Async read and write traits

The Read and Write traits are key to IO in Rust and designing the async versions of these traits (and migrating runtimes to use them) is crucial for improving interoperability and portability in the async ecosystem. This work is part of ongoing work to improve async programming in Rust.

The current versions

There are currently AsyncRead and AsyncWrite traits defined in futures-rs (reused in Smol/async-std, and there are different but similar traits in Tokio). Since we can't currently define async functions in traits, they use poll_read and poll_write functions which are unergonomic. Ideally, the async read and write traits would look just like the sync versions in std (just with some async keywords scattered around).


  • The traits should be ergonomic to implement and to use (a specific aspect of ergonomics is that they should reflect the sync versions of the traits).
  • Support vectored reads and writes.
  • Support reading into uninitialized memory.
  • Support concurrent reading and writing of a single resource.
  • Work well as trait objects.
  • Work in no_std scenarios.
  • Work well with io_uring, IOCP, and other completion-based systems

I'm going to assume that work to support async functions in traits and trait objects lands.

I'm also going to assume that work to move the Error trait to libcore continues to progress. That gives us a path to using Results in a no_std scenario, so I won't discuss that goal any further.


Note on naming: in this proposal I will assume traits are in std::io::async and are named without the Async prefix. To disambiguate them from the existing traits one could use async::. E.g., async::Read rather than AsyncRead. I found this to be easier to read and write in the blog post, but the naming discussion is ongoing and we may well use the prefixed names. In any case, the designs of the proposal and alternatives are not really affected by the naming.

I propose (this is mostly a fleshing out of Carl's proposal for these traits) a three trait solution: async::{Read, Write, Ready}. Implementers must implement  Ready and either or both of Read and Write (and understand their relationship). Users however have two ways to use the traits: a more ergonomic path using only Read or Write, which very closely follows the experience using the sync traits in std; or follow a higher performance path where users explicitly use Ready. I'll explain more below (with examples) once I've presented some code.

First, I'll present a simplified version of the traits to make things easier to explain. I'll present the complete version later.

trait Ready {
    async fn ready(&mut self, interest: Interest) -> Result<Readiness>;

trait Read: Ready {
    fn non_blocking_read(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<usize>;

    async fn read(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<usize> { ... }

trait Write: Ready {
    fn non_blocking_write(&mut self, buf: &[u8]) -> Result<usize>;

    async fn write(&mut self, buf: &[u8]) -> Result<usize> { ... }

Usage - easy path

For the most ergonomic usage, where having the most optimal memory usage is not important, the async IO traits are used just like their sync counterparts. E.g.,

use std::async::io::{Read, Result};

async fn read_stream(stream: &TcpStream) -> Result<()> {
    let mut buf = [0; 1024];
    let bytes_read = buf).await?;

    // we've read bytes_read bytes
    // do something with buf


In the future there will be async versions of the BufRead trait and other parts of the IO module.

The important thing here is that asynchronous reading is exactly like synchronous reading, it just requires an await (and similarly for writing).

Usage - memory-sensitive path

Although closely matching the behaviour of synchronous IO is an important ergonomic goal, async IO does have different semantics around timing. Thus for absolutely optimal performance, it requires different usage patterns. In the above usage example, we allocate a buffer to read into, then call read, then await the result. In the sync world we would block until read returns. However, by using async and await we have a non-blocking wait which allows another task to allocate another buffer and await a different read. If we do this hundreds, thousands, or millions of times (which is what we want to be able to do with async IO), then that's a lot of memory allocated in buffers and not doing anything. Better behaviour would be to await the read and only allocate the buffer once the data is ready to be read. In this way we don't have a bunch of memory just sat around. In fact we could then just use a single buffer rather than being forced to allocate new ones!

This usage pattern is facilitated by the Ready trait and the non_blocking_ methods. For this usage, reading might look like:

use std::async::io::{Interest, Read, Ready, Result};
use std::io::ErrorKind;

async fn read_stream(stream: &TcpStream) -> Result<()> {
    loop {

        let mut buf = [0; 1024];
        let bytes_read = match stream.non_blocking_read(&mut buf) {
            Ok(bytes_read) => {
                // we've read bytes_read bytes
                // do something with buf

            Err(ref e) if e.kind() == ErrorKind::WouldBlock => {}
            Err(e) => return Err(e.into()),


This is clearly less ergonomic than the previous example (although see below for some improvements), but it is more memory-efficient.


Implementers of the IO traits must implement async::Ready and either or both of async::{Read, Write}. They only need to implement the synchronous non_blocking method, the async method is provided (the default implementation follows the memory-sensitive usage example above).

Where possible these traits should be implemented on reference types as well as value types (following the synchronous traits). E.g., all three traits should be implemented for both TcpStream and &TcpStream. This permits simultaneous reads and writes even when using the ergonomic path (simultaneous read/write is possible in the memory-optimal path without such implementations).

Such implementations are not possible today in some runtimes due details of their waiting implementation. They would be ok with the traits as proposed, since there is no explicit polling.

There is a bit of a foot-gun here because reference implementations make it possible to have multiple simultaneous readers or writers. However, that is somewhat difficult to do unintentionally, is already possible with the sync traits, and is possible even without the reference impls by cloning the underlying handles.

The readiness mechanism using the Ready trait is extensible to other readiness notifcations in the future. However, this is somewhat complicated since these notifications are nearly all platform-specific. (HUP is not, but requires special handling, see below).


How well does this proposal satisfy the goals stated earlier?


For many users, this proposal will be optimally ergonomic to use. Implementing the IO traits is not ideally ergonomic, but that affects fewer users (and users who tend to be more sophisticated) and is not too bad - there are not too many methods to implement, and those methods have an easily understood purpose which should map well to the OS API. Likewise, for those users who need optimal control or performance, the ergonomics are not great, but such users must expect to be exposed to some details. We can also offer some good helpers to make implementation easier.

I think there is an intrinsic trade-off between wanting to be close to the sync versions for ergonomics and wanting to be close to the underlying IO model for performance and control. I think this proposal is a good point on that trade-off.

Vectored reads and writes, and reading into uninitialized memory

These goals are satisfied by the presence of the respective methods and in the same way as for the sync equivalent traits in std.

Concurrent reading and writing of a single resource

This works in both API paths (in most cases). In the memory-optimal path because Ready::ready can wait on readiness for both reading and writing at the same time. In the ergonomic path, for most resources at least, due to implementations of Read and Write on reference types.

Work well as trait objects

Assuming we get async functions in trait objects working well, the proposed traits work optimally as trait objects. With current plans, that will require some boxing, but that should only be one allocation per read, and only necessary if using trait objects.

Work well with completion based systems

Async IO systems which are completion-based, such as IOCP and io_uring will work with this proposal, but will not perform optimally. In particular, the implementation must copy a buffer on every read or write. The optimal way to use completion-based IO is to use the async version of the BufRead trait. The design of that is left for future work, but I don't anticipate any significant issues.

The high-level view here is that using Read/Write will work for any platform, but that for optimal performance the user must choose the buffered or unbuffered traits depending on the platform, not just the constraints of the application. That seems acceptable since for optimal performance, one must always take account of the characteristics of the underlying platform. However, it means the libraries which want to offer excellent performance on all platforms cannot treat buffering as orthogonal and must provide versions of their API using both Read and BufRead (respectively for Write) traits.

Complete version

The sync read and write traits include a bunch more methods for different kinds of reading and writing. The complete definition of the async IO traits would thus look like:

pub use std::io::Result;

pub trait Ready {
    async fn ready(&mut self, interest: Interest) -> Result<Readiness>;

pub trait Read: Ready {
    fn non_blocking_read_buf(&mut self, buf: &mut ReadBuf<'_>) -> Result<NonBlocking<()>>;
    fn non_blocking_read_buf_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &mut ReadBufVec<'_>) -> Result<NonBlocking<usize>> { ... }

    async fn read(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    async fn read_buf(&mut self, buf: &mut ReadBuf<'_>) -> Result<())> { ... }
    async fn read_exact(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<()> { ... }
    async fn read_buf_exact(&mut self, buf: &mut ReadBuf<'_>) -> Result<()> { ... }
    async fn read_buf_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &mut ReadBufVec<'_>) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    async fn read_to_end(&mut self, buf: &mut Vec<u8>) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    async fn read_to_string(&mut self, buf: &mut String) -> Result<usize> { ... }

    fn is_read_vectored(&self) -> bool { ... }

    fn by_ref(&mut self) -> &mut Self
        Self: Sized,
    { ... }

pub trait Write: Ready {
    fn non_blocking_write(&mut self, buf: &[u8]) -> Result<NonBlocking<usize>>;
    fn non_blocking_write_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &[IoSlice<'_>]) -> Result<NonBlocking<usize>> { ... }
    fn non_blocking_flush(&mut self) -> Result<NonBlocking<()>>;

    async fn write(&mut self, buf: &[u8]) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    async fn write_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &mut [IoSlice<'_>]) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    async fn write_all(&mut self, buf: &[u8]) -> Result<()> { ... }
    async fn write_all_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &mut [IoSlice<'_>]) -> Result<()> { ... }
    async fn write_fmt(&mut self, fmt: Arguments<'_>) -> Result<()> { ... }
    async fn flush(&mut self) -> Result<()> { ... }

    fn is_write_vectored(&self) -> bool { ... }

    fn by_ref(&mut self) -> &mut Self
        Self: Sized,
    { ... }

/// Express which notifications the user is interested in receiving.
#[derive(Copy, Clone)]
pub struct Interest(u32);

/// Describes which operations are ready for an IO resource.
#[derive(Copy, Clone)]
pub struct Readiness(u32);

impl Interest {
    pub const READ = ...;
    pub const WRITE = ...;
    pub const READ_WRITE = Interest(Interest::Read.0 | Interest::Write.0);

impl Debug for Interest { ... }

impl Readiness {
    /// The resource is ready to read from.
    pub fn read(self) -> bool { ... }

    ///  The resource is ready to write to.
    pub fn write(self) -> bool { ... }

    /// The resource has hung up.
    /// Note there may still be data to read.
    /// Note that the user does not *need* to check this method, even if the resource has hung up,
    /// the behaviour of `non_blocking_read` and `non_blocking_write` is defined and they should not
    /// panic.
    /// Note that the user does not need to request an interest in hup notifications, they may always
    /// be returned
    pub fn hup(self) -> bool { ... }

impl Debug for Readiness { ... }

/// Whether an IO operation is ready for reading/writing or would block.
#[derive(Copy, Clone, Debug, ...)]
enum NonBlocking<T> {

/// A helper macro for handling the 'would block' case returned by `Ready::ready`.
macro_rules! continue_on_block {
    ($e: expr) => {
        match $e {
            NonBlocking::Ready(t) => t,
            NonBlocking::WouldBlock => continue,

I haven't included methods for iterating readers (bytes, chain, take), since work on async iterators is ongoing. I leave these for future work and do not believe they should block implementation or stabilisation.

Some rationale:

  • The non-blocking read functions are only required for high performance usage and implementation. Therefore, there is no need for variations which take slices of bytes rather than a ReadBuf (used for reading into uninitialised memory, see RFC 2930). Converting from a byte slice to a ReadBuf is trivial.
  • We elide async functions for vectored reads using byte slices - vectored IO is a high-performance option and the overhead of converting to a ReadBuf is trivial, so I don't think it is necessary.
  • The read_exact functions are convenience functions and by their nature it does not make sense to have non-blocking variations (c.f., the async functions) since they require multiple reads (and potentially waits).

Note that we expect implementers to implement the provided non-blocking methods in some cases for optimal performance (e.g., for vectored IO). But expect the provided async methods to almost never be overridden. This will be documented.

To make using the memory-optimal path more ergonomic, there are some changes and additions:

  • The non-blocking functions return Result<NonBlocking<T>> rather than Result<T>, that makes handling the 'would block' case easier and permits using ? to handle other errors.
  • Provide the continue_on_block convenience macro to further simplify handling 'would block'.

With these changes, reading using an explicit ready call becomes:

use std::async::io::{continue_on_block, Interest, Read, Ready, Result};
use std::io::ErrorKind;

async fn read_stream(stream: &TcpStream) -> Result<()> {
    loop {

        let mut buf = [0; 1024];
        let bytes_read = continue_on_block!(stream.non_blocking_read(&mut buf)?);

        // we've read bytes_read bytes
        // do something with buf

        return Ok(());


Open question: for some kinds of IO, it is possible to know the number of bytes ready to be read. Therefore, the ready method could return Option<usize> in the read case so the user can allocate the right amount of space. I'm not sure if this happens often enough to be worthwhile.


I'll quickly cover some of the design alternatives. Some of these are completely different, others are variations of the above proposal.

Async traits

The simplest and most ergonomic alternative is to copy io::{Read, Write} and add async to most of the methods. I think this would work and would be optimal from the point of view of symmetry with the sync traits. However, it requires always pre-allocating a buffer per-read, which is unacceptable for some applications. The current proposal can be thought of as a super-set of the async-method-only proposal, from the perspective of the trait user.

No impls on reference types

We could encourage implementers not to implement Read and Write for reference types. This would still allow simultaneous read/write via the ready method. However, it forces more users away from the ergonomic path.

Polling read/write methods

We could continue to use poll_read and poll_write instead of the non_blocking_ methods. This would allow using trait objects without allocating and can support simultaneous read/write. However, this is much less ergonomic than this proposal and doesn't permit impls on reference types.

Elide the non_blocking_ methods

In this alternative, we'd keep the Ready trait, but the Read and Write traits would only have the async methods, not the non_blocking_ ones. In the common case, the async read would return immediately and the user would not need to handle 'would block' errors. However, since in some cases the user would need to wait for the method to return, one could not share a single buffer between all reads on a thread. Furthermore, these functions couldn't be called from polling functions, or other non-async contexts.

read_ready and write_ready methods rather than a Ready trait

This would lead to fewer traits and therefore a simpler API. However, there would be more methods overall (which would lead to code duplication for implementers). The mechanism would not be extensible to other readiness notifications, and it means that a single thread can't concurrently wait for both read and write readiness.

A Split trait

An alternative to implementing the Read and Write traits on reference types to support simultaneous reading and writing, is to have a Split trait which is used is used to split a resource into a reader and writer (which implement Read and Write, respectively). The advantage of this approach is that it supports reading and writing without simultaneous multiple reads (or writes). However, it is a more complicated API requiring another trait and extra concrete types for many resources.

Make Ready optional, rather than a super-trait

This lets implementers choose if they want to support the memory-optimal path or just the ergonomic path. However, it also means that in generic code there is no way to use the memory-optimal path unless it is explicitly declared (i.e., changing the implementation becomes a breaking change, or code is reliant on intermediate generic code to require the Ready bound as well as Read or Write).

Offer only BufRead, and not Read (likewise for Write)

It might be possible to reduce the set of IO traits to only the buffered varieties by using a sophisticated buffer or buffer manager type to abstract over the various ways in which buffers can be managed and passed to read methods. By having the buffer manager supply the buffer, there is no need to wait on readiness and instead the buffer manager creates or provides the buffer when the reader is ready. The approach would work well with completion based IO too. However, this approach adds some complexity for the simple cases of read, would be a radical departure from the existing sync traits, and it's unclear if the lifetimes can be made to work in all cases.

Make vectored IO a separate trait

It was arguably a mistake to add vectored IO to the existing IO traits rather than making them separate traits, the is_vectored method indicates this. We could fix that for async IO, at the expense of some similarity to the sync traits.

Only provide ReadBuf methods

Rather than providing methods which operate on ReadBuf and &[u8] we could elide the latter since it is easy to convert from ReadBuf to &[u8]. Alternatively we could have the methods take impl Into<ReadBuf> thus having a single method which can take both types.