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10.1 - Generic Data Types

In Function Definitions

We can use generics to define a function that can accept different data types. This is similar to generics in TypeScript, Java, and Go, and just like template functions in C++.

Here's an example of a function to find the largest number in a list:

fn largest_i32(list: &[i32]) -> &i32 {
let mut largest = &list[0];

for item in list {
if item > largest {
largest = item;


fn main() {
let number_list = vec![34, 50, 25, 100, 65];

let result = largest_i32(&number_list);
println!("The largest number is {}", result);

The problem with this function is that it can only accept a list of i32. If we wanted to write a version of this for char or for u64, the function signature would change, but the code in body would be identical. We can use generics here to write the function to accept any type by changing the function signature to:

// This doesn't QUITE work...
fn largest<T>(list: &[T]) -> &T {

The <T> after the function name tells the compiler this is a generic function, so anywhere inside the function body where there's a T, we'll replace it with some concrete type when the function is actually called. (Or actually, when it's compiled. We'll compile one version of this function for each type it is used with.)

If you actually try to compile the above though, rustc will complain. The problem is that T here could be an i32 or a u64... but it could also be a struct or an enum. Inside the function we do item > largest - how would we decide if one struct was larger than another? We need to restrict what kinds of types can be used in place of T with a trait bound. In this case we only want to allow T to be a type that implements the str::cmp::PartialOrd trait. Types that implement this trait can be compared to each other:

fn largest<T: PartialOrd>(list: &[T]) -> &T {

Why a single letter T for the generic type? It doesn't have to be; you can use fn largest<Number>... instead, and it will work. But in almost every language that supports something like generics, the convention is to use a single character.

In Struct Definitions

Generics aren't just for functions, we can also use them in structs. Here we have a Point struct which has an x and a y. Both x and y are type T, so they must both be the same type:

struct Point<T> {
x: T,
y: T,

fn main() {
let integer = Point { x: 5, y: 10 };
let unsigned: Point<u32> = Point { x: 9, y: 20 };
let float = Point { x: 1.0, y: 4.0 };

// This won't work, because we're trying to use two different types
let wont_work = Point { x: 5, y: 4.0 };

If we want to support mixed types we can, but we'll have to redefine the struct to allow it:

struct MultiPoint<T, U> {
x: T,
y: U,

In Method Definitions

If we create a struct with generic properties, it makes sense that we'll have to define methods that are generic too:

pub struct Point<T> {
x: T,
y: T,

impl<T> Point<T> {
pub fn x(&self) -> &T {

Note the impl<T> - we need the <T> here to let the compiler know that T is not a concrete type. Why? Because we can also declare methods only on specific concrete versions of a generic struct. This will add a distance_from_origin to Point<f32>, but not to any other Point, such as Point<u32>:

impl Point<f32> {
fn distance_from_origin(&self) -> f32 {
(self.x.powi(2) + self.y.powi(2)).sqrt()

We can also add generics to a method that are unrelated to the generics from the struct. Here we have a Point with two generic parameters called X1 and Y1, and a generic method with two more X2 and Y2:

struct Point<X1, Y1> {
x: X1,
y: Y1,

impl<X1, Y1> Point<X1, Y1> {
// Note that mixup takes `X2` and `Y2` generic types,
// in addition to `X1` and `Y1` from the struct!
fn mixup<X2, Y2>(self, other: Point<X2, Y2>) -> Point<X1, Y2> {
Point {
x: self.x,
y: other.y,

fn main() {
let p1 = Point { x: 5, y: 10.4 };
let p2 = Point { x: "Hello", y: 'c' };

let p3 = p1.mixup(p2);

// Prints "p3.x = 5, p3.y = c".
println!("p3.x = {}, p3.y = {}", p3.x, p3.y);

In Enum Definitions

We've already seen a few enums that use generics such as Option<T> and Result<T, E>:

enum Option<T> {

enum Result<T, E> {

Performance of Code Using Generics

Above we said that a you can use generics to define a function that can accept different data types, but it's perhaps more accurate to say that you can use them to easily create a whole bunch of functions, one for each data type. Much like C++ template functions, Rust generics are implemented using monomorphization, which is a fancy way of saying it generates a copy of your function for each generic type it was used with at compile time.

In other words, if we go back to the fn largest<T>(list: &[T]) -> &T we started this section with, if you were to call:

    let number_list = vec![34, 50, 25, 100, 65];
let result = largest(&number_list);

let char_list = vec!['y', 'm', 'a', 'q'];
let result = largest(&char_list);

then internally Rust would actually compile two different functions, a largest<i32> and a largest<char>. This means generic have no runtime performance impact (but they do make your executable slightly larger).

Continue to 10.02 - Traits.