24 days of Rust - static initialization

Static variables are available throughout the entire life of a program. They are allocated in a block of memory known at compile time. Due to that, they tend to represent global state that the program can access. It's getting especially tricky if one static variable depends on another. Some language communities even talk about static initialization order fiasco (looking at you, C++). Other, like C, allow static intialization only with constant literals/expressions. Rust belongs to this group as well. But there are alternatives...

Looking up colors by name

Suppose we're building a web browser engine. Among thousands of things to take care of, we should be able to render colorful text. <p style="color: blue"> should look like a paragraph set in a blue font. But blue is a human-readable name for a color; computers like numbers. Let's translate it with the help of a Color struct:

#[derive(Clone, Debug)]
pub struct Color {
    r: u8,
    g: u8,
    b: u8,

We cannot create a static HashMap and initialize it with a mapping from color names to Colors. So let's use pattern matching to find color by name:

pub fn find_color(name: &str) -> Option<Color> {
    match name.to_lowercase().as_str() {
        "amber" => Some(Color { r: 255, g: 191, b: 0 }),
        // hundreds of other names...
        "zinnwaldite brown" => Some(Color { r: 44, g: 22, b: 8 }),
        _ => None,

The downside is that matching string slices will probably generate a linear search. So the more colors we have, the slower find_color will be.

Did I just say we cannot have a static HashMap?

puts on Morpheus sunglasses

What if I told you...


lazy_static is a crate that enables static variables that are initialized in a non-trivial way. For example a precomputed regular epression such as the ones used in docopt, or a static HashMap!

extern crate lazy_static;

use std::collections::HashMap;

lazy_static! {
    static ref COLORS_MAP: HashMap<&'static str, Color> = {
        let mut map = HashMap::new();
        map.insert("amber", Color { r: 255, g: 191, b: 0 });
        // ...
        map.insert("zinnwaldite brown", Color { r: 44, g: 22, b: 8 });

pub fn find_color_lazy_static(name: &str) -> Option<Color> {

COLORS_MAP will be evaluated on first access. We can now safely treat it as if it was a regular static variable.


HashMap uses a somewhat slow hash algorithm (quoting the documentation) to avoid DoS attacks. With large enough maps there's also a possibility of collisions.

On the other hand, phf uses perfect hashing (hashing that guarantees no collisions) to build compile-time maps. This way we can have efficient constant-time lookups at runtime.


extern crate phf;

static COLORS: phf::Map<&'static str, Color> = phf_map! {
    "amber" => Color { r: 255, g: 191, b: 0 },
    // ...
    "zinnwaldite brown" => Color { r: 44, g: 22, b: 8 },

pub fn find_color_phf(name: &str) -> Option<Color> {


So what's the difference in speed between these approaches?

mod tests {
    use super::*;
    use test::Bencher;

    fn bench_match_lookup(b: &mut Bencher) {
        b.iter(|| find_color("White"))

    fn bench_lazy_static_map(b: &mut Bencher) {
        b.iter(|| find_color_lazy_static("White"))

    fn bench_phf_map(b: &mut Bencher) {
        b.iter(|| find_color_phf("White"))
$ cargo bench
running 3 tests
test tests::bench_lazy_static_map ... bench:         367 ns/iter (+/- 20)
test tests::bench_match_lookup    ... bench:       3,948 ns/iter (+/- 460)
test tests::bench_phf_map         ... bench:         350 ns/iter (+/- 33)

Linear search at runtime in the match statement is the slowest, as expected. Both static HashMap and phf::Map are about an order of magnitude faster, with the latter leading by a small amount. I would personally prefer phf for lookups like this, as it is the intended use for static compile-time maps. lazy_static is more general in its intent and initializing maps is just one of its many potential uses.

Further reading

Photo by John Mcsporran and shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/127130111@N06/16244789569/