Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recent syntactic changes to Rust

The last few weeks I implemented a few syntactic changes in Rust. I wanted to go over those and explain the motivation so it doesn't just seem like churn. None of the designs were mine, but I agree with all of them. (Oh, by the way, did you see we released the 1.0 Alpha?!!!!!!).

Slicing syntax

Slicing syntax has changed from `foo[a..b]` to `&foo[a..b]`, although that might not look like much of a change, it is actually the deepest one I'll cover here. Under the covers we moved from having a `Slice` trait to using the `Index` trait. So `&foo[a..b]` works exactly the same way as overloaded indexing `foo[a]`, the difference being that slicing is indexing using a range. One advantage of this approach is that ranges are now first class expressions - you can write `for i in 0..5 { ... }` and get the expected result. The other advantage is that the borrow becomes explicit (the newly required `&`). Since borrowing is important in Rust, it is great to see where things are borrowed and so we are trying to make that as explicit as possible. Previously, the borrow was implicit. The final benefit of this approach is that there is one fewer 'blessed' traits and one fewer kind of expression in the language.

Fixed length and repeating arrays

The syntax for these changed from `[T, ..n]` and `[expr, ..n]` to `[T; n]` and `[expr; n]`, respectively. This is a pretty minor change and the motivation was to allow the wider use of range syntax (see above) - the `..n` could ambiguously be a range or part of these expressions. The `..` syntax is somewhat overloaded in Rust already, so I think this is a nice change in that respect. The semicolon seems just as clear to me, involves fewer characters, and there is less confusion with other expressions.

Sized bound

Used for dynamically sized types the `Sized?` bound indicated that a type parameter may or not be bounded by the `Sized` trait (type parameters have the `Sized` bound by default). Being bound by the `Sized` trait indicates to the compiler that the object has statically known size (as opposed to DST objects). We changed the syntax so that rather than writing `Sized? T` you write `T: ?Sized`. This has the advantage that it is more regular - now all bounds (regular or optional) come after the type parameter name. It will also fit with negative bounds when they come about, which will have the syntax `!Foo`.

`self` in `use` imports

We used to accept `mod` in `use` imports to allow the import of the module itself, e.g., `use foo::bar::{mod, baz};` would import `foo::bar` and `foo::bar::baz`. We changed `mod` to `self`, making the example `use foo::bar::{self, baz};`. This is a really minor change, but I like it - `self`/`Self` has a very consistent meaning as a variable of some kind, whereas `mod` is a keyword; I think that made the original syntax a bit jarring. We also recently introduced scoped enums, which make the pattern of including a module (in this case an enum) and its components more common. Especially in the enum case, I think `self` fits better than `mod` because you are referring to data rather than a module.

`derive` in attributes

The `derive` attribute is used to derive some standard traits (e.g., `Copy`, `Show`) for your data structures. It was previously called `deriving`, and now it is `derive`. This is another minor change, but makes it more consistent with other attributes, and consistency is great!

Thanks to Japaric for doing a whole bunch of work converting our code to using the new syntaxes.

1 comment:

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