Erik Simmler

Internaut, software developer and irregular rambler

Simplifying a toy logic programming library

TLDR: I made a toy logic programming library in Rust called Canrun (original announcement). I just published a new version with fixes for several serious design flaws: canrun v0.4.0 on

One design challenge in building out the early versions of Canrun was how to store a mix of arbitrary types. I eventually settled on an approach where you had to explicitly define your “domain” up front.

I learned enough about procedural macros to cobble together a relatively clean API:

domain! {
    pub MyDomain { i32, String }

This wasn’t terrible in practice, but it had several undesirable ramifications.

Everything needed to be parameterized with the domain currently in use. This didn’t seem to cause any unsolvable problems, but it did mean that constraints like D: DomainType<'a, T> became a pervasive and often confusing addition to nearly every other part of the library.

I wanted to take another stab at this. I knew the answer probably involved using std::any, but the first time around I got lost in a morass of lifetime and object safety woes. I wish I’d kept better notes on what exactly didn’t work before. But I got it working this time!

Now everything is better. Here’s the core of the new State struct. No more type parameters needed!

pub struct State {
	values: im_rc::HashMap<VarId, AnyVal>,
	forks: im_rc::Vector<Rc<dyn Fork>>,
	constraints: MKMVMap<VarId, Rc<dyn Constraint>>,

For comparison, here’s the old State, with a lifetime AND domain param.

pub struct State<'a, D: Domain<'a> + 'a> {
	domain: D,
	forks: im_rc::Vector<Rc<dyn Fork<'a, D> + 'a>>,
	constraints: MKMVMap<LVarId, Rc<dyn Constraint<'a, D> + 'a>>,

Note the domain: D field, which is what gets filled in by that domain! proc macro. It worked, but good luck trying to actually follow the tendrils without a guide.

The type simplification radiated out into every other part of the library. With a few exceptions, the changes were mechanical and consisted primarily of removing things. For example, here’s the where clause from lvec::get function in the old version:

T: UnifyIn<'a, D> + 'a,
LVec<T>: UnifyIn<'a, D>,
IntoT: IntoVal<T>,
Index: IntoVal<usize>,
Collection: IntoVal<LVec<T>>,
D: DomainType<'a, usize> + DomainType<'a, T> + DomainType<'a, LVec<T>>,

And the new version:

T: Unify,
IntoT: Into<Value<T>>,
Index: Into<Value<usize>>,
Collection: Into<Value<LVec<T>>>,

No more weird, interlocking DomainType<'a, T>' and UnifyIn<'a, D> constraints. No more explicit lifetimes. Before, because of the trickiness of how all the types fit together, I hadn’t been able to get the regular From/Into implementations reliably working for Value and so made a custom IntoVal trait. The new version has a few extra characters, but is much more “normal”.

Bonus: Goal is now a trait instead of an enum

Another compromise I previously made in the face of type complexity was to let Goal be an enum instead of a trait that could be implemented by library users. This wasn’t too bad in practice, but it still felt ugly and arbitrary. Now the new Goal trait can be implemented for custom types.


I still consider this little project a personal success. Even if I never get around to using this for what I originally intended, I’ve a learned a ton about both logic programming and Rust.