created_at2024-01-11 02:29:07.254908
updated_at2024-01-12 18:47:41.72421
descriptionA macro to make accessing elements through raw pointers easier.



Element Pointer

This crate exposes a macro that makes dealing with raw pointers much easier.

One of the common pain points with raw pointers in Rust is the difficulty in handling them safely. Some examples of the difficulties include:

  • It is dangerous and probably wrong to create intermediate references when navigating through a structure via a raw pointer. This is why addr_of!() exists.

  • Even with addr_of!(), the syntax for repeated uses of it can look quite horrible. Every single .field access needs to look like (*ptr).field, and the macro invocation itself causes a lot of clutter.

  • NonNull<T> is incredibly annoying to use. It lacks methods like offset(), and it can't be used with the afformentioned addr_of!(). This means that anything using NonNull<T> is forced to continuously cast to a normal raw pointer and back.

  • There are no concise methods to take a *const [T; L] and get a raw pointer to one of its elements. The correct way to do this is ptr.cast::<T>().add(index), but specifying the cast type is verbose, and not doing it may cause confusing compiler errors.

This crate tries to fix these challenges with a comprehensive macro.


The following example details the basic useage of the macro.

use element_ptr::element_ptr;

struct BaseStruct {
    first: u32,
    second: ChildStruct,

struct ChildStruct {
    elements: [u32; 10],

unsafe fn get_child_element_ptr(
    ptr: *const BaseStruct,
    index: usize
) -> *const u32 {
    element_ptr!(ptr => .second.elements[index])

The macro itself uses a special syntax to describe how the pointer should be moved around.

First, the macro is invoked and is supplied with the base pointer. This may be any expression that evaluates to a valid pointer type.

element_ptr!(ptr => /* ... */ )

Next, the syntax


makes the pointer move to the address of the second field. This is the most basic kind of manipulation, and probably the one that will be used most often. Instead of an identifier, an integer may also be used to index into a tuple.

Another field is then accessed. Note how after the previous access, the pointer was *const ChildStruct. This means that .elements will access the elements field inside the inner ChildStruct. Because the struct is stored by value, this does not require derefencing the pointer.

Then, an index of the array is accessed with


The macro will statically check to make sure that index syntax is only used on indexable pointee types. index can be any expression, and not just a variable name or static value.

Finally, the macro returns the pointer to the last accessed subelement, in this case, one of the ten u32s inside second.elements.


Invoking this macro will always be unsafe for a few reasons:

  1. addr_of!(), and hence .field accesses, require that the resulting pointer stays within the bounds of the same allocated object. This is the same requirement that offset() has.

  2. Similar to #1, [index] accesses also require the resulting pointer to be within bounds. Because index may be an arbitrary expression, and slices as well as arrays can be indexed, this cannot be asserted at compile time.

  3. This macro supports manipulating NonNull<T>s, and therefore any offsets could potentially cause the pointer to move to null, causing UB. This is almost always the same as #1, because the address 0 can never be within bounds.

Syntax & Semantics

There are numerous kinds of element accesses that each can do different things. None of them will ever derefence the pointer except for .*.

Access Kind Syntax Equivalent Pointer Expression
Field .field addr_of!((*ptr).field)
Index [index] ptr.cast::<T>().add(index)
Add Offset + count 1 ptr.add(count)
Sub Offset - count 1 ptr.sub(count)
Byte Add Offset u8+ bytes 1 ptr.byte_add(bytes)
Byte Sub Offset u8- bytes 1 ptr.byte_sub(bytes)
Cast as T => 2 ptr.cast::<T>()
Dereference .* 3 ptr.read()
Grouping ( ... ) Just groups the inner accesses for clarity.
  1. `count`/`bytes` may either be an integer literal or an expression wrapped in parentheses.
  2. The `=>` may be omitted if the cast is the last access in a group.
  3. A dereference may return a value that is not a pointer only if it is the final access in the macro.
    Note that because this calls [`read()`] on the pointer, it can easily lead to duplicate values. In general, only use this access on inner pointer types.
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cargo fmt