• Feature Name: syntax-tree-patterns
  • Start Date: 2019-03-12
  • RFC PR: #3875

Summary

Introduce a domain-specific language (similar to regular expressions) that allows to describe lints using syntax tree patterns.

Motivation

Finding parts of a syntax tree (AST, HIR, ...) that have certain properties (e.g. "an if that has a block as its condition") is a major task when writing lints. For non-trivial lints, it often requires nested pattern matching of AST / HIR nodes. For example, testing that an expression is a boolean literal requires the following checks:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
if let ast::ExprKind::Lit(lit) = &expr.node {
    if let ast::LitKind::Bool(_) = &lit.node {
        ...
    }
}
}

Writing this kind of matching code quickly becomes a complex task and the resulting code is often hard to comprehend. The code below shows a simplified version of the pattern matching required by the collapsible_if lint:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
// simplified version of the collapsible_if lint
if let ast::ExprKind::If(check, then, None) = &expr.node {
    if then.stmts.len() == 1 {
        if let ast::StmtKind::Expr(inner) | ast::StmtKind::Semi(inner) = &then.stmts[0].node {
            if let ast::ExprKind::If(check_inner, content, None) = &inner.node {
                ...
            }
        }
    }
}
}

The if_chain macro can improve readability by flattening the nested if statements, but the resulting code is still quite hard to read:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
// simplified version of the collapsible_if lint
if_chain! {
    if let ast::ExprKind::If(check, then, None) = &expr.node;
    if then.stmts.len() == 1;
    if let ast::StmtKind::Expr(inner) | ast::StmtKind::Semi(inner) = &then.stmts[0].node;
    if let ast::ExprKind::If(check_inner, content, None) = &inner.node;
    then {
        ...
    }
}
}

The code above matches if expressions that contain only another if expression (where both ifs don't have an else branch). While it's easy to explain what the lint does, it's hard to see that from looking at the code samples above.

Following the motivation above, the first goal this RFC is to simplify writing and reading lints.

The second part of the motivation is clippy's dependence on unstable compiler-internal data structures. Clippy lints are currently written against the compiler's AST / HIR which means that even small changes in these data structures might break a lot of lints. The second goal of this RFC is to make lints independant of the compiler's AST / HIR data structures.

Approach

A lot of complexity in writing lints currently seems to come from having to manually implement the matching logic (see code samples above). It's an imparative style that describes how to match a syntax tree node instead of specifying what should be matched against declaratively. In other areas, it's common to use declarative patterns to describe desired information and let the implementation do the actual matching. A well-known example of this approach are regular expressions. Instead of writing code that detects certain character sequences, one can describe a search pattern using a domain-specific language and search for matches using that pattern. The advantage of using a declarative domain-specific language is that its limited domain (e.g. matching character sequences in the case of regular expressions) allows to express entities in that domain in a very natural and expressive way.

While regular expressions are very useful when searching for patterns in flat character sequences, they cannot easily be applied to hierarchical data structures like syntax trees. This RFC therefore proposes a pattern matching system that is inspired by regular expressions and designed for hierarchical syntax trees.

Guide-level explanation

This proposal adds a pattern! macro that can be used to specify a syntax tree pattern to search for. A simple pattern is shown below:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Bool(false))
}
}

This macro call defines a pattern named my_pattern that can be matched against an Expr syntax tree node. The actual pattern (Lit(Bool(false)) in this case) defines which syntax trees should match the pattern. This pattern matches expressions that are boolean literals with value false.

The pattern can then be used to implement lints in the following way:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
...

impl EarlyLintPass for MyAwesomeLint {
    fn check_expr(&mut self, cx: &EarlyContext, expr: &syntax::ast::Expr) {

        if my_pattern(expr).is_some() {
            cx.span_lint(
                MY_AWESOME_LINT,
                expr.span,
                "This is a match for a simple pattern. Well done!",
            );
        }

    }
}
}

The pattern! macro call expands to a function my_pattern that expects a syntax tree expression as its argument and returns an Option that indicates whether the pattern matched.

Note: The result type is explained in more detail in a later section. For now, it's enough to know that the result is Some if the pattern matched and None otherwise.

Pattern syntax

The following examples demonstate the pattern syntax:

Any (_)

The simplest pattern is the any pattern. It matches anything and is therefore similar to regex's *.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches any expression
    my_pattern: Expr =
        _
}
}

Node (<node-name>(<args>))

Nodes are used to match a specific variant of an AST node. A node has a name and a number of arguments that depends on the node type. For example, the Lit node has a single argument that describes the type of the literal. As another example, the If node has three arguments describing the if's condition, then block and else block.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches any expression that is a literal
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(_)
}

pattern!{
    // matches any expression that is a boolean literal
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Bool(_))
}

pattern!{
    // matches if expressions that have a boolean literal in their condition
    // Note: The `_?` syntax here means that the else branch is optional and can be anything.
    //       This is discussed in more detail in the section `Repetition`.
    my_pattern: Expr =
        If( Lit(Bool(_)) , _, _?)
}
}

Literal (<lit>)

A pattern can also contain Rust literals. These literals match themselves.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches the boolean literal false
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Bool(false))
}

pattern!{
    // matches the character literal 'x'
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Char('x'))
}
}

Alternations (a | b)

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches if the literal is a boolean or integer literal
    my_pattern: Lit =
        Bool(_) | Int(_)
}

pattern!{
    // matches if the expression is a char literal with value 'x' or 'y'
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit( Char('x' | 'y') )
}
}

Empty (())

The empty pattern represents an empty sequence or the None variant of an optional.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches if the expression is an empty array
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( () )
}

pattern!{
    // matches if expressions that don't have an else clause
    my_pattern: Expr =
        If(_, _, ())
}
}

Sequence (<a> <b>)

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches the array [true, false]
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( Lit(Bool(true)) Lit(Bool(false)) )
}
}

Repetition (<a>*, <a>+, <a>?, <a>{n}, <a>{n,m}, <a>{n,})

Elements may be repeated. The syntax for specifying repetitions is identical to regex's syntax.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches arrays that contain 2 'x's as their last or second-last elements
    // Examples:
    //     ['x', 'x']                         match
    //     ['x', 'x', 'y']                    match
    //     ['a', 'b', 'c', 'x', 'x', 'y']     match
    //     ['x', 'x', 'y', 'z']               no match
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( _* Lit(Char('x')){2} _? )
}

pattern!{
    // matches if expressions that **may or may not** have an else block
    // Attn: `If(_, _, _)` matches only ifs that **have** an else block
    //
    //              | if with else block | if witout else block
    // If(_, _, _)  |       match        |       no match
    // If(_, _, _?) |       match        |        match
    // If(_, _, ()) |      no match      |        match
    my_pattern: Expr =
        If(_, _, _?)
}
}

Named submatch (<a>#<name>)

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches character literals and gives the literal the name foo
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Char(_)#foo)
}

pattern!{
    // matches character literals and gives the char the name bar
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Char(_#bar))
}

pattern!{
    // matches character literals and gives the expression the name baz
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Char(_))#baz
}
}

The reason for using named submatches is described in the section The result type.

Summary

The following table gives an summary of the pattern syntax:

SyntaxConceptExamples
_Any_
<node-name>(<args>)NodeLit(Bool(true)), If(_, _, _)
<lit>Literal'x', false, 101
<a> \| <b>AlternationChar(_) \| Bool(_)
()EmptyArray( () )
<a> <b>SequenceTuple( Lit(Bool(_)) Lit(Int(_)) Lit(_) )
<a>*
<a>+
<a>?
<a>{n}
<a>{n,m}
<a>{n,}
Repetition





Array( _* ),
Block( Semi(_)+ ),
If(_, _, Block(_)?),
Array( Lit(_){10} ),
Lit(_){5,10},
Lit(Bool(_)){10,}
<a>#<name>Named submatchLit(Int(_))#foo Lit(Int(_#bar))

The result type

A lot of lints require checks that go beyond what the pattern syntax described above can express. For example, a lint might want to check whether a node was created as part of a macro expansion or whether there's no comment above a node. Another example would be a lint that wants to match two nodes that have the same value (as needed by lints like almost_swapped). Instead of allowing users to write these checks into the pattern directly (which might make patterns hard to read), the proposed solution allows users to assign names to parts of a pattern expression. When matching a pattern against a syntax tree node, the return value will contain references to all nodes that were matched by these named subpatterns. This is similar to capture groups in regular expressions.

For example, given the following pattern

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches character literals
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Lit(Char(_#val_inner)#val)#val_outer
}
}

one could get references to the nodes that matched the subpatterns in the following way:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
...
fn check_expr(expr: &syntax::ast::Expr) {
    if let Some(result) = my_pattern(expr) {
        result.val_inner  // type: &char
        result.val        // type: &syntax::ast::Lit
        result.val_outer  // type: &syntax::ast::Expr
    }
}
}

The types in the result struct depend on the pattern. For example, the following pattern

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches arrays of character literals
    my_pattern_seq: Expr =
        Array( Lit(_)*#foo )
}
}

matches arrays that consist of any number of literal expressions. Because those expressions are named foo, the result struct contains a foo attribute which is a vector of expressions:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
...
if let Some(result) = my_pattern_seq(expr) {
    result.foo        // type: Vec<&syntax::ast::Expr>
}
}

Another result type occurs when a name is only defined in one branch of an alternation:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches if expression is a boolean or integer literal
    my_pattern_alt: Expr =
        Lit( Bool(_#bar) | Int(_) )
}
}

In the pattern above, the bar name is only defined if the pattern matches a boolean literal. If it matches an integer literal, the name isn't set. To account for this, the result struct's bar attribute is an option type:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
...
if let Some(result) = my_pattern_alt(expr) {
    result.bar        // type: Option<&bool>
}
}

It's also possible to use a name in multiple alternation branches if they have compatible types:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    // matches if expression is a boolean or integer literal
    my_pattern_mult: Expr =
        Lit(_#baz) | Array( Lit(_#baz) )
}
...
if let Some(result) = my_pattern_mult(expr) {
    result.baz        // type: &syntax::ast::Lit
}
}

Named submatches are a flat namespace and this is intended. In the example above, two different sub-structures are assigned to a flat name. I expect that for most lints, a flat namespace is sufficient and easier to work with than a hierarchical one.

Two stages

Using named subpatterns, users can write lints in two stages. First, a coarse selection of possible matches is produced by the pattern syntax. In the second stage, the named subpattern references can be used to do additional tests like asserting that a node hasn't been created as part of a macro expansion.

Implementing clippy lints using patterns

As a "real-world" example, I re-implemented the collapsible_if lint using patterns. The code can be found here. The pattern-based version passes all test cases that were written for collapsible_if.

Reference-level explanation

Overview

The following diagram shows the dependencies between the main parts of the proposed solution:

                          Pattern syntax
                                |
                                |  parsing / lowering
                                v
                           PatternTree
                                ^
                                |
                                |
                          IsMatch trait
                                |
                                |
             +---------------+-----------+---------+
             |               |           |         |
             v               v           v         v
        syntax::ast     rustc::hir      syn       ...

The pattern syntax described in the previous section is parsed / lowered into the so-called PatternTree data structure that represents a valid syntax tree pattern. Matching a PatternTree against an actual syntax tree (e.g. rust ast / hir or the syn ast, ...) is done using the IsMatch trait.

The PatternTree and the IsMatch trait are introduced in more detail in the following sections.

PatternTree

The core data structure of this RFC is the PatternTree.

It's a data structure similar to rust's AST / HIR, but with the following differences:

  • The PatternTree doesn't contain parsing information like Spans
  • The PatternTree can represent alternatives, sequences and optionals

The code below shows a simplified version of the current PatternTree:

Note: The current implementation can be found here.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pub enum Expr {
    Lit(Alt<Lit>),
    Array(Seq<Expr>),
    Block_(Alt<BlockType>),
    If(Alt<Expr>, Alt<BlockType>, Opt<Expr>),
    IfLet(
        Alt<BlockType>,
        Opt<Expr>,
    ),
}

pub enum Lit {
    Char(Alt<char>),
    Bool(Alt<bool>),
    Int(Alt<u128>),
}

pub enum Stmt {
    Expr(Alt<Expr>),
    Semi(Alt<Expr>),
}

pub enum BlockType {
    Block(Seq<Stmt>),
}
}

The Alt, Seq and Opt structs look like these:

Note: The current implementation can be found here.

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pub enum Alt<T> {
    Any,
    Elmt(Box<T>),
    Alt(Box<Self>, Box<Self>),
    Named(Box<Self>, ...)
}

pub enum Opt<T> {
    Any,  // anything, but not None
    Elmt(Box<T>),
    None,
    Alt(Box<Self>, Box<Self>),
    Named(Box<Self>, ...)
}

pub enum Seq<T> {
    Any,
    Empty,
    Elmt(Box<T>),
    Repeat(Box<Self>, RepeatRange),
    Seq(Box<Self>, Box<Self>),
    Alt(Box<Self>, Box<Self>),
    Named(Box<Self>, ...)
}

pub struct RepeatRange {
    pub start: usize,
    pub end: Option<usize>  // exclusive
}
}

Parsing / Lowering

The input of a pattern! macro call is parsed into a ParseTree first and then lowered to a PatternTree.

Valid patterns depend on the PatternTree definitions. For example, the pattern Lit(Bool(_)*) isn't valid because the parameter type of the Lit variant of the Expr enum is Any<Lit> and therefore doesn't support repetition (*). As another example, Array( Lit(_)* ) is a valid pattern because the parameter of Array is of type Seq<Expr> which allows sequences and repetitions.

Note: names in the pattern syntax correspond to PatternTree enum variants. For example, the Lit in the pattern above refers to the Lit variant of the Expr enum (Expr::Lit), not the Lit enum.

The IsMatch Trait

The pattern syntax and the PatternTree are independant of specific syntax tree implementations (rust ast / hir, syn, ...). When looking at the different pattern examples in the previous sections, it can be seen that the patterns don't contain any information specific to a certain syntax tree implementation. In contrast, clippy lints currently match against ast / hir syntax tree nodes and therefore directly depend on their implementation.

The connection between the PatternTree and specific syntax tree implementations is the IsMatch trait. It defines how to match PatternTree nodes against specific syntax tree nodes. A simplified implementation of the IsMatch trait is shown below:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pub trait IsMatch<O> {
    fn is_match(&self, other: &'o O) -> bool;
}
}

This trait needs to be implemented on each enum of the PatternTree (for the corresponding syntax tree types). For example, the IsMatch implementation for matching ast::LitKind against the PatternTree's Lit enum might look like this:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
impl IsMatch<ast::LitKind> for Lit {
    fn is_match(&self, other: &ast::LitKind) -> bool {
        match (self, other) {
            (Lit::Char(i), ast::LitKind::Char(j)) => i.is_match(j),
            (Lit::Bool(i), ast::LitKind::Bool(j)) => i.is_match(j),
            (Lit::Int(i), ast::LitKind::Int(j, _)) => i.is_match(j),
            _ => false,
        }
    }
}
}

All IsMatch implementations for matching the current PatternTree against syntax::ast can be found here.

Drawbacks

Performance

The pattern matching code is currently not optimized for performance, so it might be slower than hand-written matching code. Additionally, the two-stage approach (matching against the coarse pattern first and checking for additional properties later) might be slower than the current practice of checking for structure and additional properties in one pass. For example, the following lint

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    pat_if_without_else: Expr =
        If(
            _,
            Block(
                Expr( If(_, _, ())#inner )
                | Semi( If(_, _, ())#inner )
            )#then,
            ()
        )
}
...
fn check_expr(&mut self, cx: &EarlyContext<'_>, expr: &ast::Expr) {
    if let Some(result) = pat_if_without_else(expr) {
        if !block_starts_with_comment(cx, result.then) {
            ...
        }
}
}

first matches against the pattern and then checks that the then block doesn't start with a comment. Using clippy's current approach, it's possible to check for these conditions earlier:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
fn check_expr(&mut self, cx: &EarlyContext<'_>, expr: &ast::Expr) {
    if_chain! {
        if let ast::ExprKind::If(ref check, ref then, None) = expr.node;
        if !block_starts_with_comment(cx, then);
        if let Some(inner) = expr_block(then);
        if let ast::ExprKind::If(ref check_inner, ref content, None) = inner.node;
        then {
            ...
        }
    }
}
}

Whether or not this causes performance regressions depends on actual patterns. If it turns out to be a problem, the pattern matching algorithms could be extended to allow "early filtering" (see the Early Filtering section in Future Possibilities).

That being said, I don't see any conceptual limitations regarding pattern matching performance.

Applicability

Even though I'd expect that a lot of lints can be written using the proposed pattern syntax, it's unlikely that all lints can be expressed using patterns. I suspect that there will still be lints that need to be implemented by writing custom pattern matching code. This would lead to mix within clippy's codebase where some lints are implemented using patterns and others aren't. This inconsistency might be considered a drawback.

Rationale and alternatives

Specifying lints using syntax tree patterns has a couple of advantages compared to the current approach of manually writing matching code. First, syntax tree patterns allow users to describe patterns in a simple and expressive way. This makes it easier to write new lints for both novices and experts and also makes reading / modifying existing lints simpler.

Another advantage is that lints are independent of specific syntax tree implementations (e.g. AST / HIR, ...). When these syntax tree implementations change, only the IsMatch trait implementations need to be adapted and existing lints can remain unchanged. This also means that if the IsMatch trait implementations were integrated into the compiler, updating the IsMatch implementations would be required for the compiler to compile successfully. This could reduce the number of times clippy breaks because of changes in the compiler. Another advantage of the pattern's independence is that converting an EarlyLintPass lint into a LatePassLint wouldn't require rewriting the whole pattern matching code. In fact, the pattern might work just fine without any adaptions.

Alternatives

Rust-like pattern syntax

The proposed pattern syntax requires users to know the structure of the PatternTree (which is very similar to the AST's / HIR's structure) and also the pattern syntax. An alternative would be to introduce a pattern syntax that is similar to actual Rust syntax (probably like the quote! macro). For example, a pattern that matches if expressions that have false in their condition could look like this:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
if false {
    #[*]
}
}

Problems

Extending Rust syntax (which is quite complex by itself) with additional syntax needed for specifying patterns (alternations, sequences, repetisions, named submatches, ...) might become difficult to read and really hard to parse properly.

For example, a pattern that matches a binary operation that has 0 on both sides might look like this:

0 #[*:BinOpKind] 0

Now consider this slightly more complex example:

1 + 0 #[*:BinOpKind] 0

The parser would need to know the precedence of #[*:BinOpKind] because it affects the structure of the resulting AST. 1 + 0 + 0 is parsed as (1 + 0) + 0 while 1 + 0 * 0 is parsed as 1 + (0 * 0). Since the pattern could be any BinOpKind, the precedence cannot be known in advance.

Another example of a problem would be named submatches. Take a look at this pattern:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
fn test() {
    1 #foo
}
}

Which node is #foo referring to? int, ast::Lit, ast::Expr, ast::Stmt? Naming subpatterns in a rust-like syntax is difficult because a lot of AST nodes don't have a syntactic element that can be used to put the name tag on. In these situations, the only sensible option would be to assign the name tag to the outermost node (ast::Stmt in the example above), because the information of all child nodes can be retrieved through the outermost node. The problem with this then would be that accessing inner nodes (like ast::Lit) would again require manual pattern matching.

In general, Rust syntax contains a lot of code structure implicitly. This structure is reconstructed during parsing (e.g. binary operations are reconstructed using operator precedence and left-to-right) and is one of the reasons why parsing is a complex task. The advantage of this approach is that writing code is simpler for users.

When writing syntax tree patterns, each element of the hierarchy might have alternatives, repetitions, etc.. Respecting that while still allowing human-friendly syntax that contains structure implicitly seems to be really complex, if not impossible.

Developing such a syntax would also require to maintain a custom parser that is at least as complex as the Rust parser itself. Additionally, future changes in the Rust syntax might be incompatible with such a syntax.

In summary, I think that developing such a syntax would introduce a lot of complexity to solve a relatively minor problem.

The issue of users not knowing about the PatternTree structure could be solved by a tool that, given a rust program, generates a pattern that matches only this program (similar to the clippy author lint).

For some simple cases (like the first example above), it might be possible to successfully mix Rust and pattern syntax. This space could be further explored in a future extension.

Prior art

The pattern syntax is heavily inspired by regular expressions (repetitions, alternatives, sequences, ...).

From what I've seen until now, other linters also implement lints that directly work on syntax tree data structures, just like clippy does currently. I would therefore consider the pattern syntax to be new, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

Unresolved questions

How to handle multiple matches?

When matching a syntax tree node against a pattern, there are possibly multiple ways in which the pattern can be matched. A simple example of this would be the following pattern:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( _* Lit(_)+#literals)
}
}

This pattern matches arrays that end with at least one literal. Now given the array [x, 1, 2], should 1 be matched as part of the _* or the Lit(_)+ part of the pattern? The difference is important because the named submatch #literals would contain 1 or 2 elements depending how the pattern is matched. In regular expressions, this problem is solved by matching "greedy" by default and "non-greedy" optionally.

I haven't looked much into this yet because I don't know how relevant it is for most lints. The current implementation simply returns the first match it finds.

Future possibilities

Implement rest of Rust Syntax

The current project only implements a small part of the Rust syntax. In the future, this should incrementally be extended to more syntax to allow implementing more lints. Implementing more of the Rust syntax requires extending the PatternTree and IsMatch implementations, but should be relatively straight-forward.

Early filtering

As described in the Drawbacks/Performance section, allowing additional checks during the pattern matching might be beneficial.

The pattern below shows how this could look like:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    pat_if_without_else: Expr =
        If(
            _,
            Block(
                Expr( If(_, _, ())#inner )
                | Semi( If(_, _, ())#inner )
            )#then,
            ()
        )
    where
        !in_macro(#then.span);
}
}

The difference compared to the currently proposed two-stage filtering is that using early filtering, the condition (!in_macro(#then.span) in this case) would be evaluated as soon as the Block(_)#then was matched.

Another idea in this area would be to introduce a syntax for backreferences. They could be used to require that multiple parts of a pattern should match the same value. For example, the assign_op_pattern lint that searches for a = a op b and recommends changing it to a op= b requires that both occurrances of a are the same. Using =#... as syntax for backreferences, the lint could be implemented like this:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    assign_op_pattern: Expr =
        Assign(_#target, Binary(_, =#target, _)
}
}

Match descendant

A lot of lints currently implement custom visitors that check whether any subtree (which might not be a direct descendant) of the current node matches some properties. This cannot be expressed with the proposed pattern syntax. Extending the pattern syntax to allow patterns like "a function that contains at least two return statements" could be a practical addition.

Negation operator for alternatives

For patterns like "a literal that is not a boolean literal" one currently needs to list all alternatives except the boolean case. Introducing a negation operator that allows to write Lit(!Bool(_)) might be a good idea. This pattern would be eqivalent to Lit( Char(_) | Int(_) ) (given that currently only three literal types are implemented).

Functional composition

Patterns currently don't have any concept of composition. This leads to repetitions within patterns. For example, one of the collapsible-if patterns currently has to be written like this:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    pat_if_else: Expr =
        If(
            _,
            _,
            Block_(
                Block(
                    Expr((If(_, _, _?) | IfLet(_, _?))#else_) |
                    Semi((If(_, _, _?) | IfLet(_, _?))#else_)
                )#block_inner
            )#block
        ) |
        IfLet(
            _,
            Block_(
                Block(
                    Expr((If(_, _, _?) | IfLet(_, _?))#else_) |
                    Semi((If(_, _, _?) | IfLet(_, _?))#else_)
                )#block_inner
            )#block
        )
}
}

If patterns supported defining functions of subpatterns, the code could be simplified as follows:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    fn expr_or_semi(expr: Expr) -> Stmt {
        Expr(expr) | Semi(expr)
    }
    fn if_or_if_let(then: Block, else: Opt<Expr>) -> Expr {
        If(_, then, else) | IfLet(then, else)
    }
    pat_if_else: Expr =
        if_or_if_let(
            _,
            Block_(
                Block(
                    expr_or_semi( if_or_if_let(_, _?)#else_ )
                )#block_inner
            )#block
        )
}
}

Additionally, common patterns like expr_or_semi could be shared between different lints.

Clippy Pattern Author

Another improvement could be to create a tool that, given some valid Rust syntax, generates a pattern that matches this syntax exactly. This would make starting to write a pattern easier. A user could take a look at the patterns generated for a couple of Rust code examples and use that information to write a pattern that matches all of them.

This is similar to clippy's author lint.

Supporting other syntaxes

Most of the proposed system is language-agnostic. For example, the pattern syntax could also be used to describe patterns for other programming languages.

In order to support other languages' syntaxes, one would need to implement another PatternTree that sufficiently describes the languages' AST and implement IsMatch for this PatternTree and the languages' AST.

One aspect of this is that it would even be possible to write lints that work on the pattern syntax itself. For example, when writing the following pattern

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( Lit(Bool(false)) Lit(Bool(false)) )
}
}

a lint that works on the pattern syntax's AST could suggest using this pattern instead:

#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
pattern!{
    my_pattern: Expr =
        Array( Lit(Bool(false)){2} )
}
}

In the future, clippy could use this system to also provide lints for custom syntaxes like those found in macros.