Paths for Referring to an Item in the Module Tree

To show Rust where to find an item in a module tree, we use a path in the same way we use a path when navigating a filesystem. If we want to call a function, we need to know its path.

A path can take two forms:

  • An absolute path starts from a crate root by using a crate name or a literal crate.
  • A relative path starts from the current module and uses self, super, or an identifier in the current module.

Both absolute and relative paths are followed by one or more identifiers separated by double colons (::).

Let’s return to the example in Listing 7-1. How do we call the add_to_waitlist function? This is the same as asking, what’s the path of the add_to_waitlist function? In Listing 7-3, we simplified our code a bit by removing some of the modules and functions. We’ll show two ways to call the add_to_waitlist function from a new function eat_at_restaurant defined in the crate root. The eat_at_restaurant function is part of our library crate’s public API, so we mark it with the pub keyword. In the ”Exposing Paths with the pub Keyword” section, we’ll go into more detail about pub. Note that this example won’t compile just yet; we’ll explain why in a bit.

Filename: src/lib.rs

mod front_of_house {
    mod hosting {
        fn add_to_waitlist() {}
    }
}

pub fn eat_at_restaurant() {
    // Absolute path
    crate::front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();

    // Relative path
    front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
}

Listing 7-3: Calling the add_to_waitlist function using absolute and relative paths

The first time we call the add_to_waitlist function in eat_at_restaurant, we use an absolute path. The add_to_waitlist function is defined in the same crate as eat_at_restaurant, which means we can use the crate keyword to start an absolute path.

After crate, we include each of the successive modules until we make our way to add_to_waitlist. You can imagine a filesystem with the same structure, and we’d specify the path /front_of_house/hosting/add_to_waitlist to run the add_to_waitlist program; using the crate name to start from the crate root is like using / to start from the filesystem root in your shell.

The second time we call add_to_waitlist in eat_at_restaurant, we use a relative path. The path starts with front_of_house, the name of the module defined at the same level of the module tree as eat_at_restaurant. Here the filesystem equivalent would be using the path front_of_house/hosting/add_to_waitlist. Starting with a name means that the path is relative.

Choosing whether to use a relative or absolute path is a decision you’ll make based on your project. The decision should depend on whether you’re more likely to move item definition code separately from or together with the code that uses the item. For example, if we move the front_of_house module and the eat_at_restaurant function into a module named customer_experience, we’d need to update the absolute path to add_to_waitlist, but the relative path would still be valid. However, if we moved the eat_at_restaurant function separately into a module named dining, the absolute path to the add_to_waitlist call would stay the same, but the relative path would need to be updated. Our preference is to specify absolute paths because it’s more likely to move code definitions and item calls independently of each other.

Let’s try to compile Listing 7-3 and find out why it won’t compile yet! The error we get is shown in Listing 7-4.

$ cargo build
   Compiling restaurant v0.1.0 (file:///projects/restaurant)
error[E0603]: module `hosting` is private
 --> src/lib.rs:9:28
  |
9 |     crate::front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
  |                            ^^^^^^^

error[E0603]: module `hosting` is private
  --> src/lib.rs:12:21
   |
12 |     front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
   |                     ^^^^^^^

Listing 7-4: Compiler errors from building the code in Listing 7-3

The error messages say that module hosting is private. In other words, we have the correct paths for the hosting module and the add_to_waitlist function, but Rust won’t let us use them because it doesn’t have access to the private sections.

Modules aren’t useful only for organizing your code. They also define Rust’s privacy boundary: the line that encapsulates the implementation details external code isn’t allowed to know about, call, or rely on. So, if you want to make an item like a function or struct private, you put it in a module.

The way privacy works in Rust is that all items (functions, methods, structs, enums, modules, and constants) are private by default. Items in a parent module can’t use the private items inside child modules, but items in child modules can use the items in their ancestor modules. The reason is that child modules wrap and hide their implementation details, but the child modules can see the context in which they’re defined. To continue with the restaurant metaphor, think of the privacy rules as being like the back office of a restaurant: what goes on in there is private to restaurant customers, but office managers can see and do everything in the restaurant in which they operate.

Rust chose to have the module system function this way so that hiding inner implementation details is the default. That way, you know which parts of the inner code you can change without breaking outer code. But you can expose inner parts of child modules code to outer ancestor modules by using the pub keyword to make an item public.

Exposing Paths with the pub Keyword

Let’s return to the error in Listing 7-4 that told us the hosting module is private. We want the eat_at_restaurant function in the parent module to have access to the add_to_waitlist function in the child module, so we mark the hosting module with the pub keyword, as shown in Listing 7-5.

Filename: src/lib.rs

mod front_of_house {
    pub mod hosting {
        fn add_to_waitlist() {}
    }
}

pub fn eat_at_restaurant() {
    // Absolute path
    crate::front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();

    // Relative path
    front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
}

Listing 7-5: Declaring the hosting module as pub to use it from eat_at_restaurant

Unfortunately, the code in Listing 7-5 still results in an error, as shown in Listing 7-6.

$ cargo build
   Compiling restaurant v0.1.0 (file:///projects/restaurant)
error[E0603]: function `add_to_waitlist` is private
 --> src/lib.rs:9:37
  |
9 |     crate::front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
  |                                     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

error[E0603]: function `add_to_waitlist` is private
  --> src/lib.rs:12:30
   |
12 |     front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
   |                              ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Listing 7-6: Compiler errors from building the code in Listing 7-5

What happened? Adding the pub keyword in front of mod hosting makes the module public. With this change, if we can access front_of_house, we can access hosting. But the contents of hosting are still private; making the module public doesn’t make its contents public. The pub keyword on a module only lets code in its ancestor modules refer to it.

The errors in Listing 7-6 say that the add_to_waitlist function is private. The privacy rules apply to structs, enums, functions, and methods as well as modules.

Let’s also make the add_to_waitlist function public by adding the pub keyword before its definition, as in Listing 7-7.

Filename: src/lib.rs

mod front_of_house {
    pub mod hosting {
        pub fn add_to_waitlist() {}
    }
}

pub fn eat_at_restaurant() {
    // Absolute path
    crate::front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();

    // Relative path
    front_of_house::hosting::add_to_waitlist();
}
# fn main() {}

Listing 7-7: Adding the pub keyword to mod hosting and fn add_to_waitlist lets us call the function from eat_at_restaurant

Now the code will compile! Let’s look at the absolute and the relative path and double-check why adding the pub keyword lets us use these paths in add_to_waitlist with respect to the privacy rules.

In the absolute path, we start with crate, the root of our crate’s module tree. Then the front_of_house module is defined in the crate root. The front_of_house module isn’t public, but because the eat_at_restaurant function is defined in the same module as front_of_house (that is, eat_at_restaurant and front_of_house are siblings), we can refer to front_of_house from eat_at_restaurant. Next is the hosting module marked with pub. We can access the parent module of hosting, so we can access hosting. Finally, the add_to_waitlist function is marked with pub and we can access its parent module, so this function call works!

In the relative path, the logic is the same as the absolute path except for the first step: rather than starting from the crate root, the path starts from front_of_house. The front_of_house module is defined within the same module as eat_at_restaurant, so the relative path starting from the module in which eat_at_restaurant is defined works. Then, because hosting and add_to_waitlist are marked with pub, the rest of the path works, and this function call is valid!

Starting Relative Paths with super

We can also construct relative paths that begin in the parent module by using super at the start of the path. This is like starting a filesystem path with the .. syntax. Why would we want to do this?

Consider the code in Listing 7-8 that models the situation in which a chef fixes an incorrect order and personally brings it out to the customer. The function fix_incorrect_order calls the function serve_order by specifying the path to serve_order starting with super:

Filename: src/lib.rs

fn serve_order() {}

mod back_of_house {
    fn fix_incorrect_order() {
        cook_order();
        super::serve_order();
    }

    fn cook_order() {}
}
# fn main() {}

Listing 7-8: Calling a function using a relative path starting with super

The fix_incorrect_order function is in the back_of_house module, so we can use super to go to the parent module of back_of_house, which in this case is crate, the root. From there, we look for serve_order and find it. Success! We think the back_of_house module and the serve_order function are likely to stay in the same relationship to each other and get moved together should we decide to reorganize the crate’s module tree. Therefore, we used super so we’ll have fewer places to update code in the future if this code gets moved to a different module.

Making Structs and Enums Public

We can also use pub to designate structs and enums as public, but there are a few extra details. If we use pub before a struct definition, we make the struct public, but the struct’s fields will still be private. We can make each field public or not on a case-by-case basis. In Listing 7-9, we’ve defined a public back_of_house::Breakfast struct with a public toast field but a private seasonal_fruit field. This models the case in a restaurant where the customer can pick the type of bread that comes with a meal, but the chef decides which fruit accompanies the meal based on what’s in season and in stock. The available fruit changes quickly, so customers can’t choose the fruit or even see which fruit they’ll get.

Filename: src/lib.rs


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
mod back_of_house {
    pub struct Breakfast {
        pub toast: String,
        seasonal_fruit: String,
    }

    impl Breakfast {
        pub fn summer(toast: &str) -> Breakfast {
            Breakfast {
                toast: String::from(toast),
                seasonal_fruit: String::from("peaches"),
            }
        }
    }
}

pub fn eat_at_restaurant() {
    // Order a breakfast in the summer with Rye toast
    let mut meal = back_of_house::Breakfast::summer("Rye");
    // Change our mind about what bread we'd like
    meal.toast = String::from("Wheat");
    println!("I'd like {} toast please", meal.toast);

    // The next line won't compile if we uncomment it; we're not allowed
    // to see or modify the seasonal fruit that comes with the meal
    // meal.seasonal_fruit = String::from("blueberries");
}
#}

Listing 7-9: A struct with some public fields and some private fields

Because the toast field in the back_of_house::Breakfast struct is public, in eat_at_restaurant we can write and read to the toast field using dot notation. Notice that we can’t use the seasonal_fruit field in eat_at_restaurant because seasonal_fruit is private. Try uncommenting the line modifying the seasonal_fruit field value to see what error you get!

Also, note that because back_of_house::Breakfast has a private field, the struct needs to provide a public associated function that constructs an instance of Breakfast (we’ve named it summer here). If Breakfast didn’t have such a function, we couldn’t create an instance of Breakfast in eat_at_restaurant because we couldn’t set the value of the private seasonal_fruit field in eat_at_restaurant.

In contrast, if we make an enum public, all of its variants are then public. We only need the pub before the enum keyword, as shown in Listing 7-10.

Filename: src/lib.rs


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
mod back_of_house {
    pub enum Appetizer {
        Soup,
        Salad,
    }
}

pub fn eat_at_restaurant() {
    let order1 = back_of_house::Appetizer::Soup;
    let order2 = back_of_house::Appetizer::Salad;
}
#}

Listing 7-10: Designating an enum as public makes all its variants public

Because we made the Appetizer enum public, we can use the Soup and Salad variants in eat_at_restaurant. Enums aren’t very useful unless their variants are public; it would be annoying to have to annotate all enum variants with pub in every case, so the default for enum variants is to be public. Structs are often useful without their fields being public, so struct fields follow the general rule of everything being private by default unless annotated with pub.

There’s one more situation involving pub that we haven’t covered, and that is our last module system feature: the use keyword. We’ll cover use by itself first, and then we’ll show how to combine pub and use.