Rust's Poor Composability
Apr 05, 2023 · 4 min

I love Rust. I wish they would spend more time making it actually work for non hello-world use-cases.

Iteration

Rust has a nice pretty syntax for iterating:

for x in &mut something {
    *x = (*x) * 2;
}

EXCEPT when you need to do anything else to the iterator, then its ugly:

for (i, x) in something.iter_mut().filter(|| {...}).enumerate() {
    *x = (*x) * i
}

What's the point of having the 'pretty' syntax if it only works in the simplest of cases?

I hate syntax that only works in hello world examples. It infuriates me, because it means that this is all just Oz, and that you eventually need to pull back the curtain and everything you were promised was a lie.

Trying...

Rust has a great syntax for early return on Err cases.

let thing: Result<A, B> = x.foo();
// Will return early with the error if x.foo() returns Err.
let thing: A = x.foo()?;

BUT when you try to use it with iterators -- which are also amazing, I love using iterators -- IT DOESNT WORK.

// ? in an Iterator method doesnt work!! What the hell!
let res: Vec<_> = iterator.iter().map(|x| x.foo()?).collect();

So instead we need to use the ugly for-loop manual collection

let res = vec![];
for x in &iterator {
    res.push(x.foo()?);
}

In my mind, the for loop syntax should be simple syntactic sugar for iterator.iter().for_each(BODY), not bespoke syntax. The fact this breaks wrecks my mental model. Whats the point of having two completely different iteration syntaxes with different properties?

But this also happens elsewhere, because of this ugly inflexability, we cant do:

let z = x.foo().map(|y| y.bar()?);

we must do

let z = if let Some(y) = x.foo() {
    y.bar()?
}

Gross. The Rust designers really should have ran import this.

There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.

Again, the absolute lack of composability is astounding. Whats the point of even having iterator methods if you can't use them for real world usecases, where code is regularly fallable, so you need to return a Result.

Another Example

Just now at $JOB, I was about to write code like:

// `cfg.client` and `client.file` are both `Option<T>`.
let data = cfg.client.map(|client| client.file.map(|file| std::fs::read(file)?));

But instead, due to that pesky little ? deep in there, I had to full expand this, using imperative style code:

let data = {
    if let Some(client) = cfg.client {
        if let Some(file) = client.file {
            Some(std::fs::read(file)?)
        } else {
            None
        }
    } else {
        None
    }
};

What a terrible composition of functional components with the ? operator!

Async

This is basically the same problem as before, but with .await instead of ?. You must use the for loop syntax if you want to use .await, because iterators are not powerful enough to support real world use-cases.

Conclusion

I have been a fan of Rust for 10 years now (wow!), and I love it. But the teams working on language design need to SLOW DOWN and focus on ergonomics and composability. Not adding new syntax because some other language has it. For years now there has been calls for a 'fallow year' for Rust, and I think it should happen. Of course, there are so many people working on Rust, it is infeasable to task everyone on 'ergonomics', but I think it should be the focus at least.

Niko has some ideas but they still seem so lofty compared to basic ergonomic capabilities.

There is some work on keyword generics that looks horrendous, but maybe would solve this problem. I hope they can work on it.

More things I have found that annoy me.

I have a nice easy to make struct.

struct Easy {
    thing: u32,
}

impl Easy {
    fn new() -> Self {
        Self {
            thing: 12,
        }
    }
}

Cool! But, its just about to get slightly more complicated. Easy needs a reference.

struct Easy<'a> {
    thing: u32,
    handle: &'a [u8],
}

impl<'a> Easy<'a> {
    fn new() -> Self<'a> {
        Self {
            thing: 12,
            handle: todo!() // this is done better in real code I promise.
        }
    }
}

But, alas! Self<'a> is not valid! We need to switch it to Easy<'a>. Of course this is a small nit, but what the heck! This is exactly what I'm talking about. There are nice little sugars that we are allowed to use just until it becomes code that actually needs to do anything. Then you can't use the sugar.

Whats the point of having the sugar in the first place then?!