Expand description

A safe arena allocator that allows deletion without suffering from the ABA problem by using generational indices.

Inspired by Catherine West’s closing keynote at RustConf 2018, where these ideas (and many more!) were presented in the context of an Entity-Component-System for games programming.

What? Why?

Imagine you are working with a graph and you want to add and delete individual nodes at a time, or you are writing a game and its world consists of many inter-referencing objects with dynamic lifetimes that depend on user input. These are situations where matching Rust’s ownership and lifetime rules can get tricky.

It doesn’t make sense to use shared ownership with interior mutability (i.e. Rc<RefCell<T>> or Arc<Mutex<T>>) nor borrowed references (ie &'a T or &'a mut T) for structures. The cycles rule out reference counted types, and the required shared mutability rules out borrows. Furthermore, lifetimes are dynamic and don’t follow the borrowed-data-outlives-the-borrower discipline.

In these situations, it is tempting to store objects in a Vec<T> and have them reference each other via their indices. No more borrow checker or ownership problems! Often, this solution is good enough.

However, now we can’t delete individual items from that Vec<T> when we no longer need them, because we end up either

  • messing up the indices of every element that follows the deleted one, or

  • suffering from the ABA problem. To elaborate further, if we tried to replace the Vec<T> with a Vec<Option<T>>, and delete an element by setting it to None, then we create the possibility for this buggy sequence:

    • obj1 references obj2 at index i

    • someone else deletes obj2 from index i, setting that element to None

    • a third thing allocates obj3, which ends up at index i, because the element at that index is None and therefore available for allocation

    • obj1 attempts to get obj2 at index i, but incorrectly is given obj3, when instead the get should fail.

By introducing a monotonically increasing generation counter to the collection, associating each element in the collection with the generation when it was inserted, and getting elements from the collection with the pair of index and the generation at the time when the element was inserted, then we can solve the aforementioned ABA problem. When indexing into the collection, if the index pair’s generation does not match the generation of the element at that index, then the operation fails.


  • Zero unsafe
  • Well tested, including quickchecks
  • no_std compatibility
  • All the trait implementations you expect: IntoIterator, FromIterator, Extend, etc…


First, add generational-arena to your Cargo.toml:

generational-arena = "0.2"

Then, import the crate and use the generational_arena::Arena type!

extern crate generational_arena;
use generational_arena::Arena;

let mut arena = Arena::new();

// Insert some elements into the arena.
let rza = arena.insert("Robert Fitzgerald Diggs");
let gza = arena.insert("Gary Grice");
let bill = arena.insert("Bill Gates");

// Inserted elements can be accessed infallibly via indexing (and missing
// entries will panic).
assert_eq!(arena[rza], "Robert Fitzgerald Diggs");

// Alternatively, the `get` and `get_mut` methods provide fallible lookup.
if let Some(genius) = arena.get(gza) {
    println!("The gza gza genius: {}", genius);
if let Some(val) = arena.get_mut(bill) {
    *val = "Bill Gates doesn't belong in this set...";

// We can remove elements.

// Insert a new one.
let murray = arena.insert("Bill Murray");

// The arena does not contain `bill` anymore, but it does contain `murray`, even
// though they are almost certainly at the same index within the arena in
// practice. Ambiguities are resolved with an associated generation tag.

// Iterate over everything inside the arena.
for (idx, value) in &arena {
    println!("{:?} is at {:?}", value, idx);


To enable no_std compatibility, disable the on-by-default “std” feature.

generational-arena = { version = "0.2", default-features = false }

Serialization and Deserialization with serde

To enable serialization/deserialization support, enable the “serde” feature.

generational-arena = { version = "0.2", features = ["serde"] }


  • The Arena allows inserting and removing elements that are referred to by Index.
  • An iterator that removes elements from the arena.
  • An index (and generation) into an Arena.
  • An iterator over the elements in an arena.
  • An iterator over shared references to the elements in an arena.
  • An iterator over exclusive references to elements in this arena.