Rust - Ownership

The memory for a program can be allocated in the following −

  • Stack
  • Heap


A stack follows a last in first out order. Stack stores data values for which the size is known at compile time. For example, a variable of fixed size i32 is a candidate for stack allocation. Its size is known at compile time. All scalar types can be stored in stack as the size is fixed.

Consider an example of a string, which is assigned a value at runtime. The exact size of such a string cannot be determined at compile time. So it is not a candidate for stack allocation but for heap allocation.


The heap memory stores data values the size of which is unknown at compile time. It is used to store dynamic data. Simply put, a heap memory is allocated to data values that may change throughout the life cycle of the program. The heap is an area in the memory which is less organized when compared to stack.

What is Ownership?

Each value in Rust has a variable that is called owner of the value. Every data stored in Rust will have an owner associated with it. For example, in the syntax − let age = 30, age is the owner of the value 30.

  • Each data can have only one owner at a time.

  • Two variables cannot point to the same memory location. The variables will always be pointing to different memory locations.

Transferring Ownership

The ownership of value can be transferred by −

  • Assigning value of one variable to another variable.

  • Passing value to a function.

  • Returning value from a function.

Assigning value of one variable to another variable

The key selling point of Rust as a language is its memory safety. Memory safety is achieved by tight control on who can use what and when restrictions.

Consider the following snippet −

fn main(){
   let v = vec![1,2,3]; 
   // vector v owns the object in heap

   //only a single variable owns the heap memory at any given time
   let v2 = v; 
   // here two variables owns heap value,
   //two pointers to the same content is not allowed in rust

   //Rust is very smart in terms of memory access ,so it detects a race condition
   //as two variables point to same heap


The above example declares a vector v. The idea of ownership is that only one variable binds to a resource, either v binds to resource or v2 binds to the resource. The above example throws an error − use of moved value: `v`. This is because the ownership of the resource is transferred to v2. It means the ownership is moved from v to v2 (v2=v) and v is invalidated after the move.

Passing value to a function

The ownership of a value also changes when we pass an object in the heap to a closure or function.

fn main(){
   let v = vec![1,2,3];     // vector v owns the object in heap
   let v2 = v;              // moves ownership to v2
   display(v2);             // v2 is moved to display and v2 is invalidated
   println!("In main {:?}",v2);    //v2 is No longer usable here
fn display(v:Vec<i32>){
   println!("inside display {:?}",v);

Returning value from a function

Ownership passed to the function will be invalidated as function execution completes. One work around for this is let the function return the owned object back to the caller.

fn main(){
   let v = vec![1,2,3];       // vector v owns the object in heap
   let v2 = v;                // moves ownership to v2
   let v2_return = display(v2);    
   println!("In main {:?}",v2_return);
fn display(v:Vec<i32>)->Vec<i32> { 
   // returning same vector
   println!("inside display {:?}",v);

Ownership and Primitive Types

In case of primitive types, contents from one variable is copied to another. So, there is no ownership move happening. This is because a primitive variable needs less resources than an object. Consider the following example −

fn main(){
   let u1 = 10;
   let u2 = u1;  // u1 value copied(not moved) to u2

   println!("u1 = {}",u1);

The output will be – 10.

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