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What is Lifetime in Rust?

Every reference in Rust has a lifetime. It’s the scope where that reference is valid.

Problem example

Let’s say we want to compare, which variable has longer string

fn main() {
    let string1 = String::from("abcd");
    let string2 = "xyz";

    let result = longest(string1.as_str(), string2);
    println!("The longest string is {}", result);
}

This is our longest function

fn longest(x: &str, y: &str) -> &str {
    if x.len() > y.len() {
        x
    } else {
        y
    }
}

It will return an error. Rust can’t tell whether the variable will be returned x or y.

Solution to fix this error

fn longest<'a>(x: &'a str, y: &'a str) -> &'a str {
    if x.len() > y.len() {
        x
    } else {
        y
    }
}

We use a generic type ‘a , syntax for lifetime annotation. And reference each of the parameter and returned value like above.

Problem 2 example

Let’s say we have a config variable that we want to use on another struct

struct Config {
  ...
}

struct App {
    config: &Config
}

It will also return an error. Since Config is now out of scope.

Solution

struct App<'a> {
    config: &'a Config
}

Lifetime Annotation Syntax

The solution is using lifetime Annotation. The syntax looks like this: 'a

&i32        // a reference
&'a i32     // a reference with an explicit lifetime
&'a mut i32 // a mutable reference with an explicit lifetime

This annotation tell Rust to make the scope of this variable lives in the scope where they’re needed.

!note: a is just a name, it could be named anything




This is a post in the start learning Rust series.



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