Summary

Allow #[repr(transparent)] on unions and univariant enums that have exactly one non-zero-sized field (just like structs).

Motivation

Some union types are thin newtype-style wrappers around another type, like MaybeUninit<T> (and once upon a time, ManuallyDrop<T>). This type is intended to be used in the same places as T, but without being #[repr(transparent)] the actual compatibility between it and T is left unspecified.

Likewise, some enum types only have a single variant, and are similarly thin wrappers around another type.

Making types like these #[repr(transparent)] would be useful in certain cases. For example, making the type Wrapper<T> (which is a union or univariant enum with a single field of type T) transparent:

  • Clearly expresses the intent of the developer.
  • Protects against accidental violations of that intent (e.g., adding a new variant or non-ZST field will result in a compiler error).
  • Makes a clear API guarantee that a Wrapper<T> can be transmuted to a T or substituted for a T in an FFI function's signature (though users must be careful to not pass uninitialized values through FFI to code where uninitialized values are undefined behavior (like C and C++)).

Transparent unions and univariant enums are a nice complement to transparent structs, and this RFC rounds out the #[repr(transparent)] feature.

Guide-level explanation

A union may be #[repr(transparent)] in exactly the same conditions in which a struct may be #[repr(transparent)]. An enum may be #[repr(transparent)] if it has exactly one variant, and that variant matches the same conditions which struct requires for transparency. Some concrete illustrations follow.

A union may be #[repr(transparent)] if it has exactly one non-zero-sized field:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// This union has the same representation as `f32`.
#[repr(transparent)]
union SingleFieldUnion {
    field: f32,
}

// This union has the same representation as `usize`.
#[repr(transparent)]
union MultiFieldUnion {
    field: usize,
    nothing: (),
}

// This enum has the same representation as `f32`.
#[repr(transparent)]
enum SingleFieldEnum {
    Variant(f32)
}

// This enum has the same representation as `usize`.
#[repr(transparent)]
enum MultiFieldEnum {
    Variant { field: usize, nothing: () },
}
#}

For consistency with transparent structs, unions and enums must have exactly one non-zero-sized field. If all fields are zero-sized, the union or enum must not be #[repr(transparent)]:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// This (non-transparent) union is already valid in stable Rust:
pub union GoodUnion {
    pub nothing: (),
}

// This (non-transparent) enum is already valid in stable Rust:
pub enum GoodEnum {
    Nothing,
}

// Error: transparent union needs exactly one non-zero-sized field, but has 0
#[repr(transparent)]
pub union BadUnion {
    pub nothing: (),
}

// Error: transparent enum needs exactly one non-zero-sized field, but has 0
#[repr(transparent)]
pub enum BadEnum {
    Nothing(()),
}

// Error: transparent enum needs exactly one non-zero-sized field, but has 0
#[repr(transparent)]
pub enum BadEmptyEnum {
    Nothing,
}
#}

The one exception is if the union or enum is generic over T and has a field of type T, it may be #[repr(transparent)] even if T is a zero-sized type:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// This union has the same representation as `T`.
#[repr(transparent)]
pub union GenericUnion<T: Copy> { // Unions with non-`Copy` fields are unstable.
    pub field: T,
    pub nothing: (),
}

// This enum has the same representation as `T`.
#[repr(transparent)]
pub enum GenericEnum<T> {
    Variant(T, ()),
}

// This is okay even though `()` is a zero-sized type.
pub const THIS_IS_OKAY: GenericUnion<()> = GenericUnion { field: () };
pub const THIS_IS_OKAY_TOO: GenericEnum<()> = GenericEnum::Variant((), ());
#}

Transparent enums have the addtional restriction that they require exactly one variant:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
// Error: transparent enum needs exactly one variant, but has 0
#[repr(transparent)]
pub enum TooFewVariants {
}

// Error: transparent enum needs exactly one variant, but has 2
#[repr(transparent)]
pub enum TooManyVariants {
    First(usize),
    Second(usize),
}
#}

Reference-level explanation

The logic controlling whether a union of type U may be #[repr(transparent)] should match the logic controlling whether a struct of type S may be #[repr(transparent)] (assuming U and S have the same generic parameters and fields). An enum of type E may be #[repr(transparent)] if it has exactly one variant, and that variant follows all the rules and logic controlling whether a struct of type S may be #[repr(transparent)] (assuming E and S have the same generic parameters, and E's variant and S have the same and fields).

Like transarent structs, a transparent union of type U and transparent enum of type E have the same layout, size, and ABI as their single non-ZST field. If they are generic over a type T, and all their fields are ZSTs except for exactly one field of type T, then they have the same layout and ABI as T (even if T is a ZST when monomorphized).

Like transparent structs, transparent unions and enums are FFI-safe if and only if their underlying representation type is also FFI-safe.

A union may not be eligible for the same nonnull-style optimizations that a struct or enum (with the same fields) are eligible for. Adding #[repr(transparent)] to union does not change this. To give a more concrete example, it is unspecified whether size_of::<T>() is equal to size_of::<Option<T>>(), where T is a union (regardless of whether it is transparent). The Rust compiler is free to perform this optimization if possible, but is not required to, and different compiler versions may differ in their application of these optimizations.

Drawbacks

#[repr(transparent)] on a union or enum is of limited use. There are cases where it is useful, but they're not common and some users might unnecessarily apply #[repr(transparent)] to a type in a cargo-cult fashion.

Rationale and alternatives

It would be nice to make MaybeUninit<T> #[repr(transparent)]. This type is a union, and thus this RFC is required to allow making it transparent. One example in which a transparent representation would be useful is for unused parameters in an FFI-function:

#[repr(C)]
struct Context {
    // Imagine there a few fields here, defined by an external C library.
}

extern "C" fn log_event(message: core::ptr::NonNull<libc::c_char>,
                        context: core::mem::MaybeUninit<Context>) {
    // Log the message here, but ignore the context since we don't need it.
}

fn main() {
    extern "C" {
        fn set_log_handler(handler: extern "C" fn(core::ptr::NonNull<libc::c_char>,
                                                  Context));
    }

    // Set the log handler so the external C library can call log_event.
    unsafe {
        // Transmuting is safe since MaybeUninit<Context> and Context
        // have the same ABI.
        set_log_handler(core::mem::transmute(log_event as *const ()));
    }

    // We can call it too. And since we don't care about the context and
    // we're using MaybeUninit, we don't have to pay any extra cost for
    // initializing something that's unused.
    log_event(core::ptr::NonNull::new(b"Hello, world!\x00".as_ptr() as *mut _).unwrap(),
              core::mem::MaybeUninit::uninitialized());
}

It is also useful for consuming pointers to uninitialized memory:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
#[repr(C)]
struct Cryptor {
    // Imagine there a few fields here, defined by an external C library.
}

// This function may be called from C (or Rust!), and matches the C
// function signature: bool(Cryptor *cryptor)
pub extern "C" fn init_cryptor(cryptor: &mut core::mem::MaybeUninit<Cryptor>) -> bool {
    // Initialize the cryptor and return whether we succeeded
}
#}

Prior art

See the discussion on RFC #1758 (which introduced #[repr(transparent)]) for some discussion on applying the attribute to a union or enum. A summary of the discussion:

  • nagisa: "Why not univariant unions and enums?"
  • nox: "I tried to be conservative for now given I don't have a use case for univariant unions and enums in FFI context."
  • eddyb: "I found another important usecase: for ManuallyDrop<T>, to be useful in arrays (i.e. small vector optimizations), it needs to have the same layout as T and AFAICT #[repr(C)] is not guaranteed to do the right thing"
  • retep998: "So we'd need to be able to specify #[repr(transparent)] on unions?"
  • eddyb: "That's the only way to be sure AFAICT, yes."
  • joshtriplett: "In terms of interactions with other features, I think this needs to specify what happens if you apply it to a union with one field, a union with multiple fields, a struct (tuple or otherwise) with multiple fields, a single-variant enum with one field, an enum struct variant where the enum uses repr(u32) or similar. The answer to some of those might be "compile error", but some of them (e.g. the union case) may potentially make sense in some contexts."
  • pnkfelix: "However, I personally do not think we need to expand the scope of the feature. So I am okay with leaving it solely defined on struct, and leave union/enum to a follow-on RFC later. (Much the same with a hypothetical newtype feature.)"

In summary, many of the questions regarding #[repr(transparent)] on a union or enum were the same as applying it to a multi-field struct. These questions have since been answered, so there should be no problems with applying those same answers to union univariant enum.

Unresolved questions

The role of #[repr(transparent)] in nonnull-style optimizations is not entirely clear. Specifically, it is unclear whether the user can rely on these optimizations to be performed when they make a type transparent. Transparent unions somewhat complicate the matter. General concensus seems to be that the compiler is free to decide where and when to perform nonnull-style optimizations on unions (regardless of whether or not the union is transaprent), and no guarantees are made to the user about when and if those optimizations will be applied. It is still an open question exactly what guarantees (if any) Rust makes about transparent structs (and enums) and nonnull-style optimizations.

This RFC doesn't propose any changes to transparent structs, and so does not strictly depend on this question being resolved. But since this RFC is attempting to round out the #[repr(transparent)] feature, it seems reasonable to dedicate some time to attempting to round out the guarantees about #[repr(transparent)] on structs.

Future possibilities

If a union has multiple non-ZST fields, a future RFC could propose a way to choose the representation of that union (example).