Ownership and Borrowing

Dive into Rust's unique features: ownership, references, and borrowing, and understand their impact on memory safety and concurrency.

By Kevin McAleer,    3 Minutes

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One of Rust’s distinguishing features is its ownership system, which is a set of rules that the compiler checks at compile time. It does not slow down your program while running. This lesson will cover the concepts of ownership, references, and borrowing, as well as lifetimes, which are all central to understanding how Rust manages memory.

Learning Objectives

  • Comprehend Rust’s ownership principles and how they contribute to memory safety.
  • Understand references and the borrowing rules in Rust.
  • Learn about lifetimes and their role in managing references.

Understanding Ownership

Ownership in Rust means that each value in Rust has a variable that’s called its owner. There can only be one owner at a time, and when the owner goes out of scope, the value will be dropped.

The rules of ownership are:

  1. Each value in Rust has a variable that’s called its ‘owner’.
  2. There can only be one owner at a time.
  3. When the owner goes out of scope, the value will be dropped.

This system prevents memory leaks and allows for more efficient memory management.

References and Borrowing

Instead of transferring ownership, Rust uses references to give you access to values without taking ownership of them. This process is called ‘borrowing’. As with ownership, there are rules for borrowing:

  1. You may have either one mutable reference or any number of immutable references to a value at a time.
  2. References must always be valid.

Borrowing allows you to use values without taking ownership, enabling multiple parts of your code to access data without duplicating it.


Lifetimes are Rust’s way of ensuring that all borrows are valid. They are a part of the type system and describe the scope for which a reference is valid. In many cases, lifetimes are implicit and inferred, just like most types are, but there are situations where you need to annotate them explicitly.

Lifetimes ensure that references do not outlive the data they refer to, preventing dangling references.

Python Comparisons

  • In Python, memory management is handled by garbage collection, so the concepts of ownership, borrowing, and lifetimes are not directly applicable.
  • Python allows you to reference objects multiple times without explicit rules, relying on reference counting and garbage collection to manage memory, which contrasts with Rust’s compile-time checks for memory safety and access rules.


In this lesson, you learned about Rust’s ownership, borrowing, and lifetimes. Understanding these concepts is fundamental to writing safe and efficient Rust code, as they enable Rust to manage memory safety without a garbage collector.

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