Writing a Rust library crate for time calculating (1)

In this blog post, which might turn into a short series, I want to plan a rust library crate and write notes down how to implement it.

This article was yet another one that I wrote while being on my trip through Iceland. As you can see - my head does never stop thinking about problems.

Usecase

So first of all, I want to write down the use case of this library. I had this idea when thinking about how to design a user frontend for imag (of course) and came to the conclusion that rust lacks a library for such a thing. So why not writing one?

I want to design the user interface of this library crate approximately like Rails did with their implementation of the same functionality for Ruby (bear with me, I’m not that involved in the Ruby world anymore so I don’t know whether this is actually Rails or just another gem that comes with it).

So what I want to be able to do is something like this:

let event_date = today() - days(2) + weeks(10);

for example. I’m not yet entirely sure whether it is possible to actually do this without returning Result<_, _> instead of real types (and because I’m in Iceland without internet connection, I cannot check). If results need to be returned, I would design the API in a way so that these functions and calls only create a AST-like object tree which then can be called with a function to calculate the final result:

let event_date = today() - days(2) + weeks(10);
let event_date = try!(event_date.calc());

But even more ideas come to mind when thinking about functionality this library may provide:

// Creating iterators
today().repeat_every(days(4)) // -> Endless iterator

// Convenience functions
(today() + weeks(8)).end_of_month() // The end of the month of the day in 8 weeks

today().end_of_year().day_name() // name of the day at end of the current year

today().until(weeks(4)) // Range of time from now until in 4 weeks

// more ...

Later on, a convenient parser could be put in front of this, so a user can actually provide strings which are then parsed and be calculated.

calculate("now - 4h + 1day")

Which then could of course be used to face a user as well.

Core Data types

As the foundation of this library would be the awesome “chrono” crate, we do not have to reimplement all the time-related things. This eases everything quite a lot and also ensures that I do not double work which others have done way better than I could have.

So at the core of the library, we need to encapsulate chrono types. But there are many user-facing types in chrono and we cannot assume we know which of them our users need. So we have to be generic over these types, too. This is where the fun starts.

At the very base level we have three kinds of types: Amounts (like seconds, minutes, etc, fixed points in time as well as time ranges:

pub enum TimeType {
    Seconds(usize),
    Minutes(usize),
    //...
    Years(usize),
    Point<C>(C),
    Range<A, B>(A, B)
} // A, B and C being chrono types which are wrapped

As I assume right now, we cannot simply subtract and add our types (and thus chronos types) without possible errors, so we have to handle them and return them to the user. Hence, we will create intermediate types which represent what is about to be calculated, so we can add and subtract (etc) them without error:

enum OpArg {
    TT(TimeType),
    Add(AddOp),
    Sub(SubOp)
}

pub struct AddOp(OpArg, OpArg);
pub struct SubOp(OpArg, OpArg);

trait CalculateableTime {
    calc(self) -> Result<TimeType, TimeCalcError>;
}

with the trait implemented on the former types - also the enum maybe as I explain in a few words.

To explain why the CalculateableTime::calc() function returns a TimeType rather than a chrono::NaiveDateTime for example, consider this:

(minutes(15) - seconds(12)).calc()

and now you can see that this actually needs the function to return our own type instead of some chrono type here.

The OpArg type needs to be introduced to be able to build a tree of operations. In the calc implementation for the types, we can then recursively call the function itself to calculate what has to be calculated. As the trait is implemented on TimeType itself, which just returns Self then, we automatically have the abort-condition for the recursive call. To note: This is not tail-recursive.

Optimize the types

After handing this article over to two friends for some review, I got told that the data structures can be minified into one data structure. So no traits required, no private data structures, just one enum and all functions implemented directly on it:

enum TimeType {
    Seconds(usize),
    Minutes(usize),
    //...
    Years(usize),
    Point<C>(C),
    Range<A, B>(A, B),

    Subtraction(TimeType, TimeType),
    Addition(TimeType, TimeType)
}

and as you can see, also almost no generics.

After thinking a bit more about this enum, I concluded that even things like EndOfWeek, EndOfMonth and such have to go into it. Overall, we do not want a single calculation when writing down the code, only lining up of types where the calculate function takes care of actually doing the work.

Helper functions

In the former I used some functions like seconds() or minutes() - these are just helper functions for hiding more complex type signatures and can hopefully be inlined by the compiler:

pub fn seconds(s: usize) -> TimeType {
    TimeType::Seconds(s)
}

So there is not really much to say for these.

Special Functions, Ranges, Iterators

To get the end of the year of a date, we must hold the current date already, so these functions need to be added to the TimeType type. Ranges can also be done this way:

now().until(tomorrow()) // -> TimeType::Range(_, _)

Well, now the real fun begins. When having a TimeType object, one should be able to construct an Iterator from it.

The iterator needs to be able to hold the value it should increase itself every time as well as a copy of the base value. With this, one could think of an iterator that holds a TimeType object and every time the next() function is called, adds something to it and returns a copy of it.

Another way of implenting this would be to know how many times the iterator has been called, multiply this with the increase value and add this to the base.

I like the latter version more, as it does not increase the calculations needed for getting the real value out of the TimeType instance every time the iterator is called.

This way, one can write the following code:

let v : Vec<_> = now()
  .every(days(7))
  .map(TimeType::calculate)
  .take(5);

to retrieve five objects, starting from today, each separated by one week.

Next

What I think I’ll do in the next iteration on this series is summarize how I want to develop this little crate. I guess test driven is the way to go here, after defining the type described above.


Please note: This article was written a long time ago. In the meantime, I learned from a nice redditor that there is chrono::Duration which is partly what I need here. So I will base my work (despite beeing already started into the direction I outlined in this article) on the chrono::Duration types and develop the API I have in mind with the functionality provided by chrono.

For the sake, I did not alter this article after learning of chrono::Duration, so my thoughts are lined up like I originally had them.