Netstack3 Async Socket Handler Case Study

This case study presents a simplification of a common handler pattern enabled by async_fn_in_trait (AFIT).


Netstack3 is a networking stack written in Rust for the Fuchsia operating system. As a Fuchsia component, Netstack3 communicates with its clients using Fuchsia-native asynchronous IPC via generated bindings from Fuchsia interface definition language (FIDL) specifications. Netstack3 provides, via various FIDL protocols, the ability for other Fuchsia components (e.g. applications) to create and manipulate POSIX-like socket objects.

Per-socket handler implementations

To allocate a socket, a Fuchsia component sends a single message to the netstack indicating the desired type of socket, along with a Zircon channel that the netstack is expected to listen for requests on. The other end of the channel is held by the client and used to send requests for the new socket to the netstack.

When Netstack3 receives a request to create a socket, it spawns a new fuchsia_async::Task to dispatch incoming requests for the socket to the socket's handler. The type of messages for the socket depends on the protocol, so Netstack3 has distinct handler types for each.

Though the handler types are distinct, their functionality is fairly similar:

  • Handlers wait to receive incoming requests on their channel, then process them.
  • Handlers process each received message completely before polling for the next.
  • Handlers support Clone requests by merging a new stream of incoming requests with their existing one.
  • Handlers exit when either their request stream ends or in response to an explicit Close message.
  • On exit, handlers clean up any resources corresponding to the socket.

Request handling for a given socket is done using async/await. Though each individual socket handles requests serially, this allows requests for different sockets to be handled concurrently by the executor.

Individual implementations

Before the introduction of async_fn_in_trait, Netstack3's socket handlers were each implemented independently, with minimal code reuse. This resulted in significant duplication of code for the common behaviors above. The straightforward refactor would define a generic SocketWorker<H> type with the shared behavior, and that would delegate to an implementer of a trait SocketHandler for socket-type-specific request handling:

fn main() {
pub struct SocketWorker<H> {
    handler: H,

pub trait SocketHandler: Default {
    type Request;

    /// Handles a single request.
    async fn handle_request(
        &mut self,
        request: Self::Request,
    ) -> ControlFlow<(), Option<RequestStream<Self::Request>>;

    /// Closes the socket managed by this handler.
    fn close(self);

impl<H: SocketHandler> SocketWorker<H> {
    /// Starts servicing events from the provided event stream.
    pub async fn serve_stream(stream: RequestStream<H>) {
        Self { handler: H::default() }.handle_stream(stream)

    async fn handle_stream(mut self, requests: RequestStream<H>) {
      let Self {handler} = self;
      while let Some(request) = {
        // Call `handler.handle_request()` for each request while merging
        // new request streams into `requests`.

Because SocketHandler::handle_request is an async fn, this won't compile on the current version of stable Rust (1.68.0 as of writing). There are a couple options for working around the lack of support for AFIT, but they each have significant downsides:

Option 1: Make request handling a hand-rolled Future impl on a custom type

One way to work around the lack of AFIT is to declare a non-async trait function that returns an instance of an associated type that implements Future. This works, but requires explicitly structuring control flow as state within the associated type. For Netstack3, where request handling branches down tens of paths, maintaining this state machine by hand would be impractically difficult.

Option 2: Use dynamic dispatch

This is similar to the above, but instead of an associated type, the non-async function returns a Box<dyn Future>. The trait implementation can then call an async fn, then box up and return the result. This results in more readable code than option 1 at the cost of allocation and dynamic dispatch at run time. For Netstack3, which is on the critical path of every network-connected component in the system, this is not worth the benefits of abstraction.


Using async_fn_in_trait allowed performing the refactoring proposed above without workarounds. The resulting code doesn't use dynamic dispatch, and the implementations of SocketHandler::handle_request are written as regular async fns. The full definition of the abstract worker and handler trait can be found in the Netstack3 source code).

Send bound limitation

One of the current limitations for AFIT is the inability to specify bounds on the type of the future returned from an async trait function. This can cause errors when the caller of the function requires a Send bound so that the future can be passed to a multi-threaded executor.

Netstack3 uses fuchsia_async::Task::spawn to create tasks that can run on Fuchsia's multi-threaded executor, and so initial attempts to use AFIT ran afoul of the limitation. Luckily, the suggested workaround of moving the spawn point out of generic code worked for Netstack3: Task::spawn is called in socket-specific code instead of within generic socket worker code. Since the compiler has access to the concrete Future-implementing type returned by the specific impl of SocketHandler::handle_request, it can verify that it and all its callers implement Send.

Future usages

While AFIT is currently being used in Netstack3 for abstracting over socket behaviors, it's likely that there are other places where it would prove useful, including in some of the existing per-IP-version code with common logic.