TQL, an easy-to-use ORM for Rust

Two years after I finished my school last year project, which consisted in a compiler plugin to provide a DSL for SQL in Rust, I can finally update it to use proc-macro and benefit from the same features as the original version, while also working on the stable version of Rust!

TQL is an ORM inspired by the Django ORM: it provides an easy-to-use syntax that is similar to the Django ORM. However, as it is implemented as a procedural macro, I improved it in some cases to get a better syntax. For instance, while in Django you’d need something like this to use conditions and operators:

Table.objects.filter(Q(field1="value1") | Q(field2__lt=100))

In tql, you can use the normal Rust syntax:

Table.filter(field1 == "value1" || field2 < 100)

which is more convenient.


All of this is possible thanks to the use of procedural macros. Actually, the above code should be written inside a sql!() macro like this:

let items = sql!(Table.filter(field1 == "value1" || field2 < 100));

This procedural macro will analyze the query to make sure that the fields exist and the type of the expressions match. It will also generate the SQL query at compile-time, so there’s no run-time cost associated with creating a query. Thus, it is the perfect example of a zero-cost abstraction.

Database support

Currently, tql only supports PostgreSQL, but it will soon support Sqlite. Other database backends might be added in the future if people are interested. Also, some features of SQL are not yet supported and these will be added in the future.


It is very easy to use tql. First of all, you need to annotate your model with the #[derive(SqlTable)] attribute:

struct TodoItem {
    id: PrimaryKey,
    text: String,
    date_added: DateTime<Utc>,
    done: bool,

The fields are of normal Rust types, except for PrimaryKey and ForeignKey<T>. Next, you can simply use the sql!() macro to execute queries. For instance, this will create the table in the database:


This macro assumes that there’s a variable named connection in scope and will use it to execute the query. This variable should be of type postgres::Connection. Let’s see the other queries we can do. To do a SELECT query, with WHERE, ORDER BY and LIMIT clauses, we can use the methods filter(), sort() and indexing:

let items = sql!(TodoItem.filter(done == false).sort(-date_added)[..10]);

This will select the first 10 TodoItem, sorted from the newest date to the latest and select only the items where the field done is equal to false. Selecting all items can be done with TodoItem.all() and selecting one item by primary key can be done with TodoItem.get(primary_key). We can do even more complex queries with aggregates, for instance:

Person.filter(age < 50).values(name)
  .aggregate(age_average = avg(age))
  .filter(age_average > 30)

Of course, tql supports JOIN with the join() method.

To update a row, simply use the update() method, optionally with some filters:

sql!(TodoItem.get(id).update(done = true));

Here, we set the field done to true for the row where the primary key is equal to the content of the variable id.

Deleting rows can be done by calling the method delete():


Finally, you can insert rows with the insert() method:

sql!(TodoItem.insert(text = &text, date_added = Utc::now(), done = false));

You can find more details of the supported syntax and examples in the tql repository.

How good are error messages?

One issue people have with such tools in Rust is the error messages. For instance, here’s part of a message you can get when you do a type error with diesel:

error[E0277]: the trait bound `str: diesel::Expression` is not satisfied
  --> src/main.rs:69:41
69 |         diesel::update(sql_table::table.find("id"))
   |                                         ^^^^ the trait `diesel::Expression` is not implemented for `str`
   = note: required because of the requirements on the impl of `diesel::Expression` for `&str`
   = note: required because of the requirements on the impl of `diesel::Expression` for `diesel::expression::operators::Eq<schema::__diesel_infer_schema::infer_sql_table::sql_table::columns::id, &str>`
   = note: required because of the requirements on the impl of `diesel::EqAll<&str>` for `schema::__diesel_infer_schema::infer_sql_table::sql_table::columns::id`
   = note: required because of the requirements on the impl of `diesel::query_dsl::filter_dsl::FindDsl<&str>` for `schema::__diesel_infer_schema::infer_sql_table::sql_table::table`


(there are actually 3 other error messages caused by the simple mistake of writing "id" instead of id)

Here’s the error message provided by tql for the very same error:

error: mismatched types:
 expected `i32`,
    found `String`
  --> src/main.rs:87:39
87 |         let table = sql!(SqlTable.get("id")).unwrap();
   |                                       ^^^^
   = note: in this expansion of sql! (defined in tql)

How can tql show good error messages? It can do that because the procedural macro is actually doing a whole semantic analysis, like a compiler would do. TQL will also provide help message like the Rust compiler can do:

error: `SlTable` does not name an SQL table
  --> src/main.rs:83:23
83 |         let id = sql!(SlTable.insert(field1 = &string, field2 = number));
   |                       ^^^^^^^
   = help: did you mean SqlTable?

Here, tql proposed a name that is similar to the one written in this example.

This macro can even warn you when you do something dubious, like deleting your whole table:

warning: delete() without filters
  --> examples/todo.rs:60:32
60 |     let result = sql!(TodoItem.delete());
   |                                ^^^^^^

Nothing is perfect, however. Currently, this only works on nightly and the error messages are not as precise when you use tql on the stable version of the compiler. However, this is not a big deal, because you can easily develop your project on nightly, and then switch to stable for your deployment since you’re not supposed to have compiler errors when you’re ready to deploy (and you will still see them anyway on stable).


Currently, tql support a very basic query optimization: constant propagation. But nothing prevents it to support other and more useful optimizations in the future.


As I said earlier, I plan to add support for other databases to tql and more SQL features. Also, I will improve some rough edges like the connection management and the error handling of the generated code. Take note that tql is not ready for production use, it’s alpha quality and not thoroughly tested (especially the stable version), so use it at your own risk.

This version has not been published yet, because it depends on the master branch of the syn crate, but I’ll publish it as soon as it is possible.

If you want more information about tql, you can find my school report here and the slides of the talk I gave about it, both of which are in french and slightly outdated (these date back from 2015, when tql was a compiler plugin). (Don’t be afraid by the size of the report, it contains the whole code of tql.)

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