Summary

Change Functional Record Update (FRU) for struct literal expressions to respect struct privacy.

Motivation

Functional Record Update is the name for the idiom by which one can write ..<expr> at the end of a struct literal expression to fill in all remaining fields of the struct literal by using <expr> as the source for them.

mod foo {
    pub struct Bar { pub a: u8, pub b: String, _cannot_construct: () }

    pub fn new_bar(a: u8, b: String) -> Bar {
        Bar { a: a, b: b, _cannot_construct: () }
    }
}

fn main() {
    let bar_1 = foo::new_bar(3, format!("bar one"));

    let bar_2a = foo::Bar { b: format!("bar two"), ..bar_1 }; // FRU!

    println!("bar_1: {} bar_2a: {}", bar_1.b, bar_2a.b);

    let bar_2b = foo::Bar { a: 17, ..bar_2a };                // FRU again!

    println!("bar_1: {} bar_2b: {}", bar_1.b, bar_2b.b);
}

Currently, Functional Record Update will freely move or copy all fields not explicitly mentioned in the struct literal expression, so the code above runs successfully.

In particular, consider a case like this:

#![allow(unstable)]
extern crate alloc;
use self::foo::Secrets;
mod foo {
    use alloc;
    #[allow(raw_pointer_derive)]
    #[derive(Debug)]
    pub struct Secrets { pub a: u8, pub b: String, ptr: *mut u8 }

    pub fn make_secrets(a: u8, b: String) -> Secrets {
        let ptr = unsafe { alloc::heap::allocate(10, 1) };
        Secrets { a: a, b: b, ptr: ptr }
    }

    impl Drop for Secrets {
        fn drop(&mut self) {
            println!("because of {}, deallocating {:p}", self.b, self.ptr);
            unsafe { alloc::heap::deallocate(self.ptr, 10, 1); }
        }
    }
}

fn main() {
    let s_1 = foo::make_secrets(3, format!("ess one"));
    let s_2 = foo::Secrets { b: format!("ess two"), ..s_1 }; // FRU ...

    println!("s_1.b: {} s_2.b: {}", s_1.b, s_2.b);
    // at end of scope, ... both s_1 *and* s_2 get dropped.  Boom!
}

This example prints the following (if one's memory allocator is not checking for double-frees):

s_1.b: ess one s_2.b: ess two
because of ess two, deallocating 0x7f00c182e000
because of ess one, deallocating 0x7f00c182e000

In particular, from reading the module foo, it appears that one is attempting to preserve an invariant that each instance of Secrets has its own unique ptr value; but this invariant is broken by the use of FRU.

Note that there is essentially no way around this abstraction violation today; as shown for example in Issue 21407, where the backing storage for a Vec is duplicated in a second Vec by use of the trivial FRU expression { ..t } where t: Vec<T>.

Again, this is due to the current rule that Functional Record Update will freely move or copy all fields not explicitly mentioned in the struct literal expression, regardless of whether they are visible (in terms of privacy) in the spot in code.

This RFC proposes to change that rule, and say that a struct literal expression using FRU is effectively expanded into a complete struct literal with initializers for all fields (i.e., a struct literal that does not use FRU), and that this expanded struct literal is subject to privacy restrictions.

The main motivation for this is to plug this abstraction-violating hole with as little other change to the rules, implementation, and character of the Rust language as possible.

Detailed design

As already stated above, the change proposed here is that a struct literal expression using FRU is effectively expanded into a complete struct literal with initializers for all fields (i.e., a struct literal that does not use FRU), and that this expanded struct literal is subject to privacy restrictions.

(Another way to think of this change is: one can only use FRU with a struct if one has visibility of all of its declared fields. If any fields are hidden by privacy, then all forms of struct literal syntax are unavailable, including FRU.)


This way, the Secrets example above will be essentially equivalent to

#![allow(unstable)]
extern crate alloc;
use self::foo::Secrets;
mod foo {
    use alloc;
    #[allow(raw_pointer_derive)]
    #[derive(Debug)]
    pub struct Secrets { pub a: u8, pub b: String, ptr: *mut u8 }

    pub fn make_secrets(a: u8, b: String) -> Secrets {
        let ptr = unsafe { alloc::heap::allocate(10, 1) };
        Secrets { a: a, b: b, ptr: ptr }
    }

    impl Drop for Secrets {
        fn drop(&mut self) {
            println!("because of {}, deallocating {:p}", self.b, self.ptr);
            unsafe { alloc::heap::deallocate(self.ptr, 10, 1); }
        }
    }
}

fn main() {
    let s_1 = foo::make_secrets(3, format!("ess one"));
    // let s_2 = foo::Secrets { b: format!("ess two"), ..s_1 };
    // is rewritten to:
    let s_2 = foo::Secrets { b: format!("ess two"),
                             /* remainder from FRU */
                             a: s_1.a, ptr: s_1.ptr };

    println!("s_1.b: {} s_2.b: {}", s_1.b, s_2.b);
}

which is rejected as field ptr of foo::Secrets is private and cannot be accessed from fn main (both in terms of reading it from s_1, but also in terms of using it to build a new instance of foo::Secrets.


(While the change to the language is described above in terms of rewriting the code, the implementation need not go that route. In particular, this commit shows a different strategy that is isolated to the librustc_privacy crate.)


The proposed change is applied only to struct literal expressions. In particular, enum struct variants are left unchanged, since all of their fields are already implicitly public.

Drawbacks

There is a use case for allowing private fields to be moved/copied via FRU, which I call the "future extensibility" library design pattern: it is a convenient way for a library author to tell clients to make updated copies of a record in a manner that is oblivious to the addition of new private fields to the struct (at least, new private fields that implement Copy...).

For example, in Rust today without the change proposed here, in the first example above using Bar, the author of the mod foo can change Bar like so:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
    pub struct Bar { pub a: u8, pub b: String, _hidden: u8 }

    pub fn new_bar(a: u8, b: String) -> Bar {
        Bar { a: a, b: b, _hidden: 17 }
    }
#}

And all of the code from the fn main in the first example will continue to run.

Also, when the struct is moved (rather than copied) by the FRU expression, the same pattern applies and works even when the new private fields do not implement Copy.

However, there is a small coding pattern that enables such continued future-extensibility for library authors: divide the struct into the entirely pub frontend, with one member that is the pub backend with entirely private contents, like so:

mod foo {
    pub struct Bar { pub a: u8, pub b: String, pub _hidden: BarHidden }
    pub struct BarHidden { _cannot_construct: () }
    fn new_hidden() -> BarHidden {
        BarHidden { _cannot_construct: () }
    }

    pub fn new_bar(a: u8, b: String) -> Bar {
        Bar { a: a, b: b, _hidden: new_hidden() }
    }
}

fn main() {
    let bar_1 = foo::new_bar(3, format!("bar one"));

    let bar_2a = foo::Bar { b: format!("bar two"), ..bar_1 }; // FRU!

    println!("bar_1: {} bar_2a: {}", bar_1.b, bar_2a.b);

    let bar_2b = foo::Bar { a: 17, ..bar_2a };                // FRU again!

    println!("bar_1: {} bar_2b: {}", bar_1.b, bar_2b.b);
}

All hidden changes that one would have formerly made to Bar itself are now made to BarHidden. The struct Bar is entirely public (including the supposedly-hidden field named _hidden), and thus can be legally be used with FRU in all client contexts that can see the type Bar, even under the new rules proposed by this RFC.

Alternatives

Most Important: If we do not do something about this, then both stdlib types like Vec and user-defined types will fundmentally be unable to enforce abstraction. In other words, the Rust language will be broken.


glaebhoerl and pnkfelix outlined a series of potential alternatives, including this one. Here is an attempt to transcribe/summarize them:

  1. Change the FRU form Bar { x: new_x, y: new_y, ..old_b } so it somehow is treated as consuming old_b, rather than moving/copying each of the remaining fields in old_b.

    It is not totally clear what the semantics actually are for this form. Also, there may not be time to do this properly for 1.0.

  2. Try to adopt a data/abstract-type distinction along the lines of the one in glaebhoerl's draft RFC.

 As a special subnote on this alternative: While [glaebhoerl's draft RFC] proposed
 syntactic forms for indicating the data/abstract-type distinction, we could
 also (or instead) do it based solely on the presence of a single non-`pub`
 field, as pointed out by glaebhoerl at the [comment here].
(Another potential criterion could be "has *all* private fields."; see
 related discussion below in the item "Outlaw the trivial FRU form Foo".)
  1. let FRU keep its current privacy violating semantics, but also make FRU something one must opt-in to support on a type. E.g. make a builtin FunUpdate trait that a struct must implement in order to be usable with FRU. (Or maybe its an attribute you attach to the struct item.)

    This approach would impose a burden on all code today that makes use of FRU, since they would have to start implementing FunUpdate. Thus, not simple to implement for the libraries and the overall ecosystem. What other designs have been considered? What is the impact of not doing this?

  2. Adopt this RFC, but add a builtin HygienicFunUpdate trait that one can opt-into to get the old (privacy violating) semantics.

    While this is obviously complicated, it has the advantage that it has a staged landing strategy: We could just adopt and implement this RFC for 1.0 beta. We could add HygienicFunUpdate at an arbitrary point in the future; it would not have to be in the 1.0 release.

    (For why the trait is named HygienicFunUpdate, see comment thread on Issue 21407.)

  3. Add way for struct item to opt out of FRU support entirely, e.g. via an attribute.

    This seems pretty fragile; i.e., easy to forget.

  4. Outlaw the trivial FRU form Foo { .. }. That is, to use FRU, you have to use at least one field in the constructing expression. Again, this implies that types like Vec and HashMap will not be subject to the vulnerability outlined here.

    This solves the vulnerability for types like Vec and HashMap, but the Secrets example from the Motivation section still breaks; the author for the mod foo library will need to write their code more carefully to ensure that secret things are contained in a separate struct with all private fields, much like the BarHidden code pattern discussed above.

Unresolved questions

How important is the "future extensibility" library design pattern described in the Drawbacks section? How many Cargo packages, if any, use it?