Compiler Plugins

Warning: Plugins are an advanced, unstable feature! For many details, the only available documentation is the libsyntax and librustc API docs, or even the source code itself. These internal compiler APIs are also subject to change at any time.

For defining new syntax it is often much easier to use Rust's built-in macro system.

The code in this document uses language features not covered in the Rust Guide. See the Reference Manual for more information.


rustc can load compiler plugins, which are user-provided libraries that extend the compiler's behavior with new syntax extensions, lint checks, etc.

A plugin is a dynamic library crate with a designated registrar function that registers extensions with rustc. Other crates can load these extensions using the crate attribute #![plugin(...)]. See the rustc::plugin documentation for more about the mechanics of defining and loading a plugin.

If present, arguments passed as #![plugin(foo(... args ...))] are not interpreted by rustc itself. They are provided to the plugin through the Registry's args method.

In the vast majority of cases, a plugin should only be used through #![plugin] and not through an extern crate item. Linking a plugin would pull in all of libsyntax and librustc as dependencies of your crate. This is generally unwanted unless you are building another plugin. The plugin_as_library lint checks these guidelines.

The usual practice is to put compiler plugins in their own crate, separate from any macro_rules! macros or ordinary Rust code meant to be used by consumers of a library.

Syntax extensions

Plugins can extend Rust's syntax in various ways. One kind of syntax extension is the procedural macro. These are invoked the same way as ordinary macros, but the expansion is performed by arbitrary Rust code that manipulates syntax trees at compile time.

Let's write a plugin that implements Roman numeral integer literals.


extern crate syntax;
extern crate rustc;

use syntax::codemap::Span;
use syntax::parse::token;
use syntax::ast::{TokenTree, TtToken};
use syntax::ext::base::{ExtCtxt, MacResult, DummyResult, MacExpr};
use syntax::ext::build::AstBuilder;  // trait for expr_uint
use rustc::plugin::Registry;

fn expand_rn(cx: &mut ExtCtxt, sp: Span, args: &[TokenTree])
        -> Box<MacResult + 'static> {

    static NUMERALS: &'static [(&'static str, u32)] = &[
        ("M", 1000), ("CM", 900), ("D", 500), ("CD", 400),
        ("C",  100), ("XC",  90), ("L",  50), ("XL",  40),
        ("X",   10), ("IX",   9), ("V",   5), ("IV",   4),
        ("I",    1)];

    let text = match args {
        [TtToken(_, token::Ident(s, _))] => token::get_ident(s).to_string(),
        _ => {
            cx.span_err(sp, "argument should be a single identifier");
            return DummyResult::any(sp);

    let mut text = &text;
    let mut total = 0;
    while !text.is_empty() {
        match NUMERALS.iter().find(|&&(rn, _)| text.starts_with(rn)) {
            Some(&(rn, val)) => {
                total += val;
                text = text.slice_from(rn.len());
            None => {
                cx.span_err(sp, "invalid Roman numeral");
                return DummyResult::any(sp);

    MacExpr::new(cx.expr_uint(sp, total))

pub fn plugin_registrar(reg: &mut Registry) {
    reg.register_macro("rn", expand_rn);

Then we can use rn!() like any other macro:


fn main() {
    assert_eq!(rn!(MMXV), 2015);

The advantages over a simple fn(&str) -> u32 are:

In addition to procedural macros, you can define new derive-like attributes and other kinds of extensions. See Registry::register_syntax_extension and the SyntaxExtension enum. For a more involved macro example, see regex_macros.

Tips and tricks

To see the results of expanding syntax extensions, run rustc --pretty expanded. The output represents a whole crate, so you can also feed it back in to rustc, which will sometimes produce better error messages than the original compilation. Note that the --pretty expanded output may have a different meaning if multiple variables of the same name (but different syntax contexts) are in play in the same scope. In this case --pretty expanded,hygiene will tell you about the syntax contexts.

You can use syntax::parse to turn token trees into higher-level syntax elements like expressions:

fn expand_foo(cx: &mut ExtCtxt, sp: Span, args: &[TokenTree])
        -> Box<MacResult+'static> {

    let mut parser = cx.new_parser_from_tts(args);

    let expr: P<Expr> = parser.parse_expr();

Looking through libsyntax parser code will give you a feel for how the parsing infrastructure works.

Keep the Spans of everything you parse, for better error reporting. You can wrap Spanned around your custom data structures.

Calling ExtCtxt::span_fatal will immediately abort compilation. It's better to instead call ExtCtxt::span_err and return DummyResult, so that the compiler can continue and find further errors.

The example above produced an integer literal using AstBuilder::expr_uint. As an alternative to the AstBuilder trait, libsyntax provides a set of quasiquote macros. They are undocumented and very rough around the edges. However, the implementation may be a good starting point for an improved quasiquote as an ordinary plugin library.

Lint plugins

Plugins can extend Rust's lint infrastructure with additional checks for code style, safety, etc. You can see src/test/auxiliary/ for a full example, the core of which is reproduced here:

declare_lint!(TEST_LINT, Warn,
              "Warn about items named 'lintme'")

struct Pass;

impl LintPass for Pass {
    fn get_lints(&self) -> LintArray {

    fn check_item(&mut self, cx: &Context, it: &ast::Item) {
        let name = token::get_ident(it.ident);
        if name.get() == "lintme" {
            cx.span_lint(TEST_LINT, it.span, "item is named 'lintme'");

pub fn plugin_registrar(reg: &mut Registry) {
    reg.register_lint_pass(box Pass as LintPassObject);

Then code like


fn lintme() { }

will produce a compiler warning: 4:16 warning: item is named 'lintme', #[warn(test_lint)] on by default fn lintme() { }

The components of a lint plugin are:

Lint passes are syntax traversals, but they run at a late stage of compilation where type information is available. rustc's built-in lints mostly use the same infrastructure as lint plugins, and provide examples of how to access type information.

Lints defined by plugins are controlled by the usual attributes and compiler flags, e.g. #[allow(test_lint)] or -A test-lint. These identifiers are derived from the first argument to declare_lint!, with appropriate case and punctuation conversion.

You can run rustc -W help to see a list of lints known to rustc, including those provided by plugins loaded by