MIR borrow check

The borrow check is Rust's "secret sauce" – it is tasked with enforcing a number of properties:

  • That all variables are initialized before they are used.
  • That you can't move the same value twice.
  • That you can't move a value while it is borrowed.
  • That you can't access a place while it is mutably borrowed (except through the reference).
  • That you can't mutate a place while it is shared borrowed.
  • etc

At the time of this writing, the code is in a state of transition. The "main" borrow checker still works by processing the HIR, but that is being phased out in favor of the MIR-based borrow checker. Accordingly, this documentation focuses on the new, MIR-based borrow checker.

Doing borrow checking on MIR has several advantages:

Major phases of the borrow checker

The borrow checker source is found in the rustc_mir::borrow_check module. The main entry point is the mir_borrowck query.

  • We first create a local copy of the MIR. In the coming steps, we will modify this copy in place to modify the types and things to include references to the new regions that we are computing.
  • We then invoke replace_regions_in_mir to modify our local MIR. Among other things, this function will replace all of the regions in the MIR with fresh inference variables.
  • Next, we perform a number of dataflow analyses that compute what data is moved and when.
  • We then do a second type check across the MIR: the purpose of this type check is to determine all of the constraints between different regions.
  • Next, we do region inference, which computes the values of each region — basically, the points in the control-flow graph where each lifetime must be valid according to the constraints we collected.
  • At this point, we can compute the "borrows in scope" at each point.
  • Finally, we do a second walk over the MIR, looking at the actions it does and reporting errors. For example, if we see a statement like *a + 1, then we would check that the variable a is initialized and that it is not mutably borrowed, as either of those would require an error to be reported. Doing this check requires the results of all the previous analyses.