Atharva Pandey/Traits: Advanced Trait Concepts and Dynamic Dispatch in Rust (Part 2)

Created Wed, 28 Feb 2024 18:30:00 +0000 Modified Wed, 28 Feb 2024 18:30:00 +0000

Trait Objects and Dynamic Dispatch

In Rust, polymorphism achieved through traits can take two forms: static and dynamic dispatch. Static dispatch is like knowing exactly what tool you’re going to use for a job, making it fast and efficient. Dynamic dispatch, on the other hand, is more flexible, allowing you to choose the right tool while the job is already underway.

Understanding Trait Objects and dyn Keyword

Trait objects with the dyn keyword allow for this kind of runtime flexibility. Imagine you’re a chef with a set of kitchen tools (each representing a type). Each tool has a special function, like chopping, stirring, or scooping. In Rust, these functions are like traits, and the tools are the types that implement these traits.

Using dyn is like telling Rust: “I’m going to need a tool that can perform a certain function, but I’ll decide which one to use as I go.” This is incredibly useful when your Rust program needs the flexibility to work with different types at runtime, but it still ensures that each type can perform the function required by the trait.

Dynamic Dispatch in Action: A Simplified Explanation

When you decide on a tool to use (i.e., when a method is called on a trait object), Rust looks through a special list (the “vtable” virtual method table that maps trait methods to their concrete implementations.) to find out exactly how that tool performs the required function. This step is necessary because, with dyn, Rust doesn’t know in advance which type (tool) you’ll choose, only that it will be capable of the function (trait) you need.

This flexibility is like being able to surprise your dinner guests with an array of dishes, deciding how to prepare each one on the fly. However, it does require Rust to do a bit more work, looking up how each tool works every time you use it, which can make things a tad slower (this is the runtime overhead).

trait UseTool {
    fn use_tool(& self);

struct Knife;
struct Spoon;
struct Whisk;

impl UseTool for Knife {
  fn use_tool(&self) {
    println!("Chopping with the knife!");

impl UseTool for Spoon {
  fn use_tool(&self) {
    println!("Scooping with the spoon!");

impl UseTool for Whisk {
  fn use_tool(&self) {
    println!("Whisking with the whisk!");

fn use_kitchen_tool(tool: & dyn UseTool) {

fn main() {
  let knife = Knife;
  let spoon = Spoon;
  let whisk = Whisk;

  // Decide at runtime which tool to use
  use_kitchen_tool(& knife);
  use_kitchen_tool(& spoon);
  use_kitchen_tool(& whisk);

Why Dynamic Dispatch?

Dynamic dispatch with dyn and trait objects is about valuing flexibility and the ability to make decisions at runtime, especially when dealing with a variety of types that share common behavior. It’s a trade-off, opting for the capability to handle diverse scenarios over the raw speed of knowing everything upfront with static dispatch.

Associated Types in Traits

Moving on from dynamic dispatch, let’s explore associated types, another advanced feature that enhances the expressiveness and utility of Rust traits.

Defining and Using Associated Types

Associated types allow a trait to specify a placeholder type that implementing types must define. This is particularly useful when a trait’s methods need to return or accept values of a type that should be specified by the implementor.

Consider a simple Graph trait with an associated type Node:

trait Graph {
  type Node;
    fn add_node(& mut self, node: Self:: Node);
    fn has_node(& self, node: & Self:: Node) -> bool;

Here, Node is an associated type that each implementation of Graph must specify, allowing for a flexible yet type-safe graph interface.

Enhancing Generic Implementations with Associated Types

Associated types help in writing more generic and reusable code. By defining a trait with associated types, we can create implementations that are tailored to specific use cases while adhering to a consistent interface defined by the trait

Special Traits in Rust

Rust has several special traits that have a significant impact on how types behave. Traits like Clone, Copy, PartialEq, and others can provide essential capabilities or enforce certain constraints on types.

Exploring Clone, Copy, PartialEq, and More

  • Clone and Copy: These traits control how objects are duplicated. Copy is for simple bitwise duplication, while Clone can involve more complex logic for deep copying.
  • PartialEq and Eq: These traits enable comparison operations. PartialEq allows for partial equality checks, while Eq implies a stricter, full equivalence between values.

Understanding and implementing these special traits can greatly enhance the functionality and usability of your custom types in Rust.

Wrapping Up

Today, we’ve ventured further into Rust’s trait system, uncovering the depths of dynamic dispatch, the versatility of associated types, and the utility of special traits. These advanced features unlock new levels of expressiveness and power in Rust programming, allowing us to write more flexible, reusable, and safe code.

In our next and final installment, we’ll tackle some of the edge cases and best practices around Rust traits, ensuring you’re well-equipped to harness their full potential in your Rust projects. Until then, happy coding, and may your exploration of Rust traits be as enlightening as it is enjoyable!