Type-Driven API Design in Rust

This book is for people who are writing APIs in Rust. In particular, APIs that involve complex abstractions: variadics, state machines, extensible architectures, and so on.

The central theme is how to enforce API design by replacing dynamically-typed abstractions with statically-typed ones.

To understand this book's content, you should be familiar with Rust's core features: ownership, generics, traits, closures — anything covered in TRPL.

A prototypical example: enums over strings

A basic example of this theme is using enums to represent a finite set of options, rather than a string. Imagine trying to convert a description of a primary color to an RGB tuple. This API design is error-prone:

fn main() {
fn color_to_rgb_bad(color: &str) -> Option<(u8, u8, u8)> {
  match color {
    "Red" => Some((255, 0, 0)),
    "Yellow" => Some((255, 255, 0)),
    "Blue" => Some((0, 0, 255)),
    _ => None

While this design avoids errors:

fn main() {
enum PrimaryColor { Red, Yellow, Blue }
fn color_to_rgb_good(color: PrimaryColor) -> (u8, u8, u8) {
  match color {
    PrimaryColor::Red => (255, 0, 0),
    PrimaryColor::Yellow => (255, 255, 0),
    PrimaryColor::Blue => (0, 0, 255)

Specifically, errors could happen either for a API client or the API author:

  • For a API client, the color parameter in the first example is an dynamically-typed (or "stringly-typed") abstraction because the compiler cannot verify whether a call to color_to_rgb_bad will always contain one of the three strings. By contrast, in color_to_rgb_good, the input is guaranteed to be one of the enum values. Consequently, the Option is removed from the type signature because the method can no longer fail.
  • For the API author, the compiler does not enforce that the implementation of color_to_rgb_bad matches on the strings intended by the author. If they wrote "Rod" instead of "Red", the error would only arise in a unit test or client bug report. By contrast, the compiler enforces that each enum variants must be one of the three enum values.

What if you need to take &str as input, e.g. from a user at the command line? Then don't try to accomplish two things in one function. Define a separate function:

fn parse(input: &str) -> Option<PrimaryColor>

Check out "Parse, don't validate" for a deeper philosophy on this style of design.

Book structure

The remainder of the book is structured much like the example above.

  1. I'll describe a pattern that arises in API design, like having multiple options as a function input.
  2. I'll show how a general mechanism, like enums, can encode aspects of the design into types.
  3. I'll go through what errors can happen in each flavor of API.

You can consume this book à la carte, reading individual chapters as they're useful to you. But each chapter does (somewhat) build on the previous ones, so you may enjoy a start-to-finish read as well.