Pass by Reference

Pass by Reference

Arguments Pass by Reference

When we want the called function to make changes to the parameters such that the changes are seen by the calling function when the call returns. The mechanism to do this is called pass arguments by reference.


The general syntax of passing arguments by value is:


The following example makes a function square() that takes a number n which is being passed by reference as a parameter to the function and prints the square of the function within the function.

fn square(n:&mut i32){
  *n = *n * *n;
  println!("The value of n inside function : {}", n);
fn main() {
  let  mut n = 4;
  println!("The value of n before function call : {}", n);
  println!("Invoke Function");
  square(&mut n);
  println!("The value of n after function call : {}", n);


The value of n before function call : 4
Invoke Function
The value of n inside function : 16
The value of n after function call : 16


The above program comprises two functions, the user defined function square() and the driver function main() where the function is being called.

User defined function

  • The function square() is defined from line 1 to line 4 which takes a mutable reference (&mut) to the parameter n of type i32.

    • On line 2, the square of the variable n is calculated. Since n is a reference to a variable, to access the referenced variable’s value, a de-referencing is required. That is achieved with the *n. On the right handside, the value referenced by n is accessed and multiplied with itself. The assignment is also to *n, which means the calculated result is stored in the variable that n is referencing.

    • The square of the function is printed on line 3.

Driver function

The driver function main() is defined from line 5 to line 11.

  • On line 6, a mutable variable n is defined.
  • On line 9, the function square() is invoked.The argument to this function is & mut n. Here, & indicates that it is a reference to the variable n and mut indicates that n can be changed inside the function square(). - After the function call, the value of the n is printed.

Note: The value of n is changed within the function.

Note: The argument, as well as the parameter, is set as a mutable reference when the value is passed by reference. If the value is to be updated it is dereferenced first and then the update operation is performed.

# Quiz

Test your understanding of passing arguments by reference in a function in Rust.

  1. What is the output of the following code?
fn change(x:&mut i32, y:&mut i32){
  *x = 0;
  *y = 0;
  println!("x : {}, y : {}", x , y);
fn main() {
  let mut x = 10;
  let mut y = 9;
  change( &mut x, &mut y );
  println!("x : {}, y : {}", x , y);


x : 0, y : 0
x : 0, y : 0


x : 9, y : 10
x : 0, y : 0