Arc<str> vs String, is Arc<str> really faster?

I was watching The Primagen’s reaction to the video “Use Arc Instead of Vec” by Logan Smith, when after experiencing live-demo-syndrome, Prime raised the question whether or not cloning Arc<str> is always faster than cloning String, which I thought was a proposterous question, since malloc is obviously slow, since that’s what we’re always told. “Reduce allocations” is almost always the first thing to do when performing non datastructure-related optimisation.

The short (and possibly incorrect) answer is probably yes, cloning Arc<str> is faster than String in most cases, but that’s not what you’re here for.

How does this even work?

You might be wandering, “Why does this even work? I thought str always needs to be behind & or &mut, so why does Arc<str> still work? Look at this error message.”

Attempting to compile:

fn main() {
    let data: str = *"Hello, World!";

Results in this error:

error[E0277]: the size for values of type `str` cannot be known at compilation time
2 |     let data: str = *"Hello, World!";
  |         ^^^^ doesn't have a size known at compile-time
  = help: the trait `Sized` is not implemented for `str`
  = note: all local variables must have a statically known size
  = help: unsized locals are gated as an unstable feature
help: consider borrowing here
2 |     let data: &str = *"Hello, World!";
  |               +

error: aborting due to previous error

For more information about this error, try `rustc --explain E0277`.

Well the answer to that is pretty simple: str is a Dynamically Sized Type (or DST for short), which is a result of it not implenting Sized, which means it can only exist behind a reference or a pointer, dropping is handled by simply deallocating the pointer. Any pointer to a DST is slightly different from normal pointer by the virtue of it being wide pointer, which the Rustonomicon describes using the following words:

Any pointer to a DST consequently becomes a wide pointer consisting of the pointer and the information that “completes” them.

But believe it or not, but str isn’t actually special, there are other DSTs such as [T] and dyn Trait. The information stored in the wide pointer is either the length in the case of [T] and str or the trait VTable in the case dyn Trait. But you can create your own DSTs as well, by having the last field of your struct be a DST. Which is exactly what Arc<T> does, it’s actually represented like this (omitting some irrelevant information):

pub struct Arc<
    T: ?Sized,
> {
    // For DSTs this turns into a wide pointer containing the necessary metadata
    // for ArcInner::<T>.data.
    ptr: NonNull<ArcInner<T>>,
    // a few Zero Sized Types follow this for some borrowing stuff and custom allocators.

// The ?Sized trait bound means the type is allowed to not implement Sized.
// By default all struct generics need to implement Sized.
struct ArcInner<T: ?Sized> {
    strong: atomic::AtomicUsize,
    weak: atomic::AtomicUsize,

    data: T,

This code was grabbed from the docs for Arc<T>. (You can see the code for any item in a crate by just clicking the source button on its docs page.)


  • malloc refers to the C function which allocates new memory.
  • free refers to the C function which deallocates memory.
  • memcopy as the name implies, copies memory between memory locations.

What does “faster” even mean?

In this case we’re talking about cloning performance, aka how long it takes to call the .clone() function on the element.

In the case of String this means mallocing a new string and then memcopying the data over. Arc<str> by comparison simply increments the strong reference counter.


You would expect a single increment to always be faster than a call to malloc and then memcopy, since, that’s supposedly a complex call which should take much longer than what amounts to a single instruction (in the case of x86 its LOCK INC).


I created a small benchmark program to test out my hypothesis. If you want to check my answers for yourself, you can find it on my github. Since we’re benchmarking performance here I assumed that you’re going to use Jemalloc, if you’re trying to have the best possible performance.

Its pretty simple, the basic benchmark function looks like this:

static GLOBAL: Jemalloc = Jemalloc;

fn bench_clone<T: Clone + Send>(base: T) {
    // Makes sure all threads are dead when we leave this function.
    // scope(f) returns the value returned by f.
    let elapsed = scope(|s| {
        // This is simply used to stop the spinning threads when we're done.
        let running = Arc::new(AtomicBool::new(true));

        // This spawns multiple threads spinning on clone to generate lock contention.
        // We iterate from 1..n to spawn n-1 threads, since one of our threads will
        // be used for benchmarking.
        for _ in 1..total_thread_count() {
            let local_base = base.clone();
            let local_running = running.clone();

            s.spawn(move || while local_running.load(Ordering::Relaxed) {

        let start = Instant::now();

        // This is the actual loop
        for _ in 0..samples() {

        let elapsed = start.elapsed();, Ordering::Relaxed);


    println!("Took {}ms to perform {} clone operations on {}.",
        elapsed.as_millis(), samples(), std::any::type_name::<T>());

fn run_clone<T: Clone>(base: &T) {
    let c = base.clone();

    // `should_drop` returns a bool, which equates
    // to a bench having the suffix "_TRUE" or "_FALSE"
    // in the graph.
    if !should_drop() {

System specs

The system I tested this on has the following specs:

  • CPU: Ryzen 5600X 6-Core CPU
  • RAM: 2x8GB Crucial Ballistix CL16 3600 MHz
  • OS: Arch Linux with 6.6.8-zen1-1-zen kernel


The left-most column shows the amount of threads used for the test. The next column shows the cloned type Arc<str> or String and whether we drop the value after cloning. _TRUE means we drop and _FALSE means we don’t. Time is displayed in milliseconds. Chart showing performance differences between Arc<str>- and String-cloning As you can see, our expectations are only representative of reality, when a single thread accesses the Arc<str>. As soon as multiple threads are contending for the Arc<str>, we start having issues and the performance of String surpasses the performance of Arc<str> significantly. Now the question remains, why does it have much greater performance?


This information is based on Jemalloc, but may also be applicable to other multithreaded allocators.

Firstly, all references of Arc<str> refer to the same instance, which means all clone operations operate on the same atomic integer, which, as I alluded to before, causes significant lock contention. And yes even atomics use CPU-internal locks! For more information read Chapter 9.1 “Locked Atomic Operations” (specifically 9.1.2 “Bus Locking”) of Volume 3A “System Programming guide” of the “Intel® 64 and IA-32 Architectures Software Developer’s Manual” (Which is a 24mb pure-text PDF file. You can fit three copies of Shrek in that.). String by contrast, calls Jemallocs malloc implementation, which uses thread-local memory arenas to get around this.

What’s still unexplained is why String gets slower when we don’t drop the String after each use. We would expect the call to free to take longer than just leaving it there. This is simply explained by how Jemalloc uses memory. As you might already know allocating memory from the kernel on Linux happens using the mmap syscall, which takes time. Therefore the allocator attempts to call mmap as little as possible, by putting multiple allocations into a single mmaped “bucket”. Therefore, if we constantly malloc then immediately free the allocated memory, we are always just using already allocated thread-local “buckets” for our allocation, no syscalls involved! If we instead leak the memory, the allocator now has to constantly allocate new memory using mmap, which, while probably amortized using bigger allocations, still takes quite a bit of time.

This can be seen in the following comparison using the tikv_jemalloc_ctl::stats::mapped API to get the amount of mapped memory:

Mapped Memory when dropping:

Running on 8 threads concurrently.
Using strings of size 64.
Running 16777216 samples.
Dropping cloned elements.
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Took 3125ms to perform 16777216 clone operations on alloc::sync::Arc<str>.
Current mapped amount: 8.6 MB
Current mapped amount: 29.8 MB
Current mapped amount: 29.8 MB
Current mapped amount: 29.8 MB
Current mapped amount: 29.8 MB
Took 308ms to perform 16777216 clone operations on alloc::string::String.

Mapped memory when not dropping:

Running on 8 threads concurrently.
Using strings of size 64.
Running 16777216 samples.
Not dropping cloned elements.
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Current mapped amount: 8.5 MB
Took 1952ms to perform 16777216 clone operations on alloc::sync::Arc<str>.
Current mapped amount: 53.7 MB
Current mapped amount: 156.6 MB
Current mapped amount: 268.9 MB
Current mapped amount: 385.7 MB
Current mapped amount: 501.3 MB
Current mapped amount: 630.1 MB
Current mapped amount: 9.3 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.4 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.5 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.6 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.7 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.8 GB
Current mapped amount: 9.9 GB
Took 968ms to perform 16777216 clone operations on alloc::string::String.

As you can see, the amount of mapped memory when using Arc<str> is obviously static, since it doesn’t allocate memory, but the String allocates new memory on each clone and if we don’t drop the cloned String, we create a memory leak, which means the allocator has to constantly request more memory using the mmap syscall.

Verifying this can be done using the strace command (mmap with the MAP_ANONYMOUS flag allocates memory and &| pipes STDERR to the STDIN of the next process in the pipeline):

# TOTAL_THREAD_COUNT=8 SHOULD_DROP=yes strace ./target/release/arc_str_perf &| grep "MAP_ANONYMOUS" | wc -l
# TOTAL_THREAD_COUNT=8 SHOULD_DROP=no strace ./target/release/arc_str_perf &| grep "MAP_ANONYMOUS" | wc -l


In most cases (when the value is not extremely contended) cloning Arc<str> is definitely faster than String, as you can see from the single-threaded result in the benchmark. But if you’re cloning data at a rate where performance is limited by CPU internal locking, I simply recommend you don’t and try something else instead of optimising your cloning. And always remember to follow the prime directive of optimisation, measure everything, don’t just apply “Golden Rules” and assume that everything’s now magically faster.


  • Someone asked why I’m not including Rc<str> in this comparison, the reason is single-threaded Arc<str> has a pretty similar performance profile.