Layout of Rust array types and slices

Layout of Rust array types

Array types, [T; N], store N values of type T with a constant stride. Here, stride is the distance between each pair of consecutive values within the array.

The offset of the first array element is 0, that is, a pointer to the array and a pointer to its first element both point to the same memory address.

The alignment of array types is greater or equal to the alignment of its element type. If the element type is repr(C) the layout of the array is guaranteed to be the same as the layout of a C array with the same element type.

Note: the type of array arguments in C function signatures, e.g., void foo(T x[N]), decays to a pointer. That is, these functions do not take arrays as an arguments, they take a pointer to the first element of the array instead. Array types are therefore improper C types (not C FFI safe) in Rust foreign function declarations, e.g., extern { fn foo(x: [T; N]) -> [U; M]; }. Pointers to arrays are fine: extern { fn foo(x: *const [T; N]) -> *const [U; M]; }, and structs and unions containing arrays are also fine.

The stride of the array is constant for all element pairs and it is computed as the size of the element type rounded up to the next multiple of the alignment of the element type.

Arrays of zero-size

Arrays [T; N] have zero size if and only if their count N is zero or their element type T is zero-sized.

Special case stride == size

When the element size is a multiple of the element's alignment, then stride == size, and the elements are laid out contiguously in memory, e.g., [u8; 4]. In this case, the size of the array can be computed as size_of::<T>() * N, and a pointer to the i-th element of the array can be obtained by offsetting a pointer to the first element of the array by i1.

Note: In the current Rust implementation, size is always a multiple of the element's alignment, and therefore stride == size always holds. This is, however, not guaranteed by the layout of structs and tuples.

1

When stride > size the pointer needs to be advanced by the array stride instead of by the element size.

Layout compatibility with packed SIMD vectors

The layout of packed SIMD vector types 2 requires the size and alignment of the vector elements to match. That is, types with packed SIMD vector layout are layout compatible with arrays having the same element type and the same number of elements as the vector.

2

The packed SIMD vector layout is the layout of repr(simd) types like __m128.

Layout of Rust slices

The layout of a slice [T] of length N is the same as that of a [T; N] array.

Unresolved questions

Guaranteeing stride == size ?

Currently, the layout of structs and tuples does not guarantee that the element size is a multiple of its alignment. For example, consider:

struct A(u16, u8);
type B = [A; 4];

In the current Rust implementation, A has an alignment and a size of 4, and B has a size of 16, such that B contains four As that are contiguously laid in memory.

However, a future Rust implementation could implement a layout optimization that reduces the size of A to 3. For the elements of B to be properly aligned, B would need to choose a stride == 4, resulting in a stride > size.

Guaranteeing stride >= size is forward-compatible with such layout-optimization proposals: