How to create a global, mutable singleton

rust

What is the best way to create and use a struct with only one instantiation in the system? Yes, this is necessary, it is the OpenGL subsystem, and making multiple copies of this and passing it around everywhere would add confusion, rather than relieve it.

The singleton needs to be as efficient as possible. It doesn't seem possible to store an arbitrary object on the static area, as it contains a Vec with a destructor. The second option is to store an (unsafe) pointer on the static area, pointing to a heap allocated singleton. What is the most convenient and safest way to do this, while keeping syntax terse.

Best Solution

Non-answer answer

Avoid global state in general. Instead, construct the object somewhere early (perhaps in main), then pass mutable references to that object into the places that need it. This will usually make your code easier to reason about and doesn't require as much bending over backwards.

Look hard at yourself in the mirror before deciding that you want global mutable variables. There are rare cases where it's useful, so that's why it's worth knowing how to do.

Still want to make one...?

Tips

In the 3 following solutions:

  • If you remove the Mutex then you have a global singleton without any mutability.
  • You can also use a RwLock instead of a Mutex to allow multiple concurrent readers.

Using lazy-static

The lazy-static crate can take away some of the drudgery of manually creating a singleton. Here is a global mutable vector:

use lazy_static::lazy_static; // 1.4.0
use std::sync::Mutex;

lazy_static! {
    static ref ARRAY: Mutex<Vec<u8>> = Mutex::new(vec![]);
}

fn do_a_call() {
    ARRAY.lock().unwrap().push(1);
}

fn main() {
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();

    println!("called {}", ARRAY.lock().unwrap().len());
}

Using once_cell

The once_cell crate can take away some of the drudgery of manually creating a singleton. Here is a global mutable vector:

use once_cell::sync::Lazy; // 1.3.1
use std::sync::Mutex;

static ARRAY: Lazy<Mutex<Vec<u8>>> = Lazy::new(|| Mutex::new(vec![]));

fn do_a_call() {
    ARRAY.lock().unwrap().push(1);
}

fn main() {
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();

    println!("called {}", ARRAY.lock().unwrap().len());
}

Using std::sync::SyncLazy

The standard library is in the process of adding once_cell's functionality, currently called SyncLazy:

#![feature(once_cell)] // 1.53.0-nightly (2021-04-01 d474075a8f28ae9a410e)
use std::{lazy::SyncLazy, sync::Mutex};

static ARRAY: SyncLazy<Mutex<Vec<u8>>> = SyncLazy::new(|| Mutex::new(vec![]));

fn do_a_call() {
    ARRAY.lock().unwrap().push(1);
}

fn main() {
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();

    println!("called {}", ARRAY.lock().unwrap().len());
}

A special case: atomics

If you only need to track an integer value, you can directly use an atomic:

use std::sync::atomic::{AtomicUsize, Ordering};

static CALL_COUNT: AtomicUsize = AtomicUsize::new(0);

fn do_a_call() {
    CALL_COUNT.fetch_add(1, Ordering::SeqCst);
}

fn main() {
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();
    do_a_call();

    println!("called {}", CALL_COUNT.load(Ordering::SeqCst));
}

Manual, dependency-free implementation

There are several existing implementation of statics, such as the Rust 1.0 implementation of stdin. This is the same idea adapted to modern Rust, such as the use of MaybeUninit to avoid allocations and unnecessary indirection. You should also look at the modern implementation of io::Lazy. I've commented inline with what each line does.

use std::sync::{Mutex, Once};
use std::time::Duration;
use std::{mem::MaybeUninit, thread};

struct SingletonReader {
    // Since we will be used in many threads, we need to protect
    // concurrent access
    inner: Mutex<u8>,
}

fn singleton() -> &'static SingletonReader {
    // Create an uninitialized static
    static mut SINGLETON: MaybeUninit<SingletonReader> = MaybeUninit::uninit();
    static ONCE: Once = Once::new();

    unsafe {
        ONCE.call_once(|| {
            // Make it
            let singleton = SingletonReader {
                inner: Mutex::new(0),
            };
            // Store it to the static var, i.e. initialize it
            SINGLETON.write(singleton);
        });

        // Now we give out a shared reference to the data, which is safe to use
        // concurrently.
        SINGLETON.assume_init_ref()
    }
}

fn main() {
    // Let's use the singleton in a few threads
    let threads: Vec<_> = (0..10)
        .map(|i| {
            thread::spawn(move || {
                thread::sleep(Duration::from_millis(i * 10));
                let s = singleton();
                let mut data = s.inner.lock().unwrap();
                *data = i as u8;
            })
        })
        .collect();

    // And let's check the singleton every so often
    for _ in 0u8..20 {
        thread::sleep(Duration::from_millis(5));

        let s = singleton();
        let data = s.inner.lock().unwrap();
        println!("It is: {}", *data);
    }

    for thread in threads.into_iter() {
        thread.join().unwrap();
    }
}

This prints out:

It is: 0
It is: 1
It is: 1
It is: 2
It is: 2
It is: 3
It is: 3
It is: 4
It is: 4
It is: 5
It is: 5
It is: 6
It is: 6
It is: 7
It is: 7
It is: 8
It is: 8
It is: 9
It is: 9
It is: 9

This code compiles with Rust 1.55.0.

All of this work is what lazy-static or once_cell do for you.

The meaning of "global"

Please note that you can still use normal Rust scoping and module-level privacy to control access to a static or lazy_static variable. This means that you can declare it in a module or even inside of a function and it won't be accessible outside of that module / function. This is good for controlling access:

use lazy_static::lazy_static; // 1.2.0

fn only_here() {
    lazy_static! {
        static ref NAME: String = String::from("hello, world!");
    }
    
    println!("{}", &*NAME);
}

fn not_here() {
    println!("{}", &*NAME);
}
error[E0425]: cannot find value `NAME` in this scope
  --> src/lib.rs:12:22
   |
12 |     println!("{}", &*NAME);
   |                      ^^^^ not found in this scope

However, the variable is still global in that there's one instance of it that exists across the entire program.

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