Skip to main content

Stable regions


The Region library provides low-level access to ICP stable memory feature.

Motoko stable variables require serialization and deserialization on upgrade. During an upgrade, the current values of stable variables are first saved to the ICP stable memory, then restored from stable memory after the new code is installed. This mechanism, however, does not scale to canisters that maintain large amounts of data in stable variables. There may not be enough cycle budget to store then restore all stable variables within an upgrade, resulting in failed upgrades.

Due to the current 32-bit address space of Motoko, stable variables cannot store more than 4GiB of data.

Additionally, some stable variables use a representation that is not itself stable, requiring a non-trivial pre-upgrade routine to pre-process the data into a stable form. These pre-upgrade steps are critical, and if they trap for any reason, the Motoko canister may be stuck in an evolutionary dead-end, unable to upgrade.

The Region library

To avoid these upgrade hazards, actors can elect to use the ExperimentalStableMemory or Region libraries in package base. The Region library allows the programmer to incrementally allocate pages of 64-bit stable memory and use those pages to incrementally read and write data in a user-defined binary format.

Several pages may be allocated at once, with each page containing 64KiB. Allocation may fail due to resource limits imposed by ICP. Pages are zero-initialized.

While the user allocates at the granularity of 64KiB pages, the implementation will allocate at the coarser granularity of a block, currently 128 of physical stable memory pages.

The Motoko runtime system ensures there is no interference between the abstraction presented by the Region library and an actor’s stable variables, even though the two abstractions ultimately use the same underlying stable memory facilities available to all ICP canisters. This runtime support means that is safe for a Motoko program to exploit both stable variables and Region, within the same application.

Further, distinct Regions use distinct pages of stable memory, ensuring that two distinct Regions can not interfere with each other's data representations during normal operation, or during an upgrade.

Using Regions

The interface to the Region library consists of functions for querying and growing the currently allocated set of stable memory pages, plus matching pairs of load, store operations for most of Motoko’s fixed-size scalar types.

More general loadBlob and storeBlob operations are also available for reading and writing binary blobs and other types that can be encoded as Blobs of arbitrary sizes, using Motoko supplied or user-provided encoders and decoders.

module {

// A stateful handle to an isolated region of IC stable memory.
// `Region` is a stable type and regions can be stored in stable variables.
type Region = Prim.Types.Region;

// Allocate a new, isolated `Region` of size 0.
new : () -> Region;

// Current size of the region `r` in pages.
// Each page is 64KiB (65536 bytes).
// Initially `0`.
size : (r : Region) -> (pages : Nat64);

// Grow current `size` of region `r` by `pagecount` pages.
// Each page is 64KiB (65536 bytes).
// Returns previous `size` when able to grow.
// Returns `0xFFFF_FFFF_FFFF_FFFF` if remaining pages of physical stable memory insufficient.
// Please note that there is no way to shrink the size of a region.
grow : (r : Region, new_pages : Nat64) -> (oldpages : Nat64);

// read ("load") a byte from a region, by offset.
loadNat8 : (r : Region, offset : Nat64) -> Nat8;

// write ("store") a byte into a region, by offset.
storeNat8 : (r : Region, offset : Nat64, value: Nat8) -> ();

// ... and similar for Nat16, Nat32, Nat64,
// Int8, Int16, Int32 and Int64 ...

loadFloat : (r : Region, offset : Nat64) -> Float;
storeFloat : (r : Region, offset : Nat64, value : Float) -> ();

// Load `size` bytes starting from `offset` in region `r` as a [`Blob`](../base/
// Traps on out-of-bounds access.
loadBlob : (r : Region, offset : Nat64, size : Nat) -> Blob;

// Write all bytes of [`Blob`](../base/ to region `r` beginning at `offset`.
// Traps on out-of-bounds access.
storeBlob : (r : Region, offset : Nat64, value : Blob) -> ()



To demonstrate the Region library, the following is a simple implementation of a logging actor that records text messages in a scalable, persistent log.

The example illustrates the simultaneous use of stable variables and stable memory. It uses a single stable variable, state, to keep track of the two regions and their size in bytes, but stores the contents of the log directly in stable memory.

import Nat64 "mo:base/Nat64";
import Region "mo:base/Region";

actor StableLog {

// Index of saved log entry.
public type Index = Nat64;

// Internal representation uses two regions, working together.
stable var state = {
bytes =;
var bytes_count : Nat64 = 0;
elems = ();
var elems_count : Nat64 = 0;

// Grow a region to hold a certain number of total bytes.
func regionEnsureSizeBytes(r : Region, new_byte_count : Nat64) {
let pages = Region.size(r);
if (new_byte_count > pages << 16) {
let new_pages = ((new_byte_count + ((1 << 16) - 1)) / (1 << 16)) - pages;
assert Region.grow(r, new_pages) == pages

// Element = Position and size of a saved a Blob.
type Elem = {
pos : Nat64;
size : Nat64;

let elem_size = 16 : Nat64; /* two Nat64s, for pos and size. */

// Count of elements (Blobs) that have been logged.
public func size() : async Nat64 {

// Constant-time random access to previously-logged Blob.
public func get(index : Index) : async Blob {
assert index < state.elems_count;
let pos = Region.loadNat64(state.elems, index * elem_size);
let size = Region.loadNat64(state.elems, index * elem_size + 8);
let elem = { pos ; size };
Region.loadBlob(state.bytes, elem.pos, Nat64.toNat(elem.size))

// Add Blob to the log, and return the index of it.
public func add(blob : Blob) : async Index {
let elem_i = state.elems_count;
state.elems_count += 1;

let elem_pos = state.bytes_count;
state.bytes_count += Nat64.fromNat(blob.size());

regionEnsureSizeBytes(state.bytes, state.bytes_count);
Region.storeBlob(state.bytes, elem_pos, blob);

regionEnsureSizeBytes(state.elems, state.elems_count * elem_size);
Region.storeNat64(state.elems, elem_i * elem_size + 0, elem_pos);
Region.storeNat64(state.elems, elem_i * elem_size + 8, Nat64.fromNat(blob.size()));


The shared add(blob) function allocates enough stable memory to store the given blob and writes the blob contents, its size, and its position into the pre-allocated regions. One region is dedicated to storing the blobs of varying sizes, and the other is dedicated to storing their fixed-sized metadata.

The shared get(index) query reads anywhere from the log without traversing any unrelated memory.

StableLog allocates and maintains its potentially large log data directly in stable memory and uses a small and fixed amount of storage for actual stable variables. Upgrading StableLog to a new implementation should not consume many cycles, regardless of the current size of the log.

Mops packages for stable regions

  • memory-region: A library for abstraction over the Region type that supports reusing deallocated memory.

  • stable-enum: Enumerations implemented in stable regions.

  • stable-buffer: Buffers implemented in stable regions.