Our primary mechanism for error handling in Rust is the Result enum, which we briefly saw when discussing standard library types.

use std::fs::File;
use std::io::Read;

fn main() {
    let file: Result<File, std::io::Error> = File::open("diary.txt");
    match file {
        Ok(mut file) => {
            let mut contents = String::new();
            if let Ok(bytes) = file.read_to_string(&mut contents) {
                println!("Dear diary: {contents} ({bytes} bytes)");
            } else {
                println!("Could not read file content");
        Err(err) => {
            println!("The diary could not be opened: {err}");
This slide should take about 5 minutes.
  • Result has two variants: Ok which contains the success value, and Err which contains an error value of some kind.

  • Whether or not a function can produce an error is encoded in the function’s type signature by having the function return a Result value.

  • Like with Option, there is no way to forget to handle an error: You cannot access either the success value or the error value without first pattern matching on the Result to check which variant you have. Methods like unwrap make it easier to write quick-and-dirty code that doesn’t do robust error handling, but means that you can always see in your source code where proper error handling is being skipped.

More to Explore

It may be helpful to compare error handling in Rust to error handling conventions that students may be familiar with from other programming languages.


  • Many languages use exceptions, e.g. C++, Java, Python.

  • In most languages with exceptions, whether or not a function can throw an exception is not visible as part of its type signature. This generally means that you can’t tell when calling a function if it may throw an exception or not.

  • Exceptions generally unwind the call stack, propagating upward until a try block is reached. An error originating deep in the call stack may impact an unrelated function further up.

Error Numbers

  • Some languages have functions return an error number (or some other error value) separately from the successful return value of the function. Examples include C and Go.

  • Depending on the language it may be possible to forget to check the error value, in which case you may be accessing an uninitialized or otherwise invalid success value.