Summary

Traits can be aliased with the trait TraitAlias = …; construct. Currently, the right hand side is a bound – a single trait, a combination with + traits and lifetimes. Type parameters and lifetimes can be added to the trait alias if needed.

Motivation

First motivation: impl

Sometimes, some traits are defined with parameters. For instance:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
pub trait Foo<T> {
  // ...
}
#}

It’s not uncommon to do that in generic crates and implement them in backend crates, where the T template parameter gets substituted with a backend type.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// in the backend crate
pub struct Backend;

impl Foo<Backend> for i32 {
  // ...
}
#}

Users who want to use that crate will have to export both the trait Foo from the generic crate and the backend singleton type from the backend crate. Instead, we would like to be able to leave the backend singleton type hidden in the crate. The first shot would be to create a new trait for our backend:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
pub trait FooBackend: Foo<Backend> {
  // ...
}

fn use_foo<A>(_: A) where A: FooBackend {}
#}

If you try to pass an object that implements Foo<Backend>, that won’t work, because it doesn’t implement FooBackend. However, we can make it work with the following universal impl:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
impl<T> FooBackend for T where T: Foo<Backend> {}
#}

With that, it’s now possible to pass an object that implements Foo<Backend> to a function expecting a FooBackend. However, what about impl blocks? What happens if we implement only FooBackend? Well, we cannot, because the trait explicitely states that we need to implement Foo<Backend>. We hit a problem here. The problem is that even though there’s a compatibility at the trait bound level between Foo<Backend> and FooBackend, there’s none at the impl level, so all we’re left with is implementing Foo<Backend> – that will also provide an implementation for FooBackend because of the universal implementation just above.

Second example: ergonomic collections and scrapping boilerplate

Another example is associated types. Take the following trait from tokio:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
pub trait Service {
  type Request;
  type Response;
  type Error;
  type Future: Future<Item=Self::Response, Error=Self::Error>;
  fn call(&self, req: Self::Request) -> Self::Future;
}
#}

It would be nice to be able to create a few aliases to remove boilerplate for very common combinations of associated types with Service.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
Service<Request = http::Request, Response = http::Response, Error = http::Error>;
#}

The trait above is a http service trait which only the associated type Future is left to be implemented. Such an alias would be very appealing because it would remove copying the whole Service trait into use sites – trait bounds, or even trait impls. Scrapping such an annoying boilerplate is a definitive plus to the language and might be one of the most interesting use case.

Detailed design

Syntax

Declaration

The syntax chosen to declare a trait alias is:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait TraitAlias = Trait;
#}

Trait aliasing to combinations of traits is also provided with the standard + construct:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait DebugDefault = Debug + Default;
#}

Optionally, if needed, one can provide a where clause to express bounds:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait DebugDefault = Debug where Self: Default; // same as the example above
#}

Furthermore, it’s possible to use only the where clause by leaving the list of traits empty:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait DebugDefault = where Self: Debug + Default;
#}

It’s also possible to partially bind associated types of the right hand side:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait IntoIntIterator = IntoIterator<Item=i32>;
#}

This would leave IntoIntIterator with a free parameter being IntoIter, and it should be bind the same way associated types are bound with regular traits:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo<I>(int_iter: I) where I: IntoIntIterator<IntoIter = std::slice::Iter<i32>> {}
#}

A trait alias can be parameterized over types and lifetimes, just like traits themselves:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait LifetimeParametric<'a> = Iterator<Item=Cow<'a, [i32]>>;`

trait TypeParametric<T> = Iterator<Item=Cow<'static, [T]>>;
#}

Specifically, the grammar being added is, in informal notation:

ATTRIBUTE* VISIBILITY? trait IDENTIFIER(<GENERIC_PARAMS>)? = GENERIC_BOUNDS (where PREDICATES)?;

GENERIC_BOUNDS is a list of zero or more traits and lifetimes separated by +, the same as the current syntax for bounds on a type parameter, and PREDICATES is a comma-separated list of zero or more predicates, just like any other where clause. GENERIC_PARAMS is a comma-separated list of zero or more lifetime and type parameters, with optional bounds, just like other generic definitions.

Use semantics

You cannot directly impl a trait alias, but you can have them as bounds, trait objects and impl Trait.


It is an error to attempt to override a previously specified equivalence constraint with a non-equivalent type. For example:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait SharableIterator = Iterator + Sync;
trait IntIterator = Iterator<Item=i32>;

fn quux1<T: SharableIterator<Item=f64>>(...) { ... } // ok
fn quux2<T: IntIterator<Item=i32>>(...) { ... } // ok (perhaps subject to lint warning)
fn quux3<T: IntIterator<Item=f64>>(...) { ... } // ERROR: `Item` already constrained

trait FloIterator = IntIterator<Item=f64>; // ERROR: `Item` already constrained
#}

When using a trait alias as a trait object, it is subject to object safety restrictions after substituting the aliased traits. This means:

  1. it contains an object safe trait, optionally a lifetime, and zero or more of these other bounds: Send, Sync (that is, trait Show = Display + Debug; would not be object safe);
  2. all the associated types of the trait need to be specified;
  3. the where clause, if present, only contains bounds on Self.

Some examples:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Sink = Sync;
trait ShareableIterator = Iterator + Sync;
trait PrintableIterator = Iterator<Item=i32> + Display;
trait IntIterator = Iterator<Item=i32>;

fn foo1<T: ShareableIterator>(...) { ... } // ok
fn foo2<T: ShareableIterator<Item=i32>>(...) { ... } // ok
fn bar1(x: Box<ShareableIterator>) { ... } // ERROR: associated type not specified
fn bar2(x: Box<ShareableIterator<Item=i32>>) { ... } // ok
fn bar3(x: Box<PrintableIterator>) { ... } // ERROR: too many traits (*)
fn bar4(x: Box<IntIterator + Sink + 'static>) { ... } // ok (*)
#}

The lines marked with (*) assume that #24010 is fixed.

Ambiguous constraints

If there are multiple associated types with the same name in a trait alias, then it is a static error ("ambiguous associated type") to attempt to constrain that associated type via the trait alias. For example:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Foo { type Assoc; }
trait Bar { type Assoc; } // same name!

// This works:
trait FooBar1 = Foo<Assoc = String> + Bar<Assoc = i32>;

// This does not work:
trait FooBar2 = Foo + Bar;
fn badness<T: FooBar2<Assoc = String>>() { } // ERROR: ambiguous associated type

// Here are ways to workaround the above error:
fn better1<T: FooBar2 + Foo<Assoc = String>>() { } // (leaves Bar::Assoc unconstrained)
fn better2<T: FooBar2 + Foo<Assoc = String> + Bar<Assoc = i32>>() { } // constrains both
#}

Teaching

Traits are obviously a huge prerequisite. Traits aliases could be introduced at the end of that chapter.

Conceptually, a trait alias is a syntax shortcut used to reason about one or more trait(s). Inherently, the trait alias is usable in a limited set of places:

  • as a bound: exactly like a trait, a trait alias can be used to constraint a type (type parameters list, where-clause)
  • as a trait object: same thing as with a trait, a trait alias can be used as a trait object if it fits object safety restrictions (see above in the semantics section)
  • in an impl Trait

Examples should be showed for all of the three cases above:

As a bound


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait StringIterator = Iterator<Item=String>;

fn iterate<SI>(si: SI) where SI: StringIterator {} // used as bound
#}

As a trait object


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn iterate_object(si: &StringIterator) {} // used as trait object
#}

In an impl Trait


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn string_iterator_debug() -> impl Debug + StringIterator {} // used in an impl Trait
#}

As shown above, a trait alias can substitute associated types. It doesn’t have to substitute them all. In that case, the trait alias is left incomplete and you have to pass it the associated types that are left. Example with the tokio case:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
pub trait Service {
  type Request;
  type Response;
  type Error;
  type Future: Future<Item=Self::Response, Error=Self::Error>;
  fn call(&self, req: Self::Request) -> Self::Future;
}

trait HttpService = Service<Request = http::Request, Response = http::Response, Error = http::Error>;

trait MyHttpService = HttpService<Future = MyFuture>; // assume MyFuture exists and fulfills the rules to be used in here
#}

Drawbacks

  • Adds another construct to the language.

  • The syntax trait TraitAlias = Trait requires lookahead in the parser to disambiguate a trait from a trait alias.

Alternatives

Should we use type as the keyword instead of trait?

type Foo = Bar; already creates an alias Foo that can be used as a trait object.

If we used type for the keyword, this would imply that Foo could also be used as a bound as well. If we use trait as proposed in the body of the RFC, then type Foo = Bar; and trait Foo = Bar; both create an alias for the object type, but only the latter creates an alias that can be used as a bound, which is a confusing bit of redundancy.

However, this mixes the concepts of types and traits, which are different, and allows nonsense like type Foo = Rc<i32> + f32; to parse.

Supertraits & universal impl

It’s possible to create a new trait that derives the trait to alias, and provide a universal impl


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Foo {}

trait FooFakeAlias: Foo {}

impl<T> Foo for T where T: FooFakeAlias {}
#}

This works for trait objects and trait bounds only. You cannot implement FooFakeAlias directly because you need to implement Foo first – hence, you don’t really need FooFakeAlias if you can implement Foo.

There’s currently no alternative to the impl problem described here.

ConstraintKinds

Similar to GHC’s ContraintKinds, we could declare an entire predicate as a reified list of constraints, instead of creating an alias for a set of supertraits and predicates. Syntax would be something like constraint Foo<T> = T: Bar, Vec<T>: Baz;, used as fn quux<T>(...) where Foo<T> { ... } (i.e. direct substitution). Trait object usage is unclear.

Syntax for sole where clause.

The current RFC specifies that it is possible to use only the where clause by leaving the list of traits empty:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait DebugDefault = where Self: Debug + Default;
#}

This is one of many syntaxes that are available for this construct. Alternatives include:

Unresolved questions

Trait alias containing only lifetimes

This is annoying. Consider:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Static = 'static;

fn foo<T>(t: T) where T: Static {}
#}

Such an alias is legit. However, I feel concerned about the actual meaning of the declaration – i.e. using the trait keyword to define alias on lifetimes seems a wrong design choice and seems not very consistent.

If we chose another keyword, like constraint, I feel less concerned and it would open further opportunies – see the ConstraintKinds alternative discussion above.

Which bounds need to be repeated when using a trait alias?

RFC 1927 intends to change the rules here for traits, and we likely want to have the rules for trait aliases be the same to avoid confusion.

The constraint alternative sidesteps this issue.

What about bounds on type variable declaration in the trait alias?


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Foo<T: Bar> = PartialEq<T>;
#}

PartialEq has no super-trait Bar, but we’re adding one via our trait alias. What is the behavior of such a feature? One possible desugaring is:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Foo<T> = where Self: PartialEq<T>, T: Bar;
#}

Issue 21903 explains the same problem for type aliasing.

Note: what about the following proposal below?

When using a trait alias as a bound, you cannot add extra bound on the input parameters, like in the following:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Foo<T: Bar> = PartialEq<T>;
#}

Here, T adds a Bar bound. Now consider:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait Bar<T> = PartialEq<T: Bar>;
#}

Currently, we don’t have a proper understanding of that situation, because we’re adding in both cases a bound, and we don’t know how to disambiguate between pre-condition and implication. That is, is that added Bar bound a constraint that T must fulfil in order for the trait alias to be met, or is it a constraint the trait alias itself adds? To disambiguate, consider:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait BarPrecond<T> where T: Bar = PartialEq<T>;
trait BarImplic<T> = PartialEq<T> where T: Bar;
trait BarImpossible<T> where T: Bar = PartialEq<T> where T: Bar;
#}

BarPrecond would require the use-site code to fulfil the constraint, like the following:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo<A, T>() where A: BarPrecond<T>, T: Bar {}
#}

BarImplic would give us T: Bar:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo<A, T>() where A: BarImplic<T> {
  // T: Bar because given by BarImplic<T>
}
#}

BarImpossible wouldn’t compile because we try to express a pre-condition and an implication for the same bound at the same time. However, it’d be possible to have both a pre-condition and an implication on a parameter:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
trait BarBoth<T> where T: Bar = PartialEq<T> where T: Debug;

fn foo<A, T>() where A: BarBoth<T>, T: Bar {
  // T: Debug because given by BarBoth
}
#}