Porting Boolrule To Rust

I recently ported a boolean expression engine called boolrule from Python to Rust. My version is called coolrule and it's open source, published on crates, and passes the boolrule test suite.

// Without context
let expr = coolrule::new("1 in (1, 2, 3)")?;
let test = expr.test()?; // true
// With context
let expr = coolrule::new("x == 8")?;
let test = expr.test_with_context(
HashMap::from([(vec!["x"], Value::Number(8.0))])
)?; // true

Building this port was harder than I predicted. I had to learn a parsing library, work out how the lesser-used operators of boolrule work, and look into how Python evaluates tuple comparisons. For example, assert (1, print) < (2, None) is valid, non-erroring, Python code. The tuples stop being compared after the first index – it's True.

Boolrule has a small grammar (45 LoC), powered by pyparsing, and the evaluation logic is terse and elegant. This elegance is lost in my translation but the performance of a compiled language like Rust means it's automatically 3x faster (in my quick benchmarks) without any optimization work – as well as the usual benefits of static types.

During this project, I learned that I prefer working on parsing/evaluation code in Rust – compared to my experience working on intepreters written in Python + Mypy. In coolrule, when I had to refactor something early in the code flow, like a section of the grammar, adjusting for the downstream effects meant following the rust-analyzer warnings and making obvious fixes.

Parsing a Boolean Expression

Boolean expressions in boolrule look like this:

true == false
foo.bar isnot none
x in (5, 6, 7)
(1, 2, 3) ⊆ (1, 2, 3) and 1 > 2

At a high-level, there are values and binary operators which are joined together by and/or. Parentheses are used to define groups rather than to define sub-expressions.

Most of the real-world use-cases of boolrule I've seen involve things like checking if a customer's attributes are in a certain group. This is where the library shines — the flexibility of using a dynamic string as evaluation logic.

So perhaps a more practical example is like customer.plan in ("pro", "enterprise"). Which is parsed into a structure that kinda looks like this:

/ \
customer.plan group
/ \
"pro" "enterprise"

The Rust parsing library I used is called pom (PEG parser combinators using operator overloading without macros). I tried a few parsing libraries and ended up preferring the ones where you wrote code instead of maintaining a separate grammar file. The parser-combinator style of pom helped me stay in more of a flow state. Having rust-analyzer hold my hand as I fumbled around with combinators was a life saver. I also found the pom examples to be hackable and I even lifted parts of the JSON parser example to handle parsing strings and floats in coolrule.

Here's a simplified excerpt to show you what all that looks like:

// parser.rs
pub fn parse<'a>(input: &str) -> Result<BooleanExpression, pom::Error> {
(space() * boolean_expression() - end()).parse(input.as_bytes())
fn boolean_expression<'a>() -> Parser<'a, u8, BooleanExpression> {
boolean_condition().map(|boolean_condition| BooleanExpression {
initial: boolean_condition,
conditions: vec![],
fn boolean_condition<'a>() -> Parser<'a, u8, BooleanCondition> {
(property_val() + binary_op() + property_val())
.map(|((lval, bin_op), rval)|
BooleanCondition::Comparison(lval, bin_op, rval))
// ...
fn integer<'a>() -> Parser<'a, u8, u8> {
one_of(b"123456789") -
.repeat(0..) | sym(b'0')

The parse tree is made up of recursive structs and enums, the nodes of the tree are built from parsing functions that return these types.

// parser.rs
pub enum BooleanCondition {
Comparison(PropertyVal, BinOp, PropertyVal),
pub struct BooleanExpression {
pub initial: BooleanCondition,
pub conditions: Vec<(AndOr, BooleanCondition)>,

Most of the parse trees I've worked with before are deep but in boolrule they are much more wide. The initial boolean condition (a binary operator with two children, a value or a group) is followed by any number of <and/or, boolean condition> blocks, depending on the length of the expression.

The core section of evaluation involves looping over these blocks.

// evaluator.rs
fn eval_boolean_expression(
boolean_expression: &BooleanExpression,
context: &HashMap<Vec<String>, SimpleValue>,
) -> Result<bool, EvalError> {
let mut result = eval_boolean_condition(&boolean_expression.initial, context)?;
for (and_or, cond) in boolean_expression.conditions.as_slice() {
let next = eval_boolean_condition(&cond, context)?;
match and_or {
AndOr::And => {
result = result && next;
AndOr::Or => {
result = result || next;
return Ok(result);

I used the same internal naming conventions from the boolrule codebase so that the different sections of the parsing and evaluation logic were easier to follow as I ported them.

Failing to Write a Python→Rust Plugin

After getting the boolrule test suite to pass, I looked into making this project a rewrite rather than a port so that it could be used as a Python library (that calls into Rust). A faster, drop-in replacement for boolrule. However, I should note that boolrule is not used in performance sensitive applications and that this idea was a bit of a self-nerd-snipe.

I wanted to use PyO3 because of its pleasant API:

use pyo3::prelude::*;
/// Formats the sum of two numbers as string.
fn sum_as_string(a: usize, b: usize) -> PyResult<String> {
Ok((a + b).to_string())
/// A Python module implemented in Rust. The name of this function must match
/// the `lib.name` setting in the `Cargo.toml`, else Python will not be able to
/// import the module.
fn string_sum(_py: Python<'_>, m: &PyModule) -> PyResult<()> {
m.add_function(wrap_pyfunction!(sum_as_string, m)?)?;

But when I started writing the PyO3 glue code, I bumped into all kinds of edge cases. While the boolrule grammar has a fixed set of types (str, int, float, bool, none), the objects that you can pass via context can be literally anything.

import sys
import boolrule
# here's a valid boolrule evaluation..
b = boolrule.BoolRule("(a) == (a)").test({"a": sys})

Handling these arbitrary Python objects inside Rust was tricky. Especially when I had to translate them into some kind of “special value” that could be compared inside the evaluation step. I briefly entertained using the Python builtin hash() to get a deterministic id for non-(str/int/float/bool/none) objects so they could be compared reliably.

But then I started to worry that my work would be fruitless and the overhead of this data mangling would remove much of the performance benefits (while edge cases still lurked).

So instead I just smashed that publish button.