`if` and `match` in constants on nightly rust

Nov. 25, 2019 · Dylan MacKenzie on behalf of WG const-eval

TLDR; if and match are now usable in constants on the latest nightly.

As a result, you can now write code like the following and have it execute at compile-time:

static PLATFORM: &str = if cfg!(unix) {
} else if cfg!(windows) {
} else {

const _: () = assert!(std::mem::size_of::<usize>() == 8, "Only 64-bit platforms are supported");

if and match can also be used in the body of a const fn:

const fn gcd(a: u32, b: u32) -> u32 {
    match (a, b) {
        (x, 0) | (0, x) => x,

        (x, y) if x % 2 == 0 && y % 2 == 0 => 2*gcd(x/2, y/2),
        (x, y) | (y, x) if x % 2 == 0 => gcd(x/2, y),

        (x, y) if x < y => gcd((y-x)/2, x),
        (x, y) => gcd((x-y)/2, y),

What exactly is going on here?

The following expressions,

  • match
  • if and if let
  • && and ||

can now appear in any of the following contexts,

  • const fn bodies
  • const and associated const initializers
  • static and static mut initializers
  • array initializers
  • const generics (EXPERIMENTAL)

if #![feature(const_if_match)] is enabled for your crate.

You may have noticed that the short-circuiting logic operators, && and ||, were already legal in a const or static. This was accomplished by translating them to their non-short-circuiting equivalents, & and | respectively. Enabling the feature gate will turn off this hack and make && and || behave as you would expect.

As a side-effect of these changes, the assert and debug_assert macros become usable in a const context if #![feature(const_panic)] is also enabled. However, the other assert macros (e.g., assert_eq, debug_assert_ne) remain forbidden, since they need to call Debug::fmt on their arguments.

The looping constructs, while, for, and loop are also forbidden and will be feature-gated separately. As you have seen above, loops can be emulated with recursion as a temporary measure. However, the non-recursive version will usually be more efficient since rust does not (to my knowledge) do tail call optimization.

Finally, the ? operator remains forbidden in a const context, since its desugaring contains a call to From::from. The design for const trait methods is still being discussed, and both ? and for, which desugars to a call to IntoIterator::into_iter, will not be usable until a final decision is reached.

What's next?

This change will allow a great number of standard library functions to be made const. You can help with this process! To get started, here's a list of numeric functions that can be constified with little effort. Conversion to a const fn requires two steps. First, const is added to a function definition along with a #[rustc_const_unstable] attribute. This allows nightly users to call it in a const context. Then, after a period of experimentation, the attribute is removed and the constness of that function is stabilized. See #61635 for an example of the first step and #64028 for an example of the second.

Personally, I've looked forward to this feature for a long time, and I can't wait to start playing with it. If you feel the same, I would greatly appreciate if you tested the limits of this feature! Try to sneak Cells and types with Drop impls into places they shouldn't be allowed, blow up the stack with poorly implemented recursive functions (see gcd above), and let us know if something goes horribly wrong.

What took you so long?

The Miri engine, which rust uses under the hood for compile-time function evaluation, has been capable of this for a while now. However, rust needs to statically guarantee certain properties about variables in a const, such as whether they allow for interior mutability or whether they have a Drop implementation that needs to be called. For example, we must reject the following code since it would result in a const being mutable at runtime!

const CELL: &std::cell::Cell<i32> = &std::cell::Cell::new(42); // Not allowed...

fn main() {
    println!("{}", CELL.get()); // otherwise this could print `0`!!!

However, it is sometimes okay for a const to contain a reference to a type that may have interior mutability, as long as we can prove that the actual value of that type does not. This is particularly useful for enums with a "unit variant" (e.g., Option::None).

const NO_CELL: Option<&std::cell::Cell<i32>> = None; // OK

A more detailed (but non-normative) treatment of the rules for Drop and for interior mutability in a const context can be found on the const-eval repo.

It is not trivial to guarantee properties about the value of a variable when complex control flow such as loops and conditionals is involved. Implementing this feature required extending the existing dataflow framework in rust so that we could properly track the value of each local across the control-flow graph. At the moment, the analysis is very conservative, especially when values are moved in and out of compound data types. For example, the following will not compile, even when the feature gate is enabled.

const fn imprecise() -> Vec<i32> {
    let tuple: (Vec<i32>,) = (Vec::new(),);

Even though the Vec created by Vec::new will never actually be dropped inside the const fn, we don't detect that all fields of tuple have been moved out of, and thus conservatively assume that the drop impl for tuple will run. While this particular case is trivial, there are other, more complex ones that would require a more comprehensive solution. It is an open question how precise we want to be here, since more precision means longer compile times, even for users that have no need for more expressiveness.