
    if !doc.Validate() {
        fmt.Println("Document validation failed")
    fmt.Println("Document processed successfully")

This function can accept any Document, whether it's an XMLDocument, JSONDocument, or any other type that satisfies the Document interface, demonstrating LSP in action. New document types can be added with no changes to ProcessDocument, as long as they implement the Document interface. This design ensures system extensibility and maintainability, hallmarks of effective software architecture.

Recognizing Liskov Substitution Principle Violations

Violations of the LSP often occur subtly, manifesting as rigid software designs that are hard to maintain or extend. A common sign of LSP violation is the need to check the type of a subclass before performing operations on it, which contradicts the principle's core idea of substitutability. This is often a red flag indicating that the design does not fully adhere to LSP, leading to code that is less modular and more coupled.

For example, consider a function that handles objects of type Bird. If a new subclass Penguin is added, and Penguin cannot fly, having to insert type checks before invoking the fly method indicates a violation of LSP. The design assumes all birds can fly, but Penguin breaks this assumption, leading to a design that is not properly abstracted.

Avoiding Liskov Substitution Principle Violations in Go

In Go, adhering to LSP means designing interfaces that can be implemented by any type without forcing the implementing type to have methods that don't make sense for it. It requires careful consideration of the interface's method set to ensure it only includes methods that can be universally applied to all potential implementing types, maintaining substitutability.

To avoid LSP violations, follow these guidelines:

  • Interface Segregation: Prefer smaller, more specific interfaces over larger, generic ones. This reduces the burden on implementing types to support behavior that doesn't apply to them.
  • Behavioral Abstraction: Focus on what types do (behavior) rather than what they are. Design interfaces around actions or capabilities rather than trying to encapsulate an object's state.
  • Substitutability Check: Regularly review your code to ensure that instances of an interface can be swapped without altering the correctness of the program. Automated tests can be helpful in identifying violations of LSP.

Handling Special Cases Without Violating LSP

When faced with special cases like the Penguin example, instead of compromising LSP, consider refactoring your design:

  • Refine Your Interfaces: Break down your interfaces into more granular ones that can be combined as needed. For the bird example, separate the ability to fly into its interface (Flyer), distinct from the base Bird interface.
  • Use Composition Over Inheritance: Go's lack of traditional inheritance encourages composition. Utilize this by embedding interfaces or structs that provide the needed functionality, rather than trying to fit all behavior into a single hierarchy.

Practical Example in Go

To illustrate, let's refine our Bird scenario in Go:

type Bird interface {

type Flyer interface {

type Penguin struct{}

func (p Penguin) Eat() {
    fmt.Println("Penguin is eating")

type Sparrow struct{}

func (s Sparrow) Eat() {
    fmt.Println("Sparrow is eating")

func (s Sparrow) Fly() {
    fmt.Println("Sparrow is flying")

In this design, Penguin and Sparrow can both implement Bird, but only Sparrow implements Flyer. This approach adheres to LSP by not forcing Penguin to implement a Fly method that doesn't apply, maintaining the principle of substitutability.

>> Read more about Golang:


Mastering the Liskov Substitution Principle in Go involves a deep understanding of interfaces and careful design to ensure all implementations can be used interchangeably without issue. By focusing on behavior rather than state, using interface segregation, and embracing Go's composition over inheritance, developers can create flexible, maintainable systems that stand the test of time. Remember, the goal of LSP, and SOLID principles in general, is to create software that is easy to understand, change, and extend, laying the foundation for long-term success in software projects.

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