Use the Error type

This pattern is a way to manage errors when you have multiple kinds of failure that could occur during a single function. It has several distinct advantages:

  1. You can start using it without defining any of your own failure types.
  2. All types that implement Fail can be thrown into the Error type using the ? operator.
  3. As you start adding new dependencies with their own failure types, you can start throwing them without making a breaking change.

To use this pattern, all you need to do is return Result<_, Error> from your functions:

use std::io;
use std::io::BufRead;

use failure::Error;
use failure::err_msg;

fn my_function() -> Result<(), Error> {
    let stdin = io::stdin();

    for line in stdin.lock().lines() {
        let line = line?;

        if line.chars().all(|c| c.is_whitespace()) {

        if !line.starts_with("$") {
            return Err(format_err!("Input did not begin with `$`"));

        println!("{}", &line[1..]);


When might you use this pattern?

This pattern is very effective when you know you will usually not need to destructure the error this function returns. For example:

  • When prototyping.
  • When you know you are going to log this error, or display it to the user, either all of the time or nearly all of the time.
  • When it would be impractical for this API to report more custom context for the error (e.g. because it is a trait that doesn't want to add a new Error associated type).

Caveats on this pattern

There are two primary downsides to this pattern:

  • The Error type allocates. There are cases where this would be too expensive. In those cases you should use a custom failure.
  • You cannot recover more information about this error without downcasting. If your API needs to express more contextual information about the error, use the Error and ErrorKind pattern.