RAII with guards


RAII stands for “Resource Acquisition is Initialisation” which is a terrible name. The essence of the pattern is that resource initialisation is done in the constructor of an object and finalisation in the destructor. This pattern is extended in Rust by using a RAII object as a guard of some resource and relying on the type system to ensure that access is always mediated by the guard object.


Mutex guards are the classic example of this pattern from the std library (this is a simplified version of the real implementation):

use std::ops::Deref;

struct Foo {}

struct Mutex<T> {
    // We keep a reference to our data: T here.

struct MutexGuard<'a, T: 'a> {
    data: &'a T,

// Locking the mutex is explicit.
impl<T> Mutex<T> {
    fn lock(&self) -> MutexGuard<T> {
        // Lock the underlying OS mutex.

        // MutexGuard keeps a reference to self
        MutexGuard {
            data: self,

// Destructor for unlocking the mutex.
impl<'a, T> Drop for MutexGuard<'a, T> {
    fn drop(&mut self) {
        // Unlock the underlying OS mutex.

// Implementing Deref means we can treat MutexGuard like a pointer to T.
impl<'a, T> Deref for MutexGuard<'a, T> {
    type Target = T;

    fn deref(&self) -> &T {

fn baz(x: Mutex<Foo>) {
    let xx = x.lock();
    xx.foo(); // foo is a method on Foo.
              // The borrow checker ensures we can't store a reference to the underlying
              // Foo which will outlive the guard xx.

    // x is unlocked when we exit this function and xx's destructor is executed.


Where a resource must be finalised after use, RAII can be used to do this finalisation. If it is an error to access that resource after finalisation, then this pattern can be used to prevent such errors.


Prevents errors where a resource is not finalised and where a resource is used after finalisation.


RAII is a useful pattern for ensuring resources are properly deallocated or finalised. We can make use of the borrow checker in Rust to statically prevent errors stemming from using resources after finalisation takes place.

The core aim of the borrow checker is to ensure that references to data do not outlive that data. The RAII guard pattern works because the guard object contains a reference to the underlying resource and only exposes such references. Rust ensures that the guard cannot outlive the underlying resource and that references to the resource mediated by the guard cannot outlive the guard. To see how this works it is helpful to examine the signature of deref without lifetime elision:

fn deref<'a>(&'a self) -> &'a T {

The returned reference to the resource has the same lifetime as self ('a). The borrow checker therefore ensures that the lifetime of the reference to T is shorter than the lifetime of self.

Note that implementing Deref is not a core part of this pattern, it only makes using the guard object more ergonomic. Implementing a get method on the guard works just as well.

See also

Finalisation in destructors idiom

RAII is a common pattern in C++: cppreference.com, wikipedia.

Style guide entry (currently just a placeholder).

Last change: 2024-06-11, commit: 3aa5c21