Announcing Valuable, a library for object-safe value inspection

May 24, 2021

Over the past few weeks, we have been working on Valuable, a new crate that provides object-safe value inspection. It is almost ready to publish, so I thought I'd write an article to introduce it. The crate offers an object-safe trait, Valuable, that allows callers to inspect the contents of the value, whether fields, enum variants, or primitives, without knowing its type. Initially, we wrote Valuable to support Tracing; however, it is helpful in several scenarios. Object-safe value inspection is a bit of a mouthful, so let's start by looking at Tracing and why it is needed there.

Tracing is a framework for instrumenting Rust programs to collect structured, event-based diagnostic information. Some consider it a structured logging framework, and while it can fill that use case, it can do a lot more. For example, Console aims to become a powerful tool for debugging async Rust applications and uses Tracing as its backbone. Tokio and other libraries emit instrumentation via Tracing. Console aggregates the events into a model of the application's execution, enabling the developer to gain insights into bugs and other issues.

Instrumentation -> trait object -> event collection

Instrumented applications emit events with rich, structured data, and collectors receive the events. Of course, at compile-time, the instrumented application and the event collectors do not know about each other. A trait object bridges the instrumentation half with the collection half enabling collectors to register themselves dynamically. So, passing rich, structured data from the instrumentation half to the collector requires passing it through the trait object boundary. Tracing supports this at a minimal level today but does not support passing nested data.

Let's look at an actual use case. Given an HTTP service, at the start of an HTTP request, we want to emit a tracing event that includes relevant HTTP headers. The data may look something like this.

  user_agent: "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE5.01; Windows NT)",
  host: "",
  content_type: {
    mime: "text/xml",
    charset: "utf-8",
  accept_encoding: ["gzip", "deflate"],

In the application, a Rust struct stores the headers.

struct Headers {
    user_agent: String,
    host: String,
    content_type: ContentType,
    accept_encoding: Vec<String>,

struct ContentType {
    mime: String,
    charset: String,

We want to pass this data to the event collector, but how? The event collector doesn't know about the Headers struct, so we can't just define a method that takes a &Headers. We could use a type like serde_json::Value to pass arbitrary structured data but this would require allocating and copying the data from our application's struct to hand it to the collector.

The Valuable crate aims to solve this problem. In the HTTP header case, first, we would implement Valuable for our Headers type. Then, we can pass a &dyn Valuable reference to the event collector. The collector can use Valuable's visitor API to inspect the value and extract data relevant to its use case.

// Visit the root of the Headers struct. This visitor will find the
// `accept_encoding` field on `Headers` and extract the contents. All other
// fields are ignored.
struct VisitHeaders {
    /// The extracted `accept-encoding` header values.
    accept_encoding: Vec<String>,

// Visit the `accept-encoding` `Vec`. This visitor iterates the items in
// the list and pushes it into its `accept_encoding` vector.
struct VisitAcceptEncoding<'a> {
    accept_encoding: &'a mut Vec<String>,

impl Visit for VisitHeaders {
    fn visit_value(&mut self, value: Value<'_>) {
        // We expect a `Structable` representing the `Headers` struct.
        match value {
            // Visiting the struct will call `visit_named_fields`.
            Value::Structable(v) => v.visit(self),
            // Ignore other patterns
            _ => {}

    fn visit_named_fields(&mut self, named_values: &NamedValues<'_>) {
        // We only care about `accept_encoding`
        match named_values.get_by_name("accept_encoding") {
            Some(Value::Listable(accept_encoding)) => {
                // Create the `VisitAcceptEncoding` instance to visit
                // the items in `Listable`.
                let mut visit = VisitAcceptEncoding {
                    accept_encoding: &mut self.accept_encoding,
                accept_encoding.visit(&mut visit);
            _ => {}

// Extract the "accept-encoding" headers
let mut visit = VisitHeaders { accept_encoding: vec![] };
valuable::visit(&my_headers, &mut visit);

assert_eq!(&["gzip", "deflate"], &visit.accept_encoding[..]);

Note how the visitor API lets us pick and choose what data to inspect. We only care about the accept_encoding value, so that is the only field we visit. We do not visit the content_type field.

The Valuable crate represents each value as an instance of the Value enum. Primitive rust types are enumerated, and other types are categorised into Structable, Enumerable, Listable, or Mappable represented by traits of the same name. Implementing a struct or enum traits is usually done using a procedural macro; however, it might look like this.

static FIELDS: &[NamedField<'static>] = &[

impl Valuable for Headers {
    fn as_value(&self) -> Value<'_> {

    fn visit(&self, visit: &mut dyn Visit) {

impl Structable for Headers {
    fn definition(&self) -> StructDef<'_> {
        StructDef::new_static("Headers", Fields::Named(FIELDS))

Notice how the visit implementation does not copy any data besides primitive types. If the visitor does not need to inspect sub-fields, no further work is required.

We expect Valuable to be useful beyond just Tracing. For example, it is helpful for any serialization when object safety is required. Valuable is not a replacement for Serde and will not provide a deserialization API. However, Valuable can complement Serde as Serde's serialization API is not trait-object safe due to the trait's associated types (erased-serde exists to work around the problem but requires allocating for each nested data structure). A valuable-serde crate is already in progress (thanks taiki-e), providing a bridge between a type implementing Valuable and Serialize. To get object-safe serialization, derive Valuable instead of Serialize and serialize the Valuable trait object.

As another potential use case, Valuable can efficiently provide data when rendering templates. A templating engine must access data fields on-demand as it is rendering a template. For example, the Handlebars crate currently uses serde_json::Value as the argument type when rendering, requiring the caller to copy data into a serde_json::Value instance. Instead, if Handlebars used Valuable, the copying step is skipped.

Now we need you to give Valuable a try and let us know if it satisfies your use cases. Because Tracing 1.0 will depend on Valuable, we hope to stabilize a 1.0 release of Valuable by early 2022. That does not give us a lot of time, so we need to find API holes sooner than later. Try to write libraries using Valuable, especially templating engines or other use cases hinted at by this post. We could also use help with "bridge" crates (e.g. valuable-http), that provide Valuable implementations for common ecosystem data types. There is also a lot of work left to expand the derive macro with configuration options and other capabilities, so come say hi in the #valuable channel on the Tokio discord server.