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4009b54 Oct 8, 2014
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Summary

Allow attributes on more places inside functions, such as statements, blocks and expressions.

Motivation

One sometimes wishes to annotate things inside functions with, for example, lint #[allow]s, conditional compilation #[cfg]s, and even extra semantic (or otherwise) annotations for external tools.

For the lints, one can currently only activate lints at the level of the function which is possibly larger than one needs, and so may allow other "bad" things to sneak through accidentally. E.g.

#[allow(uppercase_variable)]
let L = List::new(); // lowercase looks like one or capital i

For the conditional compilation, the work-around is duplicating the whole containing function with a #[cfg], or breaking the conditional code into a its own function. This does mean that any variables need to be explicitly passed as arguments.

The sort of things one could do with other arbitrary annotations are

#[allowed_unsafe_actions(ffi)]
#[audited="2014-04-22"]
unsafe { ... }

and then have an external tool that checks that that unsafe block's only unsafe actions are FFI, or a tool that lists blocks that have been changed since the last audit or haven't been audited ever.

The minimum useful functionality would be supporting attributes on blocks and let statements, since these are flexible enough to allow for relatively precise attribute handling.

Detailed design

Normal attribute syntax on let statements, blocks and expressions.

fn foo() {
    #[attr1]
    let x = 1;

    #[attr2]
    {
        // code
    }

    #[attr3]
    unsafe {
        // code
    }
    #[attr4] foo();

    let x = #[attr5] 1;

    qux(3 + #[attr6] 2);

    foo(x, #[attr7] y, z);
}

Attributes bind tighter than any operator, that is #[attr] x op y is always parsed as (#[attr] x) op y.

cfg

It is definitely an error to place a #[cfg] attribute on a non-statement expressions, that is, attr1--attr4 can possibly be #[cfg(foo)], but attr5--attr7 cannot, since it makes little sense to strip code down to let x = ;.

However, like #ifdef in C/C++, widespread use of #[cfg] may be an antipattern that makes code harder to read. This RFC is just adding the ability for attributes to be placed in specific places, it is not mandating that #[cfg] actually be stripped in those places (although it should be an error if it is ignored).

Inner attributes

Inner attributes can be placed at the top of blocks (and other structure incorporating a block) and apply to that block.

{
    #![attr11]

    foo()
}

match bar {
    #![attr12]

    _ => {}
}

// are the same as

#[attr11]
{
    foo()
}

#[attr12]
match bar {
    _ => {}
}

if

Attributes would be disallowed on if for now, because the interaction with if/else chains are funky, and can be simulated in other ways.

#[cfg(not(foo))]
if cond1 {
} else #[cfg(not(bar))] if cond2 {
} else #[cfg(not(baz))] {
}

There is two possible interpretations of such a piece of code, depending on if one regards the attributes as attaching to the whole if ... else chain ("exterior") or just to the branch on which they are placed ("interior").

  • --cfg foo: could be either removing the whole chain (exterior) or equivalent to if cond2 {} else {} (interior).
  • --cfg bar: could be either if cond1 {} (e) or if cond1 {} else {} (i)
  • --cfg baz: equivalent to if cond1 {} else if cond2 {} (no subtlety).
  • --cfg foo --cfg bar: could be removing the whole chain (e) or the two if branches (leaving only the else branch) (i).

(This applies to any attribute that has some sense of scoping, not just #[cfg], e.g. #[allow] and #[warn] for lints.)

As such, to avoid confusion, attributes would not be supported on if. Alternatives include using blocks:

#[attr] if cond { ... } else ...
// becomes, for an exterior attribute,
#[attr] {
    if cond { ... } else ...
}
// and, for an interior attribute,
if cond {
    #[attr] { ... }
} else ...

And, if the attributes are meant to be associated with the actual branching (e.g. a hypothetical #[cold] attribute that indicates a branch is unlikely), one can annotate match arms:

match cond {
    #[attr] true => { ... }
    #[attr] false => { ... }
}

Drawbacks

This starts mixing attributes with nearly arbitrary code, possibly dramatically restricting syntactic changes related to them, for example, there was some consideration for using @ for attributes, this change may make this impossible (especially if @ gets reused for something else, e.g. Python is using it for matrix multiplication). It may also make it impossible to use # for other things.

As stated above, allowing #[cfg]s everywhere can make code harder to reason about, but (also stated), this RFC is not for making such #[cfg]s be obeyed, it just opens the language syntax to possibly allow it.

Alternatives

These instances could possibly be approximated with macros and helper functions, but to a low degree degree (e.g. how would one annotate a general unsafe block).

Only allowing attributes on "statement expressions" that is, expressions at the top level of a block, this is slightly limiting; but we can expand to support other contexts backwards compatibly in the future.

The if/else issue may be able to be resolved by introducing explicit "interior" and "exterior" attributes on if: by having #[attr] if cond { ... be an exterior attribute (applying to the whole if/else chain) and if cond #[attr] { ... be an interior attribute (applying to only the current if branch). There is no difference between interior and exterior for an else { branch, and so else #[attr] { is sufficient.

Unresolved questions

Are the complications of allowing attributes on arbitrary expressions worth the benefits?