Box Syntax and Patterns

Currently the only stable way to create a Box is via the Box::new method. Also it is not possible in stable Rust to destructure a Box in a match pattern. The unstable box keyword can be used to both create and destructure a Box. An example usage would be:

#![feature(box_syntax, box_patterns)]

fn main() {
    let b = Some(box 5);
    match b {
        Some(box n) if n < 0 => {
            println!("Box contains negative number {}", n);
        },
        Some(box n) if n >= 0 => {
            println!("Box contains non-negative number {}", n);
        },
        None => {
            println!("No box");
        },
        _ => unreachable!()
    }
}

Note that these features are currently hidden behind the box_syntax (box creation) and box_patterns (destructuring and pattern matching) gates because the syntax may still change in the future.

Returning Pointers

In many languages with pointers, you'd return a pointer from a function so as to avoid copying a large data structure. For example:

struct BigStruct {
    one: i32,
    two: i32,
    // etc
    one_hundred: i32,
}

fn foo(x: Box<BigStruct>) -> Box<BigStruct> {
    Box::new(*x)
}

fn main() {
    let x = Box::new(BigStruct {
        one: 1,
        two: 2,
        one_hundred: 100,
    });

    let y = foo(x);
}

The idea is that by passing around a box, you're only copying a pointer, rather than the hundred i32s that make up the BigStruct.

This is an antipattern in Rust. Instead, write this:

#![feature(box_syntax)]

struct BigStruct {
    one: i32,
    two: i32,
    // etc
    one_hundred: i32,
}

fn foo(x: Box<BigStruct>) -> BigStruct {
    *x
}

fn main() {
    let x = Box::new(BigStruct {
        one: 1,
        two: 2,
        one_hundred: 100,
    });

    let y: Box<BigStruct> = box foo(x);
}

This gives you flexibility without sacrificing performance.

You may think that this gives us terrible performance: return a value and then immediately box it up ?! Isn't this pattern the worst of both worlds? Rust is smarter than that. There is no copy in this code. main allocates enough room for the box, passes a pointer to that memory into foo as x, and then foo writes the value straight into the Box<T>.

This is important enough that it bears repeating: pointers are not for optimizing returning values from your code. Allow the caller to choose how they want to use your output.