Defines a best practices procedure for making bug fixes or soundness corrections in the compiler that can cause existing code to stop compiling.


From time to time, we encounter the need to make a bug fix, soundness correction, or other change in the compiler which will cause existing code to stop compiling. When this happens, it is important that we handle the change in a way that gives users of Rust a smooth transition. What we want to avoid is that existing programs suddenly stop compiling with opaque error messages: we would prefer to have a gradual period of warnings, with clear guidance as to what the problem is, how to fix it, and why the change was made. This RFC describes the procedure that we have been developing for handling breaking changes that aims to achieve that kind of smooth transition.

One of the key points of this policy is that (a) warnings should be issued initially rather than hard errors if at all possible and (b) every change that causes existing code to stop compiling will have an associated tracking issue. This issue provides a point to collect feedback on the results of that change. Sometimes changes have unexpectedly large consequences or there may be a way to avoid the change that was not considered. In those cases, we may decide to change course and roll back the change, or find another solution (if warnings are being used, this is particularly easy to do).

What qualifies as a bug fix?

Note that this RFC does not try to define when a breaking change is permitted. That is already covered under RFC 1122. This document assumes that the change being made is in accordance with those policies. Here is a summary of the conditions from RFC 1122:

  • Soundness changes: Fixes to holes uncovered in the type system.
  • Compiler bugs: Places where the compiler is not implementing the specified semantics found in an RFC or lang-team decision.
  • Underspecified language semantics: Clarifications to grey areas where the compiler behaves inconsistently and no formal behavior had been previously decided.

Please see the RFC for full details!

Detailed design

The procedure for making a breaking change is as follows (each of these steps is described in more detail below):

  1. Do a crater run to assess the impact of the change.
  2. Make a special tracking issue dedicated to the change.
  3. Do not report an error right away. Instead, issue forwards-compatibility lint warnings.
    • Sometimes this is not straightforward. See the text below for suggestions on different techniques we have employed in the past.
    • For cases where warnings are infeasible:
      • Report errors, but make every effort to give a targeted error message that directs users to the tracking issue
      • Submit PRs to all known affected crates that fix the issue
        • or, at minimum, alert the owners of those crates to the problem and direct them to the tracking issue
  4. Once the change has been in the wild for at least one cycle, we can stabilize the change, converting those warnings into errors.

Finally, for changes to libsyntax that will affect plugins, the general policy is to batch these changes. That is discussed below in more detail.

Tracking issue

Every breaking change should be accompanied by a dedicated tracking issue for that change. The main text of this issue should describe the change being made, with a focus on what users must do to fix their code. The issue should be approachable and practical; it may make sense to direct users to an RFC or some other issue for the full details. The issue also serves as a place where users can comment with questions or other concerns.

A template for these breaking-change tracking issues can be found below. An example of how such an issue should look can be found here.

The issue should be tagged with (at least) B-unstable and T-compiler.

Tracking issue template

What follows is a template for tracking issues.

This is the summary issue for the YOUR_LINT_NAME_HERE future-compatibility warning and other related errors. The goal of this page is describe why this change was made and how you can fix code that is affected by it. It also provides a place to ask questions or register a complaint if you feel the change should not be made. For more information on the policy around future-compatibility warnings, see our breaking change policy guidelines.

What is the warning for?

Describe the conditions that trigger the warning and how they can be fixed. Also explain why the change was made.*

When will this warning become a hard error?

At the beginning of each 6-week release cycle, the Rust compiler team will review the set of outstanding future compatibility warnings and nominate some of them for Final Comment Period. Toward the end of the cycle, we will review any comments and make a final determination whether to convert the warning into a hard error or remove it entirely.

Issuing future compatibility warnings

The best way to handle a breaking change is to begin by issuing future-compatibility warnings. These are a special category of lint warning. Adding a new future-compatibility warning can be done as follows.

// 1. Define the lint in `src/librustc/lint/`:
declare_lint! {
    "illegal use of foo bar baz"

// 2. Add to the list of HardwiredLints in the same file:
impl LintPass for HardwiredLints {
    fn get_lints(&self) -> LintArray {

// 3. Register the lint in `src/librustc_lint/`:
store.register_future_incompatible(sess, vec![
    FutureIncompatibleInfo {
        id: LintId::of(YOUR_ERROR_HERE),
        reference: "issue #1234", // your tracking issue here!

// 4. Report the lint:
    format!("some helper message here"));

Helpful techniques

It can often be challenging to filter out new warnings from older, pre-existing errors. One technique that has been used in the past is to run the older code unchanged and collect the errors it would have reported. You can then issue warnings for any errors you would give which do not appear in that original set. Another option is to abort compilation after the original code completes if errors are reported: then you know that your new code will only execute when there were no errors before.

Crater and

We should always do a crater run to assess impact. It is polite and considerate to at least notify the authors of affected crates the breaking change. If we can submit PRs to fix the problem, so much the better.

Is it ever acceptable to go directly to issuing errors?

Changes that are believed to have negligible impact can go directly to issuing an error. One rule of thumb would be to check against if fewer than 10 total affected projects are found (not root errors), we can move straight to an error. In such cases, we should still make the “breaking change” page as before, and we should ensure that the error directs users to this page. In other words, everything should be the same except that users are getting an error, and not a warning. Moreover, we should submit PRs to the affected projects (ideally before the PR implementing the change lands in rustc).

If the impact is not believed to be negligible (e.g., more than 10 crates are affected), then warnings are required (unless the compiler team agrees to grant a special exemption in some particular case). If implementing warnings is not feasible, then we should make an aggressive strategy of migrating crates before we land the change so as to lower the number of affected crates. Here are some techniques for approaching this scenario:

  1. Issue warnings for subparts of the problem, and reserve the new errors for the smallest set of cases you can.
  2. Try to give a very precise error message that suggests how to fix the problem and directs users to the tracking issue.
  3. It may also make sense to layer the fix:
    • First, add warnings where possible and let those land before proceeding to issue errors.
    • Work with authors of affected crates to ensure that corrected versions are available before the fix lands, so that downstream users can use them.


After a change is made, we will stabilize the change using the same process that we use for unstable features:

  • After a new release is made, we will go through the outstanding tracking issues corresponding to breaking changes and nominate some of them for final comment period (FCP).
  • The FCP for such issues lasts for one cycle. In the final week or two of the cycle, we will review comments and make a final determination:
    • Convert to error: the change should be made into a hard error.
    • Revert: we should remove the warning and continue to allow the older code to compile.
    • Defer: can’t decide yet, wait longer, or try other strategies.

Ideally, breaking changes should have landed on the stable branch of the compiler before they are finalized.

Batching breaking changes to libsyntax

Due to the lack of stable plugins, making changes to libsyntax can currently be quite disruptive to the ecosystem that relies on plugins. In an effort to ease this pain, we generally try to batch up such changes so that they occur all at once, rather than occurring in a piecemeal fashion. In practice, this means that you should add:

cc #31645 @Manishearth

to the PR and avoid directly merging it. In the future we may develop a more polished procedure here, but the hope is that this is a relatively temporary state of affairs.


Following this policy can require substantial effort and slows the time it takes for a change to become final. However, this is far outweighed by the benefits of avoiding sharp disruptions in the ecosystem.


There are obviously many points that we could tweak in this policy:

  • Eliminate the tracking issue.
  • Change the stabilization schedule.

Two other obvious (and rather extreme) alternatives are not having a policy and not making any sort of breaking change at all:

  • Not having a policy at all (as is the case today) encourages inconsistent treatment of issues.
  • Not making any sorts of breaking changes would mean that Rust simply has to stop evolving, or else would issue new major versions quite frequently, causing undue disruption.

Unresolved questions