Go Hacker News CLI

November 22, 2020

Hacker News is a well loved and read site featuring various tech related posts, job postings, show and tell projects, and more. They also expose a public, free API to query these artifacts. Using Go's powerful built-in libraries for parsing command-line flags and making network requests, this post describes how to create a simple CLI tool for fetching and displaying Hacker News stories.

The full code can be found here.

Getting Started

To begin a Go project, a module management file is first created in the project root with go mod init <repo-location>:

go mod init github.com/neil-berg/gohn

This produces a go.mod file to store information about modules used in the project.

Then create a main Go file in the project root. It does not need to be called main.go, though it could be. I like to name it after the project name. Since the project name I chose was gohn, I have a gohn.go file next to the newly created go.mod file.


Inside gohn.go, we declare that this is the main package with a corresponding main function that is executed when the program runs.

package "main"

import "fmt"

func main() {

Parsing Command-Line Flags

Go provides a powerful built-in library flag for parsing command-line inputs.

Gohn is designed to handle two flags, the kind of stories to fetch (e.g. top stories, job postings, etc.) and the count of items to fetch. Inside a separate flags package (i.e. sub-directory), a new function is created that handles the logic for reading, validating, and returning command- line flags.

The flag library allows for two ways to store parsed inputs. You can store them in a pointer of the flag's type or you can bind it to a variable. For instance:

// flags.go
import "flag"

func ParseFlags() {
    // "--count" input is stored as a pointer to an integer
    countPtr := flag.Int("count", 5, "Number of stories to fetch between 1 and 10")

    // OR bind the input to a variable that is an integer
    var countVar int
    flag.IntVar(&countVar, "count", 5, "Number of stories to fetch between 1 and 10")

HTTP Requests

Making HTTP requests in Go is dead-simple with their net/http package. To demonstrate, let's fetch a Hacker News item by the item's ID. The endpoint to do so is https://hacker-news.firebaseio.com/v0/{itemID}.json.

Since JSON data is returned from the API, we need to define a struct with the desired fields to store from the parsed JSON data.

// requests.go

package requests

// Story JSON structure from the API call
type Story struct {
	Score       int    `json:"score"`
	Time        int    `json:"time"`
	Title       string `json:"title"`
	URL         string `json:"url"`

We then create a new HTTP client, make a GET request to the endpoint, read the response's body, and then decode the JSON data into a pointer variable with type Story.

// requests.go

package requests

import (

// Story JSON structure from the API call
type Story struct {
  // As defined above...

func GetStoryByID(ID int) Story {
  // New client with a 2 second timeout
  client := http.Client({ Timeout: time.Second() * 2 })

  // GET request
  url := "https://hacker-news.firebaseio.com/v0//item/" + strconv.Itoa(ID) + ".json"
  res, err := client.Get(url)
  if err != nil {

  // Close the body at the end of this function
  defer res.Body.Close()

  // Read the body
  body, bodyErr := ioutil.ReadAll(res.Body)
  if bodyErr != nil {

  // Decode JSON data and store it in a story variable
  var story Story
  jsonErr := json.Unmarshal(body, &story)
  if jsonErr != nil {

  return story

Note that error handling in Go is commonly done by returning the error or nil as a variable from a function, then doing something if the error is not nil.

Also note that Go supports defer statements, which are executed at the end of the function containing it. In this case, we close the response body after it is read and the JSON data is parsed.

Formatting Data

After fetching stories based on command-line flags, the last step is to format raw JSON data from the fetched story into something pretty in the terminal. Go's fmt.Sprintf is used to format strings. For example, transforming the story's UNIX timestamp into a more readable string:

import "time"

func FormatStoryTime(secs int) {
  t := time.Unix(int64(secs))
  // Month DD, YYYY hh:mm UTC
  tFmt := fmt.Sprintf("%s %02d, %04d %02d:%02d UTC",
		t.Month(), t.Day(), t.Year(), t.Hour(), t.Minute())

Putting It All Together

Ultimately we have a directory structure like:

  flags/ (parse command-line flags)
  requests/ (HTTP requests)
  utils (helper utility functions)

In gohn.go, the main package, we import the flag parsing function and then pass the parsed values (as pointers) downstream to functions that perform the HTTP requests.

We can then build the app with go run build in the project root, which will produce a compiled binary gohn. It can be executed in the root with ./gohn --count=<some-count> --type=<some-story-type>".

For instance, to fetch 2 Top News stories:

./gohn --count=2 --type="top"

To reveal:

#1      Building Your Color Palette
        Score:   197
        Posted:  November 22, 2020 11:19 UTC

#2      On the Loss of a Cofounder
        Score:   97
        Posted:  November 22, 2020 11:43 UTC