Today I was inspired to continue learning Rust by implementing what every CS student eventually has to know backwards and forwards to get a job: a singly linked list. This shouldn’t be too hard, my list will support:

  1. Appending elements to the list one at a time
  2. Iterating over elements
  3. Determining the length of the list by iterating from head to tail
  4. Deallocating the list
  5. Using Rust modules (just to learn how they work)

Every linked list needs a good recursive linked_list_node definition with a nice car and cdr erm I mean value and next:

struct LinkedListNode<'a, T> {
    value : T,
    next : &'a LinkedListNode<'a, T>,

It’s obvious to me why next has to be a reference to a LinkedListNode, but the lifetime parameter 'a requires some explaining. That will be explained later. Now obviously we need to support creating an empty list and adding elements to it one at a time.

pub struct List<'a, T> {
    head : &LinkedListNode<'a, T>
impl List {
    fn new() {
        // except Rust doesn't have a null!
        List { head : null }

Now here is where I ran into my first C#-induced headache, because I would have loved to use null to represent a the end of a list. Rust has no nulls, and some Googling immediately pointed me toward using an Option and a great book doing exactly what I’m trying to do! In short, we can use Rust enums to create a tagged union(or what F# would call a discriminated union) to define a type that can be one of several values (one of which is Null or Nil) and whose values can themselves be more complex types. Something like this:

enum ListNode {
    ListNode(i32, Box<ListNode>)

I read that like this: A ListNode is either the ListNode::Empty value, or it is a ListNode(i32, Box<ListNode>) which is an i32 paired with a pointer to a heap-allocated ListNode.


I wouldn’t say that starting to write this post was a waste of time because I discovered a great book to read through. Sometimes starting and failing still results in a victory.