Interior Mutability

Sometimes a type needs be mutated while having multiple aliases, in Rust this is achieved using a pattern called interior mutability. A type has interior mutability if its internal state can be changed through a shared reference to it. This goes against the usual requirement that the value pointed to by a shared reference is not mutated.

std::cell::UnsafeCell<T> type is the only legal way in Rust to disable this requirement. When UnsafeCell<T> is immutably aliased, it is still safe to mutate, or obtain a mutable reference to, the T it contains. As with all other types, it is undefined behavior to have multiple &mut UnsafeCell<T> aliases.

Other types with interior mutability can be created by using UnsafeCell<T> as a field. The standard library provides a variety of types that provide safe interior mutability APIs. For example, std::cell::RefCell<T> uses run-time borrow checks to ensure the usual rules around multiple references. The std::sync::atomic module contains types that wrap a value that is only accessed with atomic operations, allowing the value to be shared and mutated across threads.

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