Exercise 4: Expression Metavariables

We can now capture fragments of Rust code that are literals, however there are other fragments of Rust code which can be captured in metavariables. In general, every metavariable is of the form $<NAME>:<FRAGSPEC>. <NAME> is replaced with the name of the metavariable, but FRAGSPEC is more interesting. It means "Fragment Specifier", and it tells you what sort of fragment of Rust code you intend to match. We've already seen literal, but another common fragment specifier is expr, which allows you to capture any Rust expression (for example, (3 * 5) or function_call() + CONSTANT).

Using this specifier is nearly identical to using the literal fragment specifier: $x:expr indicates a metavariable, which is an expression, named x.

It's also worth mentioning the fragment specifier stmt, which is similar to expr, but allows Rust statements too, like let statements.

Macros and the Precedence of Operators

Macros do not affect the order of operations. If the expression 3 * math!(4, plus, 2) expands to 3 * 4 + 2, the answer will be 14, not 18 (as you might expect from the brackets).

"Follow-set Ambiguity Rules"

The Rust parser needs to have some way of knowing where a metavariable ends. If it didn't, expressions like $first:expr $second:expr would be confusing to parse in some circumstances. For example, how would you parse a * b * c * d? Would first be a, and second be *b * c * d? Or would first be a * b * c, and second be * d?

To avoid this problem entirely, Rust has a set of rules called the "follow-set ambiguity rules". These tell you which tokens are allowed to follow a metavariable (and which aren't).

For literals, this rule is simple: anything can follow a literal metavariable.

For expr (and its friend stmt) the rules are much more restrictive: they can only be followed by => or , or ;.

This means that building a matcher like

macro_rules! broken_macro {
    ($a:expr please) => $a

fn main() {
    // Fails to compile!
    let value = broken_macro!(3 + 5 please);

will give you this compiler error:

error: `$a:expr` is followed by `please`, which is not allowed for `expr` fragments
 --> broken_macro.rs:2:14
2 |     ($a:expr please) => { $a }
  |              ^^^^^^ not allowed after `expr` fragments
  = note: allowed there are: `=>`, `,` or `;`

As we encounter more expression types, we'll make sure to mention their follow-set rules, but this page in the Rust reference has a comprehensive list of the rules for each fragment specifier type.

Exercise 4: Expression Variables

In this task, you will be completing a similar task to the previous one. Last time, your macro should have worked with any literal, but now we would like a macro which works with any expression.

  • The syntax math!(3, plus, (5 + 6)) should expand to 3 + (5 + 6), where 3 and (5 + 6) could be any expression.
  • The syntax math!(square my_expression) should expand to my_expression * my_expression, where my_expression could be any expression.

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

fn main() {
    let var = 5;
    print_result((2 * 3) + var);
    print_result(var * var);