Rust 0.12.0-pre-nightly

The Rust Design FAQ

This document describes decisions that were arrived at after lengthy discussion and experimenting with alternatives. Please do not propose reversing them unless you have a new, extremely compelling argument. Note that this document specifically talks about the language and not any library or implementation.

A few general guidelines define the philosophy:

1 Semantics

1.1 Data layout is unspecified

In the general case, enum and struct layout is undefined. This allows the compiler to potentially do optimizations like re-using padding for the discriminant, compacting variants of nested enums, reordering fields to remove padding, etc. enums which carry no data ("C-like") are eligible to have a defined representation. Such enums are easily distinguished in that they are simply a list of names that carry no data:

fn main() { enum CLike { A, B = 32, C = 34, D } }
enum CLike {
    A,
    B = 32,
    C = 34,
    D
}

The repr attribute can be applied to such enums to give them the same representation as a primitive. This allows using Rust enums in FFI where C enums are also used, for most use cases. The attribute can also be applied to structs to get the same layout as a C struct would.

1.2 There is no GC

A language that requires a GC is a language that opts into a larger, more complex runtime than Rust cares for. Rust is usable on bare metal with no extra runtime. Additionally, garbage collection is frequently a source of non-deterministic behavior. Rust provides the tools to make using a GC possible and even pleasant, but it should not be a requirement for implementing the language.

1.3 Non-Sync static mut is unsafe

Types which are Sync are thread-safe when multiple shared references to them are used concurrently. Types which are not Sync are not thread-safe, and thus when used in a global require unsafe code to use.

1.3.1 If mutable static items that implement Sync are safe, why is taking &mut SHARABLE unsafe?

Having multiple aliasing &mut Ts is never allowed. Due to the nature of globals, the borrow checker cannot possibly ensure that a static obeys the borrowing rules, so taking a mutable reference to a static is always unsafe.

1.4 There is no life before or after main (no static ctors/dtors)

Globals can not have a non-constant-expression constructor and cannot have a destructor at all. This is an opinion of the language. Static constructors are undesirable because they can slow down program startup. Life before main is often considered a misfeature, never to be used. Rust helps this along by just not having the feature.

See the C++ FQA about the "static initialization order fiasco", and Eric Lippert's blog for the challenges in C#, which also has this feature.

A nice replacement is the lazy constructor macro by Marvin Löbel.

1.5 The language does not require a runtime

See the above entry on GC. Requiring a runtime limits the utility of the language, and makes it undeserving of the title "systems language". All Rust code should need to run is a stack.

1.6 match must be exhaustive

match being exhaustive has some useful properties. First, if every possibility is covered by the match, adding further variants to the enum in the future will prompt a compilation failure, rather than runtime failure. Second, it makes cost explicit. In general, only safe way to have a non-exhaustive match would be to fail the task if nothing is matched, though it could fall through if the type of the match expression is (). This sort of hidden cost and special casing is against the language's philosophy. It's easy to ignore certain cases by using the _ wildcard:

fn main() { match val.do_something() { Cat(a) => { /* ... */ } _ => { /* ... */ } } }
match val.do_something() {
    Cat(a) => { /* ... */ }
    _      => { /* ... */ }
}

#3101 is the issue that proposed making this the only behavior, with rationale and discussion.

1.7 No guaranteed tail-call optimization

In general, tail-call optimization is not guaranteed: see here for a detailed explanation with references. There is a proposed extension that would allow tail-call elimination in certain contexts. The compiler is still free to optimize tail-calls when it pleases, however.

1.8 No constructors

Functions can serve the same purpose as constructors without adding any language complexity.

1.9 No copy constructors

Types which implement Copy, will do a standard C-like "shallow copy" with no extra work (similar to "plain old data" in C++). It is impossible to implement Copy types that require custom copy behavior. Instead, in Rust "copy constructors" are created by implementing the Clone trait, and explicitly calling the clone method. Making user-defined copy operators explicit surfaces the underlying complexity, forcing the developer to opt-in to potentially expensive operations.

1.10 No move constructors

Values of all types are moved via memcpy. This makes writing generic unsafe code much simpler since assignment, passing and returning are known to never have a side effect like unwinding.

2 Syntax

2.1 Macros require balanced delimiters

This is to make the language easier to parse for machines. Since the body of a macro can contain arbitrary tokens, some restriction is needed to allow simple non-macro-expanding lexers and parsers. This comes in the form of requiring that all delimiters be balanced.

2.2 -> for function return type

This is to make the language easier to parse for humans, especially in the face of higher-order functions. fn foo<T>(f: fn(int): int, fn(T): U): U is not particularly easy to read.

2.3 let is used to introduce variables

let not only defines variables, but can do pattern matching. One can also redeclare immutable variables with let. This is useful to avoid unnecessary mut annotations. An interesting historical note is that Rust comes, syntactically, most closely from ML, which also uses let to introduce bindings.

See also a long thread on renaming let mut to var.