Exercise 9: Ambiguity and Ordering

Up until this point, we've mostly been dealing with macros with a single rule. We saw earlier that macros can require more than one rule, but so far we've never had ambiguity in which rule should be followed.

There are, however, multiple circumstances where rules could have ambiguity, so it's important to understand how macros deal with that ambiguity.

The following is adapted from the rust documentation on macros:

  • When a macro is invoked (i.e. someone writes my_macro!()), the compiler looks for a macro with that name, and tries each rule in turn.

  • To try a rule, it reads through each token in the parser in turn. There are three possibilities:

    1. The token found matches the matcher. In this case, it keeps parsing the next token. If there are no tokens left, and the matcher is complete, then the rule matches.
    2. The token found does not match the matcher. In this case, Rust tries the next rule. If there are no rules left, an error is raised as the macro cannot be expanded.
    3. The rule is ambiguous. In other words, it's not clear from just this token what to do. If this happens, this is an error.
  • If it finds a rule that matches the tokens inside the brackets; it starts transcribing. Once a match is found, no more rules are examined.

Let's have a look at some examples:

macro_rules! ambiguity {
    ($($i:ident)* $j:ident) => { };

fn main() {

This example fails because Rust is not able to determine what $j should be just by looking at the current token. If Rust could look forward, it would see that $j must be followed by a ), but it cannot, so it causes an error.

macro_rules! ordering {
    ($j:expr) => { "This was an expression" };
    ($j:literal) => { "This was a literal" };

fn main() {
let expr1 = ordering!('a');  // => "This was an expression".
let expr1 = ordering!(3 + 5);  // => "This was an expression".

This example demonstrates an example where Rust macros can behave strangely due to ordering rules: even though literal is a much stricter condition than expr, because literals are exprs, the first rule will always match.

Exercise 9: Ambiguity and Ordering

This task is a little bit different to previous tasks: we have given you a partially functional macro already, along with some invocations of that macro.

You should adjust the macro's rules and syntax to make sure that you achieve the correct behaviour without any ambiguity.

  • sum!() should sum together two or more expressions together.
  • get_number_type!() should determine what sort of Rust syntax is being used: a positive literal, a negative literal, a block, or an expression.

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

fn main() {
            let x = 6;
    NumberType::UnknownBecauseExpr(1 + 2 + 3 + 4).show();
    NumberType::UnknownBecauseExpr(3 + 5 - 1).show();