#design-patterns

The Typestate Pattern in Rust

The typestate pattern is an API design pattern that encodes information about an object's run-time state in its compile-time type. In particular, an API using the typestate pattern will have:

  1. Operations on an object (such as methods or functions) that are only available when the object is in certain states,

  2. A way of encoding these states at the type level, such that attempts to use the operations in the wrong state fail to compile,

  3. State transition operations (methods or functions) that change the type-level state of objects in addition to, or instead of, changing run-time dynamic state, such that the operations in the previous state are no longer possible.

This is useful because:

  • It moves certain types of errors from run-time to compile-time, giving programmers faster feedback.
  • It interacts nicely with IDEs, which can avoid suggesting operations that are illegal in a certain state.
  • It can eliminate run-time checks, making code faster/smaller.

This pattern is so easy in Rust that it's almost obvious, to the point that you may have already written code that uses it, perhaps without realizing it. Interestingly, it's very difficult to implement in most other programming languages — most of them fail to satisfy items number 2 and/or 3 above.

I haven't seen a detailed examination of the nuances of this pattern, so here's my contribution.