Various enhancements to macros ahead of their standardization in 1.0.

Note: This is not the final Rust macro system design for all time. Rather, it addresses the largest usability problems within the limited time frame for 1.0. It's my hope that a lot of these problems can be solved in nicer ways in the long term (there is some discussion of this below).


macro_rules! has many rough edges. A few of the big ones:

  • You can't re-export macros
  • Even if you could, names produced by the re-exported macro won't follow the re-export
  • You can't use the same macro in-crate and exported, without the "curious inner-module" hack
  • There's no namespacing at all
  • You can't control which macros are imported from a crate
  • You need the feature-gated #[phase(plugin)] to import macros

These issues in particular are things we have a chance of addressing for 1.0. This RFC contains plans to do so.

Semantic changes

These are the substantial changes to the macro system. The examples also use the improved syntax, described later.


The first change is to disallow importing macros from an extern crate that is not at the crate root. In that case, if

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
extern crate "bar" as foo;

imports macros, then it's also introducing ordinary paths of the form ::foo::.... We call foo the crate ident of the extern crate.

We introduce a special macro metavar $crate which expands to ::foo when a macro was imported through crate ident foo, and to nothing when it was defined in the crate where it is being expanded. $crate::bar::baz will be an absolute path either way.

This feature eliminates the need for the "curious inner-module" and also enables macro re-export (see below). It is implemented and tested but needs a rebase.

We can add a lint to warn about cases where an exported macro has paths that are not absolute-with-crate or $crate-relative. This will have some (hopefully rare) false positives.

Macro scope

In this document, the "syntax environment" refers to the set of syntax extensions that can be invoked at a given position in the crate. The names in the syntax environment are simple unqualified identifiers such as panic and vec. Informally we may write vec! to distinguish from an ordinary item. However, the exclamation point is really part of the invocation syntax, not the name, and some syntax extensions are invoked with no exclamation point, for example item decorators like deriving.

We introduce an attribute macro_use to specify which macros from an external crate should be imported to the syntax environment:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
#[macro_use(vec, panic="fail")]
extern crate std;

extern crate core;

The list of macros to import is optional. Omitting the list imports all macros, similar to a glob use. (This is also the mechanism by which std will inject its macros into every non-no_std crate.)

Importing with rename is an optional part of this proposal that will be implemented for 1.0 only if time permits.

Macros imported this way can be used anywhere in the module after the extern crate item, including in child modules. Since a macro-importing extern crate must appear at the crate root, and view items come before other items, this effectively means imported macros will be visible for the entire crate.

Any name collision between macros, whether imported or defined in-crate, is a hard error.

Many macros expand using other "helper macros" as an implementation detail. For example, librustc's declare_lint! uses lint_initializer!. The client should not know about this macro, although it still needs to be exported for cross-crate use. For this reason we allow #[macro_use] on a macro definition.

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
/// Not to be imported directly.
macro_rules! lint_initializer { ... }

/// Declare a lint.
macro_rules! declare_lint {
    ($name:ident, $level:ident, $desc:expr) => (
        static $name: &'static $crate::lint::Lint
            = &lint_initializer!($name, $level, $desc);

The macro lint_initializer!, imported from the same crate as declare_lint!, will be visible only during further expansion of the result of invoking declare_lint!.

macro_use on macro_rules is an optional part of this proposal that will be implemented for 1.0 only if time permits. Without it, libraries that use helper macros will need to list them in documentation so that users can import them.

Procedural macros need their own way to manipulate the syntax environment, but that's an unstable internal API, so it's outside the scope of this RFC.

New syntax

We also clean up macro syntax in a way that complements the semantic changes above.

#[macro_use(...)] mod

The macro_use attribute can be applied to a mod item as well. The specified macros will "escape" the module and become visible throughout the rest of the enclosing module, including any child modules. A crate might start with

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
mod macros;

to define some macros for use by the whole crate, without putting those definitions in

Note that #[macro_use] (without a list of names) is equivalent to the current #[macro_escape]. However, the new convention is to use an outer attribute, in the file whose syntax environment is affected, rather than an inner attribute in the file defining the macros.

Macro export and re-export

Currently in Rust, a macro definition qualified by #[macro_export] becomes available to other crates. We keep this behavior in the new system. A macro qualified by #[macro_export] can be the target of #[macro_use(...)], and will be imported automatically when #[macro_use] is given with no list of names.

#[macro_export] has no effect on the syntax environment for the current crate.

We can also re-export macros that were imported from another crate. For example, libcollections defines a vec! macro, which would now look like:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
macro_rules! vec {
    ($($e:expr),*) => ({
        let mut _temp = $crate::vec::Vec::new();

Currently, libstd duplicates this macro in its own Now it could do

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
extern crate collections;

as long as the module std::vec is interface-compatible with collections::vec.

(Actually the current libstd vec! is completely different for efficiency, but it's just an example.)

Because macros are exported in crate metadata as strings, macro re-export "just works" as soon as $crate is available. It's implemented as part of the $crate branch mentioned above.

#[plugin] attribute

#[phase(plugin)] becomes simply #[plugin] and is still feature-gated. It only controls whether to search for and run a plugin registrar function. The plugin itself will decide whether it's to be linked at runtime, by calling a Registry method.

#[plugin] can optionally take any meta items as "arguments", e.g.

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
#[plugin(foo, bar=3, baz(quux))]
extern crate myplugin;

rustc itself will not interpret these arguments, but will make them available to the plugin through a Registry method. This facilitates plugin configuration. The alternative in many cases is to use interacting side effects between procedural macros, which are harder to reason about.

Syntax convention

macro_rules! already allows { } for the macro body, but the convention is ( ) for some reason. In accepting this RFC we would change to a { } convention for consistency with the rest of the language.

Reserve macro as a keyword

A lot of the syntax alternatives discussed for this RFC involved a macro keyword. The consensus is that macros are too unfinished to merit using the keyword now. However, we should reserve it for a future macro system.

Implementation and transition

I will coordinate implementation of this RFC, and I expect to write most of the code myself.

To ease the transition, we can keep the old syntax as a deprecated synonym, to be removed before 1.0.


This is big churn on a major feature, not long before 1.0.

We can ship improved versions of macro_rules! in a back-compatible way (in theory; I would like to smoke test this idea before 1.0). So we could defer much of this reform until after 1.0. The main reason not to is macro import/export. Right now every macro you import will be expanded using your local copy of macro_rules!, regardless of what the macro author had in mind.


We could try to implement proper hygienic capture of crate names in macros. This would be wonderful, but I don't think we can get it done for 1.0.

We would have to actually parse the macro RHS when it's defined, find all the paths it wants to emit (somehow), and then turn each crate reference within such a path into a globally unique thing that will still work when expanded in another crate. Right now libsyntax is oblivious to librustc's name resolution rules, and those rules can't be applied until macro expansion is done, because (for example) a macro can expand to a use item.

nrc suggested dropping the #![macro_escape] functionality as part of this reform. Two ways this could work out:

  • All macros are visible throughout the crate. This seems bad; I depend on module scoping to stay (marginally) sane when working with macros. You can have private helper macros in two different modules without worrying that the names will clash.

  • Only macros at the crate root are visible throughout the crate. I'm also against this because I like keeping as a declarative description of crates, modules, etc. without containing any actual code. Forcing the user's hand as to which file a particular piece of code goes in seems un-Rusty.

Unresolved questions

Should we forbid $crate in non-exported macros? It seems useless, however I think we should allow it anyway, to encourage the habit of writing $crate:: for any references to the local crate.

Should #[macro_reexport] support the "glob" behavior of #[macro_use] with no names listed?


This proposal is edited by Keegan McAllister. It has been refined through many engaging discussions with:

  • Brian Anderson, Shachaf Ben-Kiki, Lars Bergstrom, Nick Cameron, John Clements, Alex Crichton, Cathy Douglass, Steven Fackler, Manish Goregaokar, Dave Herman, Steve Klabnik, Felix S. Klock II, Niko Matsakis, Matthew McPherrin, Paul Stansifer, Sam Tobin-Hochstadt, Erick Tryzelaar, Aaron Turon, Huon Wilson, Brendan Zabarauskas, Cameron Zwarich
  • GitHub: @bill-myers @blaenk @comex @glaebhoerl @Kimundi @mitchmindtree @mitsuhiko @P1Start @petrochenkov @skinner
  • Reddit: gnusouth ippa !kibwen Mystor Quxxy rime-frost Sinistersnare tejp UtherII yigal100
  • IRC: bstrie ChrisMorgan cmr Earnestly eddyb tiffany

My apologies if I've forgotten you, used an un-preferred name, or accidentally categorized you as several different people. Pull requests are welcome :)