Is this week already over? That fast? In this economy? Anyway, things I’ve done this week (2023-04-03—2023-04-07). This is mostly a log for myself so that I remember that I did things™, but you may be interested in reading it too, for whatever reason.

Yeet OwningRef

Originally I wanted to cleanup documentation of OwningRef inside rustc_data_structures (filling #109948). But later I was informed that OwningRef is actually unsound and is even used unsoundly in the compiler… So I tried fixing that instead.


What even is OwningRef?

OwningRef is the “solution” to the problem of returning data borrowed from the current function:

fn f() -> (Vec<u8>, &'??? [u8]) {
    let vec = vec![0, 1, 2, 3, 4];
    (vec, &vec[1..][..3]) 
    //    ^-- error: cannot return value referencing local variable `vec`

With owning ref you can do something like this:

fn a() -> OwningRef<Vec<u8>, [u8]> {
    let vec = vec![0, 1, 2, 3, 4];
    let or = OwningRef::new(vec);
    let or =|v| &v[1..3]);

Under the hood OwningRef<Owner, View> asserts that Owner’s Deref implementation is “stable” (meaning it returns a reference with the same address if the owner value does not change) and stores a pointer alongside with the owner (basically the same Vec<u8>, &'??? [u8] tuple). Given that OwningRef doesn’t allow you to access the owner, it looks all good — without access to the owner, you can’t invalidate the pointer, so it’s fine to use it.

But there is a nuance… In some cases you can invalidate the pointer without touching the owner.


How? This sounds weird…

Well… Under the current understanding of Rust semantics, Box is a unique owning pointer, which means that it can’t be aliased. Moving the Box asserts this invariant, invalidating the pointer:

let owner = Box::new(1);
let ptr: *const u32 = &*owner;

// move of `owner` (similarly to a move inside `OwningRef::new`)
// this invalidates `ptr`
let owning = (owner, ptr);

// Observe the pointer being invalid (miri reports UB)
unsafe { dbg!(*owning.1) };

So, while Box has a stable Deref, it turns out that this is not sufficient for OwningRef soundness. Moreover it turns out that all rustc’s uses of OwningRef use Box (to erase the owner type).

There are a few possible solutions, but in the end I decided to implement a different specialized abstraction instead of trying to fix OwningRef.

To fix the box issue, I box the owner again first, so that the box I’m getting the pointer from, doesn’t move and doesn’t invalidate the pointer:

let owner = Box::new(1);

let boxed: Box<Box<u32>> = Box::new(owner);

let ptr: *const u32 = &**boxed;

// move of `boxed` doesn't move the owner,
// so it doesn't invalidate the pointer
let owning = (boxed, ptr);

// Observe the pointer being valid (miri does not report UB)
unsafe { dbg!(*owning.1) };

This design doesn’t even require stable Deref! By using HRTB bound for the function that gets the reference from the owner, we can pretend that we are giving it a reference that lives as long as the OwnedSlice:

pub fn slice_owned<O, F>(owner: O, slicer: F) -> OwnedSlice
    // This is the magic bound,
    // this function must be valid for all lifetimes,
    // so it can only return borrows from the argument,
    // or 'static data (which is also fine)
    F: for<'a> FnOnce(&'a O) -> &'a [u8],

    // `OwnedSlice` has `Box<dyn Send + Sync>` internally
    // to erase types and stay thread-safe
    O: Send + Sync + 'static,

This is perfectly valid, unless we access the owner somehow. The result can be seen in this PR: #109971.

Sync in reference docs

Turns out we forgot to document that references implement Sync if their pointee implements Sync. Oops.


Pull requests I’ve reviewed in this week:

  • rust/109843 — Improve transmute codegen
  • rust/109819 — Use &IndexSlice in place of &IndexVec (similarly to normal slices/vecs)
  • rust/109913 — Document IndexVec::from_elem
  • rust/110013 — Label non_exhaustive attribute on privacy errors from non-local items
    • A funny thing happened here, actually. Mark started a perf run (even though this PR only edits error path, so it can’t change perf…), I then approved with r=me and Estedan did @bors r=WaffleLapkin, forgetting about a bug in bors… Which makes it so PR approved while a try build is building (which is required for perf run) is insta-merged, without running tests. Good thing compiler-errors noticed this and un-approved PR in time, before the insta-merge :’)
  • rust/110021 — Fixes for ICEs (Internal Compiler Errors) introduced by the first PR in this list
  • rust-lang/rfcs/3407 — RFC that proposes introducing explicit tail calls to Rust (I’m a big fun of tail calls…), I’ve written some feedback


I did another stream on Wednesday. This time it went fine and I was able to finish (well, almost finish) the work from the previous stream, resulting in a small commit for #109782 and almost finishing the PR that adds suggestion to use closure argument instead of capturing.


Suggestion to do what?

Basically there is a common pattern, where you have a method, that takes a &mut self and then passes it to a closure argument:

struct S;

impl S {
    fn call(&mut self, f: impl FnOnce(&mut Self)) {
        // change state or something ... 
        // change state or something ... 

    fn get(&self) {}

It is then very easy to accidentally use the old variable, instead of the argument passed to the closure:

    let mut v = S;|this: &mut S| v.get());
//  ^-- error: cannot borrow `v` as mutable
//             because it is also borrowed as immutable

I was trying to add a suggestion to change v.get() to this.get(), fixing the error.


Huh, okay

I ended up cleaning the code off-stream (and almost deleting everything while rebasing, oops (thanks to git reflog for restoring everything back…)) a little and opened #110061.


Overall I’m feeling a lot better this week! I had a lot of fun with removing OwningRef from the compiler (the resulting code is very cute, imo,,,) and looking closely at the tail call proposal. “See” you next week!