3 releases (breaking)

0.3.0 Apr 8, 2022
0.2.0 Apr 7, 2022
0.1.0 Apr 7, 2022

#346 in Memory management

28 downloads per month


835 lines


A Box with weak references.

A RefBox is a smart pointer that owns the data, just like a standard Box. Similarly, a RefBox cannot be cloned cheaply, and when it is dropped, the data it points to is dropped as well. However, a RefBox may have many Ref pointers to the same data. These pointers don’t own the data and are reference counted, comparable to the standard library's Weak. Which means, as long as the RefBox is alive, Refs can be used to access the data from multiple places without lifetime parameters.

A RefBox could be seen as a lighter alternative to the standard library’s Rc, Weak and RefCell combination in cases where there is one Rc with many Weaks to the same data.

A RefBox does not differentiate between strong and weak pointers and immutable and mutable borrows. There is always a single strong pointer, zero, one or many weak pointers and all borrows are mutable. This means there can only be one borrow active at any given time. But in return, RefBox uses less memory, is faster to borrow from, and a Ref does not need to be upgraded to a RefBox in order to access the data.

Note: this crate is currently experimental.

Rc<RefCell> vs RefBox

Rc<RefCell<T>> RefBox<T>
Pointer kinds Many strong pointers and many weak pointers One strong owner and many weak pointers
Clonable Both Rc and Weak are cheap to clone Only Ref can be cheaply cloned
Up-/Downgrading Rc is downgradable, Weak is upgradable No up- or downgrading, but RefBox::create_ref
Data access RefCell::try_borrow_mut RefBox::try_borrow_mut
Weak data access 1. Weak::upgrade
2. RefCell::try_borrow_mut
3. Rc::drop
Active borrows One mutable or many immutable One (mutable or immutable)
T::drop When all Rcs are dropped When owner RefBox is dropped
Max no. Weaks usize::MAX u32::MAX
Heap overhead 64-bit: 24 bytes
32-bit: 12 bytes
8 bytes
Performance Cloning is fast, mutating is slow Cloning references is a tiny bit slower, mutating is much faster


use refbox::RefBox;

fn main() {
    // Create a RefBox.
    let owner = RefBox::new(100);

    // Create a weak reference.
    let weak = owner.create_ref();

    // Access the data.
    let borrow = weak.try_borrow_mut().unwrap();
    assert_eq!(*borrow, 100);

Performance comparison

A number of benchmarks are included to compare the performance of RefBox vs Rc. Each benchmark follows the same process:

  1. An Rc or RefBox is created, with optionally a weak reference;
  2. An operation is performed for x number of times;
  3. The Rc or RefBox is dropped.

The horizontal axes show the number of times the operation was performed. The vertical axes show the average time it took to complete the entire process described above.

The benchmarks are performed on an HP Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU @ 2.80GHz, Windows 10 64-bit. You are encouraged to perform the benchmarks yourself as well.

Mutating through the owner takes less time (only ~80%):

Benchmark: mutate through owner, RefBox is faster.

Mutating through a weak reference takes much less time (only ~36%):

Benchmark: mutate through weak reference, RefBox is much faster.

However, creating, cloning and dropping weak references takes a little bit more time:

Benchmark: create and drop first reference, Rc is slightly faster.

Benchmark: clone and drop references, Rc is slightly faster.


Licensed under either of

at your option.


Unless you explicitly state otherwise, any contribution intentionally submitted for inclusion in the work by you, as defined in the Apache-2.0 license, shall be dual licensed as above, without any additional terms or conditions.

No runtime deps