Summary

Finalize syntax of impl Trait and dyn Trait with multiple bounds before stabilization of these features.

Motivation

Current priority of + in impl Trait1 + Trait2 / dyn Trait1 + Trait2 brings inconsistency in the type grammar. This RFC outlines possible syntactic alternatives and suggests one of them for stabilization.

Guide-level explanation

"Alternative 2" (see reference-level explanation) is selected for stabilization.

impl Trait1 + Trait2 / dyn Trait1 + Trait2 now require parentheses in all contexts where they are used inside of unary operators &(impl Trait1 + Trait2) / &(dyn Trait1 + Trait2), similarly to trait object types without prefix, e.g. &(Trait1 + Trait2).

Additionally, parentheses are required in all cases where + in impl or dyn is ambiguous. For example, Fn() -> impl A + B can be interpreted as both (Fn() -> impl A) + B (low priority plus) or Fn() -> (impl A + B) (high priority plus), so we are refusing to disambiguate and require explicit parentheses.

Reference-level explanation

Current situation

In the current implementation when we see impl or dyn we start parsing following bounds separated by +s greedily regardless of context, so + effectively gets the strongest priority.

So, for example:

  • &dyn A + B is parsed as &(dyn A + B)
  • Fn() -> impl A + B is parsed as Fn() -> (impl A + B)
  • x as &dyn A + y is parsed as x as &(dyn A + y).

Compare this with parsing of trait object types without prefixes (RFC 438):

  • &A + B is parsed as (&A) + B and is an error
  • Fn() -> A + B is parsed as (Fn() -> A) + B
  • x as &A + y is parsed as (x as &A) + y

Also compare with unary operators in bounds themselves:

  • for<'a> A<'a> + B is parsed as (for<'a> A<'a>) + B, not for<'a> (A<'a> + B)
  • ?A + B is parsed as (?A) + B, not ?(A + B)

In general, binary operations like + have lower priority than unary operations in all contexts - expressions, patterns, types. So the priorities as implemented bring inconsistency and may break intuition.

Alternative 1: high priority + (status quo)

Pros:

  • The greedy parsing with high priority of + after impl / dyn has one benefit - it requires the least amount of parentheses from all the alternatives. Parentheses are needed only when the greedy behaviour needs to be prevented, e.g. Fn() -> &(dyn Write) + Send, this doesn't happen often.

Cons:

  • Inconsistent and possibly surprising operator priorities.
  • impl / dyn is a somewhat weird syntactic construction, it's not an usual unary operator, its a prefix describing how to interpret the following tokens. In particular, if the impl A + B needs to be parenthesized for some reason, it needs to be done like this (impl A + B), and not impl (A + B). The second variant is a parsing error, but some people find it surprising and expect it to work, as if impl were an unary operator.

Alternative 2: low priority +

Basically, impl A + B is parsed using same rules as A + B.

If impl A + B is located inside a higher priority operator like & it has to be parenthesized. If it is located at intersection of type and expressions grammars like expr1 as Type + expr2, it has to be parenthesized as well.

&dyn A + B / Fn() -> impl A + B / x as &dyn A + y has to be rewritten as &(dyn A + B) / Fn() -> (impl A + B) / x as &(dyn A + y) respectively.

One location must be mentioned specially, the location in a function return type:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn f() -> impl A + B {
    // Do things
}
#}

This is probably the most common location for impl Trait types. In theory, it doesn't require parentheses in any way - it's not inside of an unary operator and it doesn't cross expression boundaries. However, it creates a bit of perceived inconsistency with function-like traits and function pointers that do require parentheses for impl Trait in return types (Fn() -> (impl A + B) / fn() -> (impl A + B)) because they, in their turn, can appear inside of unary operators and casts. So, if avoiding this is considered more important than ergonomics, then we can require parentheses in function definitions as well.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn f() -> (impl A + B) {
    // Do things
}
#}

Pros:

  • Consistent priorities of binary and unary operators.
  • Parentheses are required relatively rarely (unless we require them in function definitions as well).

Cons:

  • More parentheses than in the "Alternative 1".
  • impl / dyn is still a somewhat weird prefix construction and dyn (A + B) is not a valid syntax.

Alternative 3: Unary operator

impl and dyn can become usual unary operators in type grammar like & or *const. Their application to any other types except for (possibly parenthesized) paths (single A) or "legacy trait objects" (A + B) becomes an error, but this could be changed in the future if some other use is found.

&dyn A + B / Fn() -> impl A + B / x as &dyn A + y has to be rewritten as &dyn(A + B) / Fn() -> impl(A + B) / x as &dyn(A + y) respectively.

Function definitions with impl A + B in return type have to be rewritten too.


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn f() -> impl(A + B) {
    // Do things
}
#}

Pros:

  • Consistent priorities of binary and unary operators.
  • impl / dyn are usual unary operators, dyn (A + B) is a valid syntax.

Cons:

  • The largest amount of parentheses, parentheses are always required. Parentheses are noise, there may be even less desire to use dyn in trait objects now, if something like Box<Write + Send> turns into Box<dyn(Write + Send)>.

Other alternatives

Two separate grammars can be used depending on context (https://github.com/rust-lang/rfcs/pull/2250#issuecomment-352435687) - Alternative 1/2 in lists of arguments like Box<dyn A + B> or Fn(impl A + B, impl A + B), and Alternative 3 otherwise (&dyn (A + B)).

Compatibility

The alternatives are ordered by strictness from the most relaxed Alternative 1 to the strictest Alternative 3, but switching from more strict alternatives to less strict is not exactly backward-compatible.

Switching from 2/3 to 1 can change meaning of legal code in rare cases. Switching from 3 to 2/1 requires keeping around the syntax with parentheses after impl / dyn.

Alternative 2 can be backward-compatibly extended to "relaxed 3" in which parentheses like dyn (A + B) are permitted, but technically unnecessary. Such parenthesis may keep people expecting dyn (A + B) to work happy, but complicate parsing by introducing more ambiguities to the grammar.

While unary operators like & "obviously" have higher priority than +, cases like Fn() -> impl A + B are not so obvious. The Alternative 2 considers "low priority plus" to have lower priority than Fn , so Fn() -> impl A + B can be treated as (Fn() -> impl A) + B, however it may be more intuitive and consistent with fn items to make + have higher priority than Fn (but still lower priority than &). As an immediate solution we refuse to disambiguate this case and treat Fn() -> impl A + B as an error, so we can change the rules in the future and interpret Fn() -> impl A + B (and maybe even Fn() -> A + B after long deprecation period) as Fn() -> (impl A + B) (and Fn() -> (A + B), respectively).

Experimental check

An application of all the alternatives to rustc and libstd codebase can be found in this branch. The first commit is the baseline (Alternative 1) and the next commits show changes required to move to Alternatives 2 and 3. Alternative 2 requires fewer changes compared to Alternative 3.

As the RFC author interprets it, the Alternative 3 turns out to be impractical due to common use of Boxes and other contexts where the parenthesis are technically unnecessary, but required by Alternative 3. The number of parenthesis required by Alternative 2 is limited and they seem appropriate because they follow "normal" priorities for unary and binary operators.

Drawbacks

See above.

Rationale and alternatives

See above.

Unresolved questions

None.