Functions

Every Rust program has at least one function, the main function:

fn main() {
}

This is the simplest possible function declaration. As we mentioned before, fn says ‘this is a function’, followed by the name, some parentheses because this function takes no arguments, and then some curly braces to indicate the body. Here’s a function named foo:

fn foo() {
}

So, what about taking arguments? Here’s a function that prints a number:

fn print_number(x: i32) {
    println!("x is: {}", x);
}

Here’s a complete program that uses print_number:

fn main() {
    print_number(5);
}

fn print_number(x: i32) {
    println!("x is: {}", x);
}

As you can see, function arguments work very similar to let declarations: you add a type to the argument name, after a colon.

Here’s a complete program that adds two numbers together and prints them:

fn main() {
    print_sum(5, 6);
}

fn print_sum(x: i32, y: i32) {
    println!("sum is: {}", x + y);
}

You separate arguments with a comma, both when you call the function, as well as when you declare it.

Unlike let, you must declare the types of function arguments. This does not work:

fn print_sum(x, y) {
    println!("sum is: {}", x + y);
}

You get this error:

expected one of `!`, `:`, or `@`, found `)`
fn print_sum(x, y) {

This is a deliberate design decision. While full-program inference is possible, languages which have it, like Haskell, often suggest that documenting your types explicitly is a best-practice. We agree that forcing functions to declare types while allowing for inference inside of function bodies is a wonderful sweet spot between full inference and no inference.

What about returning a value? Here’s a function that adds one to an integer:

fn add_one(x: i32) -> i32 {
    x + 1
}

Rust functions return exactly one value, and you declare the type after an ‘arrow’, which is a dash (-) followed by a greater-than sign (>). The last line of a function determines what it returns. You’ll note the lack of a semicolon here. If we added it in:

fn add_one(x: i32) -> i32 {
    x + 1;
}

We would get an error:

error: not all control paths return a value
fn add_one(x: i32) -> i32 {
     x + 1;
}

help: consider removing this semicolon:
     x + 1;
          ^

This reveals two interesting things about Rust: it is an expression-based language, and semicolons are different from semicolons in other ‘curly brace and semicolon’-based languages. These two things are related.

Expressions vs. Statements

Rust is primarily an expression-based language. There are only two kinds of statements, and everything else is an expression.

So what's the difference? Expressions return a value, and statements do not. That’s why we end up with ‘not all control paths return a value’ here: the statement x + 1; doesn’t return a value. There are two kinds of statements in Rust: ‘declaration statements’ and ‘expression statements’. Everything else is an expression. Let’s talk about declaration statements first.

In some languages, variable bindings can be written as expressions, not statements. Like Ruby:

x = y = 5

In Rust, however, using let to introduce a binding is not an expression. The following will produce a compile-time error:

let x = (let y = 5); // expected identifier, found keyword `let`

The compiler is telling us here that it was expecting to see the beginning of an expression, and a let can only begin a statement, not an expression.

Note that assigning to an already-bound variable (e.g. y = 5) is still an expression, although its value is not particularly useful. Unlike other languages where an assignment evaluates to the assigned value (e.g. 5 in the previous example), in Rust the value of an assignment is an empty tuple () because the assigned value can have only one owner, and any other returned value would be too surprising:

let mut y = 5;

let x = (y = 6);  // x has the value `()`, not `6`

The second kind of statement in Rust is the expression statement. Its purpose is to turn any expression into a statement. In practical terms, Rust's grammar expects statements to follow other statements. This means that you use semicolons to separate expressions from each other. This means that Rust looks a lot like most other languages that require you to use semicolons at the end of every line, and you will see semicolons at the end of almost every line of Rust code you see.

What is this exception that makes us say "almost"? You saw it already, in this code:

fn add_one(x: i32) -> i32 {
    x + 1
}

Our function claims to return an i32, but with a semicolon, it would return () instead. Rust realizes this probably isn’t what we want, and suggests removing the semicolon in the error we saw before.

Early returns

But what about early returns? Rust does have a keyword for that, return:

fn foo(x: i32) -> i32 {
    return x;

    // we never run this code!
    x + 1
}

Using a return as the last line of a function works, but is considered poor style:

fn foo(x: i32) -> i32 {
    return x + 1;
}

The previous definition without return may look a bit strange if you haven’t worked in an expression-based language before, but it becomes intuitive over time.

Diverging functions

Rust has some special syntax for ‘diverging functions’, which are functions that do not return:

fn diverges() -> ! {
    panic!("This function never returns!");
}

panic! is a macro, similar to println!() that we’ve already seen. Unlike println!(), panic!() causes the current thread of execution to crash with the given message. Because this function will cause a crash, it will never return, and so it has the type ‘!’, which is read ‘diverges’.

If you add a main function that calls diverges() and run it, you’ll get some output that looks like this:

thread ‘<main>’ panicked at ‘This function never returns!’, hello.rs:2

If you want more information, you can get a backtrace by setting the RUST_BACKTRACE environment variable:

$ RUST_BACKTRACE=1 ./diverges
thread '<main>' panicked at 'This function never returns!', hello.rs:2
stack backtrace:
   1:     0x7f402773a829 - sys::backtrace::write::h0942de78b6c02817K8r
   2:     0x7f402773d7fc - panicking::on_panic::h3f23f9d0b5f4c91bu9w
   3:     0x7f402773960e - rt::unwind::begin_unwind_inner::h2844b8c5e81e79558Bw
   4:     0x7f4027738893 - rt::unwind::begin_unwind::h4375279447423903650
   5:     0x7f4027738809 - diverges::h2266b4c4b850236beaa
   6:     0x7f40277389e5 - main::h19bb1149c2f00ecfBaa
   7:     0x7f402773f514 - rt::unwind::try::try_fn::h13186883479104382231
   8:     0x7f402773d1d8 - __rust_try
   9:     0x7f402773f201 - rt::lang_start::ha172a3ce74bb453aK5w
  10:     0x7f4027738a19 - main
  11:     0x7f402694ab44 - __libc_start_main
  12:     0x7f40277386c8 - <unknown>
  13:                0x0 - <unknown>

RUST_BACKTRACE also works with Cargo’s run command:

$ RUST_BACKTRACE=1 cargo run
     Running `target/debug/diverges`
thread '<main>' panicked at 'This function never returns!', hello.rs:2
stack backtrace:
   1:     0x7f402773a829 - sys::backtrace::write::h0942de78b6c02817K8r
   2:     0x7f402773d7fc - panicking::on_panic::h3f23f9d0b5f4c91bu9w
   3:     0x7f402773960e - rt::unwind::begin_unwind_inner::h2844b8c5e81e79558Bw
   4:     0x7f4027738893 - rt::unwind::begin_unwind::h4375279447423903650
   5:     0x7f4027738809 - diverges::h2266b4c4b850236beaa
   6:     0x7f40277389e5 - main::h19bb1149c2f00ecfBaa
   7:     0x7f402773f514 - rt::unwind::try::try_fn::h13186883479104382231
   8:     0x7f402773d1d8 - __rust_try
   9:     0x7f402773f201 - rt::lang_start::ha172a3ce74bb453aK5w
  10:     0x7f4027738a19 - main
  11:     0x7f402694ab44 - __libc_start_main
  12:     0x7f40277386c8 - <unknown>
  13:                0x0 - <unknown>

A diverging function can be used as any type:

# fn diverges() -> ! {
#    panic!("This function never returns!");
# }
let x: i32 = diverges();
let x: String = diverges();

Function pointers

We can also create variable bindings which point to functions:

let f: fn(i32) -> i32;

f is a variable binding which points to a function that takes an i32 as an argument and returns an i32. For example:

fn plus_one(i: i32) -> i32 {
    i + 1
}

// without type inference
let f: fn(i32) -> i32 = plus_one;

// with type inference
let f = plus_one;

We can then use f to call the function:

# fn plus_one(i: i32) -> i32 { i + 1 }
# let f = plus_one;
let six = f(5);