Refactoring to Improve Modularity and Error Handling

To improve our program, we’ll fix four problems that have to do with the program’s structure and how it’s handling potential errors.

First, our main function now performs two tasks: it parses arguments and reads files. For such a small function, this isn’t a major problem. However, if we continue to grow our program inside main, the number of separate tasks the main function handles will increase. As a function gains responsibilities, it becomes more difficult to reason about, harder to test, and harder to change without breaking one of its parts. It’s best to separate functionality so each function is responsible for one task.

This issue also ties into the second problem: although query and filename are configuration variables to our program, variables like contents are used to perform the program’s logic. The longer main becomes, the more variables we’ll need to bring into scope; the more variables we have in scope, the harder it will be to keep track of the purpose of each. It’s best to group the configuration variables into one structure to make their purpose clear.

The third problem is that we’ve used expect to print an error message when reading the file fails, but the error message just prints something went wrong. Reading a file can fail in a number of ways: for example, the file could be missing, or we might not have permission to open it. Right now, regardless of the situation, we’d print the something went wrong error message, which wouldn’t give the user any information!

Fourth, we use expect repeatedly to handle different errors, and if the user runs our program without specifying enough arguments, they’ll get an index out of bounds error from Rust that doesn’t clearly explain the problem. It would be best if all the error-handling code were in one place so future maintainers had only one place to consult in the code if the error-handling logic needed to change. Having all the error-handling code in one place will also ensure that we’re printing messages that will be meaningful to our end users.

Let’s address these four problems by refactoring our project.

Separation of Concerns for Binary Projects

The organizational problem of allocating responsibility for multiple tasks to the main function is common to many binary projects. As a result, the Rust community has developed a process to use as a guideline for splitting the separate concerns of a binary program when main starts getting large. The process has the following steps:

  • Split your program into a main.rs and a lib.rs and move your program’s logic to lib.rs.

  • As long as your command line parsing logic is small, it can remain in main.rs.

  • When the command line parsing logic starts getting complicated, extract it from main.rs and move it to lib.rs.

  • The responsibilities that remain in the main function after this process should be limited to the following:

    • Calling the command line parsing logic with the argument values
    • Setting up any other configuration
    • Calling a run function in lib.rs
    • Handling the error if run returns an error

This pattern is about separating concerns: main.rs handles running the program, and lib.rs handles all the logic of the task at hand. Because you can’t test the main function directly, this structure lets you test all of your program’s logic by moving it into functions in lib.rs. The only code that remains in main.rs will be small enough to verify its correctness by reading it. Let’s rework our program by following this process.

Extracting the Argument Parser

We’ll extract the functionality for parsing arguments into a function that main will call to prepare for moving the command line parsing logic to src/lib.rs. Listing 12-5 shows the new start of main that calls a new function parse_config, which we’ll define in src/main.rs for the moment.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();

    let (query, filename) = parse_config(&args);

    // --snip--
}

fn parse_config(args: &[String]) -> (&str, &str) {
    let query = &args[1];
    let filename = &args[2];

    (query, filename)
}

Listing 12-5: Extracting a parse_config function from main

We’re still collecting the command line arguments into a vector, but instead of assigning the argument value at index 1 to the variable query and the argument value at index 2 to the variable filename within the main function, we pass the whole vector to the parse_config function. The parse_config function then holds the logic that determines which argument goes in which variable and passes the values back to main. We still create the query and filename variables in main, but main no longer has the responsibility of determining how the command line arguments and variables correspond.

This rework may seem like overkill for our small program, but we’re refactoring in small, incremental steps. After making this change, run the program again to verify that the argument parsing still works. It’s good to check your progress often, to help identify the cause of problems when they occur.

Grouping Configuration Values

We can take another small step to improve the parse_config function further. At the moment, we’re returning a tuple, but then we immediately break that tuple into individual parts again. This is a sign that perhaps we don’t have the right abstraction yet.

Another indicator that shows there’s room for improvement is the config part of parse_config, which implies that the two values we return are related and are both part of one configuration value. We’re not currently conveying this meaning in the structure of the data other than by grouping the two values into a tuple; we could put the two values into one struct and give each of the struct fields a meaningful name. Doing so will make it easier for future maintainers of this code to understand how the different values relate to each other and what their purpose is.

Note: Some people call this anti-pattern of using primitive values when a complex type would be more appropriate primitive obsession.

Listing 12-6 shows the addition of a struct named Config defined to have fields named query and filename. We’ve also changed the parse_config function to return an instance of the Config struct and updated main to use the struct fields rather than having separate variables:

Filename: src/main.rs

# use std::env;
# use std::fs;
#
fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();

    let config = parse_config(&args);

    println!("Searching for {}", config.query);
    println!("In file {}", config.filename);

    let contents = fs::read_to_string(config.filename)
        .expect("Something went wrong reading the file");

    // --snip--
}

struct Config {
    query: String,
    filename: String,
}

fn parse_config(args: &[String]) -> Config {
    let query = args[1].clone();
    let filename = args[2].clone();

    Config { query, filename }
}

Listing 12-6: Refactoring parse_config to return an instance of a Config struct

The signature of parse_config now indicates that it returns a Config value. In the body of parse_config, where we used to return string slices that reference String values in args, we now define Config to contain owned String values. The args variable in main is the owner of the argument values and is only letting the parse_config function borrow them, which means we’d violate Rust’s borrowing rules if Config tried to take ownership of the values in args.

We could manage the String data in a number of different ways, but the easiest, though somewhat inefficient, route is to call the clone method on the values. This will make a full copy of the data for the Config instance to own, which takes more time and memory than storing a reference to the string data. However, cloning the data also makes our code very straightforward because we don’t have to manage the lifetimes of the references; in this circumstance, giving up a little performance to gain simplicity is a worthwhile trade-off.

The Trade-Offs of Using clone

There’s a tendency among many Rustaceans to avoid using clone to fix ownership problems because of its runtime cost. In Chapter 13, you’ll learn how to use more efficient methods in this type of situation. But for now, it’s okay to copy a few strings to continue making progress because you’ll make these copies only once and your filename and query string are very small. It’s better to have a working program that’s a bit inefficient than to try to hyperoptimize code on your first pass. As you become more experienced with Rust, it’ll be easier to start with the most efficient solution, but for now, it’s perfectly acceptable to call clone.

We’ve updated main so it places the instance of Config returned by parse_config into a variable named config, and we updated the code that previously used the separate query and filename variables so it now uses the fields on the Config struct instead.

Now our code more clearly conveys that query and filename are related and that their purpose is to configure how the program will work. Any code that uses these values knows to find them in the config instance in the fields named for their purpose.

Creating a Constructor for Config

So far, we’ve extracted the logic responsible for parsing the command line arguments from main and placed it in the parse_config function. Doing so helped us to see that the query and filename values were related and that relationship should be conveyed in our code. We then added a Config struct to name the related purpose of query and filename and to be able to return the values’ names as struct field names from the parse_config function.

So now that the purpose of the parse_config function is to create a Config instance, we can change parse_config from a plain function to a function named new that is associated with the Config struct. Making this change will make the code more idiomatic. We can create instances of types in the standard library, such as String, by calling String::new. Similarly, by changing parse_config into a new function associated with Config, we’ll be able to create instances of Config by calling Config::new. Listing 12-7 shows the changes we need to make:

Filename: src/main.rs

# use std::env;
#
fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();

    let config = Config::new(&args);

    // --snip--
}

# struct Config {
#     query: String,
#     filename: String,
# }
#
// --snip--

impl Config {
    fn new(args: &[String]) -> Config {
        let query = args[1].clone();
        let filename = args[2].clone();

        Config { query, filename }
    }
}

Listing 12-7: Changing parse_config into Config::new

We’ve updated main where we were calling parse_config to instead call Config::new. We’ve changed the name of parse_config to new and moved it within an impl block, which associates the new function with Config. Try compiling this code again to make sure it works.

Fixing the Error Handling

Now we’ll work on fixing our error handling. Recall that attempting to access the values in the args vector at index 1 or index 2 will cause the program to panic if the vector contains fewer than three items. Try running the program without any arguments; it will look like this:

$ cargo run
   Compiling minigrep v0.1.0 (file:///projects/minigrep)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.0 secs
     Running `target/debug/minigrep`
thread 'main' panicked at 'index out of bounds: the len is 1
but the index is 1', src/main.rs:29:21
note: Run with `RUST_BACKTRACE=1` for a backtrace.

The line index out of bounds: the len is 1 but the index is 1 is an error message intended for programmers. It won’t help our end users understand what happened and what they should do instead. Let’s fix that now.

Improving the Error Message

In Listing 12-8, we add a check in the new function that will verify that the slice is long enough before accessing index 1 and 2. If the slice isn’t long enough, the program panics and displays a better error message than the index out of bounds message.

Filename: src/main.rs

// --snip--
fn new(args: &[String]) -> Config {
    if args.len() < 3 {
        panic!("not enough arguments");
    }
    // --snip--

Listing 12-8: Adding a check for the number of arguments

This code is similar to the Guess::new function we wrote in Listing 9-10, where we called panic! when the value argument was out of the range of valid values. Instead of checking for a range of values here, we’re checking that the length of args is at least 3 and the rest of the function can operate under the assumption that this condition has been met. If args has fewer than three items, this condition will be true, and we call the panic! macro to end the program immediately.

With these extra few lines of code in new, let’s run the program without any arguments again to see what the error looks like now:

$ cargo run
   Compiling minigrep v0.1.0 (file:///projects/minigrep)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.0 secs
     Running `target/debug/minigrep`
thread 'main' panicked at 'not enough arguments', src/main.rs:30:12
note: Run with `RUST_BACKTRACE=1` for a backtrace.

This output is better: we now have a reasonable error message. However, we also have extraneous information we don’t want to give to our users. Perhaps using the technique we used in Listing 9-10 isn’t the best to use here: a call to panic! is more appropriate for a programming problem rather than a usage problem, as discussed in Chapter 9. Instead, we can use the other technique you learned about in Chapter 9—returning a Result that indicates either success or an error.

Returning a Result from new Instead of Calling panic!

We can instead return a Result value that will contain a Config instance in the successful case and will describe the problem in the error case. When Config::new is communicating to main, we can use the Result type to signal there was a problem. Then we can change main to convert an Err variant into a more practical error for our users without the surrounding text about thread 'main' and RUST_BACKTRACE that a call to panic! causes.

Listing 12-9 shows the changes we need to make to the return value of Config::new and the body of the function needed to return a Result. Note that this won’t compile until we update main as well, which we’ll do in the next listing.

Filename: src/main.rs

impl Config {
    fn new(args: &[String]) -> Result<Config, &'static str> {
        if args.len() < 3 {
            return Err("not enough arguments");
        }

        let query = args[1].clone();
        let filename = args[2].clone();

        Ok(Config { query, filename })
    }
}

Listing 12-9: Returning a Result from Config::new

Our new function now returns a Result with a Config instance in the success case and a &'static str in the error case. Recall from “The Static Lifetime” section in Chapter 10 that &'static str is the type of string literals, which is our error message type for now.

We’ve made two changes in the body of the new function: instead of calling panic! when the user doesn’t pass enough arguments, we now return an Err value, and we’ve wrapped the Config return value in an Ok. These changes make the function conform to its new type signature.

Returning an Err value from Config::new allows the main function to handle the Result value returned from the new function and exit the process more cleanly in the error case.

Calling Config::new and Handling Errors

To handle the error case and print a user-friendly message, we need to update main to handle the Result being returned by Config::new, as shown in Listing 12-10. We’ll also take the responsibility of exiting the command line tool with a nonzero error code from panic! and implement it by hand. A nonzero exit status is a convention to signal to the process that called our program that the program exited with an error state.

Filename: src/main.rs

use std::process;

fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();

    let config = Config::new(&args).unwrap_or_else(|err| {
        println!("Problem parsing arguments: {}", err);
        process::exit(1);
    });

    // --snip--

Listing 12-10: Exiting with an error code if creating a new Config fails

In this listing, we’ve used a method we haven’t covered before: unwrap_or_else, which is defined on Result<T, E> by the standard library. Using unwrap_or_else allows us to define some custom, non-panic! error handling. If the Result is an Ok value, this method’s behavior is similar to unwrap: it returns the inner value Ok is wrapping. However, if the value is an Err value, this method calls the code in the closure, which is an anonymous function we define and pass as an argument to unwrap_or_else. We’ll cover closures in more detail in Chapter 13. For now, you just need to know that unwrap_or_else will pass the inner value of the Err, which in this case is the static string not enough arguments that we added in Listing 12-9, to our closure in the argument err that appears between the vertical pipes. The code in the closure can then use the err value when it runs.

We’ve added a new use line to bring process from the standard library into scope. The code in the closure that will be run in the error case is only two lines: we print the err value and then call process::exit. The process::exit function will stop the program immediately and return the number that was passed as the exit status code. This is similar to the panic!-based handling we used in Listing 12-8, but we no longer get all the extra output. Let’s try it:

$ cargo run
   Compiling minigrep v0.1.0 (file:///projects/minigrep)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.48 secs
     Running `target/debug/minigrep`
Problem parsing arguments: not enough arguments

Great! This output is much friendlier for our users.

Extracting Logic from main

Now that we’ve finished refactoring the configuration parsing, let’s turn to the program’s logic. As we stated in “Separation of Concerns for Binary Projects”, we’ll extract a function named run that will hold all the logic currently in the main function that isn’t involved with setting up configuration or handling errors. When we’re done, main will be concise and easy to verify by inspection, and we’ll be able to write tests for all the other logic.

Listing 12-11 shows the extracted run function. For now, we’re just making the small, incremental improvement of extracting the function. We’re still defining the function in src/main.rs.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    // --snip--

    println!("Searching for {}", config.query);
    println!("In file {}", config.filename);

    run(config);
}

fn run(config: Config) {
    let contents = fs::read_to_string(config.filename)
        .expect("something went wrong reading the file");

    println!("With text:\n{}", contents);
}

// --snip--

Listing 12-11: Extracting a run function containing the rest of the program logic

The run function now contains all the remaining logic from main, starting from reading the file. The run function takes the Config instance as an argument.

Returning Errors from the run Function

With the remaining program logic separated into the run function, we can improve the error handling, as we did with Config::new in Listing 12-9. Instead of allowing the program to panic by calling expect, the run function will return a Result<T, E> when something goes wrong. This will let us further consolidate into main the logic around handling errors in a user-friendly way. Listing 12-12 shows the changes we need to make to the signature and body of run:

Filename: src/main.rs

use std::error::Error;

// --snip--

fn run(config: Config) -> Result<(), Box<dyn Error>> {
    let contents = fs::read_to_string(config.filename)?;

    println!("With text:\n{}", contents);

    Ok(())
}

Listing 12-12: Changing the run function to return Result

We’ve made three significant changes here. First, we changed the return type of the run function to Result<(), Box<dyn Error>>. This function previously returned the unit type, (), and we keep that as the value returned in the Ok case.

For the error type, we used the trait object Box<dyn Error> (and we’ve brought std::error::Error into scope with a use statement at the top). We’ll cover trait objects in Chapter 17. For now, just know that Box<dyn Error> means the function will return a type that implements the Error trait, but we don’t have to specify what particular type the return value will be. This gives us flexibility to return error values that may be of different types in different error cases. This is what the dyn means, it’s short for “dynamic.”

Second, we’ve removed the call to expect in favor of ?, as we talked about in Chapter 9. Rather than panic! on an error, ? will return the error value from the current function for the caller to handle.

Third, the run function now returns an Ok value in the success case. We’ve declared the run function’s success type as () in the signature, which means we need to wrap the unit type value in the Ok value. This Ok(()) syntax might look a bit strange at first, but using () like this is the idiomatic way to indicate that we’re calling run for its side effects only; it doesn’t return a value we need.

When you run this code, it will compile but will display a warning:

warning: unused `std::result::Result` which must be used
  --> src/main.rs:18:5
   |
18 |     run(config);
   |     ^^^^^^^^^^^^
= note: #[warn(unused_must_use)] on by default

Rust tells us that our code ignored the Result value and the Result value might indicate that an error occurred. But we’re not checking to see whether or not there was an error, and the compiler reminds us that we probably meant to have some error handling code here! Let’s rectify that problem now.

Handling Errors Returned from run in main

We’ll check for errors and handle them using a technique similar to one we used with Config::new in Listing 12-10, but with a slight difference:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    // --snip--

    println!("Searching for {}", config.query);
    println!("In file {}", config.filename);

    if let Err(e) = run(config) {
        println!("Application error: {}", e);

        process::exit(1);
    }
}

We use if let rather than unwrap_or_else to check whether run returns an Err value and call process::exit(1) if it does. The run function doesn’t return a value that we want to unwrap in the same way that Config::new returns the Config instance. Because run returns () in the success case, we only care about detecting an error, so we don’t need unwrap_or_else to return the unwrapped value because it would only be ().

The bodies of the if let and the unwrap_or_else functions are the same in both cases: we print the error and exit.

Splitting Code into a Library Crate

Our minigrep project is looking good so far! Now we’ll split the src/main.rs file and put some code into the src/lib.rs file so we can test it and have a src/main.rs file with fewer responsibilities.

Let’s move all the code that isn’t the main function from src/main.rs to src/lib.rs:

  • The run function definition
  • The relevant use statements
  • The definition of Config
  • The Config::new function definition

The contents of src/lib.rs should have the signatures shown in Listing 12-13 (we’ve omitted the bodies of the functions for brevity). Note that this won’t compile until we modify src/main.rs in the listing after this one.

Filename: src/lib.rs

use std::error::Error;
use std::fs;

pub struct Config {
    pub query: String,
    pub filename: String,
}

impl Config {
    pub fn new(args: &[String]) -> Result<Config, &'static str> {
        // --snip--
    }
}

pub fn run(config: Config) -> Result<(), Box<dyn Error>> {
    // --snip--
}

Listing 12-13: Moving Config and run into src/lib.rs

We’ve made liberal use of the pub keyword: on Config, on its fields and its new method, and on the run function. We now have a library crate that has a public API that we can test!

Now we need to bring the code we moved to src/lib.rs into the scope of the binary crate in src/main.rs, as shown in Listing 12-14:

Filename: src/main.rs

use std::env;
use std::process;

use minigrep;
use minigrep::Config;

fn main() {
    // --snip--
    if let Err(e) = minigrep::run(config) {
        // --snip--
    }
}

Listing 12-14: Bringing the minigrep crate into the scope of src/main.rs

To bring the library crate into the binary crate, we use use minigrep. Then we add a use minigrep::Config line to bring the Config type into scope as well, and we prefix the run function with our crate name. Now all the functionality should be connected and should work. Run the program with cargo run and make sure everything works correctly.

Whew! That was a lot of work, but we’ve set ourselves up for success in the future. Now it’s much easier to handle errors, and we’ve made the code more modular. Almost all of our work will be done in src/lib.rs from here on out.

Let’s take advantage of this newfound modularity by doing something that would have been difficult with the old code but is easy with the new code: we’ll write some tests!