#garbage-collection #garbage #memory #api


Generic abstractions for a multithreaded garbage collector

4 releases (breaking)

0.5.0 Jan 19, 2023
0.4.0 Dec 15, 2022
0.3.0 Dec 12, 2022
0.1.0 May 10, 2022

#467 in Memory management


850 lines


A trait based Rust API for a generic garbage collector. This project currently exists to formulate what such an API might look like while supporting a wide range of garbage collector types/implementations.

This crate is still underdevelopment. Any feedback or pull requests would be appreciated.

The Safety Issue

How can some pointer Gc<T> to an element within the heap be used safely? The problem has two parts:

  • Ensure Gc<T> either does not outlive or is not used beyond heap lifetime
  • ABA problem (How can we know the object we want has not been garbage collected, and we are now pointing to a different object at the same location)
    • We must either defer reclamation of an object until no references to it remain or have a means of differentiating objects when the contents of the heap changes. Deferring reclamation is not really an option since it would require keeping track of how many are taken remain and that would prevent pointer from implementing Copy.


To make defragmentation possible, an indirect pointer is required. Objects hold pointers into an unmoving reference table with pointers to active objects. Upon defragmentation the reference table is updated to reflect the new locations of objects. The only alternatives are to either find and update all referencing pointers or use an indexing system which dynamically resolves the object's location upon access.


To solve the ABA problem, we only have a limited number of options at our disposal. Deferred reclamation is not possible since we have no way to determine if deferral is necessary while keeping the pointer Copy. The only option left to us is to provide some way of distinguishing objects. This leaves us with the option to use tagged states. Practically speaking, tags would likely take the form of a generation counter. Both the pointers and objects would need to store this tag. However, placement of the tag can be tricky since depending on the allocation method, pointers to reclaimed objects may be aligned to the start of whatever now uses that part of the heap. If we want to use direct object pointers we need a way to determine the offset of the tag. This means we would need to use multiple fixed-object-size heaps so the tag is always a fixed offset from an object pointer no matter the gc state. The other approach is to use indirect pointers instead. The reference table could be expanded to hold object tags with data pointers. This does not limit how data is placed into the heap or increase the size of heap objects.