Layout of reference and pointer types

Terminology

Reference types are types of the form &T, &mut T.

Raw pointer types are types of the form *const T or *mut T.

Representation

The alignment of &T, &mut T, *const T and *mut T are the same, and are at least the word size.

  • If T is a sized type then the alignment of &T is the word size.
  • The alignment of &dyn Trait is the word size.
  • The alignment of &[T] is the word size.
  • The alignment of &str is the word size.
  • Alignment in other cases may be more than the word size (e.g., for other dynamically sized types).

The sizes of &T, &mut T, *const T and *mut T are the same, and are at least one word.

  • If T is a sized type then the size of &T is one word.
  • The size of &dyn Trait is two words.
  • The size of &[T] is two words.
  • The size of &str is two words.
  • Size in other cases may be more than one word (e.g., for other dynamically sized types).

Notes

The layouts of &T, &mut T, *const T and *mut T are the same.

If T is sized, references and pointers to T have a size and alignment of one word and have therefore the same layout as C pointers.

warning: while the layout of references and pointers is compatible with the layout of C pointers, references come with a validity invariant that does not allow them to be used when they could be NULL, unaligned, dangling, or, in the case of &mut T, aliasing.

We do not make any guarantees about the layout of multi-trait objects &(dyn Trait1 + Trait2) or references to other dynamically sized types, other than that they are at least word-aligned, and have size at least one word.

The layout of &dyn Trait when Trait is a trait is the same as that of:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
#[repr(C)]
struct DynObject {
  data: *const u8,
  vtable: *const u8,
}
}

note: In the layout of &dyn mut Trait the field data is of the type *mut u8.

The layout of &[T] is the same as that of:


#![allow(unused_variables)]
fn main() {
#[repr(C)]
struct Slice<T> {
  ptr: *const T,
  len: usize,
}
}

note: In the layout of &mut [T] the field ptr is of the type *mut T.

The layout of &str is the same as that of &[u8], and the layout of &mut str is the same as that of &mut [u8].