What is the correct way to find the min between two integers in Go?

Issue

I imported the math library in my program, and I was trying to find the minimum of three numbers in the following way:

v1[j+1] = math.Min(v1[j]+1, math.Min(v0[j+1]+1, v0[j]+cost))

where v1 is declared as:

t := "stackoverflow"
v1 := make([]int, len(t)+1)

However, when I run my program I get the following error:

./levenshtein_distance.go:36: cannot use int(v0[j + 1] + 1) (type int) as type float64 in argument to math.Min

I thought it was weird because I have another program where I write

fmt.Println(math.Min(2,3))

and that program outputs 2 without complaining.

so I ended up casting the values as float64, so that math.Min could work:

v1[j+1] = math.Min(float64(v1[j]+1), math.Min(float64(v0[j+1]+1), float64(v0[j]+cost)))

With this approach, I got the following error:

./levenshtein_distance.go:36: cannot use math.Min(int(v1[j] + 1), math.Min(int(v0[j + 1] + 1), int(v0[j] + cost))) (type float64) as type int in assignment

so to get rid of the problem, I just casted the result back to int

I thought this was extremely inefficient and hard to read:

v1[j+1] = int(math.Min(float64(v1[j]+1), math.Min(float64(v0[j+1]+1), float64(v0[j]+cost))))

I also wrote a small minInt function, but I think this should be unnecessary because the other programs that make use of math.Min work just fine when taking integers, so I concluded this has to be a problem of my program and not the library per se.

Is there anything that I’m doing terrible wrong?

Here’s a program that you can use to reproduce the issues above, line 36 specifically:
package main

import (
    "math"
)

func main() {
    LevenshteinDistance("stackoverflow", "stackexchange")
}

func LevenshteinDistance(s string, t string) int {
    if s == t {
        return 0
    }
    if len(s) == 0 {
        return len(t)
    }
    if len(t) == 0 {
        return len(s)
    }

    v0 := make([]int, len(t)+1)
    v1 := make([]int, len(t)+1)

    for i := 0; i < len(v0); i++ {
        v0[i] = i
    }

    for i := 0; i < len(s); i++ {
        v1[0] = i + 1
        for j := 0; j < len(t); j++ {
            cost := 0
            if s[i] != t[j] {
                cost = 1
            }
            v1[j+1] = int(math.Min(float64(v1[j]+1), math.Min(float64(v0[j+1]+1), float64(v0[j]+cost))))
        }

        for j := 0; j < len(v0); j++ {
            v0[j] = v1[j]
        }
    }
    return v1[len(t)]
}

Solution

Until Go 1.18 a one-off function was the standard way; for example, the stdlib’s sort.go does it near the top of the file:

func min(a, b int) int {
    if a < b {
        return a
    }
    return b
}

You might still want or need to use this approach so your code works on Go versions below 1.18!

Starting with Go 1.18, you can write a generic min function which is just as efficient at run time as the hand-coded single-type version, but works with any type with < and > operators:

func min[T constraints.Ordered](a, b T) T {
    if a < b {
        return a
    }
    return b
}

func main() {
    fmt.Println(min(1, 2))
    fmt.Println(min(1.5, 2.5))
    fmt.Println(min("Hello", "世界"))
}

There’s been discussion of updating the stdlib to add generic versions of existing functions, but if that happens it won’t be until a later version.

math.Min(2, 3) happened to work because numeric constants in Go are untyped. Beware of treating float64s as a universal number type in general, though, since integers above 2^53 will get rounded if converted to float64.

Answered By – twotwotwo

Answer Checked By – Katrina (GoLangFix Volunteer)

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