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0.1.6 Jul 26, 2020
0.1.5 Jul 4, 2020
0.1.3 Jun 22, 2020

#547 in Memory management

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A Basic Allocator

This package includes a home-grown memory allocator written entirely in Rust. It is simple, and meant primarily for educational purposes.

This crate is heavily commented and documented. See the documentation or the code itself for more details.


Development can happen locally on an OSX or Linux machine, using the standard Rust frameworks. In addition, Docker can be used for linux:

$ # Develop using the code mounted
$ docker build --target dev -t basicallocdev . && docker run -v `pwd`:/usr/src/basicalloc -it basicallocdev
root@0123456789ab:/usr/src/basicalloc# cargo test


A simple memory allocator, written for educational purposes.

This module was written primarily for the code to be read. The allocator enclosed can be used as a memory allocator in a rust program.


use basic_allocator::UnixAllocator;

static ALLOCATOR: UnixAllocator = UnixAllocator::new();
fn main() {
    println!("It works!")

See also core::alloc::GlobalAlloc.

Major Components

This module has several parts.


A BlockList is a linked list of freed memory not returned to the OS, which can be reused by the allocator.

The free block starts with a header, and then has unused memory after that. The header is 16 bytes, and consists of a pointer to the next block and the size of the block as a whole.


A RawAlloc is a single-threaded, non-thread-safe heap and freed memory manager, implementing core::alloc::GlobalAlloc. However, because it is not thread-safe, it canot be used as a global allocator.BlockList


A UnixAllocator wraps RawAlloc with a spin lock to make it thread-safe, allowing it to be used as the global allocator. It also combines RawAlloc with a unix-specific UnixHeapGrower to use virtual memory pages as its underlying basis for making those calls.


HeapGrower is a simple trait interface meant to abstract over the calls to the OS to expand the heap.


Free memory is maintained in a linked list. The allocator has a pointer to the first block, and each block starts with a header with a pointer to the next block and the size of the current block. Blocks are in-order, so that merges are easily implemented.


When RawAlloc is called to allocate size bytes:

  1. The BlockList is iterated through, and if any free block is found there large enough for the request, it is used. If the found block is just the right size, "popped" out of the linked list, and returned as a block of free memory; otherwise, the last size bytes of the block is returned as free memory, and the block's header is adjusted as needed.
  2. If no suitable block is found in the list, the appropriate HeapGrower instance is called to "grow the heap". For the UnixHeapGrower, this means that one or more pages of virtual memory are requested from the OS. The first size bytes are returned, and the remainder of the page is added to the BlockList.


When RawAlloc is called to deallocate size bytes at a pointer ptr:

  1. The BlockList is iterated through to find where in the list ptr should be to remain sorted.
  2. ptr is inserted, and an attempt is made to merge with both the preceding and following blocks. Each attempt is successful only if the two blocks involved are adjacent.

Possible Extensions

This is a very simple allocator, by design. There are a number of ways it could be better, in terms of features and performance:

  1. It could return memory to the OS when it was done with a page
  2. It could not require 16-byte alignment
  3. It could have a thread-safe linked-list implementation, removing the need for a spin lock
  4. It could implement realloc, so that containers could be resized in place when possible

... and probably more. Beyond those basic features, there are lots of optimizations in other allocators that make them more performant.