Chapter 5 - Child Objects

In the previous chapter, we walked through various ways of wrapping an object in another object. There are a few limitations in object wrapping:

  1. A wrapped object can be accessed only via its wrapper. It cannot be used directly in a transaction or queried by its ID (e.g., in the explorer).
  2. An object can become very large if it wraps several other objects. Larger objects can lead to higher gas fees in transactions. In addition, there is an upper bound on object size.
  3. As we will see in future chapters, there will be use cases where we need to store a collection of objects of heterogeneous types. Since the Move vector type must be templated on one single type T, it is not suitable for this.

Fortunately, Sui provides another way to represent object relationships: an object can own other objects. In the first chapter, we introduced libraries for transferring objects to an address. In this chapter, we will introduce libraries that allow you transfer objects to other objects.

Create child objects

There are two ways of creating child objects which we describe in the following sections.


Assume we own two objects in our address. To make one object own the other object, we can use the following API in the transfer library:

public fun transfer_to_object<T: key, R: key>(
    obj: T,
    owner: &mut R,

The first argument obj will become a child object of the second argument owner. obj must be passed by value, i.e. it will be fully consumed and cannot be accessed again within the same transaction (similar to transfer function). After calling this function, the on-chain owner metadata of obj will change to the ID of the owner object.

This begs the question, what happens if we attempt to delete the parent object? In the metadata for an object, Sui maintains a count of how many child objects a parent has. The parent object cannot be deleted, wrapped, or frozen while it still has children. Why? Without this limitation, we may end up in a situation where we deleted the parent object, but there are still some child objects; and these child objects will be locked forever, as we will explain in latter sections.

Let's look at some code. The full source code can be found in object_owner.move.

First we define two object types for the parent and the child:

struct Parent has key {
    id: UID,
    child: Option<ID>,

struct Child has key {
    id: UID,

Parent type contains a child field that is an optional child reference to an object of Child type. First we define an API to create an object of Child type:

public entry fun create_child(ctx: &mut TxContext) {
        Child { id: object::new(ctx) },

The above function creates a new object of Child type and transfers it to the sender address of the transaction, i.e. after this call, the sender address owns the object. Similarly, we can define an API to create an object of Parent type:

public entry fun create_parent(ctx: &mut TxContext) {
    let parent = Parent {
        id: object::new(ctx),
        child: option::none(),
    transfer::transfer(parent, tx_context::sender(ctx));

Since the child field is Option type, we can start with option::none(). Now we can define an API that makes an object of Child a child of an object of Parent:

public entry fun add_child(parent: &mut Parent, child: Child) {
    option::fill(&mut parent.child, object::id(&child));
    transfer::transfer_to_object(child, parent);

This function takes the Child object by value, fills the child field of parent with the ID of the Child object, and calls transfer_to_object to transfer the Child object to the parent. At the end of the add_child call, we have the following ownership relationship:

  1. Sender address (still) owns a Parent object.
  2. The Parent object owns a Child object.

Use Child Objects

We have explained in the first chapter that, in order to use an owned object, the object owner must be the transaction sender. What about objects owned by objects? We require that the object's owner object must also be passed as an argument in the Move call. For example, if object A owns object B, and object B owns object C, to be able to use C when calling a Move entry function, one must also pass B as an argument; and since B is an argument, A must also be an argument. This essentially means that to use an object, its entire ownership ancestor chain must be included, and the owner address of the root ancestor must match the sender of the transaction.

Let's look at how we could use the child object created earlier. Let's define two entry functions:

public entry fun mutate_child(_child: &mut Child) {}
public entry fun mutate_child_with_parent(_child: &mut Child, _parent: &mut Parent) {}

The first function requires only one object argument, which is a Child object. The second function requires two arguments, a Child object and a Parent object. Both functions are made empty since what we care about here is not the mutation logic, but whether you are able to make a call to them at all. Both functions will compile successfully, because object ownership relationships are dynamic properties and the compiler cannot forsee them.

Let's try to interact with these two entry functions on-chain and see what happens. First we publish the sample code:

$ sui client publish --path $ROOT/sui-core/src/unit_tests/data/object_owner --gas-budget 5000
----- Publish Results ----
The newly published package object ID: 0x3cfcee192b2fbafbce74a211e40eaf9e4cb746b9

Then we create a child object:

$ export PKG=0x3cfcee192b2fbafbce74a211e40eaf9e4cb746b9
$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner --function create_child  --gas-budget 1000
----- Transaction Effects ----
Created Objects:
  - ID: 0xb41d157fdeda968c5b5f0d8b87b6ebb84d7d1941 , Owner: Account Address ( 0x5f67488c28c46e56bcefb808ae499ef323c1236d )

At this point we only created the child object, but it's still owned by an address. We can verify that we should be able to call mutate_child function by only passing in the child object:

$ export CHILD=0xb41d157fdeda968c5b5f0d8b87b6ebb84d7d1941
$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner  --function mutate_child --args $CHILD --gas-budget 1000
----- Transaction Effects ----
Status : Success
Mutated Objects:
  - ID: 0xb41d157fdeda968c5b5f0d8b87b6ebb84d7d1941

Indeed the transasaction succeeded.

Now let's create the Parent object as well:

$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner --function create_parent --gas-budget 1000
----- Transaction Effects ----
Created Objects:
  - ID: 0x2f893c18241cfbcd390875f6e1566f4db949392e

Now we can make the parent object own the child object:

$ export PARENT=0x2f893c18241cfbcd390875f6e1566f4db949392e
$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner --function add_child --args $PARENT $CHILD --gas-budget 1000
----- Transaction Effects ----
Mutated Objects:
- ID: 0xb41d157fdeda968c5b5f0d8b87b6ebb84d7d1941 , Owner: Object ID: ( 0x2f893c18241cfbcd390875f6e1566f4db949392e )

As we can see, the owner of the child object has been changed to the parent object ID.

Now if we try to call mutate_child again, we will see an error:

$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner  --function mutate_child --args $CHILD --gas-budget 1000
Object 0xb41d157fdeda968c5b5f0d8b87b6ebb84d7d1941 is owned by object 0x2f893c18241cfbcd390875f6e1566f4db949392e, which is not in the input

To be able to mutate the child object, we must also pass the parent object as argument. Hence we need to call the mutate_child_with_parent function:

$ sui client call --package $PKG --module object_owner  --function mutate_child_with_parent --args $CHILD $PARENT --gas-budget 1000

It will finish successfully.

Transfer Child Objects

In this section, we will introduce a few more APIs that will allow us safely move around child objects.

There are two ways to transfer a child object:

  1. Transfer it to an address, thus it will no longer be a child object after the transfer.
  2. Transfer it to another object, thus it will still be a child object but with the parent object changed.


First of all, let's look at how to transfer a child object to an address. Recall the transfer function as defined in the transfer module:

public fun transfer<T: key>(obj: T, recipient: address)

transfer transfers an object, in this case a child object, to an address. Using this API is no different than a normal transfer! All that is required is that the object's parent was present as an argument to the initial entry function. Let's implement a function that removes a child object from a parent object and transfer it back to the owner:

public entry fun remove_child(parent: &mut Parent, child: Child, ctx: &mut TxContext) {
    option::extract(&mut parent.child); // this sets the option to none
    transfer::transfer(child, tx_context::sender(ctx));

In the above function, the ID of the child is extracted from the parent object. This is not necessary for the code to run, but is necessary to maintain the invariant that all of our Parent objects contain a valid ID of its child (if it has one). After that, we transfer the child like any other object.


Another way to transfer a child object is to transfer it to another parent. Like we did when transferring to an address, we can use the API we are already familiar with from above:

public fun transfer_to_object<T: key, R: key>(
    obj: T,
    owner: &mut R,

After this call, the object obj will become a child object of the object owner. Using this API is straight forward, as the only thing special required is that the object's parent was present as an argument to the initial entry function.

public entry fun transfer_child(parent: &mut Parent, child: Child, new_parent: &mut Parent) {
    option::fill(&mut new_parent.child,  option::extract(&mut parent.child));
    transfer::transfer_to_object(child, new_parent);

Similar to remove_child, the child object must be passed explicitly by-value in the arguments. First, we extract the existing child ID and use it to fill the child field of the new_parent. Then we use transfer_to_object as expected. Note, we can ensure that new_parent does not already have a child object. If it did, option::fill would abort, thus preventing any change from occurring as a result of this transaction.

Delete Child Objects

Deleting child objects is similarly straight forward, and no different from deleting normal objects, except that the parent object must be present as an argument to the initial entry function. With this in mind, we can either:

  1. First transfer this child object to an account address, which makes this object a regular address-owned object instead of a child object, and hence can be deleted normally.
  2. Delete the child object directly

The first case is an application of two concepts already covered, i.e. transferring a child object and deleting an address-owned object. So let's look at the second case, deleting the child directly:

public entry fun delete_parent_and_child(parent: Parent, child: Child) {
    let Parent { id: parent_id, child: _ } = parent;
    let Child { id } = child;

After we unpacked the Parent object we are able to extract the parent's id (bound to parent_id) and the ID of the child in the option, child. Since ID has the drop ability, the Option<ID> also has the drop ability. This means we can discard the value and have done so by not binding it to a local variable with child: _. We then also unpack the child object to obtain the its id. We delete both UIDs with object::delete. Note that these deletions can happen in any order, and Move's type system ensures that both must be deleted by the end of the function, since UID does not have drop.

Delete Parent Objects

While any child object can be deleted by by unpacking the child and deleting the UID, a parent object can be deleted only if it no longer has any child objects. In other words, in order to delete a parent object, you must first delete all of its children. The reason for this is to prevent accidentally locking out the child objects. As described above, the parent object is necessary to authenticate the child object and use it in an entry function. If the parent object was deleted while it still had children, those children would be unusable.

To make this check possible, each parent object has a child object count that is managed by the Sui Move runtime. This count is updated when a child is added or removed. This means that the parent object will be modified (and have its version incremented) when a child is added or removed. Because of this modification, it would be impossible to add or remove children from immutable objects. As such, transfer::freeze_object requires that the object being made immutable does not have any children, i.e. it is not a parent object.

Last update 8/29/2022, 11:02:55 PM