Build Script Support

Some packages need to compile third-party non-Rust code, for example C libraries. Other packages need to link to C libraries which can either be located on the system or possibly need to be built from source. Others still need facilities for functionality such as code generation before building (think parser generators).

Cargo does not aim to replace other tools that are well-optimized for these tasks, but it does integrate with them with the build configuration option.

[package]
# ...
build = "build.rs"

The Rust file designated by the build command (relative to the package root) will be compiled and invoked before anything else is compiled in the package, allowing your Rust code to depend on the built or generated artifacts. Note that if you do not specify a value for build but your package root does contains a "build.rs" file, Cargo will compile and invoke this file for you.

Some example use cases of the build command are:

Each of these use cases will be detailed in full below to give examples of how the build command works.

Inputs to the Build Script

When the build script is run, there are a number of inputs to the build script, all passed in the form of environment variables.

In addition to environment variables, the build script’s current directory is the source directory of the build script’s package.

Outputs of the Build Script

All the lines printed to stdout by a build script are written to a file like target/debug/build/<pkg>/output (the precise location may depend on your configuration). If you would like to see such output directly in your terminal, invoke cargo as 'very verbose' with the -vv flag. Note that if neither the build script nor project source files are modified, subsequent calls to cargo with the -vv will not print output to the terminal because a new build is not executed. Run cargo clean before each cargo invokation if you want to ensure that output is always displayed on your terminal. Any line that starts with cargo: is interpreted directly by Cargo. This line must be of the form cargo:key=value, like the examples below:

# specially recognized by Cargo
cargo:rustc-link-lib=static=foo
cargo:rustc-link-search=native=/path/to/foo
cargo:rustc-cfg=foo
cargo:rustc-env=FOO=bar
# arbitrary user-defined metadata
cargo:root=/path/to/foo
cargo:libdir=/path/to/foo/lib
cargo:include=/path/to/foo/include

On the other hand, lines printed to stderr are written to a file like target/debug/build/<pkg>/stderr but are not interpreted by cargo.

There are a few special keys that Cargo recognizes, some affecting how the crate is built:

Any other element is a user-defined metadata that will be passed to dependents. More information about this can be found in the links section.

Build Dependencies

Build scripts are also allowed to have dependencies on other Cargo-based crates. Dependencies are declared through the build-dependencies section of the manifest.

[build-dependencies]
foo = { git = "https://github.com/your-packages/foo" }

The build script does not have access to the dependencies listed in the dependencies or dev-dependencies section (they’re not built yet!). All build dependencies will also not be available to the package itself unless explicitly stated as so.

In addition to the manifest key build, Cargo also supports a links manifest key to declare the name of a native library that is being linked to:

[package]
# ...
links = "foo"
build = "build.rs"

This manifest states that the package links to the libfoo native library, and it also has a build script for locating and/or building the library. Cargo requires that a build command is specified if a links entry is also specified.

The purpose of this manifest key is to give Cargo an understanding about the set of native dependencies that a package has, as well as providing a principled system of passing metadata between package build scripts.

Primarily, Cargo requires that there is at most one package per links value. In other words, it’s forbidden to have two packages link to the same native library. Note, however, that there are conventions in place to alleviate this.

As mentioned above in the output format, each build script can generate an arbitrary set of metadata in the form of key-value pairs. This metadata is passed to the build scripts of dependent packages. For example, if libbar depends on libfoo, then if libfoo generates key=value as part of its metadata, then the build script of libbar will have the environment variables DEP_FOO_KEY=value.

Note that metadata is only passed to immediate dependents, not transitive dependents. The motivation for this metadata passing is outlined in the linking to system libraries case study below.

Overriding Build Scripts

If a manifest contains a links key, then Cargo supports overriding the build script specified with a custom library. The purpose of this functionality is to prevent running the build script in question altogether and instead supply the metadata ahead of time.

To override a build script, place the following configuration in any acceptable Cargo configuration location.

[target.x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu.foo]
rustc-link-search = ["/path/to/foo"]
rustc-link-lib = ["foo"]
root = "/path/to/foo"
key = "value"

This section states that for the target x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu the library named foo has the metadata specified. This metadata is the same as the metadata generated as if the build script had run, providing a number of key/value pairs where the rustc-flags, rustc-link-search, and rustc-link-lib keys are slightly special.

With this configuration, if a package declares that it links to foo then the build script will not be compiled or run, and the metadata specified will instead be used.

Case study: Code generation

Some Cargo packages need to have code generated just before they are compiled for various reasons. Here we’ll walk through a simple example which generates a library call as part of the build script.

First, let’s take a look at the directory structure of this package:

.
├── Cargo.toml
├── build.rs
└── src
    └── main.rs

1 directory, 3 files

Here we can see that we have a build.rs build script and our binary in main.rs. Next, let’s take a look at the manifest:

# Cargo.toml

[package]
name = "hello-from-generated-code"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["you@example.com"]
build = "build.rs"

Here we can see we’ve got a build script specified which we’ll use to generate some code. Let’s see what’s inside the build script:

// build.rs

use std::env;
use std::fs::File;
use std::io::Write;
use std::path::Path;

fn main() {
    let out_dir = env::var("OUT_DIR").unwrap();
    let dest_path = Path::new(&out_dir).join("hello.rs");
    let mut f = File::create(&dest_path).unwrap();

    f.write_all(b"
        pub fn message() -> &'static str {
            \"Hello, World!\"
        }
    ").unwrap();
}

There’s a couple of points of note here:

Next, let’s peek at the library itself:

This example is not tested
// src/main.rs

include!(concat!(env!("OUT_DIR"), "/hello.rs"));

fn main() {
    println!("{}", message());
}

This is where the real magic happens. The library is using the rustc-defined include! macro in combination with the concat! and env! macros to include the generated file (hello.rs) into the crate’s compilation.

Using the structure shown here, crates can include any number of generated files from the build script itself.

Case study: Building some native code

Sometimes it’s necessary to build some native C or C++ code as part of a package. This is another excellent use case of leveraging the build script to build a native library before the Rust crate itself. As an example, we’ll create a Rust library which calls into C to print “Hello, World!”.

Like above, let’s first take a look at the project layout:

.
├── Cargo.toml
├── build.rs
└── src
    ├── hello.c
    └── main.rs

1 directory, 4 files

Pretty similar to before! Next, the manifest:

# Cargo.toml

[package]
name = "hello-world-from-c"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["you@example.com"]
build = "build.rs"

For now we’re not going to use any build dependencies, so let’s take a look at the build script now:

// build.rs

use std::process::Command;
use std::env;
use std::path::Path;

fn main() {
    let out_dir = env::var("OUT_DIR").unwrap();

    // note that there are a number of downsides to this approach, the comments
    // below detail how to improve the portability of these commands.
    Command::new("gcc").args(&["src/hello.c", "-c", "-fPIC", "-o"])
                       .arg(&format!("{}/hello.o", out_dir))
                       .status().unwrap();
    Command::new("ar").args(&["crus", "libhello.a", "hello.o"])
                      .current_dir(&Path::new(&out_dir))
                      .status().unwrap();

    println!("cargo:rustc-link-search=native={}", out_dir);
    println!("cargo:rustc-link-lib=static=hello");
}

This build script starts out by compiling our C file into an object file (by invoking gcc) and then converting this object file into a static library (by invoking ar). The final step is feedback to Cargo itself to say that our output was in out_dir and the compiler should link the crate to libhello.a statically via the -l static=hello flag.

Note that there are a number of drawbacks to this hardcoded approach:

Not to fear, though, this is where a build-dependencies entry would help! The Cargo ecosystem has a number of packages to make this sort of task much easier, portable, and standardized. For example, the build script could be written as:

This example is not tested
// build.rs

// Bring in a dependency on an externally maintained `cc` package which manages
// invoking the C compiler.
extern crate cc;

fn main() {
    cc::Build::new()
        .file("src/hello.c")
        .compile("hello");
}

Add a build time dependency on the cc crate with the following addition to your Cargo.toml:

[build-dependencies]
cc = "1.0"

The cc crate abstracts a range of build script requirements for C code:

Here we can start to see some of the major benefits of farming as much functionality as possible out to common build dependencies rather than duplicating logic across all build scripts!

Back to the case study though, let’s take a quick look at the contents of the src directory:

// src/hello.c

#include <stdio.h>

void hello() {
    printf("Hello, World!\n");
}
This example is not tested
// src/main.rs

// Note the lack of the `#[link]` attribute. We’re delegating the responsibility
// of selecting what to link to over to the build script rather than hardcoding
// it in the source file.
extern { fn hello(); }

fn main() {
    unsafe { hello(); }
}

And there we go! This should complete our example of building some C code from a Cargo package using the build script itself. This also shows why using a build dependency can be crucial in many situations and even much more concise!

We’ve also seen a brief example of how a build script can use a crate as a dependency purely for the build process and not for the crate itself at runtime.

Case study: Linking to system libraries

The final case study here will be investigating how a Cargo library links to a system library and how the build script is leveraged to support this use case.

Quite frequently a Rust crate wants to link to a native library often provided on the system to bind its functionality or just use it as part of an implementation detail. This is quite a nuanced problem when it comes to performing this in a platform-agnostic fashion, and the purpose of a build script is again to farm out as much of this as possible to make this as easy as possible for consumers.

As an example to follow, let’s take a look at one of Cargo’s own dependencies, libgit2. The C library has a number of constraints:

To visualize what’s going on here, let’s take a look at the manifest for the relevant Cargo package that links to the native C library.

[package]
name = "libgit2-sys"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["..."]
links = "git2"
build = "build.rs"

[dependencies]
libssh2-sys = { git = "https://github.com/alexcrichton/ssh2-rs" }

[target.'cfg(unix)'.dependencies]
openssl-sys = { git = "https://github.com/alexcrichton/openssl-sys" }

# ...

As the above manifests show, we’ve got a build script specified, but it’s worth noting that this example has a links entry which indicates that the crate (libgit2-sys) links to the git2 native library.

Here we also see that we chose to have the Rust crate have an unconditional dependency on libssh2 via the libssh2-sys crate, as well as a platform-specific dependency on openssl-sys for *nix (other variants elided for now). It may seem a little counterintuitive to express C dependencies in the Cargo manifest, but this is actually using one of Cargo’s conventions in this space.

*-sys Packages

To alleviate linking to system libraries, Cargo has a convention of package naming and functionality. Any package named foo-sys will provide two major pieces of functionality:

The set of *-sys packages provides a common set of dependencies for linking to native libraries. There are a number of benefits earned from having this convention of native-library-related packages:

Building libgit2

Now that we’ve got libgit2’s dependencies sorted out, we need to actually write the build script. We’re not going to look at specific snippets of code here and instead only take a look at the high-level details of the build script of libgit2-sys. This is not recommending all packages follow this strategy, but rather just outlining one specific strategy.

The first step of the build script should do is to query whether libgit2 is already installed on the host system. To do this we’ll leverage the preexisting tool pkg-config (when its available). We’ll also use a build-dependencies section to refactor out all the pkg-config related code (or someone’s already done that!).

If pkg-config failed to find libgit2, or if pkg-config just wasn’t installed, the next step is to build libgit2 from bundled source code (distributed as part of libgit2-sys itself). There are a few nuances when doing so that we need to take into account, however:

Most of the functionality of this build script is easily refactorable into common dependencies, so our build script isn’t quite as intimidating as this descriptions! In reality it’s expected that build scripts are quite succinct by farming logic such as above to build dependencies.