Generic Types


In Sway, generic types follow a very similar pattern to those in Rust. Let's look at some example syntax, starting with a generic function:

fn noop<T>(argument: T) -> T {

Here, the noop() function trivially returns exactly what was given to it. T is a type parameter, and it says that this function exists for all types T. More formally, this function could be typed as:

noop :: ∀T. T -> T

Generic types are a way to refer to types in general, meaning without specifying a single type. Our noop function would work with any type in the language, so we don't need to specify noop(argument: u8) -> u8, noop(argument: u16) -> u16, etc.

Code Generation

One question that arises when dealing with generic types is: how does the assembly handle this? There are a few approaches to handling generic types at the lowest level. Sway uses a technique called monomorphization. This means that the generic function is compiled to a non-generic version for every type it is called on. In this way, generic functions are purely shorthand for the sake of ergonomics.

Trait Constraints

Important background to know before diving into trait constraints is that the where clause can be used to specify the required traits for the generic argument. So, when writing something like a HashMap you may want to specify that the generic argument implements a Hash trait.

fn get_hashmap_key<T>(Key : T) -> b256
    where T: Hash
    // Code within here can then call methods associated with the Hash trait on Key

where clauses are still work-in-progress, so some where statements shown may not be fully implemented.

Of course, our noop() function is not useful. Often, a programmer will want to declare functions over types which satisfy certain traits. For example, let's try to implement the successor function, successor(), for all numeric types.

fn successor<T>(argument: T)
    where T: Add
    argument + 1

Run forc build, and you will get:

.. |
 9 |   where T: Add
10 |   {
11 |     argument + 1                                        
   |                ^ Mismatched types: expected type "T" but saw type "u64"
12 |   }
13 |

This is because we don't know for a fact that 1, which in this case defaulted to 1u64, actually can be added to T. What if T is f64? Or b256? What does it mean to add 1u64 in these cases?

We can solve this problem with another trait constraint. We can only find the successor of some value of type T if that type T defines some incrementor. Let's make a trait:

trait Incrementable {
    /// Returns the value to add when calculating the successor of a value.
    fn incrementor() -> Self;

Now, we can modify our successor() function:

fn successor<T>(argument: T)
    where T: Add,
          T: Incrementable
    argument + ~T::incrementor()

(There's a little bit of new syntax here. When directly referring to a type to execute a method from it, a tilde (~) is used. This may change in the future.)

Generic Structs and Enums

Just like functions, structs and enums can be generic. Let's take a look at the standard library version of Option<T>:

enum Option<T> {
    Some: T,
    None: (),

Just like an unconstrained generic function, this type exists for all (∀) types T. Result<T, E> is another example:

enum Result<T, E> {
    Ok: T,
    Err: E,

Both generic enums and generic structs can be trait constrained, as well. Consider this struct:

struct Foo<T>
    where T: Add
    field_one: T,

Type Arguments

Similar to Rust, Sway has what is colloquially known as the turbofish. The turbofish looks like this: ::<> (see the little fish with bubbles behind it?). The turbofish is used to annotate types in a generic context. Say you have the following function:

fn foo<T, E>(t: T) -> Result<T, E> {

In this code example, which is admittedly asinine, you can't possibly know what type E is. You'd need to provide the type manually, with a turbofish:

fn foo<T, E>(t: T) -> Result<T, E> {
    Result::Ok::<T, MyErrorType>(t)

It is also common to see the turbofish used on the function itself:

fn main() {
    foo::<Bar, Baz>()