Defining Rust Error Types

Defining your own error type

When starting a new project, defining your own error type up-front is a good thing to do. It will result in more ergonomic code, as you can return the same error type from most functions and can get it to work with the ? operator. This is especially important if you use external crates and want to ‘amalgamate’ their error types.

The strategy defined here is the TL;DR summary of a blog post by Rustmeister BurntSushi. It doesn’t use any external ‘error helper’ crates.

Step 1 - define a custom error type

This type is a union of all possible error types your program needs to handle:

pub enum MyErrorType {
    // Errors from external libraries...
    // Errors raised by us...

#[derive(Clone, Copy, Debug, Eq, Hash, Ord, PartialEq, PartialOrd)]
pub enum ErrorKind {
    // etc

impl ErrorKind {
    fn as_str(&self) -> &str {
        match *self {
            ErrorKind::NotFound => "not found",
            ErrorKind::NotAuthorized => "not authorized"

This ‘kind enum’ design is used by the Rust standard IO library. The as_str will help in the next step.

Step 2 - Implement ‘Error’ and ‘Display’ traits

Unfortunately Error is limited to returning a static string constant:

impl Error for MyErrorType {
    fn description(&self) -> &str {
        match *self {
            MyErrorType::Io(ref err) => err.description(),
            MyErrorType::Git(ref err) => err.description(),
            MyErrorType::Regular(ref err) => err.as_str(),
            MyErrorType::Custom(ref err) => err,

fmt::Display is more flexible:

impl fmt::Display for MyErrorType {
    fn fmt(&self, f: &mut fmt::Formatter) -> fmt::Result {
        match *self {
            MyErrorType::Io(ref err) => err.fmt(f),
            MyErrorType::Git(ref err) => err.fmt(f),
            MyErrorType::Regular(ref err) => write!(f, "A regular error occurred {:?}", err),
            MyErrorType::Custom(ref err) => write!(f, "A custom error occurred {:?}", err),

Step 3 - Implement ‘From’ for the external error types

This enables the ? operator:

impl From<io::Error> for MyErrorType {
    fn from(err: io::Error) -> MyErrorType {

impl From<git2::Error> for MyErrorType {
    fn from(err: git2::Error) -> MyErrorType {

Step 4 - Optional - Create a ‘Result<T, E>’ alias

pub type Result<T> = std::result::Result<T, MyErrorType>;

This does nothing other than simplify (some would say make more opaque) your function signatures.

Step 5 - Use it!

fn some_func() -> Result<usize> {
    // Possible this will generate a std::io::Error.
    let _f = std::fs::File::create("aa")?;

    // Possible this will generate a git2::Error.
    let _g = Repository::init("/path/to/a/repo")?;

    // Return one of my one errors.
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