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Workflows in Go

What is a Workflow?#

In the Temporal Go SDK programming model, a Workflow is an exportable function.

package app
import (
func SimpleWorkflow(ctx workflow.Context, value string) (string, error) {
// Do something
if err != nil {
return "", err
return "success", nil

The first parameter, workflow.Context is a requirement for all Workflow functions as it is used by the Temporal Go SDK to pass around an execution context, and virtually all the Go SDK APIs that are callable from the Workflow require it.


This workflow.Context entity operates similarly to the standard context.Context entity provided by Go. The only difference is that the Done() function provided by workflow.Context returns workflow.Channel instead of the standard Go chan.

The second parameter, string, is a custom parameter that can be used to pass data into the Workflow when it starts. A Workflow can have one or more such parameters.


All Workflow function parameters must be serializable, which essentially means that params can’t be channels, functions, variadic, or unsafe pointers.

Returning an error from a Workflow is used to indicate that an error was encountered during its execution and the Workflow should be terminated.

How to write Workflow code#

There is a single requirement for how the code inside a Workflow is written. Workflow code must be "deterministic". This requirement stems from how the Temporal Server tracks the state of code execution and its need to be able to replay an execution.

In practical terms, this means the following:

  • Workflow code can only read and manipulate local variables or variables received as return values from Temporal Go SDK APIs.
  • Workflow code can not affect changes in external systems directly.
  • Workflow code must use Go SDK APIs to handle things like time, logging, and goroutines.
  • Workflow code can not directly iterate over maps using range because the order of the map's iteration is randomized.

However, the Go SDK provides a number of features to handle these restrictions with ease.

  1. To interact with external systems and nondeterministic code, Workflows can execute Activities.
  2. To handle things like time, logging, and goroutines, as mentioned above, there are specific Go SDK APIs available, such as:
    • workflow.Now() This is a replacement for time.Now().
    • workflow.Sleep() This is a replacement for time.Sleep().
    • workflow.GetLogger() This is to ensure that the provided logger does not duplicate logs during a replay.
    • workflow.Go() This is a replacement for the the go statement.
    • workflow.Channel This is a replacement for the native chan type. Temporal provides support for both buffered and unbuffered channels.
    • workflow.Selector This is a replacement for the select statement. Learn more on the Go SDK Selectors page
    • workflow.Context This is a replacement for context.Context. Learn more on the Go SDK Context Propagation page.
  3. Additionally, for executing very small pieces of nondeterministic logic within the Workflow, you can use the workflow.SideEffect API.

Below is a sample Workflow that is treated as a cron job by the Temporal Server. It executes a single Activity and uses workflow.Now().


package cron
import (
// CronResult is used to return data from one cron run to the next
type CronResult struct {
RunTime time.Time
// SampleCronWorkflow executes on the given schedule
// The schedule is provided when starting the Workflow
func SampleCronWorkflow(ctx workflow.Context) (*CronResult, error) {
workflow.GetLogger(ctx).Info("Cron workflow started.", "StartTime", workflow.Now(ctx))
ao := workflow.ActivityOptions{
StartToCloseTimeout: 10 * time.Second,
ctx1 := workflow.WithActivityOptions(ctx, ao)
// Start from 0 for first cron job
lastRunTime := time.Time{}
// Check to see if there was a previous cron job
if workflow.HasLastCompletionResult(ctx) {
var lastResult CronResult
if err := workflow.GetLastCompletionResult(ctx, &lastResult); err == nil {
lastRunTime = lastResult.RunTime
thisRunTime := workflow.Now(ctx)
err := workflow.ExecuteActivity(ctx1, DoSomething, lastRunTime, thisRunTime).Get(ctx, nil)
if err != nil {
// Cron job failed
// Next cron will still be scheduled by the Server
workflow.GetLogger(ctx).Error("Cron job failed.", "Error", err)
return nil, err
return &CronResult{RunTime: thisRunTime}, nil
// DoSomething is an Activity
func DoSomething(ctx context.Context, lastRunTime, thisRunTime time.Time) error {
activity.GetLogger(ctx).Info("Cron job running.", "lastRunTime_exclude", lastRunTime, "thisRunTime_include", thisRunTime)
// Query database, call external API, or do any other non-deterministic action.
return nil

How to start a Workflow#

With the Go SDK, there are two ways that you can start a Workflow:

  1. Use the Go SDK client to start a Workflow from a Go process, as described below.
  2. Start a Workflow from an already running Workflow, which is known as a Child Workflow.

Starting a Workflow is not the same as executing a Workflow. Starting a Workflow means that you are telling the Server to begin tracking the state of the Workflow execution. In a Temporal application, you do not run Workflow code directly, instead Workflow code is hosted and executed by a Worker.

To start a Workflow you need to create the Temporal Go SDK client, call ExecuteWorkflow(), and pass it the following:

  1. context.Context, which is a normal Go Context type.
  2. client.StartWorkflowOptions Which can include timeout settings and a RetryPolicy.
  3. The name of the Workflow function.
  4. Variables that should be passed to the Workflow when it begins execution.
package main
import (
func main() {
// Create the client object just once per process
c, err := client.NewClient(client.Options{})
if err != nil {
// Handle failure
defer c.Close()
// TaskQueue is the only required option to start a Workflow
options := client.StartWorkflowOptions{
TaskQueue: "your_task_queue",
we, err := c.ExecuteWorkflow(context.Background(), options, YourWorkflow, workflowParm1, workflowParam2)
if err != nil {
// Handle failure
// Use the WorkflowExecution to get the result
// Get is blocking call and will wait for the Workflow to complete
var workflowResult string
err = we.Get(context.Background(), &workflowResult)
if err != nil {
// Handle failure
// Do something with the result
printResults(workflowResult, we.GetID(), we.GetRunID())

You can start Workflows asynchronously or synchronously. In Go, the only difference is whether the code waits for the result of the Workflow in the same process in which you started it. Workflows do not rely on the process that invoked it, and will continue executing even if the waiting process crashes or stops.

When you start a Workflow with ExecuteWorkflow, a WorkflowExecution is returned (which is the we variable above). The WorkflowExecution can be used to get the result or capture the WorkflowId. You can retrieve the result of the Workflow from a completely different process, as long as you have the WorkflowId, by using client.GetWorkflow.

we = client.GetWorkflow(workflowID)
var result string
we.Get(ctx, &result)

In most uses cases it is better to be prepared to execute the Workflow asynchronously.

How to get data in or out of a running Workflow#

Signals are the mechanism by which you can get data into already running Workflow.

Queries are the mechanism by which you can get data out of currently running Workflow.

Custom Serialization and Workflow Security#

Workflow method arguments and return values are serializable to a Payload protobuf that contains a bytearray as well as metadata map. You can use the SDK's DataConverter interface to do this. The default implementation uses JSON serializer, but you can use any alternative serialization mechanism.

The values passed to Workflows through invocation parameters or returned through a result value are recorded in the execution history.

Even though Workflow execution history is cached in the Workers, in the case of Worker failure, the full execution history has to be transferred from the Temporal service to the Workflow Workers.

In those cases a large execution history could adversely impact the performance of your Workflow. Be mindful of the amount of data that you transfer via Activity invocation parameters or return values. Otherwise, no additional limitations exist on Activity implementations.

We discuss how to work around the history size limitations with ContinueAsNew in the Large Event Histories section.

Large Event Histories#

Temporal stores the execution history of all Workflows. There is a maximum limit of this execution history (50,000 events). Even though Temporal Server emits warnings while your workflow are approaching this limit (every 10,000 events), you should make sure your workflows don't reach it.

Workflows that periodically execute a number of Activities, for a long time, have the potential of running into this execution history size limit.

One way of dealing with this issue is to use ContinueAsNew. This feature allows you to complete the current Workflow execution and start a new one atomically. This new execution has the same Workflow Id, but a different Run Id, and as such will get its own execution history.

If your Workflows are running periodically using a Cron definition, the ContinueAsNew feature is used internally by Temporal. In this case, each Workflow execution as defined by the Cron definition will have its own Run Id and execution history.

To trigger this behavior, the Workflow function should terminate by returning the special ContinueAsNewError error:

func SimpleWorkflow(workflow.Context ctx, value string) error {
return workflow.NewContinueAsNewError(ctx, SimpleWorkflow, value)