This is a conventions RFC for settling naming conventions when there are by value, by reference, and by mutable reference variants of an operation.


Currently the libraries are not terribly consistent about how to signal mut variants of functions; sometimes it is by a mut_ prefix, sometimes a _mut suffix, and occasionally with _mut_ appearing in the middle. These inconsistencies make APIs difficult to remember.

While there are arguments in favor of each of the positions, we stand to gain a lot by standardizing, and to some degree we just need to make a choice.

Detailed design

Functions often come in multiple variants: immutably borrowed, mutably borrowed, and owned.

The canonical example is iterator methods:

  • iter works with immutably borrowed data
  • mut_iter works with mutably borrowed data
  • move_iter works with owned data

For iterators, the "default" (unmarked) variant is immutably borrowed. In other cases, the default is owned.

The proposed rules depend on which variant is the default, but use suffixes to mark variants in all cases.

The rules

Immutably borrowed by default

If foo uses/produces an immutable borrow by default, use:

  • The _mut suffix (e.g. foo_mut) for the mutably borrowed variant.
  • The _move suffix (e.g. foo_move) for the owned variant.

However, in the case of iterators, the moving variant can also be understood as an into conversion, into_iter, and for x in v.into_iter() reads arguably better than for x in v.iter_move(), so the convention is into_iter.

NOTE: This convention covers only the method names for iterators, not the names of the iterator types. That will be the subject of a follow up RFC.

Owned by default

If foo uses/produces owned data by default, use:

  • The _ref suffix (e.g. foo_ref) for the immutably borrowed variant.
  • The _mut suffix (e.g. foo_mut) for the mutably borrowed variant.


For mutably borrowed variants, if the mut qualifier is part of a type name (e.g. as_mut_slice), it should appear as it would appear in the type.

References to type names

Some places in the current libraries, we say things like as_ref and as_mut, and others we say get_ref and get_mut_ref.

Proposal: generally standardize on mut as a shortening of mut_ref.

The rationale

Why suffixes?

Using a suffix makes it easier to visually group variants together, especially when sorted alphabetically. It puts the emphasis on the functionality, rather than the qualifier.

Why move?

Historically, Rust has used move as a way to signal ownership transfer and to connect to C++ terminology. The main disadvantage is that it does not emphasize ownership, which is our current narrative. On the other hand, in Rust all data is owned, so using _owned as a qualifier is a bit strange.

The Copy trait poses a problem for any terminology about ownership transfer. The proposed mental model is that with Copy data you are "moving a copy".

See Alternatives for more discussion.

Why mut rather then mut_ref?

It's shorter, and pairs like as_ref and as_mut have a pleasant harmony that doesn't place emphasis on one kind of reference over the other.


Prefix or mixed qualifiers

Using prefixes for variants is another possibility, but there seems to be little upside.

It's possible to rationalize our current mix of prefixes and suffixes via grammatical distinctions, but this seems overly subtle and complex, and requires a strong command of English grammar to work well.

No suffix exception

The rules here make an exception when mut is part of a type name, as in as_mut_slice, but we could instead always place the qualifier as a suffix: as_slice_mut. This would make APIs more consistent in some ways, less in others: conversion functions would no longer consistently use a transcription of their type name.

This is perhaps not so bad, though, because as it is we often abbreviate type names. In any case, we need a convention (separate RFC) for how to refer to type names in methods.

owned instead of move

The overall narrative about Rust has been evolving to focus on ownership as the essential concept, with borrowing giving various lesser forms of ownership, so _owned would be a reasonable alternative to _move.

On the other hand, the ref variants do not say "borrowed", so in some sense this choice is inconsistent. In addition, the terminology is less familiar to those coming from C++.

val instead of owned

Another option would be val or value instead of owned. This suggestion plays into the "by reference" and "by value" distinction, and so is even more congruent with ref than move is. On the other hand, it's less clear/evocative than either move or owned.