Structuring Rust Projects With Multiple Binaries

Ryan James Spencer

How do you organize Rust projects with multiple binaries so that the build output winds up in a common subdirectory? Should you be looking for a solution other than cargo? Regardless of whether you are using nested crates within a workspace or simply a mixture of .rs files under src/bin/, you absolutely should be looking for something other than cargo. What you need is a proper task runner and the most portable task runner ships with every unix flavored operating system; sh.

People seem to conflate task runners with build tools. Build tools generate artifacts such as binaries or libraries whereas task runners act as the glue for teams to share ways to achieve particular chores. Some people use tools like make to do both jobs and the crossed responsibility brings a lot of pain and maintenance burden. People need to be aware of the many nuances of make such as the fact that tabs for indenting are semantic, rules for tasks need to be marked as .PHONY if there is a target they relate to, and so on. Others end up using scripting languages such as python or javascript or they may use some hybrid domain specific language that mixes a bit of programming and configuration to specify how tasks are run, e.g. gulp. You don't need any of these options.

I'll call this script bin/build. We will assume there are several crates in a workspace for this example and that we use git since cargo bootstraps projects with it by default.

#!/bin/sh -eux

ROOT=$(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)
cd "$ROOT"
mkdir -p dist/bin
for crate in crate1 crate2 crate3; do
  cd "$crate"
  cargo build --release
  cp target/release/$crate "$ROOT/dist/bin/"
  cd "$ROOT"

This script is dead-simple. It shoots to the root of the project, makes the directories dist and its subdirectory bin. We have a list of crates in a loop we iterate across but we could make this dynamic, as well. Then, in each crate we create a release build and copy the binary from the project up to the common subdirectory. Then, we shoot back to the root directory again and repeat. All we have to do now to do now is make the script executable and call it:

$ chmod +x bin/build
$ bin/build

You don't need to let scripts grow out of control, either. What's awesome about keeping scripts, and, more generally, programs small means you can compose things like this:


Where init might do some stubbing or setup work and run might launch a service, whatever those tasks may be.

sh is POSIX compliant, which means it allows us to write highly portable, and therefore shareable, scripts. Like anything there are ways things can go wrong but you can address this by using the linter shellcheck. Every shell script you write should have the following

#!/bin/sh -eux

Which says to use sh instead of, say, bash. shellcheck will actually recommend things intelligently based on which shell you specify. bash is not ideal here because support for particular features differs between versions and we are aiming to have something pretty much anyone on a team can use at a moment's notice so long as they are using linux, bsd, darwin, or any other *nix flavor. This prelude also turns on some common flags.

  1. e to stop on the first error
  2. u to stop if a variable is unset
  3. x to print tracing output of each executed statement

(3) can be optionally dropped if you don't want to expose details or want cleaner output.

The last convention is to keep scripts in a common bin directory at the root of your project which enhances discoverability of scripts for others. Allowing people to make less guesses about which directory is the single source of truth for automation scripts helps people move faster. If they want a chore done, they can see what's present under bin, or if they need to add a chore they know exactly where it's added for every project. The reason for why its called bin is that they are executables!

In summary, for shell script success all you need is:

  1. A common prelude that uses sh and some options set
  2. Using shellcheck to ensure you're writing sensible and POSIX compliant scripts
  3. A common directory for scripts that is the same for all projects