This RFC proposes two rule changes:

  1. Modify the orphan rules so that impls of remote traits require a local type that is either a struct/enum/trait defined in the current crate LT = LocalTypeConstructor<...> or a reference to a local type LT = ... | &LT | &mut LT.
  2. Restrict negative reasoning so it too obeys the orphan rules.
  3. Introduce an unstable #[fundamental] attribute that can be used to extend the above rules in select cases (details below).


The current orphan rules are oriented around allowing as many remote traits as possible. As so often happens, giving power to one party (in this case, downstream crates) turns out to be taking power away from another (in this case, upstream crates). The problem is that due to coherence, the ability to define impls is a zero-sum game: every impl that is legal to add in a child crate is also an impl that a parent crate cannot add without fear of breaking downstream crates. A detailed look at these problems is presented here; this RFC doesn’t go over the problems in detail, but will reproduce some of the examples found in that document.

This RFC proposes a shift that attempts to strike a balance between the needs of downstream and upstream crates. In particular, we wish to preserve the ability of upstream crates to add impls to traits that they define, while still allowing downstream creates to define the sorts of impls they need.

While exploring the problem, we found that in practice remote impls almost always are tied to a local type or a reference to a local type. For example, here are some impls from the definition of Vec:

// tied to Vec<T>
impl<T> Send for Vec<T>
    where T: Send

// tied to &Vec<T>
impl<'a,T> IntoIterator for &'a Vec<T>

On this basis, we propose that we limit remote impls to require that they include a type either defined in the current crate or a reference to a type defined in the current crate. This is more restrictive than the current definition, which merely requires a local type appear somewhere. So, for example, under this definition MyType and &MyType would be considered local, but Box<MyType>, Option<MyType>, and (MyType, i32) would not.

Furthermore, we limit the use of negative reasoning to obey the orphan rules. That is, just as a crate cannot define an impl Type: Trait unless Type or Trait is local, it cannot rely that Type: !Trait holds unless Type or Trait is local.

Together, these two changes cause very little code breakage while retaining a lot of freedom to add impls in a backwards compatible fashion. However, they are not quite sufficient to compile all the most popular cargo crates (though they almost succeed). Therefore, we propose an simple, unstable attribute #[fundamental] (described below) that can be used to extend the system to accommodate some additional patterns and types. This attribute is unstable because it is not clear whether it will prove to be adequate or need to be generalized; this part of the design can be considered somewhat incomplete, and we expect to finalize it based on what we observe after the 1.0 release.

Practical effect

Effect on parent crates

When you first define a trait, you must also decide whether that trait should have (a) a blanket impls for all T and (b) any blanket impls over references. These blanket impls cannot be added later without a major version bump, for fear of breaking downstream clients.

Here are some examples of the kinds of blanket impls that must be added right away:

impl<T:Foo> Bar for T { }
impl<'a,T:Bar> Bar for &'a T { }

Effect on child crates

Under the base rules, child crates are limited to impls that use local types or references to local types. They are also prevented from relying on the fact that Type: !Trait unless either Type or Trait is local. This turns out to be have very little impact.

In compiling the libstd facade and librustc, exactly two impls were found to be illegal, both of which followed the same pattern:

struct LinkedListEntry<'a> {
    data: i32,
    next: Option<&'a LinkedListEntry>

impl<'a> Iterator for Option<&'a LinkedListEntry> {
    type Item = i32;

    fn next(&mut self) -> Option<i32> {
        if let Some(ptr) = *self {
            *self = Some(;
        } else {

The problem here is that Option<&LinkedListEntry> is no longer considered a local type. A similar restriction would be that one cannot define an impl over Box<LinkedListEntry>; but this was not observed in practice.

Both of these restrictions can be overcome by using a new type. For example, the code above could be changed so that instead of writing the impl for Option<&LinkedListEntry>, we define a type LinkedList that wraps the option and implement on that:

struct LinkedListEntry<'a> {
    data: i32,
    next: LinkedList<'a>

struct LinkedList<'a> {
    data: Option<&'a LinkedListEntry>

impl<'a> Iterator for LinkedList<'a> {
    type Item = i32;

    fn next(&mut self) -> Option<i32> {
        if let Some(ptr) = {
            *self = Some(;
        } else {

Errors from cargo and the fundamental attribute

We also applied our prototype to all the “Most Downloaded” cargo crates as well as the iron crate. That exercise uncovered a few patterns that the simple rules presented thus far can’t handle.

The first is that it is common to implement traits over boxed trait objects. For example, the error crate defines an impl:

  • impl<E: Error> FromError<E> for Box<Error>

Here, Error is a local trait defined in error, but FromError is the trait from libstd. This impl would be illegal because Box<Error> is not considered local as Box is not local.

The second is that it is common to use FnMut in blanket impls, similar to how the Pattern trait in libstd works. The regex crate in particular has the following impls:

  • impl<'t> Replacer for &'t str
  • impl<F> Replacer for F where F: FnMut(&Captures) -> String
  • these are in conflict because this requires that &str: !FnMut, and neither &str nor FnMut are local to regex

Given that overloading over closures is likely to be a common request, and that the Fn traits are well-known, core traits tied to the call operator, it seems reasonable to say that implementing a Fn trait is itself a breaking change. (This is not to suggest that there is something fundamental about the Fn traits that distinguish them from all other traits; just that if the goal is to have rules that users can easily remember, saying that implementing a core operator trait is a breaking change may be a reasonable rule, and it enables useful patterns to boot – patterns that are baked into the libstd APIs.)

To accommodate these cases (and future cases we will no doubt encounter), this RFC proposes an unstable attribute #[fundamental]. #[fundamental] can be applied to types and traits with the following meaning:

  • A #[fundamental] type Foo is one where implementing a blanket impl over Foo is a breaking change. As described, & and &mut are fundamental. This attribute would be applied to Box, making Box behave the same as & and &mut with respect to coherence.
  • A #[fundamental] trait Foo is one where adding an impl of Foo for an existing type is a breaking change. For now, the Fn traits and Sized would be marked fundamental, though we may want to extend this set to all operators or some other more-easily-remembered set.

The #[fundamental] attribute is intended to be a kind of “minimal commitment” that still permits the most important impl patterns we see in the wild. Because it is unstable, it can only be used within libstd for now. We are eventually committed to finding some way to accommodate the patterns above – which could be as simple as stabilizing #[fundamental] (or, indeed, reverting this RFC altogether). It could also be a more general mechanism that lets users specify more precisely what kind of impls are reserved for future expansion and which are not.

Detailed Design

Proposed orphan rules

Given an impl impl<P1...Pn> Trait<T1...Tn> for T0, either Trait must be local to the current crate, or:

  1. At least one type must meet the LT pattern defined above. Let Ti be the first such type.
  2. No type parameters P1...Pn may appear in the type parameters that precede Ti (that is, Tj where j < i).

Type locality and negative reasoning

Currently the overlap check employs negative reasoning to segregate blanket impls from other impls. For example, the following pair of impls would be legal only if MyType<U>: !Copy for all U (the notation Type: !Trait is borrowed from RFC 586):

impl<T:Copy> Clone for T {..}
impl<U> Clone for MyType<U> {..}

This proposal places limits on negative reasoning based on the orphan rules. Specifically, we cannot conclude that a proposition like T0: !Trait<T1..Tn> holds unless T0: Trait<T1..Tn> meets the orphan rules as defined in the previous section.

In practice this means that, by default, you can only assume negative things about traits and types defined in your current crate, since those are under your direct control. This permits parent crates to add any impls except for blanket impls over T, &T, or &mut T, as discussed before.

Effect on ABI compatibility and semver

We have not yet proposed a comprehensive semver RFC (it’s coming). However, this RFC has some effect on what that RFC would say. As discussed above, it is a breaking change for to add a blanket impl for a #[fundamental] type. It is also a breaking change to add an impl of a #[fundamental] trait to an existing type.


The primary drawback is that downstream crates cannot write an impl over types other than references, such as Option<LocalType>. This can be overcome by defining wrapper structs (new types), but that can be annoying.


  • Status quo. In the status quo, the balance of power is heavily tilted towards child crates. Parent crates basically cannot add any impl for an existing trait to an existing type without potentially breaking child crates.

  • Take a hard line. We could forego the #[fundamental] attribute, but it would force people to forego Box<Trait> impls as well as the useful closure-overloading pattern. This seems unfortunate. Moreover, it seems likely we will encounter further examples of “reasonable cases” that #[fundamental] can easily accommodate.

  • Specializations, negative impls, and contracts. The gist referenced earlier includes a section covering various alternatives that I explored which came up short. These include specialization, explicit negative impls, and explicit contracts between the trait definer and the trait consumer.

Unresolved questions