Fixing a Clippy crash

, 12 min read

3 weeks ago I set out to fix a crash in Clippy, this is what I learned along the way. I hope this blog post will be useful for other people diving into Clippy and maybe serve as motivation if things get difficult.

Meet the crash

The crash has been reported in this Clippy issue. It is demonstrated with the following valid Rust program:

trait Foo<'a, A> {}

impl<'b, T> Foo<'b, T> for T {}

fn func<'b, S: Foo<'b, ()>>(_item: S) {}

fn main() {}

When executed with rustc, it compiles, but it produces the following ICE when it is executed with Clippy:

error: internal compiler error: librustc/ty/ impossible case reached
thread 'main' panicked at 'Box<Any>', librustc_errors/
stack backtrace:

Traits.. generics.. lifetimes!? Oh no

The crashing snippet from above shows why I have been.. not so quick with fixing this. I have been avoiding dealing with explicit lifetime annotations since I started with Rust almost a year ago. Further, I have never been in a position where it made sense to implement my own traits, especially not generic traits, so it was pretty easy to avoid.

It's safe to say that, at this point, I don't really understand what this program means. Let's figure it out step by step.

trait Foo<'a, A> {}

This is a trait called Foo with no associated items. Foo is also generic over any type A and it declares a lifetime parameter 'a. By itself, this does not mean anything, but it allows for potential implementers of this trait to use the lifetime 'a and the generic type A.

impl<'b, T> Foo<'b, T> for T {}

Here we define an implementation of our trait Foo for any type T. Again, we declare a lifetime 'b and a generic type T so that we can use them to implement Foo. This impl also declares no associated items.

// func takes item of type S which has to implement `Foo`
fn func<'b>(_item: impl Foo<'b, ()>) {}

The last line contains the cause of the Clippy crash. Again we declare that the function is going to use a lifetime 'b. We then define a parameter that can be any type that implements Foo with the lifetime of 'b and a type of ().

The backtrace

The backtrace contains some first pointers where we can have a further look.

error: internal compiler error: librustc/ty/ impossible case reached

thread 'main' panicked at 'Box<Any>', librustc_errors/
stack backtrace:
  // snip
  13: rustc::util::bug::bug_fmt
  14: <rustc::ty::subst::Kind<'tcx> as rustc::ty::relate::Relate<'tcx>>::relate
  15: <&'a mut I as core::iter::iterator::Iterator>::next
  16: <smallvec::SmallVec<A> as core::iter::traits::FromIterator<<A as smallvec::Array>::Item>>
  17: <core::result::Result<T, E> as rustc::ty::context::InternIteratorElement<T, R>>::intern_with
  18: <rustc::ty::sty::TraitRef<'tcx> as rustc::ty::relate::Relate<'tcx>>::relate
  19: rustc::infer::InferCtxt::commit_if_ok
  20: rustc::traits::select::SelectionContext::match_impl
  21: rustc::infer::InferCtxt::probe
  22: rustc::ty::trait_def::<impl rustc::ty::context::TyCtxt<'a, 'gcx, 'tcx>>::for_each_relevant_impl
  // snip
  34: rustc::ty::query::__query_compute::evaluate_obligation
  35: rustc::ty::query::<impl rustc::ty::query::config::QueryAccessors<'tcx> for
  36: rustc::dep_graph::graph::DepGraph::with_task_impl
  37: rustc::ty::context::tls::with_related_context
  38: rustc::ty::query::plumbing::<impl rustc::ty::context::TyCtxt<'a, 'gcx, 'tcx>>
  39: rustc::ty::query::plumbing::<impl rustc::ty::context::TyCtxt<'a, 'gcx, 'tcx>>::get_query
  40: rustc::traits::query::evaluate_obligation::<impl rustc::infer::InferCtxt<'cx, 'gcx, 'tcx>>
  41: rustc::traits::query::evaluate_obligation::<impl rustc::infer::InferCtxt<'cx, 'gcx, 'tcx>>
  42: clippy_lints::utils::implements_trait::{{closure}}
             at clippy_lints/src/utils/
  43: rustc::infer::InferCtxtBuilder::enter::{{closure}}
             at librustc/infer/
  // snip
  56: clippy_lints::utils::implements_trait
             at clippy_lints/src/utils/
  57: <clippy_lints::needless_pass_by_value::NeedlessPassByValue as rustc::lint::LateLintPass<'a, 'tcx>>
             at clippy_lints/src/
  58: core::iter::iterator::Iterator::all::{{closure}}
             at libcore/iter/
  59: core::iter::iterator::Iterator::try_for_each::{{closure}}
             at libcore/iter/
  60: <core::slice::Iter<'a, T> as core::iter::iterator::Iterator>::try_fold
             at libcore/slice/
  61: core::iter::iterator::Iterator::try_for_each
             at libcore/iter/
  62: core::iter::iterator::Iterator::all
             at libcore/iter/
  63: <clippy_lints::needless_pass_by_value::NeedlessPassByValue as rustc::lint::LateLintPass<'a, 'tcx>>
             at clippy_lints/src/

Let's go through the backtrace from top to bottom.

error: internal compiler error: librustc/ty/ impossible case reached

This tells us where the crash was reported from inside rustc. I'm noting this down to have a look at the code later.

Next follow 30 to 40 lines of plumbing, like:

  39: rustc::ty::query::plumbing::<impl rustc::ty::context::TyCtxt<'a, 'gcx, 'tcx>>::get_query

For now, I think all these lines are irrelevant to the crash in Clippy.

Further down we find more useful information:

  56: clippy_lints::utils::implements_trait
             at clippy_lints/src/utils/
  57: <clippy_lints::needless_pass_by_value::NeedlessPassByValue as rustc::lint::LateLintPass<'a, 'tcx>>
             at clippy_lints/src/

This tells us from where Clippy invoked the chain of methods that caused the Crash. In other words, one of these places is probably using rustc internals incorrectly.

It also shows which lint caused the crash to happen.

needless_pass_by_value checks for functions that take arguments by value and don't consume those arguments. Clippy should suggest to pass these arguments by reference instead:

fn foo(v: Vec<i32>) {
    assert_eq!(v.len(), 42);

// should be:

fn foo(v: &[i32]) {
    assert_eq!(v.len(), 42);

And indeed, in our crashing example, we pass the argument by value:

fn func<'b, S: Bar<'b, ()>>(_item: S) {}

We are now sure that this code should trigger the needless_pass_by_value lint but it crashes instead. Next, we are going to try and find out more about what's going on internally.

First steps to fixing a Clippy bug

The first thing we are going to do is making the crash easily reproducible by creating a test case. Luckily someone already provided a minimal crashing example in the issue. A minimized example is always super helpful.

We are going to add the code to the run-pass test suite of Clippy. The run-pass suite will fail if any of the code inside fails to compile.

Here's our failing code:

// tests/run-pass/

trait Bar<'a, A> {}
impl<'b, T> Bar<'b, T> for T {}
fn funk<'b, S: Bar<'b, ()>>(_item: S) {}

fn main() {}

We can now run the test easily using:

RUST_BACKTRACE=1 TESTNAME=run-pass/ice-2831 cargo test --test compile-test

As expected, this fails to compile and crashes with the backtrace from above. Good!

Debugging with println!

Now that we are able to quickly run the test, we can start to debug the crash. I usually use plain println! calls to get all the possibly relevant values printed to stdout.

In this case we want to know what we pass through to rustc before predicate_must_hold is called:

/// Check whether a type implements a trait.
/// See also `get_trait_def_id`.
pub fn implements_trait<'a, 'tcx>(
    cx: &LateContext<'a, 'tcx>,
    ty: Ty<'tcx>,
    trait_id: DefId,
    ty_params: &[Kind<'tcx>],
) -> bool {
    let ty = cx.tcx.erase_regions(&ty);
    let obligation = cx.tcx.predicate_for_trait_def(
        cx.param_env, traits::ObligationCause::dummy(), trait_id, 0, ty, ty_params
    println!("cx.param_env: {:?}", cx.param_env);
    println!("ty: {:?}", ty);
    println!("obligation: {:?}", obligation);
    println!("ty_params: {:?}", ty_params);
    // NOTE: Crash happens after `predicate_must_hold` is called
    cx.tcx.infer_ctxt().enter(|infcx| infcx.predicate_must_hold(&obligation))

Using the command from above, this will recompile the changed code and execute our test. Here is the result:

cx.param_env: ParamEnv { caller_bounds: [
    Binder(TraitPredicate(<S as Bar<'b, ()>>)), Binder(TraitPredicate(<S as std::marker::Sized>))
  ], reveal: UserFacing }
ty: &S
obligation: Obligation(predicate=Binder(TraitPredicate(<&S as Bar<()>>)),depth=0)
ty_params: [()]

Understanding the context

Maybe you can spot something in the debug output already. However, I first want to find out what all these new types mean. I have dealt with ParamEnv before, but Binder, TraitPredicate and Obligation are new to me. It looks like it's time to learn about some rustc internals. Nice! Learning about rustc internals usually means searching around in the rustc-guide and in the rust compiler documentation and putting all the information together.

ⓘ New concepts


ParamEnv is short for Parameter Environment. It contains information about the trait bounds. It can be used to check whether a type implements a certain trait, for example.

Source: rustc::ty::ParamEnv


As I understand it, a `Binder` associates variables with arguments where they were defined. For example in the closure `|a, b| a + b`, the `a` and `b` in the `a + b ` are bound to the closure, and the closure signature `|a, b|` is a binder for the names `a` and `b`.
This also applies to lifetime parameters.



A predicate related to traits. A predicate in the rust type system describes something about the given type. For example, whether it is well formed, object safe or a subtype with another type. As far as I understand it, a TraitPredicate is a predicate that says whether a type implements a given trait.

Source: rustc-guide: Ty


An Obligation represents some trait reference (e.g. int:Eq) for which the vtable must be found. The process of finding a vtable is called "resolving" the Obligation. This process consists of either identifying an impl (e.g., impl Eq for int) that provides the required vtable, or else finding a bound that is in scope.

Source: rustc_infer::traits::Obligation


A vtable is a struct that contains the function pointers to the trait's associated functions. The pointers point directly to the concrete machine code for each method in the implementation.

Source: rustc::traits::vtable

With all that in mind, let's review our debug output again:

cx.param_env: ParamEnv { caller_bounds: [
    Binder(TraitPredicate(<S as Bar<'b, ()>>)), Binder(TraitPredicate(<S as std::marker::Sized>))
  ], reveal: UserFacing }
ty: &S
obligation: Obligation(predicate=Binder(TraitPredicate(<&S as Bar<()>>)),depth=0)
ty_params: [()]

What's especially interesting about our debug output is that the Obligation contains a TraitPredicate that is different to the Obligation in the ParamEnv:

// Our self-built TraitPredicate:
TraitPredicate(<&S as Bar<()>>)

// The TraitPredicate in ParamEnv:
TraitPredicate(<S as Bar<'b, ()>>)

The reason for that is probably that we build the Obligation in the lint code ourselves, while the ParamEnv is the one of the actual test case.

At this point I have been looking into this bug for more than two weeks in my free time. I have to say thanks to @arielb1 who pointed me in the right direction after I improved the output of this ICE in rust.

Fixing the bug

@arielb1 confirmed my suspicion: The TraitPredicate in the Obligation should contain the lifetime, too:

It calls input_types, which drops the lifetime parameters out of Bar, turning an OK <S as Bar<'b, ()>> trait-ref into a not-OK <&S as Bar<()>> trait ref. The not OK trait-ref has its indexes wrong because it's missing a lifetime - at index 0, it should have a lifetime, not a type. So you get an ICE.

With that information, the fix was only a few hours away and turned out as a 9 line change:

diff --git a/clippy_lints/src/ b/clippy_lints/src/
index 980e2c28a..73d59d7a3 100644
--- a/clippy_lints/src/
+++ b/clippy_lints/src/
@@ -174,15 +174,14 @@ impl<'a, 'tcx> LateLintPass<'a, 'tcx> for NeedlessPassByValue {
                     preds.iter().any(|t| t.def_id() == borrow_trait),
                     !preds.is_empty() && preds.iter().all(|t| {
+                        let ty_params = &t.skip_binder().trait_ref.substs.iter().skip(1)
+                            .cloned()
+                            .collect::<Vec<_>>();
                             cx.tcx.mk_imm_ref(&RegionKind::ReErased, ty),
-                            &t.skip_binder()
-                                .input_types()
-                                .skip(1)
-                                .map(|ty| ty.into())
-                                .collect::<Vec<_>>(),
+                            ty_params

You may wonder how this is fixing the issue exactly. We first removed the input_types() call. This means we have to find a replacement to get the collection of lifetimes and type parameters for the given trait reference t.

Let's have a look at the source of input_types() and see how it gets the type parameters of the trait reference:

pub fn input_types<'a>(&'a self) -> impl DoubleEndedIterator<Item=Ty<'tcx>> + 'a {
    // Select only the "input types" from a trait-reference. For
    // now this is all the types that appear in the
    // trait-reference, but it should eventually exclude
    // associated types.

Substs is what we're looking for. It contains the different parameters of the type, including lifetimes. For example the substs of a HashMap<i32, i32> would more or less look like this: &[tcx.types.i32, tcx.types.i32].

In our example, S: Foo<'b, ()>, that would be [S, ReEarlyBound(0, 'b), ()]. The first element is the name of the type parameter, S. The second one is the name of the lifetime, 'b. The last one is unit.

Calling substs.types() on S: Foo<'b, ()> will result in [()]. However, using substs directly, gives us what we want: [S, ReEarlyBound(0, 'b), ()]. Instead of calling types() on substs, we just iterate over the substs directly and avoid the crash.

With the crash fixed, this concludes the post. I hope you were able to learn something new from this. Maybe I also inspired you to have a go at working on Clippy. If that's the case I encourage you to look through the good first issue label, pick one that seems easy to you and dig in =)

You can find the final PR here.


Philipp Hansch

Full Stack Developer

Philipp is a full stack developer currently heavily involved with Rust. Most notably he's a member of the Clippy team where he helps with bugfixing and documentation. You can follow him on Mastodon and find him on GitHub as well as Patreon.