Rust: getting started

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So, you’re a C++ developer and want to learn Rust. You’ve come to the right place. 😊 It’s not hard to get started with Rust, but as a C++ developer and especially one with a preference for Windows you are likely to run into some of the same challenges I have. I hope that sharing my experience will help you to get started with Rust a little more quickly than I did.

On Windows, Rust requires the Microsoft C++ build tools. You guessed right: Rust depends on the thing you love most about C++… the linker! And a few other things… You can download the C++ build tools separately, or just install Visual Studio 2019. I recommend the latter.

Visual Studio provides a dizzying array of options, most of which are completely irrelevant to the C++ developer. You can painstakingly pick any of the “individual components” the installer provides or just pick some “workloads”. I suggest you do the latter. Here’s what I do to keep things simple.

That’s right. Pick all three “Windows” workloads. You may not think you need them all but invariably, some dependency will arise where these are required, and this just keeps things simple. The only “individual component” I add to the mix is “Git for Windows”. That’s important because, well, Git rules the world and you’re going to need that real soon.

You can scroll through the endless list or just use the search box to narrow things down. And that’s it. Hit the install button and then go and grab a coffee.

Once Visual Studio is installed, you can head over to the Rust website to get started.

You should notice the prominent “Get Started” button. Go ahead and click that. You should then see a few options. You can for example “try Rust without installing” but what’s the fun in that. Instead, go for the “RUSTUP-INIT.EXE” button that links to and run the resulting executable. This will pop up a console installer.

Go ahead and pick option 1 and the installer will get on with downloading the various Rust build tools. Soon enough that will be done and you will be ready to create your first project!

To get started you need a console window. You can use any command prompt, but I suggest using the Visual Studio tools command prompt. You can then confirm that Rust is installed with a simple version command: cargo –version

What’s cargo? Well you could also run the same command with rustc, the Rust compiler, but to be honest you’ll almost never run the Rust compiler directly. So, just get used to running Cargo for all your build needs. Cargo is officially Rust’s package manager, whatever that means. Package managers may be a little foreign to the average C++ developer. Unlike C++, Rust has an integrated packaging story and Cargo is the tool that you use to manage packages. It might help if I told you that practically every Rust project is a package. In that light, Cargo is really the Rust project manager. You can use Cargo to create projects, build projects, test projects, publish projects, and much more. It’s just that Rust projects are called packages… Except when they’re called crates, but that’s enough about that confusing topic for one day.

As I mentioned, rustc is the Rust compiler. We can quickly put Hello World behind us as follows. Create a text file, with the .rs extension, and include a simple main function:


fn main() {
    println!("Hello world!");

Not a fan of that formatting? You’re not alone, but more about formatting later. You can now compile this program as follows:


And lo and behold you’ve created your first Rust program:


    150,528 app.exe
  1,363,968 app.pdb

Notice there’s both an executable and a .pdb file for debugging. Naturally, you can simply run the executable from the console:

Hello world!

OK, you’ve confirmed that Rust is installed and managed to compile your first bit of Rust code. Awesome! What about Cargo and building actual projects? Please tell me there’s an IDE and Notepad isn’t going to be my Rusty lot in life? What about testing and debugging? Oh there’s so much to explore. So join me next time for the adventures of a C++ developer learning Rust.

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