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  • Feature Name: arbitrary_self_types
  • Start Date: 2018-02-15
  • RFC PR: (leave this empty)
  • Rust Issue: (leave this empty)


Allow types that implement Deref targeting Self to be the receiver of a method. If the receiver type also implements the correct CoerceUnsized bound, that method is object safe.


Today, methods can only be received by value, by reference, by mutable reference, or by a Box<Self>. This has always intended to be generalized to support any kind of pointer, such as an Rc<Self> or an Arc<Self>. Since late 2017, it has been available on nightly under the arbitrary_self_types feature.

This feature is increasingly relevant because of the role of special pointer types to constraint self-referential types, such as generators containing internal references. Because different kinds of "smart pointers" can constrain the semantics in non trivial ways, traits can rely on certain assumptions about the receiver of their method, whereas just implementing the trait for a smart pointer doesn't allow that kind of reliance.

Guide-level explanation

When declaring a method, users can declare the type of the self receiver to be any type T where T: Deref<Target = Self>. Shorthand exists, so that self with no ascription is of type Self, and &self and &mut self are of type &Self and &mut Self:

// All of these are valid:
trait Foo {
    fn by_value(self: Self);
    fn by_ref(self: &Self);
    fn by_ref_mut(self: &mut Self);
    fn by_box(self: Box<Self>);
    fn by_rc(self: Rc<Self>);
    fn by_arc(self: Arc<Self>);

Recursive arbitrary receivers

Like the rule for deref coercions, the rule for receivers is recursive. If type T implements Deref targeting type U, and type U implements Deref targeting Self, T is a valid receiver (and so on outward).

For example, this self type is valid:

impl MyType {
     fn by_ref_to_rc(self: &Rc<Self>) { ... }

Object safety

In order for these receivers to be object safe, some additional traits need to be implemented. Given a reference type Ptr<dyn Trait>, the compiler must be able to prove that T: Unsize<dyn Trait> implies Ptr<T>: CoerceUnsized<Ptr<dyn Trait>>. If the compiler can prove this, methods with these receivers are object safe (how they object safe conversion is implemented is discussed later in the detailed design).

Reference-level explanation

Handling trait objects

To support object-safety, we must have a way of obtaining a vtable from the reference type, and then passing the correct receiver type to the function in the vtable.

Step 1: Obtaining the vtable

First, we call Deref::deref on the receiver type to obtain an &Trait object. This will return an &dyn Trait. Since an &dyn Trait is defined as 2 words, one a pointer to the object data and the other a pointer to the vtable, we can obtain the vtable by dereferencing the second pointer of this object.

For example, consider this type:

struct Foo<T: ?Sized> {
    inner: T,

impl<T: ?Sized> Deref for Foo<T> {
    type Target = T;

    fn deref(&self) -> &T {

trait Bar {
    fn baz(self: Foo<Self>);

Here, we start with an &Foo<Trait>, which is represented as a wide pointer. When we call Deref::deref, we receive a wide pointer, with the data pointer pointing to self.inner, and the vtable pointing to that same vtable.

Step 2: Obtaining the correct receiver type

Having obtained the vtable, we now need to obtain a value of the correct type to pass to the function. For example, given a trait like this:

trait Foo {
    fn bar(self: Rc<Self>);

The function in the vtable expects a value of Rc<Self>, where Self is the concrete type that was cast into the vtable. So if we have an Rc<Foo>, we need to temporarily cast that back into an Rc<i32> or whatever the concrete type is.

This is why the CoerceUnsized bound is necessary for object-safe receiver types. Using the type ID stored in the vtable, we can downcast the Self type to the correct concrete type to pass to the function pointer for the method we're calling, effectively reversing the unsizing coercion.

Stabilization plans

As soon as possible, we intend to stabilize using a method receiver defined this way, so long as it is object safe. That stabilization will immediately extend support to Rc<T> and Arc<T>.

However, we also feel that CoerceUnsized is not ready to stabilize without further consideration of the trade offs. For that reason, defining your own arbitrary method receivers may not be stabilized as quickly.


This has the same drawbacks as the general Deref trait feature: users could use this to create method receivers that are not really appropriate as method receivers (such as types that are not really "smart pointers.") We will continue to discourage these sorts of Deref impls as highly unidiomatic.

Rationale and alternatives

The primary alternative to this is not to extend support for other types of method receivers (that is, to do nothing).

We could restrict method receivers with some additional trait beyond Deref, so that the original author of the type must opt into being a receiver at all. There seems to be little reason to do this, since Deref already allows syntatic extensions because of the role it plays in method resolution. Users who create a Deref type intend for it to be used in a manner analogous to this RFC.

Unresolved questions

The solution to object safety and resolving the vtable has not been implemented yet (whereas the non-object safe version is already available on nightly).

Raw pointers

There is one kind of pointer which is not covered by this RFC: the raw pointer types. This is because they do not implement Deref. We would prefer to handle raw pointer receivers, using a special built in feature, rather than a library based solution. Working out the rules around raw pointer receivers (especially as they may relate to object safety) is outside the scope of this RFC, so they're not included here.