Go: Introduction to Protobuf: gRPC

We implemented a Twitch RPC generator in the previous chapter, but we do have some hard core gRPC fans that requested that I should check out what gRPC produces. I am interested into comparing these two as well, so let’s start by scaffolding our gRPC handlers. Our main goal is to compare the implementation details of gRPC over Twitch RPC in more concrete terms.

We need to modify the Makefile slightly, in order to include the grpc codegen plugin, by changing a protoc option:

Under the rpc.% target, change the go_out option, from:


to the following:


This will include the grpc plugin that generates the code for the gRPC Client and Server. The first thing we can notice is that there is a significant change in our go.sum file, namely that 42 different package versions have been listed as dependencies. The only package that really stands out however is prometheus/client_model. This might mean that the gRPC server implementation internals support some custom prometheus metrics out of the box. We definitely don’t get that from Twitch RPC, but we are planning to add on instrumentation.

Inspecting the changed *.pb.go files, we can compare the interface produced by Twitch RPC, and what gRPC produces. The gRPC protoc generator produces two distinct interfaces, StatsServiceClient and StatsServiceServer. As we are interested in the first one, let’s compare it now:

// StatsServiceServer is the server API for StatsService service.
type StatsServiceServer interface {
	Push(context.Context, *PushRequest) (*PushResponse, error)

Compared to Twitch RPC:

type StatsService interface {
	Push(context.Context, *PushRequest) (*PushResponse, error)

So, first, we see that the implementation for our Twitch RPC service is compatible with our gRPC server. This means that our workflow will not change a single bit, if we decide to migrate from Twitch to gRPC.

We can run a single service, which exposes both gRPC and Twirp endpoints. Maintaining them both seems like a bad idea, but as we don’t have any Twirp specific implementation in our service itself, it seems like we can manage to run both endpoints without difficulty.

The difference seems to be in the client itself:

type StatsServiceClient interface {
	Push(ctx context.Context, in *PushRequest, opts ...grpc.CallOption) (*PushResponse, error)

While the Twirp Client and Server conform to a single interface, gRPC clients have additional options available. A cursory reading of grpc.CallOption gives us a list of possible constructors. As is supposedly common with Google APIs, of the listed options currently:

  • CallContentSubtype (string) can be set to use JSON encoding on the wire,
  • CallCustomCodec - DEPRECATED (use ForceCodec)
  • FailFast - DEPRECATED (use WaitForReady)
  • ForceCodec - EXPERIMENTAL API (wait, we just came here from CallCustomCodec)
  • Header - retrieves header metadata
  • MaxCall(Recv/Send)MsgSize - client message size limits
  • MaxRetryRPCBufferSize - EXPERIMENTAL
  • Peer (p *peer.Peer) - Populate *p after RPC completes
  • PerRPCCredentials - Sets credentials for a RPC call
  • Trailer (md *metadata.MD) - returns trailer metadata (no idea what is a Trailer)
  • UseCompressor - EXPERIMENTAL
  • WaitForReady (waitForReady bool) - if false, fail immediately, if true block/retry (default=false)

So, to summarize - out of all those options, 3 are EXPERIMENTAL, 2 are DEPRECATED and one of them is pointing to an EXPERIMENTAL option, and the biggest question raised is how the gRPC client behaves in relation to WaitForReady, and which option is recommended if any.

In comparison, Twitch RPC produces, at least in my opinion, a nicer interface for specific clients:

// NewStatsServiceProtobufClient creates a Protobuf client that implements the StatsService interface.
func NewStatsServiceProtobufClient(addr string, client HTTPClient) StatsService {

// NewStatsServiceJSONClient creates a JSON client that implements the StatsService interface.
func NewStatsServiceJSONClient(addr string, client HTTPClient) StatsService {

gRPC could benefit from some interface deduplication here. The gRPC clients constructor could take those particular call options so both the client and server could conform to the same interface. Also, much as the server side implementation, it’s also obvious that gRPC implements the client side as well, as the transport isn’t based on net/http:

// NewStatsServiceClient creates a gRPC client that implements the StatsServiceClient interface.
func NewStatsServiceClient(cc *grpc.ClientConn) StatsServiceClient {

What we can also see is that the gRPC client can authenticate to the gRPC server via the PerRPCCredentials option. This is also something that Twitch RPC doesn’t provide for us. We don’t need it for our service, but it’s something to consider if you want to increase the level of security inside your service mesh.

We won’t create the gRPC server just yet, but we’ll keep this codegen option enabled for the future. As we already discussed, gRPC is a great framework to have when we have clients that can speak it natively. It’s not great for the browser or the javascript console (am I wrong?), and it’s definitely not great for debugging/sniffing traffic, but using the proto files to generate the clients for Android/iPhone apps is a valid use case. gRPC has wider code generation support than Twirp and is a better option if you want to cover a larger ecosystem.

This article is part of a Advent of Go Microservices book. I’ll be publishing one article each day leading up to christmas. Please consider buying the ebook to support my writing, and reach out to me with feedback which can make the articles more useful for you.

All the articles from the series are listed on the advent2019 tag.

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