This RFC proposes a number of design improvements to the cmp and ops modules in preparation for 1.0. The impetus for these improvements, besides the need for stabilization, is that we've added several important language features (like multidispatch) that greatly impact the design. Highlights:

  • Make basic unary and binary operators work by value and use associated types.
  • Generalize comparison operators to work across different types; drop Equiv.
  • Refactor slice notation in favor of range notation so that special traits are no longer needed.
  • Add IndexSet to better support maps.
  • Clarify ownership semantics throughout.


The operator and comparison traits play a double role: they are lang items known to the compiler, but are also library APIs that need to be stabilized.

While the traits have been fairly stable, a lot has changed in the language recently, including the addition of multidispatch, associated types, and changes to method resolution (especially around smart pointers). These are all things that impact the ideal design of the traits.

Since it is now relatively clear how these language features will work at 1.0, there is enough information to make final decisions about the construction of the comparison and operator traits. That's what this RFC aims to do.

Detailed design

The traits in cmp and ops can be broken down into several categories, and to keep things manageable this RFC discusses each category separately:

  • Basic operators:
    • Unary: Neg, Not
    • Binary: Add, Sub, Mul, Div, Rem, Shl, Shr, BitAnd, BitOr, BitXor,
  • Comparison: PartialEq, PartialOrd, Eq, Ord, Equiv
  • Indexing and slicing: Index, IndexMut, Slice, SliceMut
  • Special traits: Deref, DerefMut, Drop, Fn, FnMut, FnOnce

Basic operators

The basic operators include arithmetic and bitwise notation with both unary and binary operators.

Current design

Here are two example traits, one unary and one binary, for basic operators:

pub trait Not<Result> {
    fn not(&self) -> Result;

pub trait Add<Rhs, Result> {
    fn add(&self, rhs: &Rhs) -> Result;

The rest of the operators follow the same pattern. Note that self and rhs are taken by reference, and the compiler introduce silent uses of & for the operands.

The traits also take Result as an input type.

Proposed design

This RFC proposes to make Result an associated (output) type, and to make the traits work by value:

pub trait Not {
    type Result;
    fn not(self) -> Result;

pub trait Add<Rhs = Self> {
    type Result;
    fn add(self, rhs: Rhs) -> Result;

The reason to make Result an associated type is straightforward: it should be uniquely determined given Self and other input types, and making it an associated type is better for both type inference and for keeping things concise when using these traits in bounds.

Making these traits work by value is motivated by cases like DList concatenation, where you may want the operator to actually consume the operands in producing its output (by welding the two lists together).

It also means that the compiler does not have to introduce a silent & for the operands, which means that the ownership semantics when using these operators is much more clear.

Fortunately, there is no loss in expressiveness, since you can always implement the trait on reference types. However, for types that do need to be taken by reference, there is a slight loss in ergonomics since you may need to explicitly borrow the operands with &. The upside is that the ownership semantics become clearer: they more closely resemble normal function arguments.

By keeping Rhs as an input trait on the trait, you can overload on the types of both operands via multidispatch. By defaulting Rhs to Self, in the future it will be possible to simply say T: Add as shorthand for T: Add<T>, which is the common case.


// Basic setup for Copy types:
impl Add<uint> for uint {
    type Result = uint;
    fn add(self, rhs: uint) -> uint { ... }

// Overloading on the Rhs:
impl Add<uint> for Complex {
    type Result = Complex;
    fn add(self, rhs: uint) -> Complex { ... }

impl Add<Complex> for Complex {
    type Result = Complex;
    fn add(self, rhs: Complex) -> Complex { ... }

// Recovering by-ref semantics:
impl<'a, 'b> Add<&'a str> for &'b str {
    type Result = String;
    fn add(self, rhs: &'a str) -> String { ... }

Comparison traits

The comparison traits provide overloads for operators like == and >.

Current design

Comparisons are subtle, because some types (notably f32 and f64) do not actually provide full equivalence relations or total orderings. The current design therefore splits the comparison traits into "partial" variants that do not promise full equivalence relations/ordering, and "total" variants which inherit from them but make stronger semantic guarantees. The floating point types implement the partial variants, and the operators defer to them. But certain collection types require e.g. total rather than partial orderings:

pub trait PartialEq {
    fn eq(&self, other: &Self) -> bool;

    fn ne(&self, other: &Self) -> bool { !self.eq(other) }

pub trait Eq: PartialEq {}

pub trait PartialOrd: PartialEq {
    fn partial_cmp(&self, other: &Self) -> Option<Ordering>;
    fn lt(&self, other: &Self) -> bool { .. }
    fn le(&self, other: &Self) -> bool { .. }
    fn gt(&self, other: &Self) -> bool { .. }
    fn ge(&self, other: &Self) -> bool { .. }

pub trait Ord: Eq + PartialOrd {
    fn cmp(&self, other: &Self) -> Ordering;

pub trait Equiv<T> {
    fn equiv(&self, other: &T) -> bool;

In addition there is an Equiv trait that can be used to compare values of different types for equality, but does not correspond to any operator sugar. (It was introduced in part to help solve some problems in map APIs, which are now resolved in a different way.)

The comparison traits all work by reference, and the compiler inserts implicit uses of & to make this ergonomic.

Proposed design

This RFC proposes to follow largely the same design strategy, but to remove Equiv and instead generalize the traits via multidispatch:

pub trait PartialEq<Rhs = Self> {
    fn eq(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool;

    fn ne(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool { !self.eq(other) }

pub trait Eq<Rhs = Self>: PartialEq<Rhs> {}

pub trait PartialOrd<Rhs = Self>: PartialEq<Rhs> {
    fn partial_cmp(&self, other: &Rhs) -> Option<Ordering>;
    fn lt(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool { .. }
    fn le(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool { .. }
    fn gt(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool { .. }
    fn ge(&self, other: &Rhs) -> bool { .. }

pub trait Ord<Rhs = Self>: Eq<Rhs> + PartialOrd<Rhs> {
    fn cmp(&self, other: &Rhs) -> Ordering;

Due to the use of defaulting, this generalization loses no ergonomics. However, it makes it possible to overload notation like == to compare different types without needing an explicit conversion. (Precisely which overloadings we provide in std will be subject to API stabilization.) This more general design will allow us to eliminate the iter::order submodule in favor of comparison notation, for example.

This design suffers from the problem that it is somewhat painful to implement or derive Eq/Ord, which is the common case. We can likely improve e.g. #[deriving(Ord)] to automatically derive PartialOrd. See Alternatives for a more radical design (and the reasons that it's not feasible right now.)

Indexing and slicing

There are a few traits that support [] notation for indexing and slicing.

Current design:

The current design is as follows:

pub trait Index<Index, Sized? Result> {
    fn index<'a>(&'a self, index: &Index) -> &'a Result;

pub trait IndexMut<Index, Result> {
    fn index_mut<'a>(&'a mut self, index: &Index) -> &'a mut Result;

pub trait Slice<Idx, Sized? Result> for Sized? {
    fn as_slice_<'a>(&'a self) -> &'a Result;
    fn slice_from_or_fail<'a>(&'a self, from: &Idx) -> &'a Result;
    fn slice_to_or_fail<'a>(&'a self, to: &Idx) -> &'a Result;
    fn slice_or_fail<'a>(&'a self, from: &Idx, to: &Idx) -> &'a Result;

// and similar for SliceMut...

The index and slice traits work somewhat differently. For Index/IndexMut, the return value is implicitly dereferenced, so that notation like v[i] = 3 makes sense. If you want to get your hands on the actual reference, you usually need an explicit &, for example &v[i] or &mut v[i] (the compiler determines whether to use Index or IndexMut by context). This follows the C notational tradition.

Slice notation, on the other hand, does not automatically dereference and so requires a special mut marker: v[mut 1..].

For both of these traits, the indexes themselves are taken by reference, and the compiler automatically introduces a & (so you write v[3] not v[&3]).

Proposed design

This RFC proposes to refactor the slice design into more modular components, which as a side-product will make slicing automatically dereference the result (consistently with indexing). The latter is desirable because &mut v[1..] is more consistent with the rest of the language than v[mut 1..] (and also makes the borrowing semantics more explicit).

Index revisions

In the new design, the index traits take the index by value and the compiler no longer introduces a silent &. This follows the same design as for e.g. Add above, and for much the same reasons. That means in particular that it will be possible to write map["key"] rather than map[*"key"] when using a map with String keys, and will still be possible to write v[3] for vectors. In addition, the Result becomes an associated type, again following the same design outlined above:

pub trait Index<Idx> for Sized?  {
    type Sized? Result;
    fn index<'a>(&'a self, index: Idx) -> &'a Result;

pub trait IndexMut<Idx> for Sized? {
    type Sized? Result;
    fn index_mut<'a>(&'a mut self, index: Idx) -> &'a mut Result;

In addition, this RFC proposes another trait, IndexSet, that is used for expr[i] = expr:

pub trait IndexSet<Idx> {
    type Val;
    fn index_set<'a>(&'a mut self, index: Idx, val: Val);

(This idea is borrowed from @sfackler's earlier RFC.)

The motivation for this trait is cases like map["key"] = val, which should correspond to an insertion rather than a mutable lookup. With today's setup, that expression would result in a panic if "key" was not already present in the map.

Of course, IndexSet and IndexMut overlap, since expr[i] = expr could be interpreted using either. Some types may implement IndexSet but not IndexMut (for example, if it doesn't make sense to produce an interior reference). But for types providing both, the compiler will use IndexSet to interpret the expr[i] = expr syntax. (You can always get IndexMut by instead writing * &mut expr[i] = expr, but this will likely be extremely rare.)

Slice revisions

The changes to slice notation are more radical: this RFC proposes to remove the slice traits altogether! The replacement is to introduce range notation and overload indexing on it.

The current slice notation allows you to write v[i..j], v[i..], v[..j] and v[]. The idea for handling the first three is to add the following desugaring:

i..j  ==>  Range(i, j)
i..   ==>  RangeFrom(i)
..j   ==>  RangeTo(j)


struct Range<Idx>(Idx, Idx);
struct RangeFrom<Idx>(Idx);
struct RangeTo<Idx>(Idx);

Then, to implement slice notation, you just implement Index/IndexMut with Range, RangeFrom, and RangeTo index types.

This cuts down on the number of special traits and machinery. It makes indexing and slicing more consistent (since both will implicitly deref their result); you'll write &mut v[1..] to get a mutable slice. It also opens the door to other uses of the range notation:

for x in 1..100 { ... }

because the refactored design is more modular.

What about v[] notation? The proposal is to desugar this to v[FullRange] where struct FullRange;.

Note that .. is already used in a few places in the grammar, notably fixed length arrays and functional record update. The former is at the type level, however, and the latter is not ambiguous: Foo { a: x, .. bar} since the .. bar component will never be parsed as an expression.

Special traits

Finally, there are a few "special" traits that hook into the compiler in various ways that go beyond basic operator overlaoding.

Deref and DerefMut

The Deref and DerefMut traits are used for overloading dereferencing, typically for smart pointers.

The current traits look like so:

pub trait Deref<Sized? Result> {
    fn deref<'a>(&'a self) -> &'a Result;

but the Result type should become an associated type, dictating that a smart pointer can only deref to a single other type (which is also needed for inference and other magic around deref):

pub trait Deref {
    type Sized? Result;
    fn deref<'a>(&'a self) -> &'a Result;


This RFC proposes no changes to the Drop trait.

Closure traits

This RFC proposes no changes to the closure traits. The current design looks like:

pub trait Fn<Args, Result> {
    fn call(&self, args: Args) -> Result;

and, given the way that multidispatch has worked out, it is safe and more flexible to keep both Args and Result as input types (which means that custom implementations could overload on either). In particular, the sugar for these traits requires writing all of these types anyway.

These traits should not be exposed as #[stable] for 1.0, meaning that you will not be able to implement or use them directly from the stable release channel. There are a few reasons for this. For one, when bounding by these traits you generally want to use the sugar Fn (T, U) -> V instead, which will be stable. Keeping the traits themselves unstable leaves us room to change their definition to support variadic generics in the future.


The main drawback is that implementing the above will take a bit of time, which is something we're currently very short on. However, stabilizing cmp and ops has always been part of the plan, and has to be done for 1.0.


Comparison traits

We could pursue a more aggressive change to the comparison traits by not having PartialOrd be a super trait of Ord, but instead providing a blanket impl for PartialOrd for any T: Ord. Unfortunately, this design poses some problems when it comes to things like tuples, which want to provide PartialOrd and Ord if all their components do: you would end up with overlapping PartialOrd impls. It's possible to work around this, but at the expense of additional language features (like "negative bounds", the ability to make an impl apply only when certain things are not true).

Since it's unlikely that these other changes can happen in time for 1.0, this RFC takes a more conservative approach.


We may want to drop the [] notation. This notation was introduced to improve ergonomics (from foo(v.as_slice()) to foo(v[]), but now that collections reform is starting to land we can instead write foo(&*v). If we also had deref coercions, that would be just foo(&v).

While &*v notation is more ergonomic than v.as_slice(), it is also somewhat intimidating notation for a situation that newcomers to the language are likely to face quickly.

In the opinion of this RFC author, we should either keep [] notation, or provide deref coercions so that you can just say &v.

Unresolved questions

In the long run, we should support overloading of operators like += which often have a more efficient implementation than desugaring into a + and an =. However, this can be added backwards-compatibly and is not significantly blocking library stabilization, so this RFC postpones consideration until a later date.