Borrowing for references

Adopt the ideas of borrowing in Rust to Blech


The solution to the problems with references is Borrowing analysis.

Borrowing in Rust

A Rust program very similar to the introductory example (../10_references/#parameters-are-references) looks like the following

fn outIsInPlus1(a: &i32, b: &mut i32) {
    *b = 1;
    *b = *a + *b;

fn main() {
    let mut i = 42;
    outIsInPlus1(&i, &mut i);

Function outIsInPlus1 gets a read-only (immutable) reference a and a read-write (mutable) reference b.

Rust does not allow this call to outIsInPlus1. The so-called borrow checker detects an error.

error[E0502]: cannot borrow `i` as mutable because it is also borrowed as immutable
 --> src/
9 |     outIsInPlus1(&i, &mut i);
  |     ------------ --  ^^^^^^ mutable borrow occurs here
  |     |            |
  |     |            immutable borrow occurs here
  |     immutable borrow later used by call

Rust does not allow to borrow a mutable and an immutable reference to a memory location in the same scope.

In Blech this test is currently implemented as part of the causality analysis.

Behaviour of the Rust borrow checker

A good overview of how borrowing restricts the usage of variables and references can be found in a Graphical depiction of ownership and borrowing in Rust .

Move semantics can be neglected for the moment because it deals with memory management of heap allocated data. Currently Blech does not dynamically allocate heap data for safety and real-time reasons.

For borrowing it distinguishes between frozen and locked behaviour.

Mutable borrowing, locks the original object for the duration of the borrow, rendering it unusable.

Non-mutable borrowing freezes the original object, you can still take more non-mutable references, but you cannot move or take mutable references of it.

Borrowing in Blech

If we adopt borrow semantics in Blech, the compiler would reject the program, which has been discussed as problematic.

var i: int32

let ref a = i
var ref b = i

b = 1
b = a + b

The analog program in Rust

fn main() {
    let mut i: i32 = 42;
    let a = &i;
    let b = &mut i;
    *b = 1;
    *b = *a + *b;

cannot be compiled due to a borrowing error

error[E0502]: cannot borrow `i` as mutable because it is also borrowed as immutable
 --> src/
4 |     let a = &i;
  |             -- immutable borrow occurs here
5 |     let b = &mut i;
  |             ^^^^^^ mutable borrow occurs here
8 |     *b = *a + *b;
  |          -- immutable borrow later used here

For Blech we should also implemented a borrowing check.

Intuitive behaviour of the borrow checker.

Borrow checking restricts the use borrowed references inside the same scope.

The scope is either a statement scope or the entrance of a subprogram.

In the same scope we can either

  1. take several let refs or
  2. one var ref

to a memory location.

In both cases the original name for the memory location is no longer accessible. If we switch to a separate scope we can take a mutable and after that an immutable borrowing. The reason is, that the borrow reference name is no longer visible if the scope is left.

var i: int32

do  // increment i via b
    var ref b = i  // read-write (mutable) borrow
    // i is locked
    b = b + 1    

// read i via a
let ref a = i     // read-only (immutable) borrow
// i is frozen

Parameter passing is borrowing too

Passing parameters is also borrowing in a new scope. All parameters are regarded borrows in the scope of the subprogram.

Therefore the following Blech code would also be rejected by a borrow checker.

The call takes a let ref (immutable) borrow and a var ref (mutable) borrow at the same time.

    var i: int32

In order to correct this we need an additional memory location,

    var i: int32
    let j = i  // read-only j gets value from i

The implementor of function outIsInPlus1 can assume that the actual parameters never overlap in their memory location.

This check - which currently is implemented in the causality analysis - can be moved to a borrow checker, which would simplify the causality analysis.

Last modified May 4, 2021: drafting the module chapter (fa3db01)