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63535c1 Nov 25, 2014
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Summary

This is a conventions RFC establishing a definition and naming convention for extension traits: FooExt.

Motivation

This RFC is part of the ongoing API conventions and stabilization effort.

Extension traits are a programming pattern that makes it possible to add methods to an existing type outside of the crate defining that type. While they should be used sparingly, the new object safety rules have increased the need for this kind of trait, and hence the need for a clear convention.

Detailed design

What is an extension trait?

Rust currently allows inherent methods to be defined on a type only in the crate where that type is defined. But it is often the case that clients of a type would like to incorporate additional methods to it. Extension traits are a pattern for doing so:

extern crate foo;
use foo::Foo;

trait FooExt {
    fn bar(&self);
}

impl FooExt for Foo {
    fn bar(&self) { .. }
}

By defining a new trait, a client of foo can add new methods to Foo.

Of course, adding methods via a new trait happens all the time. What makes it an extension trait is that the trait is not designed for generic use, but only as way of adding methods to a specific type or family of types.

This is of course a somewhat subjective distinction. Whenever designing an extension trait, one should consider whether the trait could be used in some more generic way. If so, the trait should be named and exported as if it were just a "normal" trait. But traits offering groups of methods that really only make sense in the context of some particular type(s) are true extension traits.

The new object safety rules mean that a trait can only be used for trait objects if all of its methods are usable; put differently, it ensures that for "object safe traits" there is always a canonical way to implement Trait for Box<Trait>. To deal with this new rule, it is sometimes necessary to break traits apart into an object safe trait and extension traits:

// The core, object-safe trait
trait Iterator<A> {
    fn next(&mut self) -> Option<A>;
}

// The extension trait offering object-unsafe methods
trait IteratorExt<A>: Iterator<A> {
    fn chain<U: Iterator<A>>(self, other: U) -> Chain<Self, U> { ... }
    fn zip<B, U: Iterator<B>>(self, other: U) -> Zip<Self, U> { ... }
    fn map<B>(self, f: |A| -> B) -> Map<'r, A, B, Self> { ... }
    ...
}

// A blanket impl
impl<A, I> IteratorExt<A> for I where I: Iterator<A> {
    ...
}

Note that, although this split-up definition is somewhat more complex, it is also more flexible: because Box<Iterator<A>> will implement Iterator<A>, you can now use all of the adapter methods provided in IteratorExt on trait objects, even though they are not object safe.

The convention

The proposed convention is, first of all, to (1) prefer adding default methods to existing traits or (2) prefer generically useful traits to extension traits whenever feasible.

For true extension traits, there should be a clear type or trait that they are extending. The extension trait should be called FooExt where Foo is that type or trait.

In some cases, the extension trait only applies conditionally. For example, AdditiveIterator is an extension trait currently in std that applies to iterators over numeric types. These extension traits should follow a similar convention, putting together the type/trait name and the qualifications, together with the Ext suffix: IteratorAddExt.

What about Prelude?

A previous convention used a Prelude suffix for extension traits that were also part of the std prelude; this new convention deprecates that one.

Future proofing

In the future, the need for many of these extension traits may disappear as other languages features are added. For example, method-level where clauses will eliminate the need for AdditiveIterator. And allowing inherent impls like impl<T: Trait> T { .. } for the crate defining Trait would eliminate even more.

However, there will always be some use of extension traits, and we need to stabilize the 1.0 libraries prior to these language features landing. So this is the proposed convention for now, and in the future it may be possible to deprecate some of the resulting traits.

Alternatives

It seems clear that we need some convention here. Other possible suffixes would be Util or Methods, but Ext is both shorter and connects to the name of the pattern.

Drawbacks

In general, extension traits tend to require additional imports -- especially painful when dealing with object safety. However, this is more to do with the language as it stands today than with the conventions in this RFC.

Libraries are already starting to export their own prelude module containing extension traits among other things, which by convention is glob imported.

In the long run, we should add a general "prelude" facility for external libraries that makes it possible to globally import a small set of names from the crate. Some early investigations of such a feature are already under way, but are outside the scope of this RFC.