Global Storage - Operators

Move programs can create, delete, and update resources in global storage using the following five instructions:

move_to<T>(&signer,T)Publish T under signer.addressIf signer.address already holds a T
move_from<T>(address): TRemove T from address and return itIf address does not hold a T
borrow_global_mut<T>(address): &mut TReturn a mutable reference to the T stored under addressIf address does not hold a T
borrow_global<T>(address): &TReturn an immutable reference to the T stored under addressIf address does not hold a T
exists<T>(address): boolReturn true if a T is stored under addressNever

Each of these instructions is parameterized by a resource type T declared in the current module. This ensures that a resource can only be manipulated via the API exposed by its defining module. The instructions also take either an address or &signer representing the account address where the resource of type T is stored.

References to resources#

References to global resources returned by borrow_global or borrow_global_mut mostly behave like references to local storage: they can be extended, read, and written using ordinary reference operators and passed as arguments to other function. However, there is one important difference between local and global references: a function cannot return a reference that points into global storage. For example, these two functions will each fail to compile:

resource struct R { f: u64 }
// will not compile
fun ret_direct_resource_ref_bad(a: address): &R {
borrow_global<R>(a) // error!
// also will not compile
fun ret_resource_field_ref_bad(a: address): &u64 {
&borrow_global<R>(a).f // error!

Move must enforce this restriction to guarantee absence of dangling references to global storage. This section contains much more detail for the interested reader.

Global storage operators with generics#

Global storage operations can be applied to generic resources with both instantiated and uninstantiated generic type parameters:

resource struct Container<T> { t: T }
// Publish a Container storing a type T of the caller's choosing
fun publish_generic_container<T>(account: &signer, t: T) {
move_to<Container<T>>(account, Container { t })
/// Publish a container storing a u64
fun publish_instantiated_generic_container(account: &signer, t: u64) {
move_to<Container<u64>>(account, Container { t })

The ability to index into global storage via a type parameter chosen at runtime is a powerful Move feature known as storage polymorphism. For more on the design patterns enabled by this feature, see Move generics.

Example: Counter#

The simple Counter module below exercises each of the five global storage operators. The API exposed by this module allows:

  • Anyone to publish a Counter resource under their account
  • Anyone to check if a Counter exists under any address
  • Anyone to read or increment the value of a Counter resource under any address
  • An account that stores a Counter resource to reset it to zero
  • An account that stores a Counter resource to remove and delete it
address 0x42 {
module Counter {
use 0x1::Signer;
/// Resource that wraps an integer counter
resource struct Counter { i: u64 }
/// Publish a `Counter` resource with value `i` under the given `account`
public fun publish(account: &signer, i: u64) {
// "Pack" (create) a Counter resource. This is a privileged operation that
// can only be done inside the module that declares the `Counter` resource
move_to(account, Counter { i })
/// Read the value in the `Counter` resource stored at `addr`
public fun get_count(addr: address): u64 acquires Counter {
/// Increment the value of `addr`'s `Counter` resource
public fun increment(addr: address) acquires Counter {
let c_ref = &mut borrow_global_mut<Counter>(addr).i;
*c_ref = *c_ref + 1
/// Reset the value of `account`'s `Counter` to 0
public fun reset(account: &signer) acquires Counter {
let c_ref = &mut borrow_global_mut<Counter>(Signer::address_of(account)).i;
*c_ref = 0
/// Delete the `Counter` resource under `account` and return its value
public fun delete(account: &Signer): u64 acquires Counter {
// remove the Counter resource
let c = move_from<Counter>(Signer::address_of(account));
// "Unpack" the `Counter` resource into its fields. This is a
// privileged operation that can only be done inside the module
// that declares the `Counter` resource
let Counter { i } = c;
/// Return `true` if `addr` contains a `Counter` resource
public fun exists(addr: address): bool {

Annotating functions with acquires#

In the Counter example, you might have noticed that theget_count, increment, reset, and delete functions are annotated with acquires Counter. A Move function M::f must be annotated with acquires T if and only if:

  • The body of M::f contains a move_from<T>, borrow_global_mut<T>, or borrow_global<T> instruction, or
  • The body of M::f invokes a function M::g declared in the same module that is annotated with acquires

For example, the following function inside Counter would need an acquires annotation:

// Needs `acquires` because `increment` is annotated with `acquires`
fun call_increment(addr: address): u64 acquires Counter {

However, the same function outside Counter would not need an annotation:

address 0x43 {
module M {
use 0x42::Counter;
// Ok. Only need annotation when resource acquired by callee is declared
// in the same module
fun call_increment(addr: address): u64 {

If a function touches multiple resources, it needs multiple acquires:

address 0x42 {
module TwoResources {
resource struct R1 { f: u64 }
resource struct R2 { g: u64 }
fun double_acquires(a: address): u64 acquires R1, R2 {
borrow_global<R1>(a).f + borrow_global<R2>.g

The acquires annotation does not take generic type parameters into account:

address 0x42 {
module M {
resource struct R<T> { t: T }
// `acquires R`, not `acquires R<T>`
fun acquire_generic_resource(a: addr) acquires R {
let _ = borrow_global<R<T>>(a);
// `acquires R`, not `acquires R<u64>
fun acquire_instantiated_generic_resource(a: addr) acquires R {
let _ = borrow_global<R<u64>>(a);

Finally: redundant acquires are not allowed. Adding this function inside Counter will result in a compilation error:

// This code will not compile because the body of the function does not use a global
// storage instruction or invoke a function with `acquires`
fun redundant_acquires_bad() acquires Counter {}

For more information on acquires, see Move functions.

Reference Safety For Global Resources#

Move prohibits returning global references and requires the acquires annotation to prevent dangling references. This allows Move to live up to its promise of static reference safety (i.e., no dangling references, no null or nil dereferences) for all reference types.

This example illustrates how the Move type system uses acquires to prevent a dangling reference:

address 0x42 {
module Dangling {
resource struct T { f: u64 }
fun borrow_then_remove_bad(a: address) acquires T {
let t_ref: &mut T = borrow_global_mut<T>(a);
let t = remove_t(a); // type system complains here
// t_ref now dangling!
let uh_oh = *&t_ref.f
fun remove_t(a: address): T acquires T {

In this code, line 6 acquires a reference to the T stored at address a in global storage. The callee remove_t then removes the value, which makes t_ref a dangling reference.

Fortunately, this cannot happen because the type system will reject this program. The acquires annotation on remove_t lets the type system know that line 7 is dangerous, without having to recheck or introspect the body of remove_t separately!

The restriction on returning global references prevents a similar, but even more insidious problem:

address 0x42 {
module M1 {
resource struct T {}
public fun ret_t_ref(a: address): &T acquires T {
borrow_global<T>(a) // error! type system complains here
public fun remove_t(a: address) acquires T {
let T {} = move_from<T>(a);
module M2 {
fun borrow_then_remove_bad(a: address) {
let t_ref = M1::ret_t_ref(a);
let t = M1::remove_t(a); // t_ref now dangling!

Line 16 acquires a reference to a global resource M1::T, then line 17 removes that same resource, which makes t_ref dangle. In this case, acquires annotations do not help us because the borrow_then_remove_bad function is outside of the M1 module that declares T (recall that acquires annotations can only be used for resources declared in the current module). Instead, the type system avoids this problem by preventing the return of a global reference at line 6.

Fancier type systems that would allow returning global references without sacrificing reference safety are possible, and we may consider them in future iterations of Move. We chose the current design because it strikes a good balance between expressivity, annotation burden, and type system complexity.

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