Exercise 3: Literal Metavariables

In the last exercise, we saw how we could change the behaviour of a macro based on text inside the brackets. This is great, but it's basically an if statement on the text inside the brackets: it's very simplistic.

Now we will introduce the concept of a "metavariable". Metavariables capture a particular part of the text inside the macro's brackets, and let you reuse it.

The syntax for a metavariable is simple. To explain the syntax, see the example below:

macro_rules! do_thing {
    (print $metavar:literal) => {
        println!("{}", $metavar)
    };
}

The $metavar:literal is saying that you're capturing any literal (which is something like 'a', or 3, or "hello"), and naming it metavar. Then, $metavar inside the println! is saying to "fill in" that space with whatever metavar is.

For an invocation like

macro_rules! do_thing {
    (print $metavar:literal) => {
        println!("{}", $metavar)
    };
}

fn main() {
do_thing!(print 3);
}

Rust understands that metavar means 3. So, when doing substitution, it starts by writing

println!("{}", $metavar);

and then substitutes 3 for $metavar:

fn main() {
println!("{}", 3);
}

But what about types?

You might be wondering why we haven't said anything about the type of the literal. It turns out that the type doesn't matter during macro expansion. Rather than needing the type, Rust just needs to know what sort of syntax to expect. If you tried to provide a variable name, and you needed a literal, Rust will throw an error. If you needed a string literal, and you provided a char literal, then Rust will happily expand the code. It'll throw an error later on in the compilation process, as if you had written the expanded code.

Why do these examples avoid using macros?

The example above uses the println! macro inside the print_me macro. Rust is totally fine with this! However, macrokata tries to avoid (as much as possible) using macros we didn't define inside the main function. The reason for this is that, if we did use println! you would see its expansion as well. That could be confusing, since

print("some text")

is much easier to read than

    {
        ::std::io::_print(
            ::core::fmt::Arguments::new_v1(
                &["some text"],
                &[],
            ),
        );
    };

Exercise 3: Literal Meta-Variables

Your task is to create a macro which can perform two small bits of math:

  • The syntax math!(3 plus 5) should expand to 3 + 5, where 3 and 5 could be any literal.
  • The syntax math!(square 2) should expand to 2 * 2, where 2 could be any literal.

You may not edit the main function, but it should eventually look like the following:

fn main() {
    print_result(3 + 5);
    print_result(2 * 2);
}