c"…" string literals.


Looking at the amount of cstr!() invocations just on GitHub (about 3.2k files with matches) it seems like C string literals are a widely used feature. Implementing cstr!() as a macro_rules or proc_macro requires non-trivial code to get it completely right (e.g. refusing embedded nul bytes), and is still less flexible than it should be (e.g. in terms of accepted escape codes).

In Rust 2021, we reserved prefixes for (string) literals, so let's make use of that.

Guide-level explanation

c"abc" is a &CStr. A nul byte (b'\0') is appended to it in memory and the result is a &CStr.

All escape codes and characters accepted by "" and b"" literals are accepted, except nul bytes. So, both UTF-8 and non-UTF-8 data can co-exist in a C string. E.g. c"hello\x80我叫\u{1F980}".

The raw string literal variant is prefixed with cr. For example, cr"\" and cr##"Hello "world"!"##. (Just like r"" and br"".)

Reference-level explanation

Two new string literal types: c"…" and cr#"…"#.

Accepted escape codes: Quote & Unicode & Byte.

Nul bytes are disallowed, whether as escape code or source character (e.g. "\0", "\x00", "\u{0}" or "␀").

Unicode characters are accepted and encoded as UTF-8. That is, c"🦀", c"\u{1F980}" and c"\xf0\x9f\xa6\x80" are all accepted and equivalent.

The type of the expression is &core::ffi::CStr. So, the CStr type will have to become a lang item. (no_core programs that don't use c"" string literals won't need to define this lang item.)

Interactions with string related macros:

  • The concat macro will not accept these literals, just like it doesn't accept byte string literals.
  • The format_args macro will not accept such a literal as the format string, just like it doesn't accept a byte string literal.

(This might change in the future. E.g. format_args!(c"…") would be cool, but that would require generalizing the macro and fmt::Arguments to work for other kinds of strings. (Ideally also for b"…".))

Rationale and alternatives

  • No c"" literal, but just a cstr!() macro. (Possibly as part of the standard library.)

    This requires complicated machinery to implement correctly.

    The trivial implementation of using concat!($s, "\0") is problematic for several reasons, including non-string input and embedded nul bytes. (The unstable concat_bytes!() solves some of the problems.)

    The popular cstr crate is a proc macro to work around the limiations of a macro_rules implementation, but that also has many downsides.

    Even if we had the right language features for a trivial correct implementation, there are many code bases where C strings are the primary form of string, making cstr!("..") syntax quite cumbersome.

  • No c"" literal, but make it possible for "" to implicitly become a &CStr through magic.

    We already allow integer literals (e.g. 123) to become one of many types, so perhaps we could do the same to string literals.

    (It could be a built-in fixed set of types (e.g. just str, [u8], and CStr), or it could be something extensible through something like a const trait FromStringLiteral. Not sure how that would exactly work, but it sounds cool.)

  • Allowing only valid UTF-8 and unicode-oriented escape codes (like in "…", e.g. 螃蟹 or \u{1F980} but not \xff).

    For regular string literals, we have this restriction because &str is required to be valid UTF-8. However, C literals (and objects of our &CStr type) aren't necessarily valid UTF-8.

  • Allowing only ASCII characters and byte-oriented escape codes (like in b"…", e.g. \xff but not 螃蟹 or \u{1F980}).

    While C literals (and &CStr) aren't necessarily valid UTF-8, they often do contain UTF-8 data. Refusing to put UTF-8 in it would make the feature less useful and would unnecessarily make it harder to use unicode in programs that mainly use C strings.

  • Having separate c"…" and bc"…" string literal prefixes for UTF-8 and non-UTF8.

    Both of those would be the same type (&CStr). Unless we add a special "always valid UTF-8 C string" type, there's not much use in separating them.

  • Use z instead of c (z"…"), for "zero terminated" instead of "C string".

    We already have a type called CStr for this, so c seems consistent.

  • Also add c'…' as c_char literal.

    It'd be identical to b'…', except it'd be a c_char instead of u8.

    This would easily lead to unportable code, since c_char is i8 or u8 depending on the platform. (Not a wrapper type, but a direct type alias.) E.g. fn f(_: i8) {} f(c'a'); would compile only on some platforms.

    An alternative is to allow c'…' to implicitly be either a u8 or i8. (Just like integer literals can implicitly become one of many types.)


  • The CStr type needs some work. &CStr is currently a wide pointer, but it's supposed to be a thin pointer. See

    It's not a blocker, but we might want to try to fix that before stabilizing c"…".

Prior art

  • C has C string literals ("…"). :)
  • Nim has cstring"…".
  • COBOL has Z"…".
  • Probably a lot more languages, but it's hard to search for. :)

Unresolved questions

  • Also add c'…' C character literals? (u8, i8, c_char, or something more flexible?)

  • Should we make &CStr a thin pointer before stabilizing this? (If so, how?)

  • Should the (unstable) concat_bytes macro accept C string literals? (If so, should it evaluate to a C string or byte string?)

Future possibilities

(These aren't necessarily all good ideas.)

  • Make concat!() or concat_bytes!() work with c"…".
  • Make format_args!(c"…") (and format_args!(b"…")) work.
  • Improve the &CStr type, and make it FFI safe.
  • Accept unicode characters and escape codes in b"" literals too: RFC 3349.
  • More prefixes! w"", os"", path"", utf16"", brokenutf16"", utf32"", wtf8"", ebcdic"", …
  • No more prefixes! Have let a: &CStr = "…"; work through magic, removing the need for prefixes. (That won't happen any time soon probably, so that shouldn't block c"…" now.)