Specification of the Go Text Protocol, version 2, draft 2

Gunnar Farnebäck

October, 2002

This is a draft only.
Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim or modified copies of this specification provided that the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (section 10) are respected.


1 Introduction

This document gives a specification of the Go Text Protocol (GTP), version 2.

1.1 Purpose of the Protocol

The intention of GTP is to provide a flexible and easy to implement communication protocol for go programs. The main purpose is to allow two programs to play each other but it is also useful for regression testing and communication with a GUI or a go server. Most use cases require an external support program, but this can be shared between all programs with GTP support.

1.2 History

The Go Text Protocol was developed within the GNU Go project, initially to create a framework for automated regression testing and to simplify connecting the program to go servers. The first appearance of the protocol was on May 18, 2000, in GNU Go development version 2.7.95. The first stable release of GNU Go with GTP support was GNU Go 3.0.0, released August 24, 2001, which is the reference implementation for version 1 of the protocol. There is no good specification of GTP version 1, however, and this document is intended to provide one for version 2.

1.3 Communication Model

The protocol is asymmetric and involves two parties, which we call controller and engine. The controller is typically some kind of arbiter or relay and the engine is typically a go playing program. All communication is initiated by the controller in form of commands, to which the engine responds.

The communication channel is assumed to be free from errors (i.e. those are handled at a lower level). Examples are UNIX pipes or TCP/IP connections. The latter can also be established over an error prone modem connection by using PPP (Point to Point Protocol) as a transport layer.

1.4 Typical Use Cases

  1. Regression testing.
    controller (regression script) -- engine
    The controller sets up a board position and asks the engine to e.g. generate a move.

  2. Human vs program.
    controller (GUI) -- engine
    The controller relays moves between the human and the engine and asks the engine to generate moves.

  3. Program vs program with arbiter.
    engine 1 -- controller (arbiter) -- engine 2
    The controller relays moves between the two engines and alternately asks the engines to generate moves. This involves two different GTP channels, the first between the controller and engine 1, and the second between the controller and engine 2. There is no direct communication between the two engines. The controller dictates board size, komi, etc.

  4. Program vs program without arbiter.
    The same as above except that engine 1 includes the controller functionality and the first GTP link is shortcut.

  5. Connection between go server and program.
    go server -- controller (relay) -- engine
    The controller talks to a go server using whatever protocol is needed and listens for match requests. When one arrives it accepts it, starts the go engine and issues GTP commands to set up board size, komi, etc. and if a game is restarted it also sets up the position. Then it relays moves between the server and the engine and asks the engine to generate new moves when it is in turn.

1.5 Reference Implementation

The reference implementation for GTP version 2 is GNU Go version 3.4. In cases of incompleteness or unclarity in this specification, the reference implementation decides the correct behaviour. Notice, however, that any command available in GNU Go 3.4, but not included in this specification (full list in section 6), is to be considered a private extension (see section 2.13).

Temporary comment: GNU Go 3.4 is currently under development and GTP version 2 has not yet been implemented in the development versions.

2 Protocol Basics

2.1 Character Set

All messages exchanged in this protocol are to be considered as 8-bit character sequences. Only characters in the US-ASCII character set (ANSI X3.4-1986) are used for standardized commands and responses. Other characters may be used in comments (section 2.9) and private extensions (section 2.13) but there is no preferred character set specified for those.

2.2 Control Characters

Character values 0-31 and 127 are control characters in ASCII. The following control characters have a specific meaning in the protocol:

HT (dec 9) Horizontal Tab
CR (dec 13) Carriage Return
LF (dec 10) Line Feed

All other control characters must be discarded on input and should not be used on output.

2.3 Whitespace

The following ASCII characters can be used to indicate whitespace in the protocol:

SPACE (dec 32) Space
HT (dec 9) Horizontal Tab

In the rest of the specification we use 'space' to denote a whitespace character. On input this may be either a SPACE or a HT. On output only a SPACE should be used.

2.4 Newline Convention

A newline is indicated by a single LF character. Any occurence of a CR character must be discarded on input, both by the engine and the controller. On output either LF or some combination of CR and LF can be used. In syntax descriptions we use \n to indicate a newline.

2.5 Command Structure

A command is exactly one line long, with the syntax

[id] command_name [arguments]

Here id is an optional identity number and command_name a string. The rest of the line (up to the first newline) gives the arguments of the command.

2.6 Response Structure

If successful, the engine returns a response of the form

=[id] result

Here '=' indicates success, id is the identity number given in the command, and result is a piece of text ending with two consecutive newlines.

2.7 Error Messages

If unsuccessful, the engine returns a response of the form

?[id] error_message

Here '?' indicates failure, id is the identity number given in the command, and error_message gives an explanation for the failure, also ending with two consecutive newlines.

2.8 Timing

There are no synchronization requirements between the controller and the engine. The controller may send commands at any time, regardless of whether it has obtained responses for previous commands. The engine may send responses whenever they are ready. It must, however, respond to the commands in the same order as they come in. The engine is allowed to make pauses while sending a response.


Comments can be included in the command stream. All text between a hash sign (#) and the following newline is considered as comments and should be discarded on input.

2.10 Empty lines

Empty lines and lines with only whitespace sent by the controller must be ignored by the engine. No response must be generated. Empty lines and lines with only whitespace sent by the engine and occuring outside a response must be ignored by the controller. Notice that pure comment lines will appear as empty lines after the comment has been discarded.

2.11 Board Coordinates

Board intersections, in this document called vertices, are encoded by a letter plus a number. On a 19x19 board the letters go from A to T, excluding I, from the left to the right. The numbers go from 1 to 19, from the bottom to the top. Thus the lower left corner is called A1, the lower right corner T1, the upper left corner A19, and the upper right corner T19. Smaller boards use the obvious subset of these coordinates. Larger boards, up to 25x25, are handled by extending the letters with U to Z as needed. Boards larger than 25x25 are not supported by the protocol.

2.12 Protocol Subsets

An engine does not have to implement all commands listed in this specification. In general, for an engine to be used with some specific controller, it is only required that the engine understands exactly the commands needed by that controller. To simplify this matching of capabilities, there are two predefined protocol subsets called the tournament and the regression subsets. There is also a small set of commands required for all GTP supporting engines.

2.13 Private Extensions

The protocol is trivial to extend with new commands. Obviously there is a risk for conflicts if multiple engines make incompatible private extensions of the protocol or if an engine makes a private extension which turns out to be incompatible with a future extension of the standard protocol.

In order to avoid this problem, standard commands do not include the dash (-) character. Private extensions are recommended to be of the form XXX-YYYYY, where XXX is a prefix which is sufficiently unique for the engine or controller in question, and YYYYY describes the command. E.g. a private variant of the genmove command used by GNU Go could be called gg-genmove.

Engines are allowed to use private extensions without a dash in the name, but then they do it at their own risk and must be prepared to change if the name later becomes used for a standard command.

2.14 Panic Situations

If an engine for some reason, e.g. an internal error, finds itself in a position where it cannot meaningfully continue the session, the correct action is to just close the connection. This is also what typically will happen if the program should happen to encounter an uncontrolled crash.

3 Protocol Details

3.1 Preprocessing

When a command string arrives to an engine, it is expected to perform the following four operations before any further parsing takes place:

  1. Remove all occurences of CR and other control characters except for HT and LF.
  2. For each line with a hash sign (#), remove all text following and including this character.
  3. Convert all occurences of HT to SPACE.
  4. Discard any empty or white-space only lines.

When a response arrives to a controller, it is expected only to do steps 1 and 3 above.

Naturally an implementation does not have to actually do this preprocessing as a separate step but may interleave it with other parts of the parsing. For purposes of the following specifications, though, the preprocessing is supposed to have been carried out in full.

3.2 Syntactic Entities

3.2.1 Simple Entities

3.2.2 Compound Entities

3.3 Commands

A command has one of the syntaxes

id command_name arguments\n
id command_name\n
command_name arguments\n

3.4 Success Responses

A successful response has one of the syntaxes

=id response\n\n
= response\n\n

3.5 Failure Responses

An unsuccessful response has one of the syntaxes
?id error_message\n\n
? error_message\n\n

3.6 Standard Error Messages

If the engine receives an unknown or unimplemented command, use the error message ``unknown command''. Some commands fail in certain cases with standardized error messages. Those are listed in the command descriptions in section 6.3. For other failures the engine can freely choose error message.

4 Important Concepts

4.1 Handicap Placement

The protocol supports both fixed placement of handicap stones and free placement. The handicap stones are always black.

4.1.1 Fixed Handicap Placement

With fixed placement the handicap stones are set in predetermined positions. The maximum number of fixed handicap stones varies with the board size but is never larger than 9. On a 19x19 board, the positions for the handicap stones are given by this table:

Handicap Vertices
2 D4 Q16
3 D4 Q16 D16
4 D4 Q16 D16 Q4
5 D4 Q16 D16 Q4 K10
6 D4 Q16 D16 Q4 D10 Q10
7 D4 Q16 D16 Q4 D10 Q10 K10
8 D4 Q16 D16 Q4 D10 Q10 K4 K16
9 D4 Q16 D16 Q4 D10 Q10 K4 K16 K10

The placement of handicap stones on other board sizes mirrors that of 19x19 with stones at a specific distance from the edges and on the middle lines of the board, with the following caveats:

More explicitly we obtain the following table:

board size max handicap edge distance
25 9 4
24 4 4
23 9 4
22 4 4
21 9 4
20 4 4
19 9 4
18 4 4
17 9 4
16 4 4
15 9 4
14 4 4
13 9 4
12 4 3
11 9 3
10 4 3
9 9 3
8 4 3
7 4 3
6 - -
5 - -
4 - -
3 - -
2 - -

4.1.2 Free Handicap Placement

With free placement the handicap stones are set as chosen by the controller or by one of the engines (for normal tournament use the engine playing the black stones would make the choice). The smallest number of handicap stones is 2. The highest number is one less the number of vertices on the board. However, when the number of handicap stones becomes very high there is no benefit in additional stones. Therefore, when asked to choose handicap placement, an engine is allowed to return a smaller number of stones than requested. This provision should only be used if the requested number of stones is so high that a smaller number of stones is believed to guarantee that the engine cannot possibly lose against any opponent.

4.2 Time Handling

The protocol has support for Canadian byo yomi, including absolute time (no byo yomi) as a special case. Canadian byo yomi is characterized by the three parameters

The semantics is that the clock is first set to $m$. The engine has no requirements on the number of stones while this time is running. When it is up, the clock is reset to $b$ and the engine has to play $s$ stones before this time is up. When $s$ stones have been played, the clock is reset to $b$, regardless of remaining time. Then the engine has to play another $s$ stones before the time is up. This procedure repeats until the game is over. If an engine fails to play $s$ stones before its byo yomi time is up, it loses on time.

Setting $m=0$ means that the engine immediately starts in byo yomi. Setting $b=0$ means that if the main time is up before the game is over, the engine loses on time. Setting $b>0$ and $s=0$ means no time limits.

4.3 Scoring

Depending on the exact choice of rules (see also section 8.3), scoring a finished game may be more or less complex. With a few exceptions it is critical to determine which stones are dead and which are alive. Sometimes it is also necessary to distinguish between life in seki and independent life.

This protocol provides two commands to query the engines about score and group status. They are both valid only when the game is finished.

The first command, final_score, asks for the engine's opinion about the score. The result is returned as a string of the form W+2.5 if white wins, B+31 if black wins, and just 0 if the game ends in a draw. The number in the result is of course the difference between the number of points for each player, including komi.

The second command, final_status_list, is used to query an engine about the status of the stones. This command takes a string argument which may be one of alive, seki, and dead. The result is reported by listing all stones having the requested status. The list is organized with one string per line. If an engine cannot distinguish between life in seki and independent life, all those stones should be reported as alive.

The protocol does not include any support for resolving disagreement about status or score.

5 Internal State

5.1 State Variables

An engine is expected to keep track of the following state information:

5.2 Default State

There is no default state for any state variable. When first started, the engine may set these as it likes. A controller which has some specific opinion about these values must set them explicitly with the appropriate commands, including clearing the board.

5.3 State Maintenance

The state is changed by certain commands, as specified in their description in section 6. State which is not explicitly modified must remain unchanged. A failed command must never change any state.

6 Commands

6.1 Required Commands

All implementations are required to support the following commands:


6.2 Protocol Subsets

6.2.1 Tournament

The tournament subset adds the commands:

6.2.2 Regression

The regression subset adds the commands:

6.3 List of All Commands

6.3.1 Adminstrative Commands

6.3.2 Setup Commands

6.3.3 Core Play Commands

6.3.4 Tournament Commands

6.3.5 Regression Commands

6.3.6 Debug Commands

7 Example

8 Comments on the Specification

8.1 Design Principles

  1. The protocol is primarily intended for machine-machine communication. At the same time we want it to be reasonably human readable as well. There are two principal reasons for this. The first one is to make it easy to debug a protocol implementation or to find the error if the communication breaks down, e.g. if two engines involved in a game get their boards out of sync. The second reason is to make it easy to online issue GTP commands, or write scripts, for engine testing.

    The protocol is not intended as a user interface for playing games though, even if it can be done for testing purposes.

  2. The protocol intentionally does not include any negotiation options. The controller dictates everything and the engine has to comply, unless it is technically unable to, in which case it has to fail. While this to some extent limits the power of the protocol, it considerably simplifies implementation of both engines and controllers.

    Arguably an engine could fail on purpose as some kind of attempt to force negotiation. This is not encouraged and is considered bad style. A controller has absolutely no obligation to try to work around such failures.

8.2 Detail Comments

8.3 Missing Features

  1. Ruleset Commands and Scoring Options
    This version of the protocol has no provisions to specify what ruleset and/or scoring options to use. This is planned for future revisions but has been omitted here due to the complexity of the issue.

    The reason why this is considered complex is that there are numerous rulesets (using the term loosely) such as Japanese, Chinese, AGA, Ing, IGS, and New Zealand, which differ with respect to one or more of ko rule, area or territory scoring, scoring of seki, legality of suicide, effect of handicap stones on scoring, and so on.

    As a workaround this kind of information has to be passed through other channels than GTP, e.g. as command line options when starting the engine.

    In practice this is not all that much of a problem since these settings rarely vary between games, e.g. within a tournament. Still it is desirable to have this functionality in the protocol, but it is worth waiting for a well thought through design of the commands.

  2. Introspective Commands
    GNU Go includes a large number of commands to query the board, e.g. list legal moves, find connected strings, count liberties, and so on. These can be useful when writing a ``stupid'' user interface which does not itself know anything about the board logic. They have been omitted from this specification mainly to keep it shorter and make it look less imposing. They are under consideration for inclusion in later revisions.

8.4 Licensing

Anyone may use this protocol for any purpose without any restrictions.

This document may be copied, modified, and distributed according to the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, included in section 10.

While this in theory allows anyone to create modified protocol specifications, which could potentially lead to great chaos, that would benefit noone and we trust people not be that stupid.

The reason why we allow modification at all is to make sure that new authors can continue evolving the protocol if previous authors disappear, without having to rewrite everything from scratch.

People who want to use this protocol as a basis for development of some other protocol are most welcome to start from this protocol specification.

9 Credits

10 GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.1, March 2000

Copyright © 2000 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307 USA
Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.


The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other written document ``free'' in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.

This License is a kind of ``copyleft'', which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It complements the GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license designed for free software.

We have designed this License in order to use it for manuals for free software, because free software needs free documentation: a free program should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does. But this License is not limited to software manuals; it can be used for any textual work, regardless of subject matter or whether it is published as a printed book. We recommend this License principally for works whose purpose is instruction or reference.

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About this document ...

Specification of the Go Text Protocol, version 2, draft 2

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