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Programming Rust by Jason Orendorff, Jim Blandy

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Chapter 5. References

Libraries cannot provide new inabilities.

Mark Miller

All the pointer types we’ve seen so far—the simple Box<T> heap pointer, and the pointers internal to String and Vec values—are owning pointers: when the owner is dropped, the referent goes with it. Rust also has nonowning pointer types called references, which have no effect on their referents’ lifetimes.

In fact, it’s rather the opposite: references must never outlive their referents. You must make it apparent in your code that no reference can possibly outlive the value it points to. To emphasize this, Rust refers to creating a reference to some value as borrowing the value: what you have borrowed, you must eventually return to its owner.

If you felt a moment of skepticism when reading the phrase “You must make it apparent in your code,” you’re in excellent company. The references themselves are nothing special—under the hood, they’re just addresses. But the rules that keep them safe are novel to Rust; outside of research languages, you won’t have seen anything like them before. And although these rules are the part of Rust that requires the most effort to master, the breadth of classic, absolutely everyday bugs they prevent is surprising, and their effect on multithreaded programming is liberating. This is Rust’s radical wager, again.

As an example, let’s suppose we’re going to build a table of murderous Renaissance artists and the works they’re known for. Rust’s standard library includes a hash table ...

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