Module alloc::boxed

1.0.0 · source ·
Expand description

The Box<T> type for heap allocation.

Box<T>, casually referred to as a ‘box’, provides the simplest form of heap allocation in Rust. Boxes provide ownership for this allocation, and drop their contents when they go out of scope. Boxes also ensure that they never allocate more than isize::MAX bytes.


Move a value from the stack to the heap by creating a Box:

let val: u8 = 5;
let boxed: Box<u8> = Box::new(val);

Move a value from a Box back to the stack by dereferencing:

let boxed: Box<u8> = Box::new(5);
let val: u8 = *boxed;

Creating a recursive data structure:

enum List<T> {
    Cons(T, Box<List<T>>),

let list: List<i32> = List::Cons(1, Box::new(List::Cons(2, Box::new(List::Nil))));

This will print Cons(1, Cons(2, Nil)).

Recursive structures must be boxed, because if the definition of Cons looked like this:

Cons(T, List<T>),

It wouldn’t work. This is because the size of a List depends on how many elements are in the list, and so we don’t know how much memory to allocate for a Cons. By introducing a Box<T>, which has a defined size, we know how big Cons needs to be.

§Memory layout

For non-zero-sized values, a Box will use the Global allocator for its allocation. It is valid to convert both ways between a Box and a raw pointer allocated with the Global allocator, given that the Layout used with the allocator is correct for the type. More precisely, a value: *mut T that has been allocated with the Global allocator with Layout::for_value(&*value) may be converted into a box using Box::<T>::from_raw(value). Conversely, the memory backing a value: *mut T obtained from Box::<T>::into_raw may be deallocated using the Global allocator with Layout::for_value(&*value).

For zero-sized values, the Box pointer still has to be valid for reads and writes and sufficiently aligned. In particular, casting any aligned non-zero integer literal to a raw pointer produces a valid pointer, but a pointer pointing into previously allocated memory that since got freed is not valid. The recommended way to build a Box to a ZST if Box::new cannot be used is to use ptr::NonNull::dangling.

So long as T: Sized, a Box<T> is guaranteed to be represented as a single pointer and is also ABI-compatible with C pointers (i.e. the C type T*). This means that if you have extern “C” Rust functions that will be called from C, you can define those Rust functions using Box<T> types, and use T* as corresponding type on the C side. As an example, consider this C header which declares functions that create and destroy some kind of Foo value:

/* C header */

/* Returns ownership to the caller */
struct Foo* foo_new(void);

/* Takes ownership from the caller; no-op when invoked with null */
void foo_delete(struct Foo*);

These two functions might be implemented in Rust as follows. Here, the struct Foo* type from C is translated to Box<Foo>, which captures the ownership constraints. Note also that the nullable argument to foo_delete is represented in Rust as Option<Box<Foo>>, since Box<Foo> cannot be null.

pub struct Foo;

pub extern "C" fn foo_new() -> Box<Foo> {

pub extern "C" fn foo_delete(_: Option<Box<Foo>>) {}

Even though Box<T> has the same representation and C ABI as a C pointer, this does not mean that you can convert an arbitrary T* into a Box<T> and expect things to work. Box<T> values will always be fully aligned, non-null pointers. Moreover, the destructor for Box<T> will attempt to free the value with the global allocator. In general, the best practice is to only use Box<T> for pointers that originated from the global allocator.

Important. At least at present, you should avoid using Box<T> types for functions that are defined in C but invoked from Rust. In those cases, you should directly mirror the C types as closely as possible. Using types like Box<T> where the C definition is just using T* can lead to undefined behavior, as described in rust-lang/unsafe-code-guidelines#198.

§Considerations for unsafe code

Warning: This section is not normative and is subject to change, possibly being relaxed in the future! It is a simplified summary of the rules currently implemented in the compiler.

The aliasing rules for Box<T> are the same as for &mut T. Box<T> asserts uniqueness over its content. Using raw pointers derived from a box after that box has been mutated through, moved or borrowed as &mut T is not allowed. For more guidance on working with box from unsafe code, see rust-lang/unsafe-code-guidelines#326.


  • A pointer type that uniquely owns a heap allocation of type T.
  • ThinBoxExperimental