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How to Query (Almost) Everything

July 22, 2024 - 6387 words - 32 mins

In 2022, I gave a talk at a virtual conference with an unforgettable name: HYTRADBOI, which stands for "Have You Tried Rubbing a Database On It?" Its goal was to discuss unconventional uses of database-like technology, and featured many excellent talks.

My talk "How to Query (Almost) Everything" received copious praise. It describes the Trustfall query engine's architecture, and includes real-world examples of how my (now-former) employer relies on it to statically catch and prevent cross-domain bugs across a monorepo with hundreds of services and shared libraries. For example:

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The Wi-Fi only works when it's raining

April 01, 2024 - 2033 words - 11 mins
Happy April 1st! This post is part of April Cools Club: an April 1st effort to publish genuine essays on unexpected topics. Please enjoy this true story, and rest assured that the tech content will be back soon! That's what my dad said when I asked what was wrong with our home internet connection. "… read more

SemVer in Rust: Tooling, Breakage, and Edge Cases — FOSDEM 2024

March 18, 2024 - 10726 words - 54 mins
Last month, I gave a talk titled "SemVer in Rust: Breakage, Tooling, and Edge Cases" at the FOSDEM 2024 conference. The talk is a practical look at what semantic versioning (SemVer) buys us, why SemVer goes wrong in practice, and how the cargo-semver-checks linter can help prevent the damage caused … read more

Four challenges cargo-semver-checks has yet to tackle

January 23, 2024 - 2117 words - 11 mins

My last post covered the key cargo-semver-checks achievements from 2023. Here are the biggest challenges that lie ahead!

Many of the remaining challenges in cargo-semver-checks are obvious: we all want more lints, fewer false-positives, etc. etc. Let's set those aside.

Instead, let's talk about four non-obvious challenges we have yet to tackle:

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Highlights of 2023 for cargo-semver-checks

January 16, 2024 - 1679 words - 9 mins

2023 was a big year for cargo-semver-checks! We saw ecosystem-wide adoption in projects of all shapes and sizes: the tokio and PyO3 ecosystems, company-backed OSS projects from companies like Amazon and Google, and even in cargo itself. Here's a look back at the highlights of 2023!

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Checking semver in the presence of doc(hidden) items

November 18, 2023 - 2882 words - 15 mins

cargo-semver-checks v0.25 squashes nearly all bugs related to doc(hidden) items — its most common source of false-positives. What does doc(hidden) mean in Rust, and why was handling it correctly so hard?

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Semver violations are common, better tooling is the answer

September 07, 2023 - 3270 words - 17 mins
This post is coauthored by Tomasz Nowak and Predrag Gruevski. It describes work the two of us did together with Bartosz Smolarczyk, Michał Staniewski, and Mieszko Grodzicki. Anecdotally, cargo-semver-checks is a helpful tool for preventing the semver violations that every so often cause ecosystem-wi… read more

Breaking semver in Rust by adding a private type, or by adding an import

May 08, 2023 - 3718 words - 19 mins

A few days ago, I started polls on Mastodon and Twitter whether adding a new private type, or an import, can ever be a major breaking change. The consensus was that this should be impossible.

I agree with that. It should be impossible.

I've discovered a way to cause a previously-public type or function to disappear from a crate's public API by making innocuous-seeming changes like adding a private type or adding an import, etc. It is not a hypothetical problem, either — I've found at least one real-world Rust project that has been affected by it.

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A definitive guide to sealed traits in Rust

April 05, 2023 - 2166 words - 11 mins

For the longest time, I thought that "sealed trait" in Rust was a singular concept implementable in one specific way. To prevent downstream crates from implementing your traits, you make the traits sealed — done, end of story. I was wrong! It turns out there are multiple ways to seal traits, forming a pleasant spectrum of options:

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Mediocrity can be a sign of excellence, and other stories

April 01, 2023 - 2208 words - 12 mins
Happy April 1st! This post is part of April Cools Club: an effort to publish genuine posts on topics our usual audience would find unexpected. The tech content will be back soon! Over the many years I spent heavily involved in intern and full-time recruiting at $PREVIOUS_JOB, multiple people have co… read more

Re-exporting an enum with a type alias is breaking, but not major

March 06, 2023 - 813 words - 5 mins

We've already explored some of the dark corners of Rust semantic versioning on this blog:

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Speeding up Rust semver-checking by over 2000x

February 07, 2023 - 3926 words - 20 mins

This post describes work in progress: how cargo-semver-checks will benefit from the upcoming query optimization API in the Trustfall query engine. Read on to learn how a modern linter works under the hood, and how ideas from the world of databases can improve its performance.

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Moving and re-exporting a Rust type can be a major breaking change

January 31, 2023 - 1194 words - 6 mins
I recently embarked on a quest: revamp the cargo-semver-checks import-handling system so that moving and re-exporting an item stops being incorrectly flagged as a major breaking change. This is how crate authors can reorganize or rename items: just re-export the items in the original location under … read more

Some Rust breaking changes don't require a major version

January 26, 2023 - 1848 words - 10 mins
I've been saying for a while now that semantic versioning in Rust is tricky and full of unexpected edge cases. My last post mentioned that some Rust structs can be converted into enums without requiring a major version bump. It introduced a non-exhaustive struct called Chameleon that had no public f… read more

Turning a Rust struct into an enum is not always a major breaking change

January 24, 2023 - 1611 words - 9 mins
EDIT: The Rust API evolution RFC distinguishes between breaking changes and changes that require a new semver-major version (called major changes). All major changes are breaking, but not all breaking changes are major. Changing a struct to an enum is always breaking (as pointed out on r/rust) but i… read more

cargo-semver-checks today and in 2023

December 23, 2022 - 1946 words - 10 mins
cargo-semver-checks ends 2022 with 40,000 downloads from, able to prevent 30 different kinds of semver issues, and having done so in real-world use cases. Inspired by Yoshua Wuyts' "Rust in 2023 (by Yosh)" post, here are my thoughts on cargo-semver-checks in 2022, and what I look forward t… read more

Falsehoods programmers believe about undefined behavior

November 27, 2022 - 2421 words - 13 mins
Undefined behavior (UB) is a tricky concept in programming languages and compilers. Over the many years I've been an industry mentor for MIT's 6.172 Performance Engineering course, An excellent class that I highly recommend. It's very thorough and hands-on, at the expense of also requiring a lot of… read more


October 03, 2022 - 1121 words - 6 mins
I had a lot of fun spending nights-and-weekends time participating in the HYTRADBOI Jam, a global hack week aimed at building "exciting and weird" data-centric solutions to familiar problems. The name HYTRADBOI might sound familiar: the jam is associated with the same conference where I gave my "How… read more

Debugging Safari: If at first you succeed, don't try again

September 19, 2022 - 1887 words - 10 mins
The saying usually goes: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." But in the Safari web browser under the right conditions, trying again after succeeding once can get you in trouble. This is my recent debugging adventure. As requested on Twitter. While building Trustfall Playground, I noti… read more

Toward fearless cargo update

August 25, 2022 - 1866 words - 10 mins

I recently built cargo-semver-checks, a linter that ensures crates adhere to semantic versioning. This is why and how I built it.

Fearless development is a key theme throughout Rust. "If it compiles, it works", fearless concurrency, etc.

But there's one aspect of Rust (and nearly all other languages) that isn't entirely fearless yet: cargo update, upgrading the versions of the project's dependencies.

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Compiler Adventures, part 3: Value Numbering

May 17, 2022 - 3096 words - 16 mins
A beginner-friendly introduction to compilers: follow along as we build a compiler from scratch, or fork the code on GitHub and add your own optimizations too! In this episode: value numbering helps track how values are used in the program. Last time on Compiler Adventures, we implemented constant p… read more

To ace exams, get better at the easy questions

April 01, 2022 - 1732 words - 9 mins
Happy April 1st! A group of folks and I decided to do something different this year: instead of publishing fake things, we’re publishing real posts on very different topics than our readers usually expect from our blogs. The tech content will be back soon! Check out the other April Cools posts here.… read more

Compiler Adventures, part 2: Constant Propagation

February 17, 2022 - 2392 words - 12 mins
A beginner-friendly introduction to compilers: follow along as we build a compiler from scratch, or fork the code on GitHub and add your own optimizations too! In this episode: propagating constant values to eliminate more instructions. Last time on Compiler Adventures, we wrote an optimization that… read more

Compiler Adventures, part 1: No-op Instructions

February 03, 2022 - 1955 words - 10 mins
A beginner-friendly introduction to compilers: follow along as we build a compiler from scratch, or fork the code on GitHub and add your own optimizations too! In this episode: eliminating no-op instructions. What part of computer science feels most like arcane magic? I'd say compilers. "The magical… read more

How Paxos and Two-Phase Commit Differ

January 26, 2021 - 1115 words - 6 mins
Distributed systems courses frequently introduce the Paxos and two-phase commit (2PC) protocols in quick succession. On one hand, this is a reasonable educational choice, as Paxos and 2PC are both examples of consensus algorithms used in the real world. On the other, it leads many students toward th… read more