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#43 in Data structures

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MIT/Apache

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Rust CI crates.io

thin-vec

ThinVec is a Vec that stores its length and capacity inline, making it take up less space.

Currently this crate mostly exists to facilitate Gecko (Firefox) FFI, but it works perfectly fine as a native rust library as well.


lib.rs:

ThinVec is exactly the same as Vec, except that it stores its len and capacity in the buffer it allocates.

This makes the memory footprint of ThinVecs lower; notably in cases where space is reserved for a non-existence ThinVec<T>. So Vec<ThinVec<T>> and Option<ThinVec<T>>::None will waste less space. Being pointer-sized also means it can be passed/stored in registers.

Of course, any actually constructed ThinVec will theoretically have a bigger allocation, but the fuzzy nature of allocators means that might not actually be the case.

Properties of Vec that are preserved:

  • ThinVec::new() doesn't allocate (it points to a statically allocated singleton)
  • reallocation can be done in place
  • size_of::<ThinVec<T>>() == size_of::<Option<ThinVec<T>>>()

Properties of Vec that aren't preserved:

  • ThinVec<T> can't ever be zero-cost roundtripped to a Box<[T]>, String, or *mut T
  • from_raw_parts doesn't exist
  • ThinVec currently doesn't bother to not-allocate for Zero Sized Types (e.g. ThinVec<()>), but it could be done if someone cared enough to implement it.

Gecko FFI

If you enable the gecko-ffi feature, ThinVec will verbatim bridge with the nsTArray type in Gecko (Firefox). That is, ThinVec and nsTArray have identical layouts but not ABIs, so nsTArrays/ThinVecs an be natively manipulated by C++ and Rust, and ownership can be transferred across the FFI boundary (IF YOU ARE CAREFUL, SEE BELOW!!).

While this feature is handy, it is also inherently dangerous to use because Rust and C++ do not know about each other. Specifically, this can be an issue with non-POD types (types which have destructors, move constructors, or are !Copy).

Do Not Pass By Value

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that FFI functions cannot pass ThinVec/nsTArray by-value. That is, these are busted APIs:

// BAD WRONG
extern fn process_data(data: ThinVec<u32>) { ... }
// BAD WRONG
extern fn get_data() -> ThinVec<u32> { ... }

You must instead pass by-reference:


// Read-only access, ok!
extern fn process_data(data: &ThinVec<u32>) {
    for val in data {
        println!("{}", val);
    }
}

// Replace with empty instance to take ownership, ok!
extern fn consume_data(data: &mut ThinVec<u32>) {
    let owned = mem::replace(data, ThinVec::new());
    mem::drop(owned);
}

// Mutate input, ok!
extern fn add_data(dataset: &mut ThinVec<u32>) {
    dataset.push(37);
    dataset.push(12);
}

// Return via out-param, usually ok!
//
// WARNING: output must be initialized! (Empty nsTArrays are free, so just do it!)
extern fn get_data(output: &mut ThinVec<u32>) {
    *output = thin_vec![1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
}

Ignorable Explanation For Those Who Really Want To Know Why:

The fundamental issue is that Rust and C++ can't currently communicate about destructors, and the semantics of C++ require destructors of function arguments to be run when the function returns. Whether the callee or caller is responsible for this is also platform-specific, so trying to hack around it manually would be messy.

Also a type having a destructor changes its C++ ABI, because that type must actually exist in memory (unlike a trivial struct, which is often passed in registers). We don't currently have a way to communicate to Rust that this is happening, so even if we worked out the destructor issue with say, MaybeUninit, it would still be a non-starter without some RFCs to add explicit rustc support.

Realistically, the best answer here is to have a "heavier" bindgen that can secretly generate FFI glue so we can pass things "by value" and have it generate by-reference code behind our back (like the cxx crate does). This would muddy up debugging/searchfox though.

Types Should Be Trivially Relocatable

Types in Rust are always trivially relocatable (unless suitably borrowed/pinned/hidden). This means all Rust types are legal to relocate with a bitwise copy, you cannot provide copy or move constructors to execute when this happens, and the old location won't have its destructor run. This will cause problems for types which have a significant location (types that intrusively point into themselves or have their location registered with a service).

While relocations are generally predictable if you're very careful, you should avoid using types with significant locations with Rust FFI.

Specifically, ThinVec will trivially relocate its contents whenever it needs to reallocate its buffer to change its capacity. This is the default reallocation strategy for nsTArray, and is suitable for the vast majority of types. Just be aware of this limitation!

Auto Arrays Are Dangerous

ThinVec has some support for handling auto arrays which store their buffer on the stack, but this isn't well tested.

Regardless of how much support we provide, Rust won't be aware of the buffer's limited lifetime, so standard auto array safety caveats apply about returning/storing them! ThinVec won't ever produce an auto array on its own, so this is only an issue for transferring an nsTArray into Rust.

Other Issues

Standard FFI caveats also apply:

  • Rust is more strict about POD types being initialized (use MaybeUninit if you must)
  • ThinVec<T> has no idea if the C++ version of T has move/copy/assign/delete overloads
  • nsTArray<T> has no idea if the Rust version of T has a Drop/Clone impl
  • C++ can do all sorts of unsound things that Rust can't catch
  • C++ and Rust don't agree on how zero-sized/empty types should be handled

The gecko-ffi feature will not work if you aren't linking with code that has nsTArray defined. Specifically, we must share the symbol for nsTArray's empty singleton. You will get linking errors if that isn't defined.

The gecko-ffi feature also limits ThinVec to the legacy behaviors of nsTArray. Most notably, nsTArray has a maximum capacity of i32::MAX (~2.1 billion items). Probably not an issue. Probably.

Dependencies

~175KB