Go 1.14 was recently released. The release notes include one change to the ubiquitous testing library:

The testing package now supports cleanup functions, called after a test or benchmark has finished, by calling T.Cleanup or B.Cleanup respectively.

And the docs offer just a bit more:

Cleanup registers a function to be called when the test and all its subtests complete. Cleanup functions will be called in last added, first called order.

How might this new behavior be implemented? My first thought was pretty straightforward: a slice of niladic functions to which each new cleanup function is appended and whose contents are executed one-by-one in reverse order after the test function returns. That would look something like this:

struct T {
	// other fields...
	cleanups []func()

func (*t T) Cleanup(f func ()) {
	t.cleanups = append(t.cleanups, f)

// runTest is the imaginary function that actually invokes the test function
// fn.
func (*t T) runTest(fn func(t *T)) {
	// other setup...


	for i := len(t.cleanups) - 1; i >= 0; i-- {

Note that this is greatly oversimplified, since I’ve omitted handling for panics and parallel testing, both of which add considerable complexity. Thinking about the behavior I’ve implemented, though, you might notice something intriguing: the cleanup functionality is first-in, last-out, just like a classic stack data structure. What’s more, the sole purpose of the cleanup functionality is to jump to functions, one after another, in this LIFO order. Putting it like that, the behavior we need is exactly what the classic call stack does!

There’s just one problem, though – we don’t want to call the cleanup functions immediately, as they’re registered, but later, after the test function returns. We really need some way to… defer them! Go has a tool that does just this, the defer keyword, which pushes a function onto a stack for execution later. This is exactly how T.Cleanup is actually implemented:

func (t *T) Cleanup(f func()) {
	oldCleanup := t.cleanup
	t.cleanup = func() {
		if oldCleanup != nil {
			defer oldCleanup()

Again, I’ve elided some irrelevant details. After a test function returns (or ends early with T.FailNow, or panics), testing invokes t.cleanup, and all of the cleanup functions previously registered get run in LIFO order, as promised.

I found it a little difficult to visualize how exactly control gets passed through multiple cleanup functions, so here’s a concrete example. Imagine we register three cleanup functions, A, B, and C:

func TestFoo(t *testing.T) {
	// rest of your test...

Later, when the testing package invokes t.cleanup, the series of calls looks like this:

  1. testing calls cC, the function literal that closed over C
  2. cC defers cB, the function literal that closed over B
  3. cC invokes C
  4. After cC returns, the deferred cB is invoked by the runtime
  5. cB defers cA, the function literal that closed over A
  6. cB invokes B
  7. After cB returns, the deferred cA is invoked by the runtime
  8. cA invokes A

Why is this better than the straightforward []func() solution from before? Well, beside having a certain elegance to it, the use of defer means that panics in any of the cleanup functions will be handled in mostly the same way that panics during the test function itself would be, and can share recovery and reporting machinery.

Bonus: In Go 1.14, defer also got a lot faster. The spec for that optimization is pretty engaging, and the graph is impressive:

Benchmark showing defer's overhead to be nearly the same as a normal function call

With Go 1.14, the overhead of most uses of defer is nearly the same as a normal function call. Image from @janiszt