Summary

Restore the integer inference fallback that was removed. Integer literals whose type is unconstrained will default to i32, unlike the previous fallback to int. Floating point literals will default to f64.

Motivation

History lesson

Rust has had a long history with integer and floating-point literals. Initial versions of Rust required all literals to be explicitly annotated with a suffix (if no suffix is provided, then int or float was used; note that the float type has since been removed). This meant that, for example, if one wanted to count up all the numbers in a list, one would write 0u and 1u so as to employ unsigned integers:

let mut count = 0u; // let `count` be an unsigned integer
while cond() {
    ...
    count += 1u;    // `1u` must be used as well
}

This was particularly troublesome with arrays of integer literals, which could be quite hard to read:

let byte_array = [0u8, 33u8, 50u8, ...];

It also meant that code which was very consciously using 32-bit or 64-bit numbers was hard to read.

Therefore, we introduced integer inference: unlabeled integer literals are not given any particular integral type rather a fresh "integral type variable" (floating point literals work in an analogous way). The idea is that the vast majority of literals will eventually interact with an actual typed variable at some point, and hence we can infer what type they ought to have. For those cases where the type cannot be automatically selected, we decided to fallback to our older behavior, and have integer/float literals be typed as int/float (this is also what Haskell does). Some time later, we did various measurements and found that in real world code this fallback was rarely used. Therefore, we decided that to remove the fallback.

Experience with lack of fallback

Unfortunately, when doing the measurements that led us to decide to remove the int fallback, we neglected to consider coding "in the small" (specifically, we did not include tests in the measurements). It turns out that when writing small programs, which includes not only "hello world" sort of things but also tests, the lack of integer inference fallback is quite annoying. This is particularly troublesome since small program are often people's first exposure to Rust. The problems most commonly occur when integers are "consumed" by printing them out to the screen or by asserting equality, both of which are very common in small programs and testing.

There are at least three common scenarios where fallback would be beneficial:

Accumulator loops. Here a counter is initialized to 0 and then incremented by 1. Eventually it is printed or compared against a known value.

let mut c = 0;
loop {
    ...;
    c += 1;
}
println!("{}", c); // Does not constrain type of `c`
assert_eq(c, 22);

Calls to range with constant arguments. Here a call to range like range(0, 10) is used to execute something 10 times. It is important that the actual counter is either unused or only used in a print out or comparison against another literal:

for _ in range(0, 10) {
}

Large constants. In small tests it is convenient to make dummy test data. This frequently takes the form of a vector or map of ints.

let mut m = HashMap::new();
m.insert(1, 2);
m.insert(3, 4);
assert_eq(m.find(&3).map(|&i| i).unwrap(), 4);

Lack of bugs

To our knowledge, there has not been a single bug exposed by removing the fallback to the int type. Moreover, such bugs seem to be extremely unlikely.

The primary reason for this is that, in production code, the i32 fallback is very rarely used. In a sense, the same measurements that were used to justify removing the int fallback also justify keeping it. As the measurements showed, the vast, vast majority of integer literals wind up with a constrained type, unless they are only used to print out and do assertions with. Specifically, any integer that is passed as a parameter, returned from a function, or stored in a struct or array, must wind up with a specific type.

Rationale for the choice of defaulting to i32

In contrast to the first revision of the RFC, the fallback type suggested is i32. This is justified by a case analysis which showed that there does not exist a compelling reason for having a signed pointer-sized integer type as the default.

There are reasons for using i32 instead: It's familiar to programmers from the C programming language (where the default int type is 32-bit in the major calling conventions), it's faster than 64-bit integers in arithmetic today, and is superior in memory usage while still providing a reasonable range of possible values.

To expand on the perfomance argument: i32 obviously uses half of the memory of i64 meaning half the memory bandwidth used, half as much cache consumption and twice as much vectorization – additionally arithmetic (like multiplication and division) is faster on some of the modern CPUs.

Case analysis

This is an analysis of cases where int inference might be thought of as useful:

Indexing into an array with unconstrained integer literal:

let array = [0u8, 1, 2, 3];
let index = 3;
array[index]

In this case, index is already automatically inferred to be a uint.

Using a default integer for tests, tutorials, etc.: Examples of this include "The Guide", the Rust API docs and the Rust standard library unit tests. This is better served by a smaller, faster and platform independent type as default.

Using an integer for an upper bound or for simply printing it: This is also served very well by i32.

Counting of loop iterations: This is a part where int is as badly suited as i32, so at least the move to i32 doesn't create new hazards (note that the number of elements of a vector might not necessarily fit into an int).

In addition to all the points above, having a platform-independent type obviously results in less differences between the platforms in which the programmer "doesn't care" about the integer type they are using.

Future-proofing for overloaded literals

It is possible that, in the future, we will wish to allow vector and strings literals to be overloaded so that they can be resolved to user-defined types. In that case, for backwards compatibility, it will be necessary for those literals to have some sort of fallback type. (This is a relatively weak consideration.)

Detailed design

Integral literals are currently type-checked by creating a special class of type variable. These variables are subject to unification as normal, but can only unify with integral types. This RFC proposes that, at the end of type inference, when all constraints are known, we will identify all integral type variables that have not yet been bound to anything and bind them to i32. Similarly, floating point literals will fallback to f64.

For those who wish to be very careful about which integral types they employ, a new lint (unconstrained_literal) will be added which defaults to allow. This lint is triggered whenever the type of an integer or floating point literal is unconstrained.

Downsides

Although there seems to be little motivation for int to be the default, there might be use cases where int is a more correct fallback than i32.

Additionally, it might seem weird to some that i32 is a default, when int looks like the default from other languages. The name of int however is not in the scope of this RFC.

Alternatives

  • No fallback. Status quo.

  • Fallback to something else. We could potentially fallback to int like the original RFC suggested or some other integral type rather than i32.

  • Fallback in a more narrow range of cases. We could attempt to identify integers that are "only printed" or "only compared". There is no concrete proposal in this direction and it seems to lead to an overly complicated design.

  • Default type parameters influencing inference. There is a separate, follow-up proposal being prepared that uses default type parameters to influence inference. This would allow some examples, like range(0, 10) to work even without integral fallback, because the range function itself could specify a fallback type. However, this does not help with many other examples.

History

2014-11-07: Changed the suggested fallback from int to i32, add rationale.