Linked list in Rust

Lumen Yang Lv3

It is quite a hassle to learn the linked list in Rust, pure madness when you see expression like Option<Box<LinkedList>> for the first time. I write down about things that were unfamiliar to me here, which is a lot!


One way to use a defined linked list in rust is like Option<Box<LinkedList>>, where you use two wrapper to ensure 1) optional presence of the object, like nullptr in cpp and 2) fixed size pointer to the next element.

The following concepts occurs in the manipulation of the LinkedList in Rust. Generally, you might want to use as_mut() and take() method of Option type to do the Linked List manipulation.

				2(LinkedList object)

Signature for take:

pub fn take(&mut self) -> Option(T)

take() fill the original Option object or Result with default value (None or Err respectively). This is used to take ownership of a mutable Option() enum from a mutable reference of it.

To create a mutable reference on such Option, you use the as_mut() trait implemented on Option, to convert from &mut Option<T> to Option<&mut T> . The signature is as following:

fn as_mut(&mut self) -> &mut T;

With all these magics, we can finally do some operation like = node2; auto tmp =; in cpp with:

// to change the pointer to another
node2.as_mut()?.next = node1;
// move the next from current node to an independent variable
let node3 = node2.as_mut()?.next.take();
// moving object itself is easy
node1 = node2;
node2 = node2;

Why bother using Box ?

In Rust, the Box type is a smart pointer for data allocated on heap. When a Box goes out of scope, its destructor is called and the heap memory is deallocated.

The reason we use Box for the ListNode in a LinkedList is because of Rust’s ownership and size requirements. In Rust, all variables and data must have a known size at compile time. However, a LinkedList is a recursive data structure where a node can contain another node. If we tried to define it without a Box, it would have an infinite size because each node contains another node, which contains another node, and so on.

By using a Box, we’re storing the ListNode on the heap instead of directly in the parent node. This means that the parent node only needs to store the Box, which has a known size (it’s a pointer to the heap memory).

Here’s what the ListNode might look like:

pub struct ListNode {
pub val: i32,
pub next: Option<Box<ListNode>>,

In this definition, each ListNode contains an Option that may contain a Box pointing to the next ListNode. The Option is used to indicate that the next field might be None (there might not be a next node), and the Box is used to store the next ListNode on the heap.

So Option alone is not enough because it doesn’t solve the size requirement issue. We need Box to allocate the ListNode on the heap and have a known size for the next field.

How then to create a cycle LinkedList?

Box is a smart pointer, or more specifically, a unique pointer in cpp. This means that the linked list created in Box is guaranteed to not have a circle, because Box takes exclusive ownership of the data it points to, preventing multiple mutable references to the same data, thereby avoiding potential data races.

Creating a cycle in a LinkedList in Rust is indeed challenging due to Rust’s ownership model and the way it prevents data races. However, there are ways to create cycles or more complex structures in Rust, but they involve using Rc (Reference Counting) and RefCell types. Rc allows multiple owners for the same data, and RefCell allows interior mutability, which means we can mutate the data even when there are immutable references to it.

Here is an example of how to create a cycle:

use std::rc::Rc;
use std::cell::RefCell;

struct Node {
value: i32,
next: Option<Rc<RefCell<Node>>>,

fn main() {
let node1 = Rc::new(RefCell::new(Node { value: 1, next: None }));
let node2 = Rc::new(RefCell::new(Node { value: 2, next: Some(node1.clone()) }));

// Create a cycle
node1.borrow_mut().next = Some(node2.clone());

In this example, node1 points to node2, and node2 points back to node1, creating a cycle. The Rc type allows both nodes to own the other, and the RefCell type allows us to mutate node1 to point to node2 even though node1 is initially immutable.

However, Cycles like this can lead to memory leaks. In this example, node1 and node2 will never be deallocated because they always have a reference count greater than zero due to the cycle. Rust’s Rc type doesn’t have a way to detect or deal with cycles.

So, while it’s possible to create a cycle in a LinkedList in Rust, it should be done very carefully, if at all, to avoid memory leaks.


Practical usage of linked list with cycle? (Answer from GPT4)

Yes, there are practical uses for cyclic or circular linked lists in real-world applications. Here are a few examples:

  1. Round-Robin Scheduling: This is a type of scheduling algorithm used in operating systems and other systems that deal with time-sharing. The list of tasks is kept in a circular linked list, and the scheduler rotates through the tasks, giving each one a small slice of time to execute. When a task has had its turn, the scheduler moves to the next task in the circular list.
  2. Multiplayer Board Games: In many multiplayer games, the turn-based system can be implemented with a circular linked list. Each node represents a player, and the current node represents the player whose turn it is. After each turn, the game advances to the next player in the circular list.
  3. Image Carousel or Slideshow: In a web or mobile application, an image carousel or slideshow might use a circular linked list to cycle through images. When the user reaches the last image, the next image is the first one, creating a seamless loop.
  4. CPU Cache Organization: In computer architecture, some caching systems use circular buffers (which can be implemented with circular linked lists) to manage memory.
  5. Navigation Systems: Some navigation systems use circular linked lists to cycle through options or menus.

While these are practical uses, it’s worth noting that other data structures (like arrays or array lists) can often be used to achieve the same goals, sometimes with better performance characteristics. The choice of data structure depends on the specific requirements of the situation.

  • Title: Linked list in Rust
  • Author: Lumen Yang
  • Created at : 2024-01-10 00:00:16
  • Updated at : 2024-04-12 18:17:17
  • Link: list in Rust/
  • License: This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.