Third-Party Crates

Note: Crates beyond the automatically linked proc_macro crate are not required to write procedural macros. The crates listed here merely make writing them simpler and more concise, while potentially adding to the compilation time of the procedural macro due to added dependencies.

As procedural macros live in a crate they can naturally depend on ( crates. turns out the crate ecosystem has some really helpful crates tailored towards procedural macros that this chapter will quickly go over, most of which will be used in the following chapters to implement the example macros. As these are merely quick introductions it is advised to look at each crate's documentation for more in-depth information if required.


proc-macro2, the successor of the proc_macro crate! Or so you might think but that is of course not correct, the name might be a bit misleading. This crate is actually just a wrapper around the proc_macro crate serving two specific purposes, taken from the documentation:

  • Bring proc-macro-like functionality to other contexts like and
  • Make procedural macros unit testable.

As the proc_macro crate is exclusive to proc_macro type crates, making them unit testable or accessing them from non-proc macro code is next to impossible. With that in mind the proc-macro2 crate mimics the original proc_macro crate's api, acting as a wrapper in proc-macro crates and standing on its own in non-proc-macro crates. Hence it is advised to build libraries targeting proc-macro code to be built against proc-macro2 instead as that will enable those libraries to be unit testable, which is also the reason why the following listed crates take and emit proc-macro2::TokenStreams instead. When a proc_macro token stream is required, one can simply .into() the proc-macro2 token stream to get the proc_macro version and vice-versa.

Procedural macros using the proc-macro2 crate will usually import the proc-macro2::TokenStream in an aliased form like use proc-macro2::TokenStream as TokenStream2.


The quote crate mainly exposes just one macro, the quote! macro.

This little macro allows you to easily create token streams by writing the actual source out as syntax while also giving you the power of interpolating tokens right into the written syntax. Interpolation can be done by using the #local syntax where local refers to a local in the current scope. Likewise #( #local )* can be used to interpolate over an iterator of types that implement ToTokens, this works similar to declarative macro_rules! repetitions in that they allow a separator as well as extra tokens inside the repetition.

let name = /* some identifier */;
let exprs = /* an iterator over expressions tokenstreams */;
let expanded = quote! {
    impl SomeTrait for #name { // #name interpolates the name local from above
        fn some_function(&self) -> usize {
            #( #exprs )* // #name interpolates exprs by iterating the iterator

This a very useful tool when preparing macro output avoiding the need of creating a token stream by inserting tokens one by one.

Note: As stated earlier, this crate makes use of proc_macro2 and thus the quote! macro returns a proc-macro2::TokenStream.


The syn crate is a parsing library for parsing a stream of Rust tokens into a syntax tree of Rust source code. It is a very powerful library that makes parsing proc-macro input quite a bit easier, as the proc_macro crate itself does not expose any kind of parsing capabilities, merely the tokens. As the library can be a heavy compilation dependency, it makes heavy use of feature gates to allow users to cut it as small as required.

So what does it offer? A bunch of things.

First of all it has definitions and parsing for all standard Rust syntax nodes(when the full feature is enabled), as well as a DeriveInput type which encapsulates all the information a derive macro gets passed as an input stream as a structured input(requires the derive feature, enabled by default). These can be used right out of the box with the parse_macro_input! macro(requires the parsing and proc-macro features, enabled by default) to parse token streams into these types.

If rust syntax doesn't cut it, and instead one wishes to parse custom non-rust syntax the crate also offers a generic parsing API, mainly in the form of the Parse trait(requires the parsing feature, enabled by default).

Aside from this the types exposed by the library keep location information and spans which allows procedural macros to emit detailed error messages pointing at the macro input at the points of interest.

As this is again a library for procedural macros, it makes use of the proc_macro2 token streams and spans and as such, conversions may be required.