In this exercise you will learn

  • How to serialize and deserialize data with Serde crate.

  • When to use types that own their data or only refer to externally owned data

  • How to use std::borrow::Cow type to minimize extra memory allocations

Getting Started

Create a new binary project for this exercise. Add the following dependencies to your Cargo.toml file:

serde = { version = "1", features = ["derive"] }
serde_json = "1"

Use this template:

// pretend that we call an API and get a JSON String back
fn fetch_data() -> String {
                "id": 1,
                "title": "Hello, Rust"

struct BlogPost {
    id: u32,

    title: String,

fn main() -> Result<(), serde_json::Error> {
    let post: BlogPost = {
        let data = fetch_data();
        todo!("use `serde_json` crate to parse JSON")
    println!("deserialized = {:?}", post);

    let post_json: String =
        todo!("use `serde_json` to convert `post` to a string");
    println!("serialized = {:?}", post_json);

What is that r#"…​ thing?

r in front of a string literal means it’s a "raw" string. Escape sequences (\n, \", etc.) don’t work, and thus they are very convenient for things like regular expressions, JSON literals, etc.

Optionally r can be followed by one or more symbols (like # in our case), and then your string ends when there’s a closing double quote followed by the same number of the same symbols. This is great for cases when you want to have double quotes inside your string literal. For our example r#" …​ "# works great for JSON. In rare cases you’d want to put two or more pound signs. Like, when you store CSS color values in your JSON strings:

// here `"#` would not terminate the string
        "color": "#ff00ff"


1. Serialization and Deserialization using String s

We used todo!() macros to mark places where you should put code to make the program run. Look at serde_json api for help.


Serde comes with two traits: Serializable and Deserializable. These traits can be derive d for your struct or enum types. Other serde-* crates use these traits to convert our data type from and to corresponding representation (serde-json to JSON, serde-yaml to YAML, etc.).

2. Deserialization using str s

Notice that when we deserialize data we created a separate String to represent a title for our blog post. If our data type has a lot of fields in it we may end up allocating many-many Strings every time we receive data from our API.

To avoid it we often can use string slices to refer to fragments of the original JSON string.

Try changing or blog post type to the following:

struct BlogPost {
    id: u32,

    title: &str,

The compiler will ask you to provide a lifetime type annotation.

Q: Can your title be &'static str? Why or why not?

Use lifetime annotations and change the code inside main if necessary.

Q: If you made a change, why?

3. Use copy-on-write.

Let’s put the word Rust into quotes in our blog post title. Double quotes have to be escaped in JSON, so try changing the title to "Hello, \"Rust\"".

Run your program, and you’ll get an error:

Error("invalid type: string \"Hello, \\\"Rust\\\"\", expected a borrowed string", ... )

std::borrow::Cow can be used to represent data that can be borrowed (referenced) or owned. It provides Copy-on-Write semantics.

Change title type to Cow<'a, str>. The error should disappear.

4. Teach Serde to not do unnecessary allocations.

Let’s observe Cow behavior. Add this to your main function after deserialization step:

println!("is borrowed = {}", matches!(post.title, Cow::Borrowed(_)));

Now change the title of the blog post back to "Hello, Rust" - without double quotes, and run the program again.

Turns out Serde creates an owned copy of the data anyway. To avoid that use #[serde(borrow)] macro.

Get to the point when your program prints: is borrowed = true

Questions after this exercise

  1. Why is there a need for separate serde and serde-json crates?

  2. Why do we need to put a lifetime annotation for a field of '&str' type?

  3. Why do we need to put a lifetime annotation for a field of 'Cow' type?

  4. When can we use plain &str vs Cow<str> or String for text data during deserialization?

  5. What are pros and cons of using &str or Cow<str> compared to String?