Introduction

In my current position at Utility Warehouse, my team keeps our go code for all our services within a monorepo. This includes all our protocol buffer definitions that are used to generate client/service code to allow our services to interact.

This post aims to outline our way of organising our protocol buffer code and how we perform code generation to ensure all services are up-to-date with the latest contracts when things change. This posts expects you to already be familiar with protocol buffers.

You could also use the structure explained in this post to create a single repository that contains all proto definitions for all services (or whatever else you use them for) and serve it as a go module.

What are protocol buffers?

Taken from Google’s documentation

Protocol buffers are Google’s language-neutral, platform-neutral, extensible mechanism for serializing structured data – think XML, but smaller, faster, and simpler. You define how you want your data to be structured once, then you can use special generated source code to easily write and read your structured data to and from a variety of data streams and using a variety of languages.

On top of using them for service-to-service communication, we also use them as our serialization format for the event-sourced aspects of our systems, where proto messages are sent over the wire via Apache Kafka and NATS. Which also allows systems that consume/produce events to always have the most up-to-date definitions.

The ‘proto’ directory

At the top level of our repository lives the proto directory. This is where all .proto files live, as well as third-party definitions (such as those provided by google or from other teams within the business).

Our team is the partner platform, so our specific proto definitions are found in a subdirectory named partner. Below this are the different domains we deal with. Subdirectories here include aspects such as identity, or document for services that deal with authentication or the management of individual partner’s documents.

Below here are either versioned or service directories. Let’s say we have a gRPC API that serves documents for a partner, the proto definitions will are found under partner/document/service/v* (where * is the major version number for the service). Alternatively, if we have domain objects we want to share across multiple proto packages, we keep those under partner/document/v*. Using versioned directories like this allows us to version our proto packages easily and have the package names reflect the location of those files within the repository.

Here’s a full example of what this looks like:

.
└── proto
    ├── partner
    │   └── document
    │       ├── service
    │       │   └── v1
    |       |       └── service.proto  # gRPC service definitions, DTOs etc
    │       └── v1
    |           └── models.proto       # Shared domain objects

Writing protocol buffer definitions

Next, lets take a look at how we actually define our protocol buffers. There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary here that you wouldn’t see in most other definitions. The most important part is the package declaration. We make sure our package names reflect the relative location of the protocol buffer files. In the example above, the packages are named partner.document.service.v1 and partner.document.v1.

Here’s an example of what the top of our .proto files look like:

syntax = "proto3";

// Additional imports go here

package partner.document.service.v1;

option go_package = "github.com/utilitywarehouse/<repo>/proto/gen/go/partner/document/service/v1;document";

// Service & message definitions go here

We’re also using the buf tool in order to lint our files and check for breaking changes.

Generating code from protocol buffers

Finally, we need to generate our code so we can use it in our go services. We commit and keep all our generated source code within the repository along with the definitions. This means that when code is regenerated, all services that depend on that generated code are updated at once.

To achieve our code generation, we use a bash script that finds all directories containing at least one .proto file and runs the protoc command. This will output our generated code in directories relative to the respective .proto files within a proto/gen/go subdirectory. If we wanted to extend this to other languages (Java, TypeScript etc), these would be kept underneath proto/gen/<language_name>.

The script lives at proto/generate.sh, the important part looks like this:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# Get current directory.
DIR="$( cd "$( dirname "${BASH_SOURCE[0]}" )" >/dev/null 2>&1 && pwd )"

# Find all directories containing at least one prototfile.
# Based on: https://buf.build/docs/migration-prototool#prototool-generate.
for dir in $(find ${DIR}/partner -name '*.proto' -print0 | xargs -0 -n1 dirname | sort | uniq); do
  files=$(find "${dir}" -name '*.proto')

  # Generate all files with protoc-gen-go.
  protoc -I ${DIR} --go_out=plugins=grpc,paths=source_relative:${DIR}/gen/go ${files}
done

We also have some extra utilities, such as running additional generators when certain import directives are used within the proto definitions. For example, if go-proto-validators are used within a definition. We will also generate code using --govalidators_out. Rinse and repeat for some additional tooling and some internal ones.

Generated package names

If you’re anal like myself, you may not like the go package names you get as a result of this. In the example above, you end up with a package name of partner_document_v1, which isn’t pretty to look at unless you alias it when importing it.

To solve this, you can specify option go_package in order to override the generated package name. This is purely optional, but it allows us to have package names like document instead. You can read more about this option here