This RFC proposed to add a stable #[diagnostic] attribute namespace, which contains attributes to influence error messages emitted by the compiler. In addition it proposed to add a #[diagnostic::on_unimplemented] attribute to influence error messages emitted by unsatisfied traits bounds.


Rust has the reputation to generate helpful error messages when something goes wrong. Nevertheless there are always cases of error messages that can be improved. One common example of such error messages in the rust ecosystem are those that are generated by crates using the type system to verify certain invariants at compile time. While these crates provide additional guarantees about these invariants, they sometimes generate large incomprehensible error messages when something goes wrong. These error messages do not always indicate clearly what went wrong. Well known examples of crates with such issues include bevy, axum or diesel. In some situations such a specific error message always indicates a certain problem. By providing authors of such crates tools to control the error messages emitted by the compiler they can improve the situation on their own.

Guide-level explanation

This feature has two possible groups of users:

  • Users that develop code and consume error messages from the compiler
  • Users that write crates involving complex type hierarchies

The first user group will interact with the proposed feature through the error messages emitted by the compiler. As of this I do not expect any major documentation requirements for this group of users. Although we might want to indicate that a certain error message was provided via the described feature set, rather than by the compiler itself to prevent users for filling issues about bad error messages in the compilers issue tracker.

The second user group interacts with the described feature through attributes. These attributes allow them to hint the compiler to emit specific error messages in certain cases. The #[diagnostic] attribute namespace provides a general framework for what can and can’t be done by such an attribute. As of this users won’t interact directly with the attribute namespace itself.

The #[diagnostic::on_unimplemented] attribute allows to hint the compiler to emit a specific error message if a certain trait is not implemented. This attribute should provide the following interface:

trait MyIterator<A> {
    fn next(&mut self) -> A;

fn iterate_chars<I: MyIterator<char>>(i: I) {
    // ...
fn main() {
    iterate_chars(&[1, 2, 3][..]);

which might result in the compiler emitting the following error message:

error[E0277]: message
  --> <anon>:14:5
14 |     iterate_chars(&[1, 2, 3][..]);
   |     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ label
   = note: note
   = help: the trait `MyIterator<char>` is not implemented for `&[{integer}]`
   = note: required by `iterate_chars`

I expect the new attributes to be documented on the existing Diagnostics attributes page on the rust reference similar to existing attributes like for example #[deprecated]

Reference-level explanation

The #[diagnostic] attribute namespace

This RFC proposes to introduce a new built-in #[diagnostic] tool attribute namespace. This namespace is supposed to contain different attributes, which allow users to hint the compiler to emit specific diagnostic messages in certain cases like type mismatches, unsatisfied trait bounds or similar situations. By collecting such attributes in a common namespace it is easier for users to find useful attributes and it is easier for the language team to establish a set of common rules for these attributes. This opens the possibility to delegate the design of specific attributes to other teams later on.

Attributes in this namespace are generally expected to be formed like:


where several option entries can appear in the same attribute. option is expected to be a valid attribute argument in this position.

Any attribute in this namespace may:

  • Hint the compiler to emit a specific diagnostic message in a specific situation
  • Only affect the messages emitted by a compiler

Any attribute in this namespace is not allowed to:

  • Change the result of the compilation, which means applying such an attribute should never cause a compilation error as long as they are syntactically valid
  • Pass-through information from the source of the diagnostic in a way that users can rely on. E.g. Such an attribute should not allow users to keep the compilation successful and dump information about extern blocks to generate C header files

The compiler is allowed to:

  • Ignore the hints provided by:
    • A specific attribute
    • A specific option
  • Change the support for a specific attribute or option at any time

The compiler must not:

  • Change the semantic of an attribute or option
  • Emit an hard error on malformed attribute

The compiler should:

  • Emit implement a warn-by-default lint for unrecognised attributes or options

Adding a new attribute or option to the #[diagnostic] namespace is for now a decision of the language team. The language team can delegate these decisions partially or completely to a different team without requiring a new RFC.

The #[diagnostic::on_unimplemented] attribute

This section describes the syntax of the on_unimplemented attribute and additionally how it is supposed to work. The specification of this attribute is partially provided as example and motivation for the #[diagnostic] attribute namespace. In addition it is provided to give this RFC a concrete use, such that we not only define an empty attribute namespace.

trait MyIterator<A> {
    fn next(&mut self) -> A;

Each of the options message, label and note are optional. They are separated by comma. The trailing comma is optional. Specifying any of these options hints the compiler to replace the normally emitted part of the error message with the provided string. At least one of these options needs to exist. Each option can appear at most once. These options can include type information for the Self type or any generic type by using {Self} or {A} (where A refers to the generic type name in the definition). These placeholders are replaced by the compiler with the actual type name.

In addition the on_unimplemented attribute provides mechanisms to specify for which exact types a certain message should be emitted via an if() option. It accepts a set of filter options. A filter option consists of the generic parameter name from the trait definition and a type path against which the parameter should be checked. This type path could either be a fully qualified path or refer to any type in the current scope. As a special generic parameter name Self is added to refer to the Self type of the trait implementation. A filter option evaluates to true if the corresponding generic parameter in the trait definition matches the specified type. The provided message/note/label options are only emitted if the filter operation evaluates to true.

The any and all options allow to combine multiple filter options. The any option matches if one of the supplied filter options evaluates to true, the all option requires that all supplied filter options evaluate to true. not allows to negate a given filter option. It evaluates to true if the inner filter option evaluates to false. These options can be nested to construct complex filters.

The on_unimplemented attribute can be applied multiple times to the same trait definition. Multiple attributes are evaluated in order. The first matching instance for each of the message/label/note options is emitted. The compiler should provide a warn-by-default lint for ignored variants as this is the case for match arms.

    if(Self = std::string::String),
    note = "That's only emitted if Self == std::string::String"
    if(A = String), // Refers to whatever `String` is in the current scope
    note = "That's only emitted if A == String",
    if(any(A = i32, Self = i32)),
    note = "That's emitted if A or Self is a i32",
// this attribute will not have any affect as
// the attribute above will always match before
    if(all(A = i32, Self = i32)),
    note = "That's emitted if A and Self is a i32"
    if(not(A = String)),
    // and implicitly `A` is not a `i32` as that case is
    // matched earlier
    note = "That's emitted if A is not a `String`"
    note="That's emitted if neither of the condition above are meet",
trait MyIterator<A> {
    fn next(&mut self) -> A;


A possible drawback is that this feature adds additional complexity to the compiler implementation. The compiler needs to handle an additional attribute namespace with at least one additional attribute.

Another drawback is that crates might hint lower quality error messages than the compiler itself. Technically the compiler would be free to ignore such hints, practically I would assume that it is impossible to judge the quality of such error messages in an automated way.

Rationale and alternatives

This proposal tries to improve error messages generated by rustc. It would give crate authors a tool to influence what error message is emitted in a certain situation, as they might sometimes want to provide specific details on certain error conditions. Not implementing this proposal would result in the current status quo. Currently the compiler always shows a “general” error message, even if it would be helpful to show additional details.

There are alternatives for the naming of the #[diagnostic] namespace:

  • Use a #[rustc] namespace for these attributes. This would signifies that these are rustc specific extensions. We likely want to encourage other rust implementations to utilise these information as well, therefore a more general attribute namespace seems to be a better solution.

There are alternative designs for the proposed on_unimplemented attribute:

  • The if() based filtering might be replaceable by placing the attribute on negative trait impls. This would turn a filter like
    on(Self = `String`, message = "Strings do not implement `IntoIterator` directly")
trait IntoIterator {}

into the following negative trait impl:

#[diagnostic::on_unimplemented(message = "Strings do not implement `IntoIterator` directly")]
impl !IntoIterator for String {}

This would simplify the syntax of the proposed attribute, but in turn block the implementation of type based filtering on the stabilization of negative_impls. On the other hand it would likely simplify writing more complex filters, that match only a certain generic set of types and it would prevent “duplicating” the filter-logic as this reuses the exiting trait system. To express complex filtering logic this would likely need some sort of specialization for at least negative trait implementations. A second disadvantage of this approach is that it couples error messages to the crates public API. Removing a negative trait impl is a breaking change, removing a #[on_unimplemented] attribute is only a change in the emitted compiler error.

Prior art

  • rustc_on_unimplemented already provides the described functionality as rustc internal attribute. It is used for improving error messages for various standard library API’s. This repo contains several examples on how this attribute can be used in external crates to improve their error messages.
  • GHC provides a Haskell mechanism for specifying custom compile time errors

Notably all of the listed similar features are unofficial language extensions.

Unresolved questions

Clarify the procedure of various potential changes prior stabilisation of the attribute namespace:

  • Exact syntax of the on_unimplemented attribute
    • Can Self be accepted in that position or do we need another name?
    • Is if() a valid identifier in the proposed position?

Future possibilities

  • Add a versioning scheme
    • For specific attributes via #[diagnostic::attribute(version = 42)]
    • For the namespace via a crate level #[diagnostic::v{version_number}] attribute
    • Based on editions
    • Custom versioning scheme
    • (Each of these variants can be added in a backward compatible way if needed)
  • More attributes like #[diagnostics::on_type_error]
  • Extend the #[diagnostics::on_unimplemented] attribute to incorporate the semantics of #[do_not_recommend] or provide a distinct #[diagnostics::do_not_recommend] attribute
  • Un-RFC #[do_not_recommend]?
  • Apply #[diagnostics::on_unimplemented] to types as well
  • Extend the if() filter syntax to allow more complex filter expressions
  • Allow #[diagnostic::on_unimplemented] to be placed on types instead of traits. This would allow third party crates to customize the error messages emitted for unsatisfied trait bounds with out of crate traits.