Separating Permissions from Data in Rust

Joshua Yanovski, Hoang-Hai Dang, Ralf Jung, Derek Dreyer. ICFP 2021.

Paper Rust & Coq Sources Benchmark Results Podcast @ Building with Rust

The Rust language offers a promising approach to safe systems programming based on the principle of aliasing XOR mutability: a value may be either aliased or mutable, but not both at the same time. However, to implement pointer-based data structures with internal sharing, such as graphs or doubly-linked lists, we need to be able to mutate aliased state. To support such data structures, Rust provides a number of APIs that offer so-called interior mutability: the ability to mutate data via method calls on a shared reference. Unfortunately, the existing APIs sacrifice flexibility, concurrent access, and/or performance, in exchange for safety.

In this paper, we propose a new Rust API called GhostCell which avoids such sacrifices by separating permissions from data: it enables the user to safely synchronize access to a collection of data via a single permission. GhostCell repurposes an old trick from typed functional programming: branded types (as exemplified by Haskell's ST monad), which combine phantom types and rank-2 polymorphism to simulate a lightweight form of state-dependent types. We have formally proven the soundness of GhostCell by adapting and extending RustBelt, a semantic soundness proof for a representative subset of Rust, mechanized in Coq.

This paper is part of the RustBelt project.