Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interfaces in action with the Go image package

The Go image package, besides being fun to use, is also an excellent example of interfaces in Go. Image formats like JPEG, GIF, and PNG are often very different from each other, and so are the different color formats you can use, like old-school 256 colors, red/blue/green/alpha, grayscale, and Y’CBCR. All these differences for working with effectively the same thing, a bunch of pixels on a rectangle, are where Go’s interfaces shine!

A quick look at interfaces
If you’re learning Go, interfaces can be a confusing kind of type to work with, but once you have them figured out, you get a lot of power for abstraction and object-oriented Go programming. An interface type, rather than telling you what its values are, tells you what its values can do; when you define an interface type, you define which methods there are on an interface, and then an object of any type can be used as that interface type as long as it has all the methods on the interface. So the familiar error interface
type error interface {
    Error() string
means that an error can be any concrete type as long as it has an Error method that returns a string; it can be as simple as just a struct with a string
type errorString struct {
    s string

func (e *errorString) Error() string {
    return e.s

or it could be a more detailed struct to give you information about when an error happened and how severe it is
type detailedError struct {
    message string
    severity string
    tm time.Time

func (d *detailedError) Error() string {
    return fmt.Sprintf("%s error '%s' happened at time %v",
        d.severity, d.message,

That means you can write code that only cares about what an object’s methods are rather than what that object is made of; the sort package, uses an interface to give you a generic way to sort anything, and by defining the net/http ResponseWriter as an interface, developers can make their own ResponseWriter implementations for doing things like logging HTTP status codes.

One interface you’ll see a lot of in Go is the empty interface; an object of any type can be an interface{} as long as it implements all zero of its methods, which means all types are interface{}s. However, while it’s tempting to make a function that takes in any type by having it take in an interface{}, you should steer clear of that without a good reason. This is because to do anything useful with an interface{}, you’ll end up with a lot of complicated type-checking logic, which is tough to maintain and test and can lead to panics if you miss a case. But it does have its uses, like json.Marshal and Unmarshal converting almost any kind of struct to and from JSON.

The color interface

As I mentioned before, there are a lot of different color schemes to give you a lot of ways to say what color a pixel is, so we need some way of unifying them. Computer screens emit color in terms of red, green, blue, and alpha (alpha = how transparent a pixel is), so if you take any pixel on any kind of image, you should be able to see how red, green, blue, and see-through it is. And if you import the image/color package, you’ll see that that’s exactly what the Color interface does

type Color interface {
    RGBA() r, g, b, a uint32

BOOM! Whether you have a pixel in CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow, like in comic books), RGBA (8 bits each telling you how red, green, and blue a pixel is), RGBA64 (that but with 16 bits per color), or grayscale, those can all be represented with 32-bit integers. What struct fields a color has, how many bits it is, what it does with those bits to put colors onto our eyeballs, whether or not the color is capable of being transparent, we don’t care; if it can tell us those red, green, blue, and alpha values in 32 bits, it’s a Color!

So that means we can have types like
type RGBA64 struct {
    R, G, B, A uint16

type Gray struct {
    Y uint8

This flexibility also means we can represent pixels in as much or as little detail, and as much or as little memory, as we need. Images have a lot of pixels (which is why we have special super fast GPU hardware to render them all fast, especially in video games), so if you can represent an image in a space-efficient way, you can get enormous performance boosts from having to go to main memory less often.

The image interface

Now that we know what a color is, once we have a rectangle to put it on, we’ve got an image. And the image interface gives you that rectangle 

type Image interface {
    ColorModel() color.Model
    Bounds() Rectangle
    At(x, y int) color.Color

ColorModel tells you what format the colors of the image’s pixels are in. Bounds tells you the coordinates of the top-left and bottom-right pixels of this image (the top-left is not necessarily (0,0)) And At tells you the color of the pixel at the (x, y) coordinates.

Note, by the way, that unlike in the Cartesian coordinate planes from math class, the Y-axis of an image starts at the top-left. So the pixel at (0, 100) is 100 pixels below, not above, the pixel at (0, 0).

Just like how there are struct implementations of colors, there are struct implementations of images corresponding to colors, like image.RGBA, image.RGBA64, image.Gray, image.CMYK, etc, with different formats for each color. Let’s look at RGBA64, in particular its Pix field:

type RGBA64 struct {
    Pix []uint8
    Stride int
    Rect rectangle

As you can see, there’s no two-dimensional array/slice of slices here. Not only that, but there’s no field of type color.RGBA64. We just have a slice of all the bytes that go into each pixel, and we fetch those bytes with RGBA64.At(x, y). This means we get the space efficiency and cache locality of having all the pixels’ data close together in memory, but with the convenience of working with pixels at their X and Y coordinates.

These image-implementing structs also have a Set method for setting one of the pixels, which we can pass a color.Color into, and then they take it from there. No direct messing with the Pix array to make our code look grotty!

Turn a sloth purple with image/jpeg

We have the Image interface, we have the Color interface, and we know all these image implementations like Gray and RGBA64. But what’s a JPEG in the image package?

The implementations of different image file formats are kept in jpeg, gif, and png subpackages. And once we import one of those subpackages, we can pull a JPEG, GIF, or PNG out of the bytes from an io.Reader (a file, an input stream like your camera, or anything else you can read bytes of a JPEG from) and get an image.Image to work with. Then we can convert that image.Image to an actual file format with jpeg.Encode, gif.Encode, or png.Encode. Let’s try that by making this sloth picture purple! 

Download the sloth to a folder as sloth.jpg, and then make a file in the same folder called main.go:
func main() {
    f, err := os.OpenFile("./sloth.jpg", os.O_RDONLY, 0666)
    if err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("could not open sloth.jpg - %v", err)

    img, _, err := image.Decode(f)
    if err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("could not decode sloth.jpg - %v", err)

    img = purple(img)
    if err := jpeg.Encode(os.Stdout, img, nil); err != nil {
        log.Fatalf("error encoding the new JPEG: %v", err)

We open sloth.jpg with os.OpenFile to get an os.File (which we can pass to image.Decode since File implements io.Reader), we turn the image purple with a purple function we will define, and then we convert it to a JPEG by jpeg.Encodeing it to standard output. Now all we need to do is implement purple!

NOTE: Due to formatting issues, the less than signs are displayed as <. Sorry for the inconvenience
func purple(img image.Image) image.Image {
    dst := image.NewRGBA(img.Bounds())
    b := dst.Bounds()
    for y := b.Min.Y; y < b.Max.Y; y++ {
        for x := b.Min.X; x < b.Max.X; x++ {
            px := color.RGBAModel.Convert(img.At(x, y)).(color.RGBA)
            if px.R+50 <= 0xFF {
                px.R += 50
            } else {
                px.R = 0

            if px.B+50 <= 0xFF {
                px.B += 50
            } else {
                px.B = 0
            dst.Set(x, y, px)
    return dst
First we make a new RGBA image with NewRGBA, passing in the original image’s Bounds so it has the same top-left and bottom-right coordinates as the original. Then, we loop through each pixel, from the top-left (b.Min.X, b.Min.Y) to bottom-right (b.Max.X, b.Max.Y), and inside the loop is our color conversion code...

We convert each pixel to RGBA with Color.RGBAModel, which lets us convert any Color to a concrete RGBA struct. So we do color.RGBAModel.Convert(image.At(x, y)) to get the pixel at the current coordinates and convert it to an RGBA. The converted color is then finally converted to a concrete RGBA struct with .(color.RGBA), and now we’ve got an RGBA we can work with and its data are from the original pixel!

Now we just make each pixel 50 values redder and 50 values bluer. However, in an RGBA, since we only get 8 bits of color for red, green, and blue, so if we make a color value higher than 255, we get an integer overflow. We could stick to making the reddest and bluest pixels get red/blue values of 255, which does make the picture more purple, but instead let’s give those pixels values of 0 for a fun special effect.

With the red and blue values incremented, we run dst.Set(x, y, px) to give our new image a new pixel. We then return that image, which in main gets encoded back into a jpeg. To see this in action, in the terminal run ./purple.go > purplesloth.jpg, and if you open purplesloth.jpg you should get:

As you can see, the image/color and image packages give us a useful abstraction for treating images as rectangles with colors on them, without having to think as much as you would in a language like C on everything you need to do with the bits representing the colors. Have fun manipulating images, and STAY SLOTHFUL!