Early and Late Bound Parameter Implementation Nuances

Understanding this page likely requires a rudimentary understanding of higher ranked trait bounds/for<'a>and also what types such as dyn for<'a> Trait<'a> and for<'a> fn(&'a u32) mean. Reading the nomincon chapter on HRTB may be useful for understanding this syntax. The meaning of for<'a> fn(&'a u32) is incredibly similar to the meaning of T: for<'a> Trait<'a>.

What does it mean for parameters to be early or late bound

All function definitions conceptually have a ZST (this is represented by TyKind::FnDef in rustc). The only generics on this ZST are the early bound parameters of the function definition. e.g.

fn foo<'a>(_: &'a u32) {}

fn main() {
    let b = foo;
    //  ^ `b` has type `FnDef(foo, [])` (no args because `'a` is late bound)
    assert!(std::mem::size_of_val(&b) == 0);

In order to call b the late bound parameters do need to be provided, these are inferred at the call site instead of when we refer to foo.

fn main() {
    let b = foo;
    let a: &'static u32 = &10;
    // the lifetime argument for `'a` on `foo` is inferred at the callsite
    // the generic parameter `'a` on `foo` is inferred to `'static` here

Because late bound parameters are not part of the FnDef's args this allows us to prove trait bounds such as F: for<'a> Fn(&'a u32) where F is foo's FnDef. e.g.

fn foo_early<'a, T: Trait<'a>>(_: &'a u32, _: T) {}
fn foo_late<'a, T>(_: &'a u32, _: T) {}

fn accepts_hr_func<F: for<'a> Fn(&'a u32, u32)>(_: F) {}

fn main() {
    // doesn't work, the substituted bound is `for<'a> FnDef<'?0>: Fn(&'a u32, u32)`
    // `foo_early` only implements `for<'a> FnDef<'a>: Fn(&'a u32, u32)`- the lifetime
    // of the borrow in the function argument must be the same as the lifetime
    // on the `FnDef`.

    // works, the substituted bound is `for<'a> FnDef: Fn(&'a u32, u32)`

// the builtin `Fn` impls for `foo_early` and `foo_late` look something like:
// `foo_early`
impl<'a, T: Trait<'a>> Fn(&'a u32, T) for FooEarlyFnDef<'a, T> { ... }
// `foo_late`
impl<'a, T> Fn(&'a u32, T) for FooLateFnDef<T> { ... }

Early bound parameters are present on the FnDef. Late bound generic parameters are not present on the FnDef but are instead constrained by the builtin Fn* impl.

The same distinction applies to closures. Instead of FnDef we are talking about the anonymous closure type. Closures are currently unsound in ways that are closely related to the distinction between early/late bound parameters (more on this later)

The early/late boundness of generic parameters is only relevant for the desugaring of functions/closures into types with builtin Fn* impls. It does not make sense to talk about in other contexts.

The generics_of query in rustc only contains early bound parameters. In this way it acts more like generics_of(my_func) is the generics for the FnDef than the generics provided to the function body although it's not clear to the author of this section if this was the actual justification for making generics_of behave this way.

What parameters are currently late bound

Below are the current requirements for determining if a generic parameter is late bound. It is worth keeping in mind that these are not necessarily set in stone and it is almost certainly possible to be more flexible.

Must be a lifetime parameter

Rust can't support types such as for<T> dyn Trait<T> or for<T> fn(T), this is a fundamental limitation of the language as we are required to monomorphize type/const parameters and cannot do so behind dynamic dispatch. (technically we could probably support for<T> dyn MarkerTrait<T> as there is nothing to monomorphize)

Not being able to support for<T> dyn Trait<T> resulted in making all type and const parameters early bound. Only lifetime parameters can be late bound.

Must not appear in the where clauses

In order for a generic parameter to be late bound it must not appear in any where clauses. This is currently an incredibly simplistic check that causes lifetimes to be early bound even if the where clause they appear in are always true, or implied by well formedness of function arguments. e.g.

fn main() {
fn foo1<'a: 'a>(_: &'a u32) {}
//     ^^ early bound parameter because it's in a `'a: 'a` clause
//        even though the bound obviously holds all the time
fn foo2<'a, T: Trait<'a>(a: T, b: &'a u32) {}
//     ^^ early bound parameter because it's used in the `T: Trait<'a>` clause
fn foo3<'a, T: 'a>(_: &'a T) {}
//     ^^ early bound parameter because it's used in the `T: 'a` clause
//        even though that bound is implied by wellformedness of `&'a T`
fn foo4<'a, 'b: 'a>(_: Inv<&'a ()>, _: Inv<&'b ()>) {}
//      ^^  ^^         ^^^ note:
//      ^^  ^^         `Inv` stands for `Invariant` and is used to
//      ^^  ^^          make the type parameter invariant. This
//      ^^  ^^          is necessary for demonstration purposes as
//      ^^  ^^          `for<'a, 'b> fn(&'a (), &'b ())` and
//      ^^  ^^          `for<'a> fn(&'a u32, &'a u32)` are subtypes-
//      ^^  ^^          of each other which makes the bound trivially
//      ^^  ^^          satisfiable when making the fnptr. `Inv`
//      ^^  ^^          disables this subtyping.
//      ^^  ^^
//      ^^^^^^ both early bound parameters because they are present in the
//            `'b: 'a` clause

The reason for this requirement is that we cannot represent the T: Trait<'a> or 'a: 'b clauses on a function pointer. for<'a, 'b> fn(Inv<&'a ()>, Inv<&'b ()>) is not a valid function pointer to representfoo4 as it would allow calling the function without 'b: 'a holding.

Must be constrained by where clauses or function argument types

The builtin impls of the Fn* traits for closures and FnDefs cannot not have any unconstrained parameters. For example the following impl is illegal:

fn main() {
impl<'a> Trait for u32 { type Assoc = &'a u32; }

We must not end up with a similar impl for the Fn* traits e.g.

fn main() {
impl<'a> Fn<()> for FnDef { type Assoc = &'a u32 }

Violating this rule can trivially lead to unsoundness as seen in #84366. Additionally if we ever support late bound type params then an impl like:

fn main() {
impl<T> Fn<()> for FnDef { type Assoc = T; }

would break the compiler in various ways.

In order to ensure that everything functions correctly, we do not allow generic parameters to be late bound if it would result in a builtin impl that does not constrain all of the generic parameters on the builtin impl. Making a generic parameter be early bound trivially makes it be constrained by the builtin impl as it ends up on the self type.

Because of the requirement that late bound parameters must not appear in where clauses, checking this is simpler than the rules for checking impl headers constrain all the parameters on the impl. We only have to ensure that all late bound parameters appear at least once in the function argument types outside of an alias (e.g. an associated type).

The requirement that they not indirectly be in the args of an alias for it to count is the same as why the follow code is forbidden:

fn main() {
impl<T: Trait> OtherTrait for <T as Trait>::Assoc { type Assoc = T }

There is no guarantee that <T as Trait>::Assoc will normalize to different types for every instantiation of T. If we were to allow this impl we could get overlapping impls and the same is true of the builtin Fn* impls.

Making more generic parameters late bound

It is generally considered desirable for more parameters to be late bound as it makes the builtin Fn* impls more flexible. Right now many of the requirements for making a parameter late bound are overly restrictive as they are tied to what we can currently (or can ever) do with fn ptrs.

It would be theoretically possible to support late bound params in where-clauses in the language by introducing implication types which would allow us to express types such as: for<'a, 'b: 'a> fn(Inv<&'a u32>, Inv<&'b u32>) which would ensure 'b: 'a is upheld when calling the function pointer.

It would also be theoretically possible to support it by making the coercion to a fn ptr instantiate the parameter with an infer var while still allowing the FnDef to not have the generic parameter present as trait impls are perfectly capable of representing the where clauses on the function on the impl itself. This would also allow us to support late bound type/const vars allowing bounds like F: for<T> Fn(T) to hold.

It is almost somewhat unclear if we can change the Fn traits to be structured differently so that we never have to make a parameter early bound just to make the builtin impl have all generics be constrained. Of all the possible causes of a generic parameter being early bound this seems the most difficult to remove.

Whether these would be good ideas to implement is a separate question- they are only brought up to illustrate that the current rules are not necessarily set in stone and a result of "its the only way of doing this".