We introduce a new ABI string, "C-unwind", to enable unwinding from other languages (such as C++) into Rust frames and from Rust into other languages.

Additionally, we define the behavior for a limited number of previously-undefined cases when an unwind operation reaches a Rust function boundary with a non-"Rust", non-"C-unwind" ABI.

As part of this specification, we introduce the term "Plain Old Frame" (POF). These are frames that have no pending destructors and can be trivially deallocated.

This RFC does not define the behavior of catch_unwind in a Rust frame being unwound by a foreign exception. This is something the project group would like to specify in a future RFC; as such, it is "TBD" (see "Unresolved questions").


There are some Rust projects that need cross-language unwinding to provide their desired functionality. One major example is Wasm interpreters, including the Lucet and Wasmer projects.

There are also existing Rust crates (notably, wrappers around the libpng and libjpeg C libraries) that panic across C frames. The safety of such unwinding relies on compatibility between Rust's unwinding mechanism and the native exception mechanisms in GCC, LLVM, and MSVC. Despite using a compatible unwinding mechanism, the current rustc implementation assumes that extern "C" functions cannot unwind, which permits LLVM to optimize with the assumption that such unwinding constitutes undefined behavior.

The desire for this feature has been previously discussed on other RFCs, including #2699 and #2753.

Key design goals

As explained in this Inside Rust blog post, we have several requirements for any cross-language unwinding design.

The "Analysis of key design goals" section analyzes how well the current design satisfies these constraints.

  • Changing from panic=unwind to panic=abort cannot cause undefined behavior: We wish to ensure that changing from panic=unwind to panic=abort never creates undefined behavior (relate to panic=unwind), even if one is relying on a library that triggers a panic or a foreign exception.
  • Optimization with panic=abort: when using panic=abort, we wish to enable as many code-size optimizations as possible. This means that we shouldn't have to generate unwinding tables or other such constructs, at least in most cases.
  • Preserve the ability to change how Rust panics are propagated when using the Rust ABI: Currently, Rust panics are propagated using the native unwinding mechanism, but we would like to keep the freedom to change that.
  • Enable Rust panics to traverse through foreign frames: Several projects would like the ability to have Rust panics propagate through foreign frames. Those frames may or may not register destructors of their own with the native unwinding mechanism.
  • Enable foreign exceptions to propagate through Rust frames: Similarly, we would like to make it possible for C++ code (or other languages) to raise exceptions that will propagate through Rust frames "as if" they were Rust panics (i.e., running destrutors or, in the case of unwind=abort, aborting the program).
  • Enable error handling with longjmp: As mentioned above, some existing Rust libraries rely on the ability to longjmp across Rust frames to interoperate with Ruby, Lua, and other C APIs. The behavior of longjmp traversing Rust frames is not specified or guaranteed to be safe; in the current implementation of rustc, however, it is safe. On Windows, longjmp is implemented as a form of unwinding called "forced unwinding", so any specification of the behavior of forced unwinding across FFI boundaries should be forward-compatible with a future RFC that will provide a well-defined way to interoperate with longjmp-based APIs.
  • Do not change the ABI of functions in the libc crate: Some libc functions may invoke pthread_exit, which uses a form of unwinding in the GNU libc implementation. Such functions must be safe to use with the existing "C" ABI, because changing the types of these functions would be a breaking change.

Guide-level explanation

When declaring an external function that may unwind, such as an entrypoint to a C++ library, use extern "C-unwind" instead of extern "C":

extern "C-unwind" {
  fn may_throw();

Rust functions that call a possibly-unwinding external function should either use the default Rust ABI (which can be made explicit with extern "Rust") or the "C-unwind" ABI:

extern "C-unwind" fn can_unwind() {

Using the "C-unwind" ABI to "sandwich" Rust frames between frames from another language (such as C++) allows an exception initiated in a callee frame in the other language to traverse the intermediate Rust frames before being caught in the caller frames. I.e., a C++ exception may be thrown, cross into Rust via an extern "C-unwind" function declaration, safely unwind the Rust frames, and cross back into C++ (where it may be caught) via a Rust "C-unwind" function definition.

Conversely, languages that support the native unwinding mechanism, such as C++, may be "sandwiched" between Rust frames, so that Rust panics may safely unwind the C++ frames, if the Rust code declares both the C++ entrypoint and the Rust entrypoint using "C-unwind".

Other unwind ABI strings

Because the C ABI is not appropriate for all use cases, we also introduce these unwind ABI strings, which will only differ from their non-unwind variants by permitting unwinding, with the same semantics as "C-unwind":

  • "system-unwind" - available on all platforms
  • "stdcall-unwind" and "thiscall-unwind" - available only on platforms where "stdcall" and "thiscall" are supported

More unwind variants of existing ABI strings may be introduced, with the same semantics, without an additional RFC.

"Plain Old Frames"

A "POF", or "Plain Old Frame", is defined as a frame that can be trivially deallocated: returning from or unwinding a POF cannot cause any observable effects. This means that POFs do not contain any pending destructors (live Drop objects) or catch_unwind calls.

The terminology is intentionally akin to C++'s "Plain Old Data" types, which are types that, among other requirements, are trivially destructible (their destructors do not cause any observable effects, and may be elided as an optimization).

Rust frames that do contain pending destructors or catch_unwind calls are called non-POFs.

Note that a non-POF may become a POF during execution of the corresponding function, for instance if all Drop objects are moved out of scope, or if its only catch_unwind call is in a code path that will not be executed. The next section provides an example.

Forced unwinding

This is a special kind of unwinding used to implement longjmp on Windows and pthread_exit in glibc. A brief explanation is provided in this Inside Rust blog post. This RFC distinguishes forced unwinding from other types of foreign unwinding.

Since language features and library functions implemented using forced unwinding on some platforms use other mechanisms on other platforms, Rust code cannot rely on forced unwinding to invoke destructors (calling drop on Drop types). In other words, a forced unwind operation on one platform will simply deallocate Rust frames without true unwinding on other platforms.

This RFC specifies that, regardless of the platform or the ABI string ("C" or "C-unwind"), any platform features that may rely on forced unwinding will always be considered undefined behavior if they cross non-POFs. Crossing only POFs is necessary but not sufficient, however, to make forced unwinding safe, and for now we do not specify any safe form of forced unwinding; we will specify this in a future RFC.

Changes to the behavior of existing ABI strings

Prior to this RFC, any unwinding operation that crossed an extern "C" boundary, either from a panic! "escaping" from a Rust function defined with extern "C" or by entering Rust from another language via an entrypoint declared with extern "C", caused undefined behavior.

This RFC retains most of that undefined behavior, with one exception: with the panic=unwind runtime, panic! will cause an abort if it would otherwise "escape" from a function defined with extern "C".

This change will be applied to all ABI strings other than "Rust", such as "system".

Interaction with panic=abort

If a non-forced foreign unwind would enter a Rust frame via an extern "C-unwind" ABI boundary, but the Rust code is compiled with panic=abort, the unwind will be caught and the process aborted.

Conversely, non-forced unwinding from another language into Rust through an FFI entrypoint declared with extern "C" is always undefined behavior, and is not guaranteed to cause the program to abort under panic=abort. As noted below, however, when compiling in debug mode, the compiler may be able to guarantee an abort in this case.

panic=abort will have no impact on the behavior of forced unwinding.

Reference-level explanation

ABI boundaries and unforced unwinding

This table shows the behavior of an unwinding operation reaching each type of ABI boundary (function declaration or definition). "UB" stands for undefined behavior. "C"-like ABIs are "C" itself but also related ABIs such as "system".

panic runtimeABIpanic-unwindUnforced foreign unwind
panic=abort"C-unwind"panic! abortsabort
panic=abort"C"-likepanic! aborts (no unwinding occurs)UB

In debug mode, the compiler could insert code to catch unwind attempts at extern "C" boundaries and abort; this would provide a safe way to discover (and fix) instances of this form of UB.

Frame deallocation and forced unwinding

The interaction of Rust frames with C functions that deallocate frames (i.e. functions that may use forced unwinding on specific platforms) is independent of the panic runtime, ABI, or platform.

  • When deallocating Rust non-POFs: this is explicitly undefined behavior.
  • When deallocating Rust POFs: for now, this is not specified, and must be considered undefined behavior. However, we do plan to specify a safe way to deallocate POFs with longjmp or pthread_exit in a future RFC.

Additional limitations

In order to limit the scope of this RFC, the following limitations are imposed:

  • No subtype relationship is defined between functions or function pointers using different ABIs.
  • Coercions are not defined between "C" and "C-unwind".
  • As noted in the summary, if a Rust frame containing a pending catch_unwind call is unwound by a foreign exception, the behavior is undefined for now.
  • The behavior of asynchronous exceptions, such as SEH on Windows, interrupting Rust code is not defined.

These may be addressed in future RFCs.


Forced unwinding is treated as universally unsafe across non-POFs, but on some platforms it could theoretically be well-defined. As noted above, however, this would make the UB inconsistent across platforms, which is not desirable.

This design imposes some burden on existing codebases (mentioned above) to change their extern annotations to use the new ABI.

Having separate ABIs for "C" and "C-unwind" may make interface design more difficult, especially since this RFC postpones introducing coercions between function types using different ABIs. Conversely, a single ABI that "just works" with C++ (or any other language that may throw exceptions) would be simpler to learn and use than two separate ABIs.

This RFC preserves an existing inconsistency between the "Rust" ABI (which is the default for all functions without an explicit ABI string) and the other existing ABIs: no ABI string without the word unwind will permit unwinding, except the "Rust" ABI, which will permit unwinding, but only when compiled with panic=unwind. Making other ABIs consistent with the "Rust" ABI by permitting them to unwind by default (and possibly either introducing a new "C-unwind" ABI or an annotation akin to C++'s noexcept to explicitly prohibit unwinding) would also be a safer default, since it would prevent undefined behavior when interfacing with external libraries that may throw exceptions.

Rationale and alternatives

Other proposals discussed with the lang team

Two other potential designs have been discussed in depth; they are explained in this Inside Rust blog post. The design in this RFC is referred to as "option 2" in that post.

"Option 1" in that blog post only differs from the current proposal in the behavior of a forced unwind across a "C-unwind" boundary under panic=abort. Under the current proposal, this type of unwind is permitted, allowing longjmp and pthread_exit to behave "normally" with both the "C" and the "C-unwind" ABI across all platforms regardless of panic runtime. If non-POFs are unwound, this results in undefined behavior. Under "option 1", however, all foreign unwinding, forced or unforced, is caught at "C-unwind" boundaries under panic=abort, and the process is aborted. This gives longjmp and pthread_exit surprising behavior on some platforms, but avoids that cause of undefined behavior in the current proposal.

The other proposal in the blog post, "option 3", is dramatically different. In that proposal, foreign exceptions are permitted to cross extern "C" boundaries, and no new ABI is introduced.

Reasons for the current proposal

Our reasons for preferring the current proposal are:

  • Introducing a new ABI makes reliance on cross-language exception handling more explicit.
  • panic=abort can be safely used with extern "C-unwind" (there is no undefined behavior except with improperly used forced unwinding), but extern "C" has more optimization potential (eliding landing pads). Having two ABIs puts this choice in the hands of users.
    • The single-ABI proposal ("option 3") causes any foreign exception entering Rust to have undefined behavior under panic=abort, whereas the current proposal does not permit the panic=abort runtime to introduce undefined behavior to a program that is well-defined under panic=unwind.
    • This optimization could be made available with a single ABI by means of a function attribute indicating that a function cannot unwind (similar to C++'s noexcept). Such attributes are already available in nightly Rust. However, Rust does not yet support attributes for function pointers, so until that feature is added, there would be no way to indicate whether function pointers unwind using an attribute.
  • This design has simpler forward compatibility with alternate panic! implementations. Any well-defined cross-language unwinding will require shims to translate between the Rust unwinding mechanism and the natively provided mechanism. In this proposal, only "C-unwind" boundaries would require shims.

Analysis of key design goals

This section revisits the key design goals to assess how well they are met by the proposed design.

Changing from panic=unwind to panic=abort cannot cause UB

This constraint is met:

  • Unwinding across a "C" boundary is UB regardless of whether one is using panic=unwind or panic=abort.
  • Unwinding across a "C-unwind" boundary is always defined, though it is defined to abort if panic=abort is used.
  • Forced exceptions behave the same regardless of panic mode.

Optimization with panic=abort

Using this proposal, the compiler is almost always able to reduce overhead related to unwinding when using panic=abort. The one exception is that invoking a "C-unwind" ABI still requires some kind of minimal landing pad to trigger an abort. The expectation is that very few functions will use the "C-unwind" boundary unless they truly intend to unwind -- and, in that case, those functions are likely using panic=unwind anyway, so this is not expected to make much difference in practice.

Preserve the ability to change how Rust panics are propagated when using the Rust ABI

This constraint is met. If we were to change Rust panics to a different mechanism from the mechanism used by the native ABI, however, there would have to be a conversion step that interconverts between Rust panics and foreign exceptions at "C-unwind" ABI boundaries.

Enable Rust panics to traverse through foreign frames

This constraint is met.

Enable foreign exceptions to propagate through Rust frame

This constraint is partially met: the behavior of foreign exceptions with respect to catch_unwind is currently undefined, and left for future work.

Enable error handling with longjmp

This constraint has been deferred.

Do not change the ABI of functions in the libc crate

This constraint has been deferred.

Prior art

C++ as specified has no concept of "foreign" exceptions or of an underlying exception mechanism. However, in practice, the C++ exception mechanism is the "native" unwinding mechanism used by compilers.

On Microsoft platforms, when using MSVC, unwinding is always supported for both C++ and C code; this is very similar to "option 3" described in the inside-rust post mentioned above.

On other platforms, GCC, LLVM, and any related compilers provide a flag, -fexceptions, for explicitly ensuring that stack frames have unwinding support regardless of the language being compiled. Conversely, -fno-exceptions removes unwinding support even from C++. This is somewhat similar to how Rust's panic=unwind and panic=abort work for panic! unwinds, and under the "option 3" proposal, the behavior would be similar for foreign exceptions as well. In the current proposal, though, such foreign exception support is not enabled by default with panic=unwind but requires the new "C-unwind" ABI.

Attributes on nightly Rust and prior RFCs

Currently, nightly Rust provides attributes, #[unwind(allowed)] and #[unwind(abort)], that permit users to select a well-defined behavior when a panic reaches an extern "C" function boundary. Stabilization of these attributes has a tracking issue, but most of the discussion about whether this was the best approach took place in two RFC PR threads, #2699 and #2753.

The attribute approach was deemed insufficient for the following reasons:

  • Currently, Rust does not support attributes on function pointers. This may change in the future, but until then, attributes cannot provide any way to differentiate function pointers that may unwind from those that are guaranteed not to. Assuming that no function pointers may unwind is not viable, because that severly limits the utility of cross-FFI unwinding. Conversely, assuming that all extern "C" function pointers may unwind is inconsistent with the no-unwind default for extern "C" functions.
  • The existence of a compatible unwind mechanism on both sides of a function invocation boundary is part of the binary interface for that invocation, so the ABI string is a more appropriate part of the language syntax than function attributes to indicate that unwinding may occur.
  • The ability of a function to unwind must be part of the type system to ensure that callers that cannot unwind don't invoke functions that can unwind. Although attributes are sometimes part of a function's type, a function's ABI string is always part of its type, so we are not introducing any new elements to the type system.

Older discussions about unwinding through extern "C" boundaries

As mentioned above, it is currently undefined behavior for extern "C" functions to unwind. As documented in this issue, the lang team has long intended to make panic! cause the runtime to abort rather than unwind through an extern "C" boundary (which the current proposal also specifies).

The abort-on-unwind behavior was stabilized in 1.24 and reverted in 1.24.1; the team originally planned to stabilize it again in 1.33, but ultimately decided not to. Community discussion on discourse was largely concerned with the lack of any stable language feature to permit unwinding across FFI boundaries, and this contributed to the decision to block the re-stabilization of the abort-on-unwind behavior until such a feature could be introduced.

Unresolved questions

The behavior of catch_unwind when a foreign exception encounters it is currently left undefined. We would like to provide a well-defined behavior for this case, which will probably be either to let the exception pass through uncaught or to catch some or all foreign exceptions.

We would also like to specify conditions under which longjmp and pthread_exit may safely deallocate Rust frames. This RFC specifies that frames deallocated in this way must be POFs. However, this condition is merely necessary rather than sufficient to ensure well-defined behavior.

Within the context of this RFC and in discussions among members of the FFI-unwind project group, this class of formally-undefined behavior which we plan to define in future RFCs is referred to as "TBD behavior".

Future possibilities

The FFI-unwind project group intends to remain active at least until all "TBD behavior" is defined. We may also address some or all of the current proposal's limitations in future RFCs.

We may want to provide more means of interaction with foreign exceptions. For instance, it may be possible to provide a way for Rust to catch C++ exceptions and rethrow them from another thread. Such a mechanism may either be incorporated into the functionality of catch_unwind or provided as a separate language or standard library feature.

Coercions between "C-unwind" function types (such as function pointers) and the other ABIs are not part of this RFC. However, they will probably be indispensible for API design, so we plan to provide them in a future RFC.

As mentioned above, shims will be required if Rust changes its unwind mechanism.