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Slices in Rust

Slices are another type of reference. As the name implies, they refer to a slice of information, in bytes, to an existing variable in memory.

Instead of handling an entire collection, which could be costly performance-wise, we can use slices to handle a reference to those items. These slices can be modified in place or returned as immutable as part of a function.

String slices

Working with string and byte slices is one of the most common tasks when working with Rust, especially at a lower level.

A String slice is simply a reference to a part, or slice, of a String:

let name = String::from("Bader");
// We can use the `..` operator to specify a range for the slice to cover
// In this case, we want the 'Bad' from Bader
let bad_slice = &name[0..3];
println!("{bad_slice}"); // Prints "Bad"

The double period syntax (..) signifies a range. It creates a variable that represents that specific String in memory from those specified positions ([starting_index..ending_index]).

Modifying a slice in-place

It's possible to modify a mutable slice. This is also called changing it 'in place', as you are manipulating the data within that specific starting and ending index.

fn main() {
let mut arr = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
modify_in_place(&mut arr[2..4]); // pass in a mutable slice that refers to elements 3 and 4 of the array
println!("{:?}", arr); // prints "[1, 2, 6, 8, 5]"

fn modify_in_place(slice: &mut [i32]) {
for i in 0..slice.len() {
slice[i] *= 2; // double each element in the slice

We can modify a slice, or part of the array (arr) versus the entire array. This way, we can only act on the part of the data given.

Try it yourself!

What's happening here?

The code above illustrates how to construct a basic string slice as well as return it in a function. To make it interesting, try to pass name as a mutable reference - does it work? Why and why not?