Rust Fn Traits

The Rust Fn Traits

There are 3 traits, defined as follows

pub trait Fn<Args>: FnMut<Args> {
    extern "rust-call" fn call(&self, args: Args) -> Self::Output;

pub trait FnMut<Args>: FnOnce<Args> {
    extern "rust-call" fn call_mut(
        &mut self, 
        args: Args
    ) -> Self::Output;

pub trait FnOnce<Args> {
    type Output;
    extern "rust-call" fn call_once(self, args: Args) -> Self::Output;

Fn callables can be called repeatedly without mutating their argument (they take arguments by &).

FnMut callables can be called repeatedly and may mutate their argument (they take arguments by & mut).

FnOnce callables can be called once (they take arguments by move).

Note that FnOnce is a supertrait of FnMut, and FnMut is in turn a supertrait of Fn. In other words, anything that implements FnMut must also implement FnOnce, and by analogy for Fn.

  • FnOnce is implemented automatically by closures that might consume captured variables, as well as all types that implement FnMut.

  • Since both Fn and FnMut are subtraits of FnOnce, any instance of Fn or FnMut can be used where a FnOnce is expected.

  • Since FnOnce is a supertrait of FnMut, any instance of FnMut can be used where a FnOnce is expected, and since Fn is a subtrait of FnMut, any instance of Fn can be used where FnMut is expected.

  • Use FnOnce as a bound when you want to accept a parameter of function-like type and only need to call it once. If you need to call the parameter repeatedly and possibly mutate state, use FnMut as a bound; if you also need it to not mutate state, use Fn.

Closure Compilation

When the compiler sees a closure, it creates a closure that allows greatest possible re-use of variables outside the closure, that is, it favours Fn, then FnMut, then FnOnce if variables are moved. Actually what happens, is that the compiler generates implementations of all possible traits for each closure’s environment struct. That is, it will generate

  • Fn, FnMut and FnOnce or
  • FnMut and FnOnce or
  • FnOnce

(This is what allows you to pass an Fn callable into a FnMut or FnOnce API).

As a side note, this means that all closures implement FnOnce, and hence can be called once! (or more, depending on type, obviously.)

API Design

So the question is, when you are designing a function’s interface, which should you use?

  • If you use Fn as a trait bound, that is the strictest possible - your callers can only call it with closures that take shared referecnes.

  • If you use FnMut as a trait bound, that is medium-strict - your callers can call it with a closure that takes shared references or mut references.

  • If you use FnOnce as a trait bound, that is most permissive - your callers can call it with any type of closure possible in Rust. But it might consume non-copy types.

Most of the time when specifying one of the Fn trait bounds, you can start with Fn and the compiler will tell you if you need FnMut or FnOnce based on what happens in the closure body.

The explanation below about why the map methods for Option and Iterator are different (FnOnce and FnMut respectively) may well inform your API design. Summary: you have to be careful about arbitrary captured environment, not just the pieces of data your closure may be dealing with directly.

Examples from the Standard Library

Examples from the Iterator trait

/// Tests if every element of the iterator matches a predicate.
fn all<F>(&mut self, f: F) -> bool
    F: FnMut(Self::Item) -> bool, 

/// Takes a closure and creates an iterator which calls that closure on each element.
fn map<B, F>(self, f: F) -> Map<Self, F>
    F: FnMut(Self::Item) -> B

/// Creates an iterator which uses a closure to determine if an element should be yielded.
fn filter<P>(self, predicate: P) -> Filter<Self, P>
    P: FnMut(&Self::Item) -> bool

/// Creates an iterator that both filters and maps.
fn filter_map<B, F>(self, f: F) -> FilterMap<Self, F>
    F: FnMut(Self::Item) -> Option<B>

/// Searches for an element of an iterator that satisfies a predicate.
fn find<P>(&mut self, predicate: P) -> Option<Self::Item>
    P: FnMut(&Self::Item) -> bool

/// Calls a closure on each element of an iterator.
fn for_each<F>(self, f: F)
    F: FnMut(Self::Item)

/// Creates an iterator that skips elements based on a predicate.
fn skip_while<P>(self, predicate: P) -> SkipWhile<Self, P>
    P: FnMut(&Self::Item) -> bool    

Examples from Option<T>

/// Returns None if the option is None, otherwise calls f with the wrapped value and returns the result.
pub fn and_then<U, F>(self, f: F) -> Option<U>
    F: FnOnce(T) -> Option<U>

/// Returns None if the option is None, otherwise calls predicate with the wrapped value
/// and returns Some(t) if the predicate returns true.
pub fn filter<P>(self, predicate: P) -> Option<T>
    P: FnOnce(&T) -> bool

/// Maps an Option<T> to Option<U> by applying a function to a contained value.
pub fn map<U, F>(self, f: F) -> Option<U>
    F: FnOnce(T) -> U

Note that, in general, iterators use FnMut and options use FnOnce. It may be puzzling why Iterator::map is FnMut rather than FnOnce - we are only going to call it once per item in the iterator, after all.

The answer is that closures can also have an arbitrary captured environment, and we must be careful to restrict what they might do.

An Option has at most 1 item, so it’s fine for its callables to be FnOnce - as that is the most number of times they could possibly be called! On the other hand, iterators have possibly many items, so the closure could be called more than once.

For example, this closure is FnOnce:

|x| { drop(v); x == 1 }

The captured variable v is dropped, so this has to be an FnOnce - you can’t call it twice because you can’t drop v twice. This would be fine to use on Option::map but inadmissible for Iterator::map. In other words, while it might be fine for the closure in Iterator::map to take the value from the iterator by move, we have to ensure that the closure can be called multiple times with respect to any other arbitrary environment that may have been captured.

Since Iterator::map takes an FnMut this closure which captures counter works fine:

|x| { counter += 1; x == 1 }

Further Reading

Finding Closure in Rust

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