The tracking issue for this feature is: None.

The rustc compiler has certain pluggable operations, that is, functionality that isn't hard-coded into the language, but is implemented in libraries, with a special marker to tell the compiler it exists. The marker is the attribute #[lang = "..."] and there are various different values of ..., i.e. various different 'lang items'. Most of them can only be defined once.

Lang items are loaded lazily by the compiler; e.g. if one never uses Box then there is no need to define a function for exchange_malloc. rustc will emit an error when an item is needed but not found in the current crate or any that it depends on.

Some features provided by lang items:

  • overloadable operators via traits: the traits corresponding to the ==, <, dereferencing (*) and + (etc.) operators are all marked with lang items; those specific four are eq, partial_ord, deref/deref_mut, and add respectively.
  • panicking: the panic and panic_impl lang items, among others.
  • stack unwinding: the lang item eh_personality is a function used by the failure mechanisms of the compiler. This is often mapped to GCC's personality function (see the std implementation for more information), but programs which don't trigger a panic can be assured that this function is never called. Additionally, a eh_catch_typeinfo static is needed for certain targets which implement Rust panics on top of C++ exceptions.
  • the traits in core::marker used to indicate types of various kinds; e.g. lang items sized, sync and copy.
  • memory allocation, see below.

Most lang items are defined by core, but if you're trying to build an executable without the std crate, you might run into the need for lang item definitions.

Example: Implementing a Box

Box pointers require two lang items: one for the type itself and one for allocation. A freestanding program that uses the Box sugar for dynamic allocations via malloc and free:

#![feature(lang_items, start, core_intrinsics, rustc_private, panic_unwind, rustc_attrs)]

extern crate libc;
extern crate unwind;

use core::ffi::c_void;
use core::intrinsics;
use core::panic::PanicInfo;
use core::ptr::NonNull;

pub struct Global; // the global allocator
struct Unique<T>(NonNull<T>);

#[lang = "owned_box"]
pub struct Box<T, A = Global>(Unique<T>, A);

impl<T> Box<T> {
    pub fn new(x: T) -> Self {

impl<T, A> Drop for Box<T, A> {
    fn drop(&mut self) {
        unsafe {
            libc::free(self.0.0.as_ptr() as *mut c_void);

#[lang = "exchange_malloc"]
unsafe fn allocate(size: usize, _align: usize) -> *mut u8 {
    let p = libc::malloc(size) as *mut u8;

    // Check if `malloc` failed:
    if p.is_null() {


fn main(_argc: isize, _argv: *const *const u8) -> isize {
    let _x = Box::new(1);


#[lang = "eh_personality"]
fn rust_eh_personality() {}

fn panic_handler(_info: &PanicInfo) -> ! { intrinsics::abort() }

Note the use of abort: the exchange_malloc lang item is assumed to return a valid pointer, and so needs to do the check internally.

List of all language items

An up-to-date list of all language items can be found here in the compiler code.