Ownership and Scope

Every variable in Move has a scope and an owner. The scope is the range of code where the variable is valid, and the owner is the scope that this variable belongs to. Once the owner scope ends, the variable is dropped. This is a fundamental concept in Move, and it is important to understand how it works.

Ownership

A variable defined in a function scope is owned by this scope. The runtime goes through the function scope and executes every expression and statement. Once the function scope end, the variables defined in it are dropped or deallocated.

module book::ownership {
    public fun owner() {
        let a = 1; // a is owned by the `owner` function
    } // a is dropped here

    public fun other() {
        let b = 2; // b is owned by the `other` function
    } // b is dropped here

    #[test]
    fun test_owner() {
        owner();
        other();
        // a & b is not valid here
    }
}

In the example above, the variable a is owned by the owner function, and the variable b is owned by the other function. When each of these functions are called, the variables are defined, and when the function ends, the variables are discarded.

Returning a Value

If we changed the owner function to return the variable a, then the ownership of a would be transferred to the caller of the function.

module book::ownership {
    public fun owner(): u8 {
        let a = 1; // a defined here
        a // scope ends, a is returned
    }

    #[test]
    fun test_owner() {
        let a = owner();
        // a is valid here
    } // a is dropped here
}

Passing by Value

Additionally, if we passed the variable a to another function, the ownership of a would be transferred to this function. When performing this operation, we move the value from one scope to another. This is also called move semantics.

module book::ownership {
    public fun owner(): u8 {
        let a = 10;
        a
    } // a is returned

    public fun take_ownership(v: u8) {
        // v is owned by `take_ownership`
    } // v is dropped here

    #[test]
    fun test_owner() {
        let a = owner();
        take_ownership(a);
        // a is not valid here
    }
}

Scopes with Blocks

Each function has a main scope, and it can also have sub-scopes via the use of blocks. A block is a sequence of statements and expressions, and it has its own scope. Variables defined in a block are owned by this block, and when the block ends, the variables are dropped.

module book::ownership {
    public fun owner() {
        let a = 1; // a is owned by the `owner` function's scope
        {
            let b = 2; // b is owned by the block
            {
                let c = 3; // c is owned by the block
            }; // c is dropped here
        }; // b is dropped here
        // a = b; // error: b is not valid here
        // a = c; // error: c is not valid here
    } // a is dropped here
}

However, shall we use the return value of a block, the ownership of the variable is transferred to the caller of the block.

module book::ownership {
    public fun owner(): u8 {
        let a = 1; // a is owned by the `owner` function's scope
        let b = {
            let c = 2; // c is owned by the block
            c // c is returned
        }; // c is dropped here
        a + b // both a and b are valid here
    }
}

Copyable Types

Some types in Move are copyable, which means that they can be copied without transferring the ownership. This is useful for types that are small and cheap to copy, such as integers and booleans. Move compiler will automatically copy these types when they are passed to a function or returned from a function, or when they're moved to a scope and then accessed in their original scope.

Further reading