Constant evaluation

Constant evaluation is the process of computing the result of expressions during compilation. Only a subset of all expressions can be evaluated at compile-time.

Constant expressions

Certain forms of expressions, called constant expressions, can be evaluated at compile time. In const contexts, these are the only allowed expressions, and are always evaluated at compile time. In other places, such as let statements, constant expressions may be, but are not guaranteed to be, evaluated at compile time. Behaviors such as out of bounds array indexing or overflow are compiler errors if the value must be evaluated at compile time (i.e. in const contexts). Otherwise, these behaviors are warnings, but will likely panic at run-time.

The following expressions are constant expressions, so long as any operands are also constant expressions and do not cause any Drop::drop calls to be run.

Const context

A const context is one of the following:

Const Functions

A const fn is a function that one is permitted to call from a const context. Declaring a function const has no effect on any existing uses, it only restricts the types that arguments and the return type may use, as well as prevent various expressions from being used within it. You can freely do anything with a const function that you can do with a regular function.

When called from a const context, the function is interpreted by the compiler at compile time. The interpretation happens in the environment of the compilation target and not the host. So usize is 32 bits if you are compiling against a 32 bit system, irrelevant of whether you are building on a 64 bit or a 32 bit system.

Const functions have various restrictions to make sure that they can be evaluated at compile-time. It is, for example, not possible to write a random number generator as a const function. Calling a const function at compile-time will always yield the same result as calling it at runtime, even when called multiple times. There's one exception to this rule: if you are doing complex floating point operations in extreme situations, then you might get (very slightly) different results. It is advisable to not make array lengths and enum discriminants depend on floating point computations.

Notable features that const contexts have, but const fn haven't are:

  • floating point operations
    • floating point values are treated just like generic parameters without trait bounds beyond Copy. So you cannot do anything with them but copy/move them around.
  • dyn Trait types
  • generic bounds on generic parameters beyond Sized
  • comparing raw pointers
  • union field access
  • transmute invocations.

Conversely, the following are possible in a const function, but not in a const context:

  • Use of generic parameters.