Rust Memory Management: Ownership and Borrowing

Are you tired of dealing with memory-related bugs and crashes in your code? Do you want a language that provides safe and efficient memory management? Look no further than Rust!

Rust's ownership and borrowing system is one of the its most unique and praised features. Let's dive in and explore how it works.


In Rust, every value has an owner that determines its lifetime. When the owner goes out of scope, the value is dropped and its memory is deallocated. This means that Rust eliminates the possibility of memory leaks and double frees, which are common causes of bugs in other languages.

Take a look at this example:

let s = String::from("hello");
let len = s.len();

Here, we create a new String and bind it to the variable s. The string's data is allocated on the heap and s becomes the owner of that memory. We can access the length of the string using the len() method, which returns a usize value.

When s goes out of scope at the end of the block, the String is dropped and its memory is deallocated. This happens automatically and eliminates the need for manual memory management.

But what if we want to pass the ownership of a value to a function and then use that value again afterwards? This is where borrowing comes in.


In Rust, we can borrow a value by creating a reference to it. A reference is a pointer to a value that allows us to read or write its data without taking ownership of it.

Let's modify our previous example to demonstrate borrowing:

let s = String::from("hello");
let len = calculate_length(&s);

fn calculate_length(s: &String) -> usize {

Here, we define a function that takes a reference to a String as an argument. The & symbol before s indicates that calculate_length is borrowing the value stored in s, but does not own it.

We can call this function by passing a reference to the String owned by s. Borrowing allows us to use the value within the function, without taking ownership of it, and return a new value based on its data.

We can also create mutable references, which allows us to modify the data stored in a value without taking ownership of it. However, Rust enforces strict rules to avoid data races and other memory-related problems.

let mut s = String::from("hello");
change_string(&mut s);

fn change_string(s: &mut String) {
    s.push_str(", world!");

In this example, we create a mutable reference to our String using the &mut syntax. This indicates that we want to be able to modify the value stored in s. We then pass this mutable reference to a function that appends ", world!" to the end of the string.

It's important to note that we can only have one mutable reference to a value at a time, and we cannot have any immutable references to it at the same time. This prevents us from modifying the same value concurrently and causing data races.

Ownership and Borrowing in Practice

Rust's ownership and borrowing system may seem strict at first, but it provides many benefits. By requiring explicit ownership and borrowing, Rust eliminates many memory-related bugs and ensures thread safety.

Let's look at a more complex example of how ownership and borrowing can be used in practice.

struct Person {
    name: String,
    age: u8,
    children: Vec<Person>

impl Person {
    fn new(name: String, age: u8) -> Person {
        Person { name, age, children: Vec::new() }

    fn add_child(&mut self, child: Person) {

    fn age_children(&mut self) {
        for child in &mut self.children {
            child.age += 1;

    fn describe(&self) {
        println!("My name is {} and I am {} years old.",, self.age);
        if self.children.len() > 0 {
            let mut child_names = String::new();
            for child in &self.children {
                child_names.push_str(", ");
            child_names.pop(); // remove the last ", "
            println!("I have {} children: {}.", self.children.len(), child_names);
        } else {
            println!("I have no children.");

fn main() {
    let mut john = Person::new(String::from("John"), 32);
    let mut mary = Person::new(String::from("Mary"), 28);
    let mut jake = Person::new(String::from("Jake"), 5);
    let mut sarah = Person::new(String::from("Sarah"), 3);

    john.add_child(mary); // pass ownership of mary to john
    john.add_child(jake); // pass ownership of jake to john
    mary.add_child(sarah); // pass ownership of sarah to mary


    john.describe(); // prints "My name is John and I am 33 years old. I have 2 children: Mary, Jake."
    mary.describe(); // prints "My name is Mary and I am 28 years old. I have 1 child: Sarah."

    // mary.add_child(jake); -> this would cause a compile-time error, since john already owns jake

In this example, we define a Person struct that contains a name, an age, and a vector of child Person instances. We also implement methods to add children, age children, and describe a Person.

We can create instances of Person using the new method, which takes ownership of the person's name and age. We can add children to a Person instance using the add_child method, which takes ownership of the child person.

We can age a Person instance's children using the age_children method, which borrows an immutable reference to each child. This prevents us from modifying the same child concurrently and ensures thread safety.

We can describe a Person instance using the describe method, which borrows an immutable reference to the person's name, age, and child data. This allows us to read the data and print it to the console without taking ownership of it.

By using ownership and borrowing appropriately, we can create complex data structures that are safe and efficient. Rust's ownership and borrowing system ensures that we write code that is free from memory bugs, data races, and other memory-related problems.


Rust's ownership and borrowing system is a unique and powerful feature that sets it apart from other languages. By ensuring safe and efficient memory management, Rust eliminates many common bugs and provides thread safety.

In this article, we've explored how ownership and borrowing work in Rust, and demonstrated how they can be used in practice. Next time you write Rust code, remember to leverage ownership and borrowing to ensure safe and efficient memory management.

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