#id-generator #codes #short #numbers #generate #random #block-id


Library for generating non-sequential, tightly-packed short IDs. Use block-id instead.

7 releases

0.1.6 Jun 14, 2023
0.1.5 Apr 1, 2022
0.1.4 Dec 21, 2021
0.1.3 Nov 18, 2021

#222 in Development tools

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Tiny ID has been superseded by block-id. block-id has better properties for use in a distributed setting, and is invertible. For new usages, I recommend using block-id over tiny_id.

GitHub Repo stars wokflow state crates.io docs.rs dependency status

tiny_id is a Rust library for generating non-sequential, tightly-packed short IDs.

Most other short ID generators just string together random digits. Due to the birthday problem, that approach is prone to collisions. For example, a four-digit alphabetic code has a ~50% chance of collision after 800 codes.

tiny_id uses a linear congruential generator to generate codes which do not collide while retaining only a small, constant-sized piece of state. For the same four-digit alphabetic code, tiny_id has a 0% chance of collision until all 456,976 possible codes have been generated.

These codes are indended for use-cases where it's desirable to have short, human-readable codes such that two codes generated in a row are no more likely to resemble each other than codes that are not. It should not be used in cases where the codes need to be non-guessable. They also do not guard against a German tank problem-type analysis by someone sufficiently motivated.

A sample of random short codes, generated by the generate.rs example, demonstrates what a sequence of these codes looks like:

paul:~/tiny_id$ target/debug/examples/generate 36 4 10

How to use it

Basic use

use tiny_id::ShortCodeGenerator;

fn main() {
    // The length of generated codes
    let length: usize = 6;

    // Create a generator. The generator must be mutable, because each
    // code generated updates its state.
    let mut generator = ShortCodeGenerator::new_alphanumeric(length);

    // Generate the next short code, and update the internal generator state.
    let code = generator.next_string();
    assert_eq!(length, code.len());


The set of characters (or arbitrary values) used to construct a short code is referred to as an alphabet. tiny_id has several built-in alphabets, or you can provide your own.

If you provide an alphabet rather than use one of the built-in alphabets, that alphabet must not contain any repeated entries. This is not enforced by the library, but failure to abide will result in collisions.

use tiny_id::ShortCodeGenerator;

fn main() {
    let length: usize = 6;

    // There are several built-in alphabets with convenience constructors.
    // Numeral digits (0-9), like "769458".

    // Numeral digits and lowercase letters (a-z), like "l2sx2b".

    // Numeral digits, lowercase, and uppercase letters, like "qAh6Gg".

    // Uppercase letters only, like "MEPQOD".

    // You can also provide an alphabet with any unicode characters.
    // I hope you don't use it for emoji, but you could:

    // The generator can also be used with non-char types, as long
    // as they implement Copy.
    let mut gen = ShortCodeGenerator::with_alphabet(
        vec![true, false],

    // next_string() is only implemented on ShortCodeGenerator<char>,
    // but gen is a ShortCodeGenerator<bool>, so we need to call
    // next_vec() instead, which returns a Vec<bool>.
    let result: Vec<bool> = gen.next_vec();
    assert_eq!(length, result.len());

Exhaustion Strategies

Eventually, all short code generators reach a point where they run out of codes of a given length. There are three options for what to do when this happens:

  • Increment the length. This corresponds to ExhaustionStrategy::IncreaseLength, which is the default.
  • Cycle. This repeats the cycle of codes from the beginning. The order of codes is the same in every cycle. Corresponds to ExhaustionStrategy::Cycle.
  • Panic. In the spirit of fail-fast, this panics when all codes have been used, for cases where exhaustion is unexpected and assumed by the rest of the program not to happen. Corresponds to ExhaustionStrategy::Panic.
use tiny_id::{ShortCodeGenerator, ExhaustionStrategy};

fn main() {
    // Increase length (default).
    let mut gen = ShortCodeGenerator::new_uppercase(2);

    for _ in 0..(26*26) {
        let result = gen.next_vec();
        assert_eq!(2, result.len());

    // We've exhausted all options, so our next code will be longer.
    let result = gen.next_vec();
    assert_eq!(3, result.len());

    // Cycle.
    let mut gen = ShortCodeGenerator::new_uppercase(2)
    let first = gen.next_vec();

    for _ in 0..(26*26-1) {
        let result = gen.next_vec();
        assert_eq!(2, result.len())

    // We've exhausted all options, so our next code will be a
    // repeat of the first.
    let result = gen.next_vec();
    assert_eq!(first, result);

How it works

A linear congruential generator (LCG) is a simple, non-cryptographic pseudorandom number generator.

LCGs are interesting because they generate numbers in a cycle, and the length of that cycle as a function of the parameters to the LCG is well-studied. In particular, one thing that's well understood is how to make an LCG that generates the numbers 1..m with a cycle size of m, i.e., to generate a permutation of the numbers 1..m. This is called the Hull-Dobell Theorem.

For an alphabet of size N and an ID length of L, there are N ^ L possible codes. We can convert back and forth between the numbers 1 .. N^L and those codes by treating the codes as base-N representations of the numbers.

Combining these two facts, our approach is:

  • Using the Hull-Dobell Theorem, construct an LCG such that it will โ€œvisitโ€ every number from 1 to N^L in some random(ish) order.
  • Using the base conversion method, turn each of these numbers into a short ID.


Note that the ShortCodeGenerator object itself contains a small amount of state, which is updated every time a short code is generated. Short codes must be generated by the same ShortCodeGenerator object in order to avoid collisions.

With the serde crate option, enabled by default, ShortCodeGenerator objects can be serialized to any format supported by serde. This can be used to persist the state of a generator for later use. (If you are using a custom alphabet, the type of that alphabet must also be serializable.)

The total number of possible codes (alphabet size to the power of length) must fit in a u64. If you're working with large enough codes and alphabets that that's a problem, you probably don't need this library anyway (as random collisions will be more rare).

Randomness is only used during the construction of ShortCodeGenerator. Code generation itself is entirely deterministic based on the current generator state.

All operations use constant time and space, except for ShortCodeGenerator construction. Construction technically has time complexity superlinear to the cardinality of the alphabet provided. For reasonable alphabet sizes (say, <1000), this should be negligible.


If you need to generate short codes from multiple generators, you can use the built-in partitioning feature to generate multiple short code generators that generate codes from non-overlapping partitions of the code space.

Internally, this works by creating num_partitions clones of the generator, โ€œburningโ€ a unique number from 0..num_partitions codes on each one, and then setting each one to skip past num_partitions - 1 codes for every code it generates.

Once a ShortCodeGenerator is partitioned, it can't be partitioned again or repartitioned with a different number of partitions. Once partitioned, generators may be serialized to be sent to a different machine or stored for later.

use tiny_id::{ShortCodeGenerator, ExhaustionStrategy};

fn main() {
    // This returns a vector of two short code generators.
    let mut generators: Vec<ShortCodeGenerator<_>> = ShortCodeGenerator::new_uppercase(5)

    // Codes generated by the two generators will never overlap, because
    // they come from separate code spaces.
    assert_ne!(generators[0].next_string(), generators[1].next_string());


  • If you just want unique identifiers and don't care about how long they are, use uuid. It has the advantage that it does not need any state.
  • If you are already assigning unique integers (e.g. an AUTO INCREMENT in SQL) and don't care if they are sequential, you could just convert those to and from strings using base conversion.


~18K SLoC