All the Places Patterns May be Used

Patterns pop up in a number of places in Rust, and you’ve been using them a lot without realizing it! This section is a reference to all the places where patterns are valid.

match Arms

As we discussed in Chapter 6, patterns are used in the arms of match expressions. Formally, match expressions are defined as the keyword match, a value to match on, and one or more match arms that consist of a pattern and an expression to run if the value matches that arm’s pattern:

match VALUE {

match expressions are required to be exhaustive, in the sense that all possibilities for the value in the match expression must be accounted for. One way to ensure you have every possibility covered is to have a catch-all pattern for the last arm---for example, a variable name matching any value can never fail and thus covers every case remaining.

There’s a particular pattern _ that will match anything, but never binds to a variable, and so is often used in the last match arm. This can be useful when you want to ignore any value not specified, for example. We’ll cover this in more detail later in this chapter.

Conditional if let Expressions

In Chapter 6 we discussed how if let expressions are used mainly as a shorter way to write the equivalent of a match that only cares about matching one case. Optionally,if let can have a corresponding else with code to run if the pattern in the if let doesn’t match.

Listing 18-1 shows that it’s also possible to mix and match if let, else if, and else if let expressions. This gives us more flexibility than a match expression where we can only express one value to compare with the patterns; the conditions in a series of if let/else if/else if let arms aren’t required to have any relation to each other.

The code in Listing 18-1 shows a series of checks for a bunch of different conditions that decide what the background color should be. For the purposes of the example, we’ve created variables with hardcoded values that a real program might get by asking the user.

If the user has specified a favorite color, that is used as the background color. If today is Tuesday, the background color will be green. If the user has specified their age as a string and we can parse it as a number successfully, we’ll use either purple or orange depending on the value of the parsed number. Finally, if none of these conditions apply, the background color will be blue:

Filename: src/

fn main() {
    let favorite_color: Option<&str> = None;
    let is_tuesday = false;
    let age: Result<u8, _> = "34".parse();

    if let Some(color) = favorite_color {
        println!("Using your favorite color, {}, as the background", color);
    } else if is_tuesday {
        println!("Tuesday is green day!");
    } else if let Ok(age) = age {
        if age > 30 {
            println!("Using purple as the background color");
        } else {
            println!("Using orange as the background color");
    } else {
        println!("Using blue as the background color");

Listing 18-1: Mixing if let, else if, else if let, and else

This conditional structure lets us support complex requirements. With the hardcoded values we have here, this example will print Using purple as the background color.

We can see that if let can also introduce shadowed variables, in the same way that match arms can: if let Ok(age) = age introduces a new shadowed age variable that contains the value inside the Ok variant. This means we need to place the if age > 30 condition within that block; we can’t combine these two conditions into if let Ok(age) = age && age > 30 because the shadowed age we want to compare to 30 isn’t valid until the new scope starts with the curly brace.

The downside of using if let expressions in this way is that exhaustiveness is not checked by the compiler, whereas with match expressions it is. If we left off the last else block and so missed handling some cases, the compiler would not alert us of the possible logic bug.

while let Conditional Loops

Similar in construction to if let, the while let conditional loop allows your while loop to run for as long as a pattern continues to match. The example in Listing 18-2 shows a while let loop that uses a vector as a stack and prints out the values in the vector in the opposite order they were pushed in:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
let mut stack = Vec::new();


while let Some(top) = stack.pop() {
    println!("{}", top);

Listing 18-2: Using a while let loop to print out values for as long as stack.pop() returns Some

This example will print 3, 2, then 1. The pop method takes the last element out of the vector and returns Some(value). If the vector is empty, it returns None. The while loop will continue running the code in its block as long as pop is returning Some. Once it returns None, the loop stops. We can use while let to pop every element off our stack.

for Loops

In Chapter 3 we mentioned that the for loop is the most common loop construction in Rust code, but we haven’t yet discussed the pattern that for takes. In a for loop, the pattern is the value that directly follows the keyword for, so the x in for x in y.

Listing 18-3 demonstrates how to use a pattern in a for loop to destructure, or break apart, a tuple as part of the for loop:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
let v = vec!['a', 'b', 'c'];

for (index, value) in v.iter().enumerate() {
    println!("{} is at index {}", value, index);

Listing 18-3: Using a pattern in a for loop to destructure a tuple

This will print:

a is at index 0
b is at index 1
c is at index 2

We use the enumerate method to adapt an iterator to produce a value and that value’s index in the iterator, placed into a tuple. The first call to enumerate produces the tuple (0, 'a'). When this value is matched to the pattern (index, value), index will be 0 and value will be 'a', printing our first line of output.

let Statements

Before this chapter, we’d only explicitly discussed using patterns with match and if let, but in fact we’ve used patterns in other places too, including let statements. For example, consider this straightforward variable assignment with let:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
let x = 5;

We’ve done this hundreds of times throughout this book, and though you may not have realized it, you were using patterns! A let statement looks like this, more formally:


In statements like let x = 5; with a variable name in the PATTERN slot, the variable name is just a particularly humble form of pattern. We compare the expression against the pattern, and assign any names we find. So for our let x = 5; example, x is a pattern that says “bind what matches here to the variable x.” And since the name x is the whole pattern, this pattern effectively means “bind everything to the variable x, whatever the value is.”

To see the pattern matching aspect of let a bit more clearly, consider Listing 18-4 where we’re using a pattern with let to destructure a tuple:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
let (x, y, z) = (1, 2, 3);

Listing 18-4: Using a pattern to destructure a tuple and create three variables at once

Here, we match a tuple against a pattern. Rust compares the value (1, 2, 3) to the pattern (x, y, z) and sees that the value matches the pattern, so will bind 1 to x, 2 to y, and 3 to z. You can think of this tuple pattern as nesting three individual variable patterns inside of it.

If the number of elements in the pattern don’t match the number of elements in the tuple, the overall type won’t match and we’ll get a compiler error. For example, Listing 18-5 shows an attempt to destructure into two variables a tuple with three elements that won’t work:

let (x, y) = (1, 2, 3);

Listing 18-5: Incorrectly constructing a pattern whose variables don’t match the number of elements in the tuple

Attempting to compile this code gives us this type error:

error[E0308]: mismatched types
 --> src/
2 |     let (x, y) = (1, 2, 3);
  |         ^^^^^^ expected a tuple with 3 elements, found one with 2 elements
  = note: expected type `({integer}, {integer}, {integer})`
             found type `(_, _)`

If we wanted to ignore one or more of the values in the tuple, we could use _ or .. as we’ll see in the “Ignoring Values in a Pattern” section. If the problem was that we had too many variables in the pattern, the solution would be to make the types match by removing variables so that the number of variables is equal to the number of elements in the tuple.

Function Parameters

Function parameters can also be patterns. The code in Listing 18-6, declaring a function named foo that takes one parameter named x of type i32, should by now look familiar:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn foo(x: i32) {
    // code goes here

Listing 18-6: A function signature uses patterns in the parameters

The x part is a pattern! Like we did with let, we could match a tuple in a function’s arguments to the pattern. Listing 18-7 splits apart the values in a tuple as we pass it to a function:

Filename: src/

fn print_coordinates(&(x, y): &(i32, i32)) {
    println!("Current location: ({}, {})", x, y);

fn main() {
    let point = (3, 5);

Listing 18-7: A function with parameters that destructure a tuple

This will print Current location: (3, 5). The values &(3, 5) match the pattern &(x, y), so x gets the value 3, and y gets the value 5.

We can use patterns in closure parameter lists in the same way, too, because closures are similar to functions, as we discussed in Chapter 13.

We’ve seen several ways of using patterns now, but patterns do not work the same in every place we can use them; in some places, the patterns must be irrefutable, meaning they must match any value provided. In other circumstances, they may be refutable. Let’s discuss that next.