Go Gotcha: Closing a Nil HTTP Response Body With Defer

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018


When handling HTTP responses it is important to check the errors first before handling the responses. Even if you defer to close the io.Closer, in this case a response body, you’ll be surprised what happens when it is nil. Avoiding this crucial step or assuming defer can deflect or handle errors will lead to a nasty panic; ultimately crashing your program. Let’s see an example of this.

How To Do It Incorrectly

res, err := http.Get("abc.com/coffee")
defer res.Body.Close()
if err != nil {
    // handle `err`
// do something with `res`

If this function returns valid responses and nil errors you won’t experience any issues. Cool! That is, until res is nil. When it is you’ll get a panic that looks something like this:

PANIC: runtime error: invalid memory address or nil pointer dereference

If you follow the call stack you’ll be lead to the line defer res.Body.Close(). This error has occurred from trying to close a nil io.Closer. It just won’t work, it’s impossible.

How To Do It Correctly

By simply checking for an error before doing anything with the response we can conclude what we can and cannot do next.

  • if the error is not nil, we have an error and the response is nil. Return now or continue but avoid using the nil response
  • if the error is nil, we don’t have an error and the response is not nil. We can freely use the response as we originally intended

Our code could then look like this:

res, err := http.Get("abc.com/coffee")
if err != nil {
    return err
defer res.Body.Close()
// continue to use `res`

As you can see we’ve handled the error first and returned if it was not nil. Otherwise we continued to use the response.


  • always check errors immediately after functions that return them
  • defer should only prepend non-nil functions
  • defer does not deflect or handle errors automatically. You can, however, handle them with recover

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