Goals and clauses

In logic programming terms, a goal is something that you must prove and a clause is something that you know is true. As described in the lowering to logic chapter, Rust's trait solver is based on an extension of hereditary harrop (HH) clauses, which extend traditional Prolog Horn clauses with a few new superpowers.

Goals and clauses meta structure

In Rust's solver, goals and clauses have the following forms (note that the two definitions reference one another):

Goal = DomainGoal           // defined in the section below
        | Goal && Goal
        | Goal || Goal
        | exists<K> { Goal }   // existential quantification
        | forall<K> { Goal }   // universal quantification
        | if (Clause) { Goal } // implication
        | true                 // something that's trivially true
        | ambiguous            // something that's never provable

Clause = DomainGoal
        | Clause :- Goal     // if can prove Goal, then Clause is true
        | Clause && Clause
        | forall<K> { Clause }

K = <type>     // a "kind"
    | <lifetime>

The proof procedure for these sorts of goals is actually quite straightforward. Essentially, it's a form of depth-first search. The paper "A Proof Procedure for the Logic of Hereditary Harrop Formulas" gives the details.

In terms of code, these types are defined in librustc/traits/mod.rs in rustc, and in chalk-ir/src/lib.rs in chalk.

Domain goals

Domain goals are the atoms of the trait logic. As can be seen in the definitions given above, general goals basically consist in a combination of domain goals.

Moreover, flattenning a bit the definition of clauses given previously, one can see that clauses are always of the form:

forall<K1, ..., Kn> { DomainGoal :- Goal }

hence domain goals are in fact clauses' LHS. That is, at the most granular level, domain goals are what the trait solver will end up trying to prove.

To define the set of domain goals in our system, we need to first introduce a few simple formulations. A trait reference consists of the name of a trait along with a suitable set of inputs P0..Pn:

TraitRef = P0: TraitName<P1..Pn>

So, for example, u32: Display is a trait reference, as is Vec<T>: IntoIterator. Note that Rust surface syntax also permits some extra things, like associated type bindings (Vec<T>: IntoIterator<Item = T>), that are not part of a trait reference.

A projection consists of an associated item reference along with its inputs P0..Pm:

Projection = <P0 as TraitName<P1..Pn>>::AssocItem<Pn+1..Pm>

Given these, we can define a DomainGoal as follows:

DomainGoal = Holds(WhereClause)
            | FromEnv(TraitRef)
            | FromEnv(Type)
            | WellFormed(TraitRef)
            | WellFormed(Type)
            | Normalize(Projection -> Type)

WhereClause = Implemented(TraitRef)
            | ProjectionEq(Projection = Type)
            | Outlives(Type: Region)
            | Outlives(Region: Region)

WhereClause refers to a where clause that a Rust user would actually be able to write in a Rust program. This abstraction exists only as a convenience as we sometimes want to only deal with domain goals that are effectively writable in Rust.

Let's break down each one of these, one-by-one.


e.g. Implemented(i32: Copy)

True if the given trait is implemented for the given input types and lifetimes.

ProjectionEq(Projection = Type)

e.g. ProjectionEq<T as Iterator>::Item = u8

The given associated type Projection is equal to Type; this can be proved with either normalization or using placeholder associated types. See the section on associated types.

Normalize(Projection -> Type)

e.g. ProjectionEq<T as Iterator>::Item -> u8

The given associated type Projection can be normalized to Type.

As discussed in the section on associated types, Normalize implies ProjectionEq, but not vice versa. In general, proving Normalize(<T as Trait>::Item -> U) also requires proving Implemented(T: Trait).


e.g. FromEnv(Self: Add<i32>)

True if the inner TraitRef is assumed to be true, that is, if it can be derived from the in-scope where clauses.

For example, given the following function:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn loud_clone<T: Clone>(stuff: &T) -> T {

Inside the body of our function, we would have FromEnv(T: Clone). In-scope where clauses nest, so a function body inside an impl body inherits the impl body's where clauses, too.

This and the next rule are used to implement implied bounds. As we'll see in the section on lowering, FromEnv(TraitRef) implies Implemented(TraitRef), but not vice versa. This distinction is crucial to implied bounds.


e.g. FromEnv(HashSet<K>)

True if the inner Type is assumed to be well-formed, that is, if it is an input type of a function or an impl.

For example, given the following code:

struct HashSet<K> where K: Hash { ... }

fn loud_insert<K>(set: &mut HashSet<K>, item: K) {

HashSet<K> is an input type of the loud_insert function. Hence, we assume it to be well-formed, so we would have FromEnv(HashSet<K>) inside the body of our function. As we'll see in the section on lowering, FromEnv(HashSet<K>) implies Implemented(K: Hash) because the HashSet declaration was written with a K: Hash where clause. Hence, we don't need to repeat that bound on the loud_insert function: we rather automatically assume that it is true.


These goals imply that the given item is well-formed.

We can talk about different types of items being well-formed:

  • Types, like WellFormed(Vec<i32>), which is true in Rust, or WellFormed(Vec<str>), which is not (because str is not Sized.)

  • TraitRefs, like WellFormed(Vec<i32>: Clone).

Well-formedness is important to implied bounds. In particular, the reason it is okay to assume FromEnv(T: Clone) in the loud_clone example is that we also verify WellFormed(T: Clone) for each call site of loud_clone. Similarly, it is okay to assume FromEnv(HashSet<K>) in the loud_insert example because we will verify WellFormed(HashSet<K>) for each call site of loud_insert.

Outlives(Type: Region), Outlives(Region: Region)

e.g. Outlives(&'a str: 'b), Outlives('a: 'static)

True if the given type or region on the left outlives the right-hand region.

Coinductive goals

Most goals in our system are "inductive". In an inductive goal, circular reasoning is disallowed. Consider this example clause:

    Implemented(Foo: Bar) :-
        Implemented(Foo: Bar).

Considered inductively, this clause is useless: if we are trying to prove Implemented(Foo: Bar), we would then recursively have to prove Implemented(Foo: Bar), and that cycle would continue ad infinitum (the trait solver will terminate here, it would just consider that Implemented(Foo: Bar) is not known to be true).

However, some goals are co-inductive. Simply put, this means that cycles are OK. So, if Bar were a co-inductive trait, then the rule above would be perfectly valid, and it would indicate that Implemented(Foo: Bar) is true.

Auto traits are one example in Rust where co-inductive goals are used. Consider the Send trait, and imagine that we have this struct:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
struct Foo {
    next: Option<Box<Foo>>

The default rules for auto traits say that Foo is Send if the types of its fields are Send. Therefore, we would have a rule like

Implemented(Foo: Send) :-
    Implemented(Option<Box<Foo>>: Send).

As you can probably imagine, proving that Option<Box<Foo>>: Send is going to wind up circularly requiring us to prove that Foo: Send again. So this would be an example where we wind up in a cycle – but that's ok, we do consider Foo: Send to hold, even though it references itself.

In general, co-inductive traits are used in Rust trait solving when we want to enumerate a fixed set of possibilities. In the case of auto traits, we are enumerating the set of reachable types from a given starting point (i.e., Foo can reach values of type Option<Box<Foo>>, which implies it can reach values of type Box<Foo>, and then of type Foo, and then the cycle is complete).

In addition to auto traits, WellFormed predicates are co-inductive. These are used to achieve a similar "enumerate all the cases" pattern, as described in the section on implied bounds.

Incomplete chapter

Some topics yet to be written:

  • Elaborate on the proof procedure
  • SLG solving – introduce negative reasoning