For now, this reference is a best-effort document. We strive for validity and completeness, but are not yet there. In the future, the docs and lang teams will work together to figure out how best to do this. Until then, this is a best-effort attempt. If you find something wrong or missing, file an issue or send in a pull request.

Macros By Example

MacroRulesDefinition :
   macro_rules ! IDENTIFIER MacroRulesDef

MacroRulesDef :
      ( MacroRules ) ;
   | [ MacroRules ] ;
   | { MacroRules }

MacroRules :
   MacroRule ( ; MacroRule )* ;?

MacroRule :
   MacroMatcher => MacroTranscriber

MacroMatcher :
      ( MacroMatch* )
   | [ MacroMatch* ]
   | { MacroMatch* }

MacroMatch :
      Tokenexcept $ and delimiters
   | MacroMatcher
   | $ IDENTIFIER : MacroFragSpec
   | $ ( MacroMatch+ ) MacroRepSep? MacroKleeneOp

MacroFragSpec :
      block | expr | ident | item | lifetime
   | meta | pat | path | stmt | tt | ty | vis

MacroRepSep :
   Tokenexcept delimiters and kleene operators

MacroKleeneOp2015 :
   * | +

MacroKleeneOp2018+ :
   * | + | ?

MacroTranscriber :

macro_rules allows users to define syntax extension in a declarative way. We call such extensions "macros by example" or simply "macros".

Macros can expand to expressions, statements, items, types, or patterns.

The macro expander looks up macro invocations by name, and tries each macro rule in turn. It transcribes the first successful match. Matching and transcription are closely related to each other, and we will describe them together.

The macro expander matches and transcribes every token that does not begin with a $ literally, including delimiters. For parsing reasons, delimiters must be balanced, but they are otherwise not special.

In the matcher, $ name : designator matches the nonterminal in the Rust syntax named by designator. Valid designators are:

In the transcriber, the designator is already known, and so only the name of a matched nonterminal comes after the dollar sign.

In both the matcher and transcriber, the Kleene star-like operator indicates repetition. The Kleene star operator consists of $ and parentheses, optionally followed by a separator token, followed by *, +, or ?. * means zero or more repetitions; + means at least one repetition; ? means at most one repetition. The parentheses are not matched or transcribed. On the matcher side, a name is bound to all of the names it matches, in a structure that mimics the structure of the repetition encountered on a successful match. The job of the transcriber is to sort that structure out. Also, ?, unlike * and +, does not allow a separator, since one could never match against it anyway.

Edition Differences: The ? Kleene operator did not exist before the 2018 edition.

Edition Differences: Prior to the 2018 Edition, ? was an allowed separator token, rather than a Kleene operator. It is no longer allowed as a separator as of the 2018 edition. This avoids ambiguity with the ? Kleene operator.

The rules for transcription of these repetitions are called "Macro By Example". Essentially, one "layer" of repetition is discharged at a time, and all of them must be discharged by the time a name is transcribed. Therefore, ( $( $i:ident ),* ) => ( $i ) is an invalid macro, but ( $( $i:ident ),* ) => ( $( $i:ident ),* ) is acceptable (if trivial).

When Macro By Example encounters a repetition, it examines all of the $ name s that occur in its body. At the "current layer", they all must repeat the same number of times, so ( $( $i:ident ),* ; $( $j:ident ),* ) => ( $( ($i,$j) ),* ) is valid if given the argument (a,b,c ; d,e,f), but not (a,b,c ; d,e). The repetition walks through the choices at that layer in lockstep, so the former input transcribes to (a,d), (b,e), (c,f).

Nested repetitions are allowed.

Parsing limitations

The parser used by the macro system is reasonably powerful, but the parsing of Rust syntax is restricted in two ways:

  1. Macro definitions are required to include suitable separators after parsing expressions and other bits of the Rust grammar. This implies that a macro definition like $i:expr [ , ] is not legal, because [ could be part of an expression. A macro definition like $i:expr, or $i:expr; would be legal, however, because , and ; are legal separators. See RFC 550 for more information. Specifically:

    • expr and stmt may only be followed by one of =>, ,, or ;.
    • pat may only be followed by one of =>, ,, =, |, if, or in.
    • path and ty may only be followed by one of =>, ,, =, |, ;, :, >, >>, [, {, as, where, or a macro variable of block fragment type.
    • vis may only be followed by one of ,, priv, a raw identifier, any token that can begin a type, or a macro variable of ident, ty, or path fragment type.
    • All other fragment types have no restrictions.
  2. The parser must have eliminated all ambiguity by the time it reaches a $ name : designator. This requirement most often affects name-designator pairs when they occur at the beginning of, or immediately after, a $(...)*; requiring a distinctive token in front can solve the problem. For example:

    # #![allow(unused_variables)]
    #fn main() {
    // The matcher `$($i:ident)* $e:expr` would be ambiguous because the parser
    // would be forced to choose between an identifier or an expression. Use some
    // token to distinguish them.
    macro_rules! example {
        ($(I $i:ident)* E $e:expr) => { ($($i)-*) * $e };
    let foo = 2;
    let bar = 3;
    // The following expands to `(foo - bar) * 5`
    example!(I foo I bar E 5);