Rust's String and str

March 7, 2021

If you are new to Rust, chances are you would be confused by Rust's different string types. Let's take a look at probably the first error you will face when building your first Rust program:

fn greeting(object: String) {
    println!("Hello, {}", object);

Here we have a function expecting a String as parameter. Let's call this function with a "String":

let world = "world";

We're happy with this code. With so many experiences in programming, what could go wrong with this "Hello world" program? Well, the compiler disagrees with us:

error[E0308]: mismatched types
 --> src/
7 |     greeting(world);
  |              ^^^^^
  |              |
  |              expected struct `String`, found `&str`
  |              help: try using a conversion method: `world.to_string()`

error: aborting due to previous error

For more information about this error, try `rustc --explain E0308`.
error: could not compile `learn`

So what we did was passing something looks like a string (&str) but not a real string value into a function that is expecting a String. Luckily, the compiler shows us this can be fixed by using to_string() function. Let's try it:

let world = "world".to_string();
❯ cargo run
   Compiling learn v0.1.0 (/Users/junkai/Developer/Rust/learn)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.32s
     Running `target/debug/learn`
Hello, world

Nice! The compiler is happy now and output "Hello, world". But what is String and str?

What is String?

There are 2 main string types in Rust, str and String. The String type is provided by Rust's standard library. It is actually just a wrapper of Vec<u8> with the guarantees of UTF-8 encoding.

String is:

  • heap-allocated
  • mutable
  • growable
let mut foo = "foo".to_string();
asset_eq!(foo.len(), 3);
asset_eq!(foo.capacity(), 3);

foo.push_str(" bar");
asset_eq!(foo.len(), 7);
asset_eq!(foo.capacity(), 8);
  • owned (you might want to study the ownership first)
let string = "This is string".to_string();
let another_string = string;

println!("another_string: {}", another_string); // this is valid
println!("string: {}", string); // this is not valid
# compilation error:
error[E0382]: borrow of moved value: `string`
 --> src/
2 |     let string = "This is string".to_string();
  |         ------ move occurs because `string` has type `String`, which does not implement the `Copy` trait
3 |     let another_string = string;
  |                          ------ value moved here
6 |     println!("string: {}", string);
  |                            ^^^^^^ value borrowed here after move

error: aborting due to previous error

For more information about this error, try `rustc --explain E0382`.
error: could not compile `learn`
  • UTF-8 encoded
let emoji = "🤔";
println!("emoji: {}", emoji);
# output:
emoji: 🤔

This is how we declare a String variable in Rust:

let foo = "foo".to_string();
// or
let foo = "foo".to_owned();
// or
let foo = String::from("foo");

A String is made up of 3 components:

  • pointer to heap-allocated buffer
  • length
  • capacity The size of the String object is 3 words long. Here’s what a String looks like in memory:

string in memory

What is str?

According to Rust documentation,

The str type, also called a 'string slice', is the most primitive string type. It is usually seen in its borrowed form, &str. It is also the type of string literals, &'static str. String slices are always valid UTF-8.

A &str is made up of 2 components:

  • pointer to heap-allocated buffer
  • length

String slice

We can create string slice using [starting_index..ending_index] syntax, where starting_index is the first position in the slice and ending_index is one more than the last position in the slice:

let foo_bar = "foo bar".to_string();
let bar = &foo_bar[4..]; // bar is string slice from `foo_bar` start from index 4 to the last byte of `foo_bar`

Here's what it looks like in memory:

string slice in memory

The bar is just a reference to a portion of the foo_bar.

You can read more about string slice here.

String literal

Next, we have string literal. The way we declare a string literal is the same as how we declare a string variable in other languages:

let foo = "foo";

The foo variable with an explicit type annotation would be:

let foo: &'static str = "foo";

The foo is 'static because string literal is stored directly in the final binary, and so will be valid for the 'static duration. It’s a slice pointing to that specific point of the binary. This is also why string literals are immutable; &str is an immutable reference.

Here’s what a string literal looks like in memory:

string literal in memory

Bonus: you can pass &String to a function expecting &str

It's quite common when you have a function expecting a &str because you don't want to own the value, but the string you want to pass in is a String. This is actually very easy to solve by passing the reference of the String (&String). Strings will coerce into &str with an &:

// because `String` implement `Deref<Target=str>`
// the source code at here:
impl ops::Deref for String {
    type Target = str;

    fn deref(&self) -> &str { ... }

// therefore we can pass `&String` to a function expecting `&str`
fn count_the_len(string: &str) -> usize {

// it is a `String`
let hello = String::from("Hello World");
// we can borrow it into a function expecting `&str`
assert!(11, count_the_len(&hello));

According to Rust documentation,

This conversion is very inexpensive, and so generally, functions will accept &strs as arguments unless they need a String for some specific reason. Therefore, when working with string, it makes sense to create function expecting &strs so it will support both &str and String by default.

Which one should I use?

String is a mutable and owned while str is immutable. Generally, if you don't want to own or mutate the string value, you should be using &str, and vise versa.

For deeper explanation of this topic, I recommend this article from @fasterthanlime.