Disclaimer: These are planning documents. The functionalities described here may be unimplemented, partially implemented, or implemented differently than the original design.

Trait Adapter Pattern


A pattern for using a trait with a domain-specific generic parameter such as Trait<Item = A> in code which instead operates on a different type such as Trait<Item = B> by constructing Trait<Item = B> as an adapter to Trait<Item = A>.


This pattern is useful for implementing a plugin system when you want the plugins to operate on domain-specific types instead of a common generic type which is known by the framework running the plugin.

For example, when implementing a framework which receives messages and routes them to various pluggable handlers, within the framework the messages may be serialized as bytes. The associated handlers being routed to will then naturally operate on bytes, something like:

trait Handler {
    fn handle(message: Vec<u8>) -> Result<(), InternalError>;

However, when we implement one of the various handlers, we know the specific type of the message and do not wish to operate on bytes. If our implementation used our example Handler trait, the very first step in the handler would be to deserialize and validate the message:

impl Handler for MyHandler {
    fn handle(message: Vec<u8>) -> Result<(), InternalError> {
        let deserialized_message = deserialize_and_validate_message(message)?;

Thus, this Handler trait requires any implementer to expect the input to be possibly poorly-formed, with the requirement to manually handle the deserialization and validation within the beginning of the function. There is a large potential for runtime errors to be produced at that stage because the possible input to the function (bytes) is a large superset of possibly deserialized and valid messages.

A more desirable pattern, such as the one described below, separates the deserialization and validation of the message from the logic of the handle() function, thus allowing the handle() function to operate only on well-formed data. The resulting separate pieces are substantially less complex because each has better focus.

Guide-level explanation

Handler Example

Continuing with our Handler example, we can make the handler generic over the message type, resulting in the following trait:

trait Handler {
    type Message;

    fn handle(message: Self::Message) -> Result<(), InternalError>;

The message type in our example will differ depending on context; from the framework perspective, we still want bytes, so the type will be Handler<Message = Vec<u8>>. But when implementing the Handler itself, we want a specific message type such as Handler<Item Message = MyMessage>.

Let’s assume we have an implementation of a handler that uses a corresponding message type:

struct MyMessage {
    item1: String,
    item2: u64,

struct MyHandler { .... }

impl Handler for MyHandler {
    type Message = MyMessage;

    fn handle(&mut self, message: Self::Message) -> Result<(), InternalError> {

This is ideal for implementing the handler as the message is already deserialized. Additionally, it would be easy for us to define MyMessage in a manner which was always structurally correct and valid, though for the sake of brevity we will keep the simple struct for our example. With that assumption though, we can say that the handler does not need to worry at all about deserialization or validation of the message.

For our example, let’s assume the framework code is responsible for routing messages to the handlers, but only understands messages as Vec<u8>. The framework code is unable to deal with specific message types and is restricted to handlers of Handler<Message = Vec<u8>>. Because of this restriction, the framework can collect handlers into a Vec<Handler<Message = Vec<u8>> or any other collection type it desires, which enables the framework to route to the handlers. (The exact mechanism of how messages are routed to the correct handler is not covered here, as it isn’t important for this pattern.)

There is therefore a need to adapt Handler<Message = MyMessage> to Handler<Message = Vec<u8>>, so that after creation of the handler, it can be provided to the framework. We can do this by allowing a Handler to be adapted to any other type if a converter for Message is provided. Using the code will look something like this:

let my_handler = MyHandler::new(); // type MyHandler<Message = MyMessage>
let bytes_handler: Hander<Message = Vec<u8>> = my_handler.into_handler(converter);

The converter will look something like:

struct MyConverter { ... }

impl Converter<MyMessage, Vec<u8>> for MyConverter {
    fn to_left(&self, right: Vec<u8>) -> Result<MyMessage, InternalError> { ... }
    fn to_right(&self, left: MyMessage) -> Result<Vec<u8>, InternalError> { ... }

One last detail. So far, we could have done everything with a single-direction converter (from Vec<u8> to MyMessage. However, if our Handler trait was more sophisticated, then implementing into_handler() would require bi-directional conversion. For example, if we provide the handler function a trait which allows sending messages, then we will need to convert from MyMessage to Vec<u8> so we can adapt that interface as well.

General Pattern

More generally, we have a trait with two different types, Trait<Item = A> and Trait<Item = B>, and adapt from one to the other by providing Converter<A, B>, a bi-directional converter between A and B.

Reference-level explanation

There are two traits in this pattern: a conversion trait and an adaptable trait.

Converter Trait

The conversion trait handles serialization and deserialization; but more generally, it handles converting between any two types L and R:

pub trait Converter<L, R> {
        /// Convert from generic type parameter `R` to type `L`.
        fn to_left(&self, right: R) -> Result<L, InternalError>;

        /// Convert from generic type parameter `L` to type `R`.
        fn to_right(&self, left: L) -> Result<R, InternalError>;

An adaptable Trait

The handler trait defines a method for handling the message but also a method for converting a handler into a handler with a different message type.

pub trait Trait {
    type Item;

    fn into_adapter<C, R>(self, converter: C) -> Adapter<Self, C, Self::Message, R>

Adapter is an struct which wraps the handler and implements Handler for the type being converted to:

struct Adapter<...., R> { ... }

impl Trait on Adapter<..., R> {
    type Item = R;


For concrete examples of handler traits, see:

  • MessageHandler
  • TimerHandler

Prior art

Splinter v0.6’s approach to service message handling influenced the motivation of the pattern described; that version of Splinter accepts Vec<u8> messages directly.

Sawtooth’s transaction processors and Transact’s transaction handlers also process bytes directly instead of using a native struct. This pattern will likely be used in Transact’s SmartContract trait which is in development, solving various complexities in using the current TransactionHandler API.