Flexibility

Functions expose intermediate results to avoid duplicate work (C-INTERMEDIATE)

Many functions that answer a question also compute interesting related data. If this data is potentially of interest to the client, consider exposing it in the API.

Examples from the standard library

  • Vec::binary_search does not return a bool of whether the value was found, nor an Option<usize> of the index at which the value was maybe found. Instead it returns information about the index if found, and also the index at which the value would need to be inserted if not found.

  • String::from_utf8 may fail if the input bytes are not UTF-8. In the error case it returns an intermediate result that exposes the byte offset up to which the input was valid UTF-8, as well as handing back ownership of the input bytes.

  • HashMap::insert returns an Option<T> that returns the preexisting value for a given key, if any. For cases where the user wants to recover this value having it returned by the insert operation avoids the user having to do a second hash table lookup.

Caller decides where to copy and place data (C-CALLER-CONTROL)

If a function requires ownership of an argument, it should take ownership of the argument rather than borrowing and cloning the argument.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// Prefer this:
fn foo(b: Bar) {
    /* use b as owned, directly */
}

// Over this:
fn foo(b: &Bar) {
    let b = b.clone();
    /* use b as owned after cloning */
}
#}

If a function does not require ownership of an argument, it should take a shared or exclusive borrow of the argument rather than taking ownership and dropping the argument.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// Prefer this:
fn foo(b: &Bar) {
    /* use b as borrowed */
}

// Over this:
fn foo(b: Bar) {
    /* use b as borrowed, it is implicitly dropped before function returns */
}
#}

The Copy trait should only be used as a bound when absolutely needed, not as a way of signaling that copies should be cheap to make.

Functions minimize assumptions about parameters by using generics (C-GENERIC)

The fewer assumptions a function makes about its inputs, the more widely usable it becomes.

Prefer


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo<I: IntoIterator<Item = i64>>(iter: I) { /* ... */ }
#}

over any of


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo(c: &[i64]) { /* ... */ }
fn foo(c: &Vec<i64>) { /* ... */ }
fn foo(c: &SomeOtherCollection<i64>) { /* ... */ }
#}

if the function only needs to iterate over the data.

More generally, consider using generics to pinpoint the assumptions a function needs to make about its arguments.

Advantages of generics

  • Reusability. Generic functions can be applied to an open-ended collection of types, while giving a clear contract for the functionality those types must provide.

  • Static dispatch and optimization. Each use of a generic function is specialized ("monomorphized") to the particular types implementing the trait bounds, which means that (1) invocations of trait methods are static, direct calls to the implementation and (2) the compiler can inline and otherwise optimize these calls.

  • Inline layout. If a struct and enum type is generic over some type parameter T, values of type T will be laid out inline in the struct/enum, without any indirection.

  • Inference. Since the type parameters to generic functions can usually be inferred, generic functions can help cut down on verbosity in code where explicit conversions or other method calls would usually be necessary.

  • Precise types. Because generic give a name to the specific type implementing a trait, it is possible to be precise about places where that exact type is required or produced. For example, a function

    
    # #![allow(unused_variables)]
    #fn main() {
    fn binary<T: Trait>(x: T, y: T) -> T
    #}

    is guaranteed to consume and produce elements of exactly the same type T; it cannot be invoked with parameters of different types that both implement Trait.

Disadvantages of generics

  • Code size. Specializing generic functions means that the function body is duplicated. The increase in code size must be weighed against the performance benefits of static dispatch.

  • Homogeneous types. This is the other side of the "precise types" coin: if T is a type parameter, it stands for a single actual type. So for example a Vec<T> contains elements of a single concrete type (and, indeed, the vector representation is specialized to lay these out in line). Sometimes heterogeneous collections are useful; see trait objects.

  • Signature verbosity. Heavy use of generics can make it more difficult to read and understand a function's signature.

Examples from the standard library

  • std::fs::File::open takes an argument of generic type AsRef<Path>. This allows files to be opened conveniently from a string literal "f.txt", a Path, an OsString, and a few other types.

Traits are object-safe if they may be useful as a trait object (C-OBJECT)

Trait objects have some significant limitations: methods invoked through a trait object cannot use generics, and cannot use Self except in receiver position.

When designing a trait, decide early on whether the trait will be used as an object or as a bound on generics.

If a trait is meant to be used as an object, its methods should take and return trait objects rather than use generics.

A where clause of Self: Sized may be used to exclude specific methods from the trait's object. The following trait is not object-safe due to the generic method.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait MyTrait {
    fn object_safe(&self, i: i32);

    fn not_object_safe<T>(&self, t: T);
}
#}

Adding a requirement of Self: Sized to the generic method excludes it from the trait object and makes the trait object-safe.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait MyTrait {
    fn object_safe(&self, i: i32);

    fn not_object_safe<T>(&self, t: T) where Self: Sized;
}
#}

Advantages of trait objects

  • Heterogeneity. When you need it, you really need it.
  • Code size. Unlike generics, trait objects do not generate specialized (monomorphized) versions of code, which can greatly reduce code size.

Disadvantages of trait objects

  • No generic methods. Trait objects cannot currently provide generic methods.
  • Dynamic dispatch and fat pointers. Trait objects inherently involve indirection and vtable dispatch, which can carry a performance penalty.
  • No Self. Except for the method receiver argument, methods on trait objects cannot use the Self type.

Examples from the standard library

  • The io::Read and io::Write traits are often used as objects.
  • The Iterator trait has several generic methods marked with where Self: Sized to retain the ability to use Iterator as an object.