Unbounded Lifetimes

Unsafe code can often end up producing references or lifetimes out of thin air. Such lifetimes come into the world as unbounded. The most common source of this is taking a reference to a dereferenced raw pointer, which produces a reference with an unbounded lifetime. Such a lifetime becomes as big as context demands. This is in fact more powerful than simply becoming 'static, because for instance &'static &'a T will fail to typecheck, but the unbound lifetime will perfectly mold into &'a &'a T as needed. However for most intents and purposes, such an unbounded lifetime can be regarded as 'static.

Almost no reference is 'static, so this is probably wrong. transmute and transmute_copy are the two other primary offenders. One should endeavor to bound an unbounded lifetime as quickly as possible, especially across function boundaries.

Given a function, any output lifetimes that don't derive from inputs are unbounded. For instance:

fn get_str<'a>(s: *const String) -> &'a str {
    unsafe { &*s }

fn main() {
    let soon_dropped = String::from("hello");
    let dangling = get_str(&soon_dropped);
    println!("Invalid str: {}", dangling); // Invalid str: gӚ_`

The easiest way to avoid unbounded lifetimes is to use lifetime elision at the function boundary. If an output lifetime is elided, then it must be bounded by an input lifetime. Of course it might be bounded by the wrong lifetime, but this will usually just cause a compiler error, rather than allow memory safety to be trivially violated.

Within a function, bounding lifetimes is more error-prone. The safest and easiest way to bound a lifetime is to return it from a function with a bound lifetime. However if this is unacceptable, the reference can be placed in a location with a specific lifetime. Unfortunately it's impossible to name all lifetimes involved in a function.