• Use associated type when there is a one-to-one relationship between the type implementing the trait and the associated type.
  • It is sometimes also known as the output type, since this is an item given to a type when we apply a trait to it.

Creation

trait GetItems {
    type First;
//  ^~~~ defines an associated type. 
    type Last: ?Sized;
//           ^~~~~~~~ associated types may be constrained by traits as well
    fn first_item(&self) -> &Self::First;
//                           ^~~~~~~~~~~ use `Self::` to refer to the associated type 
    fn last_item(&self) -> &Self::Last;
//                          ^~~~~~~~~~ associated types can be used as function output...
    fn set_first_item(&mut self, item: Self::First);
//                                     ^~~~~~~~~~~  ... input, and anywhere.
}

Implemention

impl<T, U: ?Sized> GetItems for (T, U) {
    type First = T;
    type Last = U;
//              ^~~ assign the associated types
    fn first_item(&self) -> &Self::First { &self.0 }
    fn last_item(&self) -> &Self::Last { &self.1 }
    fn set_first_item(&mut self, item: Self::First) { self.0 = item; }
}

impl<T> GetItems for [T; 3] {
    type First = T;
    type Last = T;
    fn first_item(&self) -> &T { &self[0] }
//                           ^ you could refer to the actual type instead of `Self::First`
    fn last_item(&self) -> &T { &self[2] }
    fn set_first_item(&mut self, item: T) { self[0] = item; }
}

Refering to associated types

If we are sure that a type T implements GetItems e.g. in generics, we could simply use T::First to obtain the associated type.

fn get_first_and_last<T: GetItems>(obj: &T) -> (&T::First, &T::Last) {
//                                               ^~~~~~~~ refer to an associated type
    (obj.first_item(), obj.last_item())
}

Otherwise, you need to explicitly tell the compiler which trait the type is implementing

let array: [u32; 3] = [1, 2, 3];
let first: &<[u32; 3] as GetItems>::First = array.first_item();
//          ^~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ [u32; 3] may implement multiple traits which many
//                                        of them provide the `First` associated type.
//                                        thus the explicit "cast" is necessary here.
assert_eq!(*first, 1);

Constraining with associated types

fn clone_first_and_last<T: GetItems>(obj: &T) -> (T::First, T::Last)
    where T::First: Clone, T::Last: Clone
//  ^~~~~ use the `where` clause to constraint associated types by traits
{
    (obj.first_item().clone(), obj.last_item().clone())
}

fn get_first_u32<T: GetItems<First=u32>>(obj: &T) -> u32 {
//                          ^~~~~~~~~~~ constraint associated types by equality
    *obj.first_item()
}