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Tawhid

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Ownership and borrowing. Rust Tutorial:4

Understanding Ownership
Ownership is Rust’s most unique and famous feature and has deep implications for the rest of the language. It enables Rust to make memory safety guarantees without needing a garbage collector, so it’s important to understand how ownership works. In this blog, we’ll talk about ownership as well as several related features: borrowing, slices, and how Rust lays data out in memory.

What Is Ownership?
Ownership is a set of rules that governs how a Rust program manages memory. All programs have to manage the way they use a computer’s memory while running. Some languages have garbage collection that constantly looks for no-longer used memory as the program runs; in other languages, the programmer must explicitly allocate and free the memory. Rust uses a third approach: memory is managed through a system of ownership with a set of rules that the compiler checks. If any of the rules are violated, the program won’t compile. None of the features of ownership will slow down your program while it’s running.

Because ownership is a new concept for many programmers, it does take some time to get used to. The good news is that the more experienced you become with Rust and the rules of the ownership system, the easier you’ll find it to naturally develop code that is safe and efficient. Keep at it!

When you understand ownership, you’ll have a solid foundation for understanding the features that make Rust unique. In this chapter, you’ll learn ownership by working through some examples that focus on a very common data structure: strings.

The Stack and the Heap:
Many programming languages don’t require you to think about the stack and the heap very often. But in a systems programming language like Rust, whether a value is on the stack or the heap affects how the language behaves and why you have to make certain decisions. Parts of ownership will be described in relation to the stack and the heap later in this chapter, so here is a brief explanation in preparation.

Both the stack and the heap are parts of memory available to your code to use at runtime, but they are structured in different ways. The stack stores values in the order it gets them and removes the values in the opposite order. This is referred to as last in, first out. Think of a stack of plates: when you add more plates, you put them on top of the pile, and when you need a plate, you take one off the top. Adding or removing plates from the middle or bottom wouldn’t work as well! Adding data is called pushing onto the stack, and removing data is called popping off the stack. All data stored on the stack must have a known, fixed size. Data with an unknown size at compile time or a size that might change must be stored on the heap instead.

The heap is less organized: when you put data on the heap, you request a certain amount of space. The memory allocator finds an empty spot in the heap that is big enough, marks it as being in use, and returns a pointer, which is the address of that location. This process is called allocating on the heap and is sometimes abbreviated as just allocating. Pushing values onto the stack is not considered allocating. Because the pointer to the heap is a known, fixed size, you can store the pointer on the stack, but when you want the actual data, you must follow the pointer. Think of being seated at a restaurant. When you enter, you state the number of people in your group, and the staff finds an empty table that fits everyone and leads you there. If someone in your group comes late, they can ask where you’ve been seated to find you.

Pushing to the stack is faster than allocating on the heap because the allocator never has to search for a place to store new data; that location is always at the top of the stack. Comparatively, allocating space on the heap requires more work, because the allocator must first find a big enough space to hold the data and then perform bookkeeping to prepare for the next allocation.

Accessing data in the heap is slower than accessing data on the stack because you have to follow a pointer to get there. Contemporary processors are faster if they jump around less in memory. Continuing the analogy, consider a server at a restaurant taking orders from many tables. It’s most efficient to get all the orders at one table before moving on to the next table. Taking an order from table A, then an order from table B, then one from A again, and then one from B again would be a much slower process. By the same token, a processor can do its job better if it works on data that’s close to other data (as it is on the stack) rather than farther away (as it can be on the heap). Allocating a large amount of space on the heap can also take time.

When your code calls a function, the values passed into the function (including, potentially, pointers to data on the heap) and the function’s local variables get pushed onto the stack. When the function is over, those values get popped off the stack.

Keeping track of what parts of code are using what data on the heap, minimizing the amount of duplicate data on the heap, and cleaning up unused data on the heap so you don’t run out of space are all problems that ownership addresses. Once you understand ownership, you won’t need to think about the stack and the heap very often, but knowing that the main purpose of ownership is to manage heap data can help explain why it works the way it does.

Ownership Rules:
First, let’s take a look at the ownership rules. Keep these rules in mind as we work through the examples that illustrate them:

-Each value in Rust has a variable that’s called its owner.
-There can only be one owner at a time.
-When the owner goes out of scope, the value will be dropped.
Variable Scope:
Now that we’re past basic Rust syntax, we won’t include all the fn main() {} code in examples, so if you’re following along, make sure to put the following examples inside a main function manually. As a result, our examples will be a bit more concise, letting us focus on the actual details rather than boilerplate code.

As a first example of ownership, we’ll look at the scope of some variables. A scope is the range within a program for which an item is valid. Take the following variable:

let s = "hello";

The variable s refers to a string literal, where the value of the string is hardcoded into the text of our program. The variable is valid from the point at which it’s declared until the end of the current scope. Listing 4-1 shows a program with comments annotating where the variable s would be valid.

`{  // s is not valid here, it’s not yet declared
 let s = "hello";   // s is valid from this point forward

// do stuff with s
} // this scope is now over, and s is no longer valid`
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A variable and the scope in which it is valid

In other words, there are two important points in time here:

When s comes into scope, it is valid.
It remains valid until it goes out of scope.
At this point, the relationship between scopes and when variables are valid is similar to that in other programming languages. Now we’ll build on top of this understanding by introducing the String type.

The String Type:
To illustrate the rules of ownership, we need a data type that is more complex than those we covered before. The types covered previously are all a known size, can be stored on the stack and popped off the stack when their scope is over, and can be quickly and trivially copied to make a new, independent instance if another part of code needs to use the same value in a different scope. But we want to look at data that is stored on the heap and explore how Rust knows when to clean up that data, and the String type is a great example.

We’ll concentrate on the parts of String that relate to ownership. These aspects also apply to other complex data types, whether they are provided by the standard library or created by you. We’ll discuss String in more depth in Chapter 8.

We’ve already seen string literals, where a string value is hardcoded into our program. String literals are convenient, but they aren’t suitable for every situation in which we may want to use text. One reason is that they’re immutable. Another is that not every string value can be known when we write our code: for example, what if we want to take user input and store it? For these situations, Rust has a second string type, String. This type manages data allocated on the heap and as such is able to store an amount of text that is unknown to us at compile time. You can create a String from a string literal using the from function, like so:

let s = String::from("hello");
The double colon :: operator allows us to namespace this particular from function under the String type rather than using some sort of name like string_from. We’ll discuss this later.

This kind of string can be mutated:

let mut s = String::from("hello");
s.push_str(", world!"); // push_str() appends a literal to a String
println!("{}", s); // This will print hello, world!

So, what’s the difference here? Why can String be mutated but literals cannot? The difference is how these two types deal with memory.

Memory and Allocation
In the case of a string literal, we know the contents at compile time, so the text is hardcoded directly into the final executable. This is why string literals are fast and efficient. But these properties only come from the string literal’s immutability. Unfortunately, we can’t put a blob of memory into the binary for each piece of text whose size is unknown at compile time and whose size might change while running the program.

With the String type, in order to support a mutable, growable piece of text, we need to allocate an amount of memory on the heap, unknown at compile time, to hold the contents. This means:

The memory must be requested from the memory allocator at runtime.
We need a way of returning this memory to the allocator when we’re done with our String.
That first part is done by us: when we call String::from, its implementation requests the memory it needs. This is pretty much universal in programming languages.

However, the second part is different. In languages with a garbage collector (GC), the GC keeps track of and cleans up memory that isn’t being used anymore, and we don’t need to think about it. In most languages without a GC, it’s our responsibility to identify when memory is no longer being used and call code to explicitly return it, just as we did to request it. Doing this correctly has historically been a difficult programming problem. If we forget, we’ll waste memory. If we do it too early, we’ll have an invalid variable. If we do it twice, that’s a bug too. We need to pair exactly one allocate with exactly one free.

Rust takes a different path: the memory is automatically returned once the variable that owns it goes out of scope. Here’s a version of our scope example from Listing 4-1 using a String instead of a string literal:

` {
let s = String::from("hello"); // s is valid from this point forward

    // do stuff with s
}                                  // this scope is now over, and s is no  longer valid`
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There is a natural point at which we can return the memory our String needs to the allocator: when s goes out of scope. When a variable goes out of scope, Rust calls a special function for us. This function is called drop, and it’s where the author of String can put the code to return the memory. Rust calls drop automatically at the closing curly bracket.

Return Values and Scope
Returning values can also transfer ownership. Listing 4-4 shows an example of a function that returns some value, with similar annotations as those in Listing 4-3.

Filename: src/main.rs

`fn main() {
let s1 = gives_ownership(); // gives_ownership moves its return
// value into s1

let s2 = String::from("hello");   // s2 comes into scope

let s3 = takes_and_gives_back(s2);  // s2 is moved into
 // takes_and_gives_back, which also
   // moves its return value into s3
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} // Here, s3 goes out of scope and is dropped. s2 was moved, so nothing
// happens. s1 goes out of scope and is dropped.

fn gives_ownership() -> String { // gives_ownership will move //its
// return value into the function that calls it

let some_string = String::from("yours"); // some_string comes //into scope
}

// This function takes a String and returns one
//fn takes_and_gives_back(a_string: String) -> String { //a_string comes int scope

a_string  // a_string is returned and moves out to the calling function
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}`
Transferring ownership of return values:

The ownership of a variable follows the same pattern every time: assigning a value to another variable moves it. When a variable that includes data on the heap goes out of scope, the value will be cleaned up by drop unless ownership of the data has been moved to another variable.

While this works, taking ownership and then returning ownership with every function is a bit tedious. What if we want to let a function use a value but not take ownership? It’s quite annoying that anything we pass in also needs to be passed back if we want to use it again, in addition to any data resulting from the body of the function that we might want to return as well.

Rust does let us return multiple values using a tuple.

Filename: src/main.rs

`fn main() {
let s1 = String::from("hello");

let (s2, len) = calculate_length(s1);

println!("The length of '{}' is {}.", s2, len);
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}

fn calculate_length(s: String) -> (String, usize) {
let length = s.len(); // len() returns the length of a String

(s, length)
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}`
Returning ownership of parameters:

But this is too much ceremony and a lot of work for a concept that should be common. Luckily for us, Rust has a feature for using a value without transferring ownership, called references.
Thanks for reading.
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