Lifetime Annotations

A reference has a lifetime, which must not “outlive” the value it refers to. This is verified by the borrow checker.

The lifetime can be implicit - this is what we have seen so far. Lifetimes can also be explicit: &'a Point, &'document str. Lifetimes start with ' and 'a is a typical default name. Read &'a Point as “a borrowed Point which is valid for at least the lifetime a”.

Lifetimes are always inferred by the compiler: you cannot assign a lifetime yourself. Explicit lifetime annotations create constraints where there is ambiguity; the compiler verifies that there is a valid solution.

Lifetimes become more complicated when considering passing values to and returning values from functions.

struct Point(i32, i32);

fn left_most(p1: &Point, p2: &Point) -> &Point {
    if p1.0 < p2.0 {
    } else {

fn main() {
    let p1: Point = Point(10, 10);
    let p2: Point = Point(20, 20);
    let p3 = left_most(&p1, &p2); // What is the lifetime of p3?
    println!("p3: {p3:?}");
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In this example, the compiler does not know what lifetime to infer for p3. Looking inside the function body shows that it can only safely assume that p3’s lifetime is the shorter of p1 and p2. But just like types, Rust requires explicit annotations of lifetimes on function arguments and return values.

Add 'a appropriately to left_most:

fn left_most<'a>(p1: &'a Point, p2: &'a Point) -> &'a Point {

This says, “given p1 and p2 which both outlive 'a, the return value lives for at least 'a.

In common cases, lifetimes can be elided, as described on the next slide.