Any_to_u8 O(1) time?


Please note that this code allows reading uninitialized memory from safe code, and is thus unsound. Please don’t use it as-is.


Why do you believe this? The code uses len, not capacity. Assuming your claim is true, how would you fix it?


There may be padding in the struct.


I’m on mobile so won’t make a play demo, but look at the last byte of (u16, u8) – it’s an LLVM undef.

There’s no nice fix. To be safe it would need something like bounding on an unsafe trait NoPadding or something, but that’s of course impossible to implement soundly today for repr(rust) because rust makes no layout guarantees there. (If you only need it for things like u32 or [u8; 3], though, it might be fine.) The other not-great fix is to have it return &[MaybeUninitialized<u8>], forcing the caller to prove things later – but I doubt that’s helpful to them. (Though it, interestingly, does allow safe code to (soundly but uselessly) write the padding bytes.)

These are general instances of the two usual ways to fix unsound code:

  1. make your caller promise something stronger, or
  2. return something that can’t be used in the problematic way without additional promises


In summary, and in answer to your original question, if the Any item does not contain any padding or uninitialized fields, then your Any_to_u8() runs in O(1) time, generally without triggering UB. For any other case all bets are off (or as we say in the States, “your mileage may vary”).


I don’t believe this is true. I have a Vec, where T is repr© and encodes a bunch of OpenGL Vertices data. Even in the case of padding, the locations computed by offset_of still has correct values (and the uninitialized padding data, if existent, is irrelevant as OpenGL uploads but does not read it.)


And if the processor traps on attempting to read uninitialized memory (e.g., Itanium), then what?


I’m using wasm32. Is there a real problem here, or are people being pedantic?


You loose guarantees of the compiler as soon as your code invokes undefined behavior (as soon as it can read undefined memory in this case). Everything might be fine, but it could also break in very strange and unpredictable ways.

See posts like Undefined Behavior is Really Undefined and With Undefined Behavior, Anything is Possible. These posts reference C/C++ but the details with regard to undefined behavior are similar since Rust is backed by LLVM. TLDR; the compiler optimizes with the assumption that undefined behavior is never invoked, so if it is, the compiler optimizes with the assumption that your code does not run, and changes to it won’t do anything.


Let me see if I get the high level points correctly:

View 1: (my view): reading uninitizlied memory = I get garbage values; but nothing else bad happens

View 2: (your view): reading uninitialized memory is completely undefined; it is perfectly valid for LLVM to do rm -rf ~ when the code asks to read uninitialized memory

I.e. a single uninitilzied memory read invalidates everything else.

Have I captured the point you are making?


If so, this is a lot more serious than I thought. In this case, is there a way to tell Rust structs to “zero all padding” ?


Coincidentally, there’s a contemporaneous post on IRLO that addresses this topic. The underlying problem is that rustc uses a hyper-optimizing back-end (LLVM) to generate wasm code. It is likely that, in this case and on CPUs more recent than Itanium, your approach will work. Unfortunately, in the presence of UB that can’t be guaranteed.

Many of us would like to have a safe way to get read-access to arbitrary structs as [u8]. For structs we control, we usually use #[repr(C)] and order the struct’s fields with attention to meeting the alignment requirements of multi-byte types. Sometimes we have to add dummy fields to ensure those alignment requirements are met, then remember to initialize those dummy fields as well. That’s a case where the Default trait and the compiler’s optimizations come in handy; usually the result is a very-efficient memzero of the object’s storage.


So the suggested solution is:

  1. use repr(C) (which I am also doing) and
  2. when there is padding forced due to alignment due to multi-byte types, add dummy fields – this doesn’t eliminate “padding”, it just makes the padding “explicit”, which forces them ot be initialized when we construct it as Rust types



This is such a common misconception that it’s called out explicitly in the LLVM docs. You should probably read through

I’ve also talked about this before, such as in

And it’s come up in other threads, like

Reading uninitialized value vs undefined behaviour
Function/method/idiom for in-place substitution using previous value

From my knowledge (maybe too little) use read_volatile can get around some UB detection/optimization.

pub fn any_to_u8<'a, T>(v: &'a Vec<T>) -> &'a [u8] {
    unsafe { std::slice::from_raw_parts(
         std::ptr::read_volatile(&(v.as_ptr() as *const u8)),
         v.len() * std::mem::size_of::<T>()) }

Even if it compiles to legitimate code it still risks being unsound to use.


I don’t think that actually makes it sound, but even if it did it’s a pessimization for the normal paths, so you wouldn’t want it anyway.


But what I don’t understand is if there is padding in the struct, then does it truly matter if it’s uninitialized, if it’s allocated, then there would be no problem in reading it, right? Or is padding not allocated, and therefore an array of a padded struct would look like this:

+███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ ███ +

Where reading the unfilled bits would end up in UB because they aren’t allocated? And even if they are allocated and still not initialized, one could design their program to work around the uninitialized garbage data in between, with full knowledge that it is garbage data.


@OptimisticPeach : I think you are making the same assumption as I am making – i.e. the worst thing an uninitilized read can do is get garbage data.

The problem is that the rustc/llvm compiler does optimizations assuming certain invaraints / preconditions – and uninitilzied read breaks that – thus possibly causing the rewrites / optimizations to do insane things.


Ah, so then therefore a naïve approach would presume the memory model I mentioned in my previous post, but in actuality it may be any of the following depending on what LLVM wants:

+█████████████████████████████████           +
+██████ ██████ ██████ ██████ ██████ ██████   +
+██████ ███ ██████ ███ ██████ ███ ██████     +

And the programmer doesn’t know which one it is because of processor-specific optimizations that may differ from a most common one?


@OptimisticPeach : I am not sure – this may be ‘blind leading blind’ here – but I think it is a different issue.

Suppose rustc/llvm does optimization under the assumption “RustCoin price is always > 10k on Sundays” (i.e. no “uninitialized read”).

Then, in reading the code, it comes across a situation where “RustCoin $1000 on Wednesday” so it descides the right optimization is: okay, sell everything else, go all in on RustCoin.

However, come Sunday, RustCoin drops to $500 – and now, rustc/llvm is f-ed up because it optimized under an assumption that was false.


I think the issue here is that Rustc/llvm may do certain optimizations assuming that all reads are initialized … and then do a cascade of transofmrations based on those assumptions … and if those assumptions are broken, then all hell might get unleashed.


Imagine we have

(rust source code, rustc “execution model”) and
(x86 source code, x86 execution model)

There is some model, assuming no uninitilzied reads, that proves that the compiled rust output is correct (with respect to the source code.)

However, once we introduce uninitilized reads, the entire proof breaks down. (We can’t just say: oh, it behaves as normal, except the value we read is garbage) – because through the cascade of transforms / optimizations, other things might have gotten f-ed up along the way.