Rust by Example

16.7 Boxing errors

By implementing Display and From for our error type, we enabled almost all of the std library error handling tools. However, we missed something: the ability to easily Box our error type.

The std library automatically converts any type that implements the Error trait into the trait object Box<Error>, via From. To a library user, this conveniently allows the following:

fn foo(...) -> Result<T, Box<Error>> { ... }

A user may use any variety of external libraries which each provide their own error types. In order to define a valid Result<T, E> type, the user has a few choices:

  • define a new wrapper error type around the library's error types
  • convert the error types to String or another intermediate choice
  • Box the error types into Box<Error> via type erasure

"Boxing" the error type is a common choice. The drawback is that the underlying error type is only known at runtime and not statically determined. As mentioned above, all that needs to be done is to implement the Error trait:

trait Error: Debug + Display {
    fn description(&self) -> &str;
    fn cause(&self) -> Option<&Error>;

With this implementation, let's look at our most recent example. Note that it is just as valid with the error type of Box<Error> as it was before with DoubleError:

use std::error;
use std::fmt;
use std::num::ParseIntError;

// Change the alias to `Box<error::Error>`.
type Result<T> = std::result::Result<T, Box<error::Error>>;

enum DoubleError {

impl From<ParseIntError> for DoubleError {
    fn from(err: ParseIntError) -> DoubleError {

impl fmt::Display for DoubleError {
    fn fmt(&self, f: &mut fmt::Formatter) -> fmt::Result {
        match *self {
            DoubleError::EmptyVec =>
                write!(f, "please use a vector with at least one element"),
            DoubleError::Parse(ref e) => e.fmt(f),

impl error::Error for DoubleError {
    fn description(&self) -> &str {
        match *self {
            // A very short description of the error. Doesn't need to be the
            // same as `Display`.
            DoubleError::EmptyVec => "empty vectors not allowed",
            // This already impls `Error`, so defer to its own implementation.
            DoubleError::Parse(ref e) => e.description(),

    fn cause(&self) -> Option<&error::Error> {
        match *self {
            // No underlying cause so return `None`.
            DoubleError::EmptyVec => None,
            // The cause is the underlying implementation error type. Is implicitly
            // cast to the trait object `&error::Error`. This works because the
            // underlying type already implements the `Error` trait.
            DoubleError::Parse(ref e) => Some(e),

fn double_first(vec: Vec<&str>) -> Result<i32> {
    let first = try!(vec.first().ok_or(DoubleError::EmptyVec));
    let parsed = try!(first.parse::<i32>());

    Ok(2 * parsed)

fn print(result: Result<i32>) {
    match result {
        Ok(n)  => println!("The first doubled is {}", n),
        Err(e) => println!("Error: {}", e),

fn main() {
    let numbers = vec!["93", "18"];
    let empty = vec![];
    let strings = vec!["tofu", "93", "18"];


See also:

Dynamic dispatch and Error trait