the_oxidation[2]: Bending Rust to my will

So this post isn’t actually on Paramin, its based on another Rust project, yallvm.

I was writing an abstract syntax tree (AST), made up of structs and nodes.

So to start with, I got some basics going:

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
pub enum Expr {

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
pub struct StrLitExpr {
  pub span: Span,
  pub value: Vec<StrLitPart>,

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
pub enum StrLitPart {

The functionality we want

Now, wouldn’t it be really nice if we could convert the AST nodes into the respective enums?

Well we could use the From trait to do this. One already exists for boxing which is helpful:

let myNode: StrLitExpr = ...;
let boxed: Boxed<StrLitExpr> = myNode.into();

But what about converting the StrLitExpr into an Expr?

Well we can simply implement it:

impl From<StrLitExpr> for Expr {
  fn from(item: StrLitExpr) -> Expr {

And to make it easy to box at the same time, let’s add another:

impl From<StrLitExpr> for Box<Expr> {
  fn from(item: StrLitExpr) -> Box<Expr> {
    // this into() references the previously written trait

Automation & setup

Okay, so first off, we’re writing a derive macro, which is a kind of proc macro.

Start by creating a lib crate, and adding the syn and quote packages:

cargo new --lib yallvm_macros
cd yallvm_macros
cargo add syn
cargo add quote

Now, go into Cargo.toml and make sure the lib section is just:

proc-macro = true

Finally, we can start macroing!

Derive macros are basically just functions that take a stream of tokens for the target, and return a stream of tokens to be new code:

extern crate proc_macro;

use proc_macro::{Span, TokenStream};
use quote::quote;
use syn::{parse_macro_input, DeriveInput, Ident};

pub fn derive_ast_node(input: TokenStream) -> TokenStream {

Now, the two crates we added earlier were syn and quote.

Syn’s job is to parse the tokenstream we are given and to give us back some useful information, in this case, the name of the target struct/enum.

Quote’s job is to let us write Rust code with interpolated in tokens, to let us write new code easily.

Here’s a really basic example of using quote:

let helo = Ident::new("hello_there", ...);
let quoteTokStream = quote! {
  pub fn #helo() -> i32 {
let rustTokStream: TokStream = quoteTokStream.into();

Which creates the following code when expanded:

pub fn hello_there() -> i32 {

Time to write a macro

The first thing to write is a list of enums we care about, which we can do at the top level:

const ENUMS: &[(&str, &str)] = &[
  // crate::stmts::Stmt
  ("Stmt", "stmts"),
  ("Expr", "exprs"),
  ("Member", "classes"),
  ("CollectionItem", "exprs"),

And a utility function, just because it’ll be useful easier:

fn remove_last_chars(amt: usize, s: &String) -> Option<String> {
  let len = s.chars().count();
  let mut s = s.clone();
  if amt > len {
  } else {
    s.drain(len - amt..len);

Now, the first thing we want to do is get the name of the target struct:

// get the name of the struct we are deriving on
let name_ident = (parse_macro_input!(input as DeriveInput)).ident;
let name_str = name_ident.to_string();

And now loop over all of the enums, and also check now for only the ones we care about:

for (enum_name, submod_name) in ENUMS {
  if !name_str.ends_with(enum_name) {

Now, we can trim the enum name to get the name of the enum case (StrLitExpr - Expr = StrLit, etc.):

let trimmed_name = remove_last_chars(enum_name.len(), &name_str);
let trimmed_name = match trimmed_name {
  Some(s) => s,
  None => continue,

if trimmed_name.is_empty() {

Now, we have everything we need, so we’ll turn them into idents:

let trimmed_name = Ident::new(&trimmed_name.as_str(), name_ident.span());
let enum_name = Ident::new(enum_name, Span::call_site().into());
let submod_name = Ident::new(submod_name, Span::call_site().into());

And finally, we’ll construct the relevant From<> impls from before:

return quote! {
  impl From<#name_ident> for crate::#submod_name::#enum_name {
    fn from(item: #name_ident) -> crate::#submod_name::#enum_name {

  impl From<#name_ident> for Box<crate::#submod_name::#enum_name> {
    fn from(item: #name_ident) -> Box<crate::#submod_name::#enum_name> {

Finally, outside of the for loop, in case none of the enums match, we’ll add a fallback:

// we didn't implement any enums, so return empty

And there we go! Add #[derive(Ast)] to our stuff, and we get automatic type conversions 🎉!

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