Pinning

To poll futures, they must be pinned using a special type called Pin<T>. If you read the explanation of the Future trait in the previous section "Executing Futures and Tasks", you'll recognise Pin from the self: Pin<&mut Self> in the Future:poll method's definition. But what does it mean, and why do we need it?

Why Pinning

Pinning makes it possible to guarantee that an object won't ever be moved. To understand why this is necessary, we need to remember how async/.await works. Consider the following code:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
let fut_one = ...;
let fut_two = ...;
async move {
    fut_one.await;
    fut_two.await;
}
}

Under the hood, this creates an anonymous type that implements Future, providing a poll method that looks something like this:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
// The `Future` type generated by our `async { ... }` block
struct AsyncFuture {
    fut_one: FutOne,
    fut_two: FutTwo,
    state: State,
}

// List of states our `async` block can be in
enum State {
    AwaitingFutOne,
    AwaitingFutTwo,
    Done,
}

impl Future for AsyncFuture {
    type Output = ();

    fn poll(mut self: Pin<&mut Self>, cx: &mut Context<'_>) -> Poll<()> {
        loop {
            match self.state {
                State::AwaitingFutOne => match self.fut_one.poll(..) {
                    Poll::Ready(()) => self.state = State::AwaitingFutTwo,
                    Poll::Pending => return Poll::Pending,
                }
                State::AwaitingFutTwo => match self.fut_two.poll(..) {
                    Poll::Ready(()) => self.state = State::Done,
                    Poll::Pending => return Poll::Pending,
                }
                State::Done => return Poll::Ready(()),
            }
        }
    }
}
}

When poll is first called, it will poll fut_one. If fut_one can't complete, AsyncFuture::poll will return. Future calls to poll will pick up where the previous one left off. This process continues until the future is able to successfully complete.

However, what happens if we have an async block that uses references? For example:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
async {
    let mut x = [0; 128];
    let read_into_buf_fut = read_into_buf(&mut x);
    read_into_buf_fut.await;
    println!("{:?}", x);
}
}

What struct does this compile down to?


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
struct ReadIntoBuf<'a> {
    buf: &'a mut [u8], // points to `x` below
}

struct AsyncFuture {
    x: [u8; 128],
    read_into_buf_fut: ReadIntoBuf<'what_lifetime?>,
}
}

Here, the ReadIntoBuf future holds a reference into the other field of our structure, x. However, if AsyncFuture is moved, the location of x will move as well, invalidating the pointer stored in read_into_buf_fut.buf.

Pinning futures to a particular spot in memory prevents this problem, making it safe to create references to values inside an async block.

How to Use Pinning

The Pin type wraps pointer types, guaranteeing that the values behind the pointer won't be moved. For example, Pin<&mut T>, Pin<&T>, Pin<Box<T>> all guarantee that T won't be moved.

Most types don't have a problem being moved. These types implement a trait called Unpin. Pointers to Unpin types can be freely placed into or taken out of Pin. For example, u8 is Unpin, so Pin<&mut u8> behaves just like a normal &mut u8.

Some functions require the futures they work with to be Unpin. To use a Future or Stream that isn't Unpin with a function that requires Unpin types, you'll first have to pin the value using either Box::pin (to create a Pin<Box<T>>) or the pin_utils::pin_mut! macro (to create a Pin<&mut T>). Pin<Box<Fut>> and Pin<&mut Fut> can both be used as futures, and both implement Unpin.

For example:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
use pin_utils::pin_mut; // `pin_utils` is a handy crate available on crates.io

// A function which takes a `Future` that implements `Unpin`.
fn execute_unpin_future(x: impl Future<Output = ()> + Unpin) { ... }

let fut = async { ... };
execute_unpin_future(fut); // Error: `fut` does not implement `Unpin` trait

// Pinning with `Box`:
let fut = async { ... };
let fut = Box::pin(fut);
execute_unpin_future(fut); // OK

// Pinning with `pin_mut!`:
let fut = async { ... };
pin_mut!(fut);
execute_unpin_future(fut); // OK
}