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How I Start: Rust

Rust is an exciting new programming language that makes it easy to make understandable and reliable software. It is made by Mozilla and is used by Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many other large companies.

Rust has a reputation of being difficult because it makes no effort to hide what is going on. I'd like to show you how I start with Rust projects. Let's make a small HTTP service using Rocket.

Setting up your environment

The first step is to install the Rust compiler. You can use any method you like, but since we are requiring the nightly version of Rust for this project, I suggest using rustup:

curl --proto '=https' --tlsv1.2 -sSf | sh -s -- --default-toolchain nightly

If you are using NixOS or another Linux distribution with Nix installed, see this post for some information on how to set up the Rust compiler.

A new project

Rocket is a popular web framework for Rust programs. Let's use that to create a small "hello, world" server. We will need to do the following:

Create the new Rust project

Create the new Rust project with cargo init:

$ cargo init --vcs git .
     Created binary (application) package

This will create the directory src and a file named Cargo.toml. Rust code goes in src and the Cargo.toml file configures dependencies. Adding the --vcs git flag also has cargo create a gitignore file so that the target folder isn't tracked by git.

Add Rocket as a dependency

Open Cargo.toml and add the following to it:

rocket = "0.4.4"

Then download/build Rocket with cargo build:

$ cargo build

This will download all of the dependencies you need and precompile Rocket, and it will help speed up later builds.

Write our "hello world" route

Now put the following in src/

#![feature(proc_macro_hygiene, decl_macro)] // Nightly-only language features needed by Rocket

// Import the rocket macros
extern crate rocket;

/// Create route / that returns "Hello, world!"
fn index() -> &'static str {
    "Hello, world!"

fn main() {
    rocket::ignite().mount("/", routes![index]).launch();

Test a build

Rerun cargo build:

$ cargo build

This will create the binary at target/debug/helloworld. Let's run it locally and see if it works:

$ ./target/debug/helloworld

And in another terminal window:

$ curl
Hello, world!
$ fg
<press control-c>

The HTTP service works. We have a binary that is created with the Rust compiler. This binary will be available at ./target/debug/helloworld. However, it could use some tests.


Rocket has support for unit testing built in. Let's create a tests module and verify this route in testing.

Create a tests module

Rust allows you to nest modules within files using the mod keyword. Create a tests module that will only build when testing is requested:

#[cfg(test)] // Only compile this when unit testing is requested
mod tests {
  use super::*; // Modules are their own scope, so you 
                // need to explictly use the stuff in
                // the parent module.
  use rocket::http::Status;
  use rocket::local::*;
  fn test_index() {
    // create the rocket instance to test
    let rkt = rocket::ignite().mount("/", routes![index]);
    // create a HTTP client bound to this rocket instance
    let client = Client::new(rkt).expect("valid rocket");
    // get a HTTP response
    let mut response = client.get("/").dispatch();
    // Ensure it returns HTTP 200
    assert_eq!(response.status(), Status::Ok);
    // Ensure the body is what we expect it to be
    assert_eq!(response.body_string(), Some("Hello, world!".into()));

Run tests

cargo test is used to run tests in Rust. Let's run it:

$ cargo test
   Compiling helloworld v0.1.0 (/home/cadey/code/helloworld)
    Finished test [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 1.80s
     Running target/debug/deps/helloworld-49d1bd4d4f816617

running 1 test
test tests::test_index ... ok

Adding functionality

Most HTTP services return JSON or JavaScript Object Notation as a way to pass objects between computer programs. Let's use Rocket's JSON support to add a /hostinfo route to this app that returns some simple information:

Encoding things to JSON

For encoding things to JSON, we will be using serde. We will need to add serde as a dependency. Open Cargo.toml and put the following lines in it:

serde_json = "1.0"
serde = { version = "1.0", features = ["derive"] }

This lets us use #[derive(Serialize, Deserialize)] on our Rust structs, which will allow us to automate away the JSON generation code at compile time. For more information about derivation in Rust, see here.

Let's define the data we will send back to the client using a struct.

use serde::*;

/// Host information structure returned at /hostinfo
#[derive(Serialize, Debug)]
struct HostInfo {
  hostname: String,
  pid: u32,
  uptime: u64,

To implement this call, we will need another few dependencies in the Cargo.toml file. We will use gethostname to get the hostname of the machine and psutil to get the uptime of the machine. Put the following below the serde dependency line:

gethostname = "0.2.1"
psutil = "3.0.1"

Finally, we will need to enable Rocket's JSON support. Put the following at the end of your Cargo.toml file:

version = "0.4.4"
default-features = false
features = ["json"]

Now we can implement the /hostinfo route:

/// Create route /hostinfo that returns information about the host serving this
/// page.
fn hostinfo() -> Json<HostInfo> {
  // gets the current machine hostname or "unknown" if the hostname doesn't
  // parse into UTF-8 (very unlikely)
  let hostname = gethostname::gethostname()
    .or(|_| "unknown".to_string())
    hostname: hostname,
    pid: std::process::id(),
    uptime: psutil::host::uptime()
      .unwrap() // normally this is a bad idea, but this code is
                // very unlikely to fail.

And then register it in the main function:

fn main() {
    .mount("/", routes![index, hostinfo])

Now rebuild the project and run the server:

$ cargo build
$ ./target/debug/helloworld

And in another terminal test it with curl:

$ curl

You can use a similar process for any kind of other route.

OpenAPI specifications

OpenAPI is a common specification format for describing API routes. This allows users of the API to automatically generate valid clients for them. Writing these by hand can be tedious, so let's pass that work off to the compiler using okapi.

Add the following line to your Cargo.toml file in the [dependencies] block:

rocket_okapi = "0.3.6"
schemars = "0.6"
okapi = { version = "0.3", features = ["derive_json_schema"] }

This will allow us to generate OpenAPI specifications from Rocket routes and the types in them. Let's import the rocket_okapi macros and use them:

// Import OpenAPI macros
extern crate rocket_okapi;

use rocket_okapi::JsonSchema;

We need to add JSON schema generation abilities to HostInfo. Change:

#[derive(Serialize, Debug)]


#[derive(Serialize, JsonSchema, Debug)]

to generate the OpenAPI code for our type.

Next we can add the /hostinfo route to the OpenAPI schema:

/// Create route /hostinfo that returns information about the host serving this
/// page.
fn hostinfo() -> Json<HostInfo> {
  // ...

Also add the index route to the OpenAPI schema:

/// Create route / that returns "Hello, world!"
fn index() -> &'static str {
    "Hello, world!"

And finally update the main function to use openapi:

fn main() {
    .mount("/", routes_with_openapi![index, hostinfo])

Then rebuild it and run the server:

$ cargo build
$ ./target/debug/helloworld

And then in another terminal:

$ curl

This should return a large JSON object that describes all of the HTTP routes and the data they return. To see this visually, change main to this:

use rocket_okapi::swagger_ui::{make_swagger_ui, SwaggerUIConfig};

fn main() {
        .mount("/", routes_with_openapi![index, hostinfo])
            make_swagger_ui(&SwaggerUIConfig {
                url: Some("../openapi.json".to_owned()),
                urls: None,

Then rebuild and run the service:

$ cargo build
$ ./target/debug/helloworld

And open the swagger UI in your favorite browser. This will show you a graphical display of all of the routes and the data types in your service. For an example, see here.

Error responses

Earlier in the /hostinfo route we glossed over error handling. Let's correct this using the okapi error type. Let's use the OpenAPIError type in the helloworld function:

/// Create route /hostinfo that returns information about the host serving
/// this page.
fn hostinfo() -> Result<Json<HostInfo>> {
    match gethostname::gethostname().into_string() {
        Ok(hostname) => Ok(Json(HostInfo {
            hostname: hostname,
            pid: std::process::id(),
            uptime: psutil::host::uptime().unwrap().as_secs(),
        Err(_) => Err(OpenApiError::new(format!(
            "hostname does not parse as UTF-8"

When the into_string operation fails (because the hostname is somehow invalid UTF-8), this will result in a non-200 response with the "hostname does not parse as UTF-8" message.

Shipping it in a docker image

Many deployment systems use [Docker][docker] to describe a program's environment and dependencies. Create a Dockerfile with the following contents:

# Use the minimal image
FROM rustlang/rust:nightly-slim AS build

# Where we will build the program
WORKDIR /src/helloworld

# Copy source code into the container
COPY . .

# Build the program in release mode
RUN cargo build --release

# Create the runtime image
FROM ubuntu:18.04

# Copy the compiled service binary
COPY --from=build /src/helloworld/target/release/helloworld /usr/local/bin/helloworld

# Start the helloworld service on container boot
CMD ["usr/local/bin/helloworld"]

And then build it:

$ docker build -t xena/helloworld .

And then run it:

$ docker run --rm -itp 8000:8000 xena/helloworld

And in another terminal:

$ curl
Hello, world!

From here you can do whatever you want with this service. You can deploy it to Kubernetes with a manifest that would look something like this.

This is how I start a new Rust project. I put all of the code described in this post in this GitHub repo in case it helps. Have fun and be well.

For some "extra credit" tasks, try and see if you can do the following:

Many thanks to Coleman McFarland for proofreading this post.

This article was posted on M03 15 2020. Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Series: howto

Tags: rust how-i-start nix

The art for Mara was drawn by Selicre.