Node to Rust — Day 2: from npm to cargo

Node to Rust — Day 2: from npm to cargo

December 2, 2021


cargo is Rust’s package manager and operates similarly to npm from node’s universe. Cargo downloads dependiencs from by default. You can register an account and publish modules just as you would on With some minor mapping you can translate almost everything you’re used to in node to Rust.

This guide is not a comprehensive Rust tutorial. It’s meant to bootstrap experienced node.js users into Rust. We’ll take common node.js workflows and idiomatic JavaScript and TypeScript and map them to their Rust counterparts. This guide tries to balance technical accuracy with readability and errs on the side of “gets the point across” vs being 100% correct. When something is glossed over, we’ll add links for those looking to dive deeper.

Post questions and comments to me on Twitter @jsoverson or @candle_corp and join others taking this same plunge on our Discord channel.

npm to cargo mapping

Project settings file

In node.js you have package.json. In Rust you have Cargo.toml.

Cargo’s manifest format is toml rather than the JSON you’re used to with npm’s package.json. Cargo uses the Cargo.toml file to know what dependencies to download, how to run tests, and how to build your projects (among other things).

Bootstrapping new projects

In node.js it’s npm init. In Rust you have cargo init and cargo new.

cargo init will initialize the current directory. cargo new initializes projects in a new directory.

Installing dependencies

In node.js it’s npm install [dep]. In Rust you can use cargo add [dep] if you install cargo-edit first. Note: not cargo-add, just in case you come across it.

$ cargo install cargo-edit

This gives you four new commands: add, rm, upgrade, and set-version

Installing tools globally

In node.js it’s npm install --global. In Rust you have cargo install.

Downloading, building, and placing executables in cargo’s bin directory is handled with cargo install. If you installed rust via rustup then these are placed in a local user directory (usually ~/.cargo/bin). You don’t need to sudo cargo install anything.

Running tests

In node.js it’s npm test. In Rust you have cargo test.

Cargo automates the running of unit tests, integration tests, and document tests through the cargo test command. There’s a lot to Rust testing that we’ll get to in a later post.

Publishing modules

In node.js it’s npm publish. In Rust you have cargo publish.

Easy peasy. You’ll need to have an account on and set up the authentication details but cargo will help you there.

Running tasks

In node.js it’s npm run xxx. In Rust, it depends… You have commands for common tasks but the rest is up to you.

In node.js you might use npm run start to run your server or executable. In Rust you would use cargo run. You can even use cargo run --example xxx to automatically run example code.

In node.js you might use npm run benchmarks to profile your code. In Rust you have cargo bench.

In node.js you might use npm run build to run webpack, tsc, or whatever. In Rust you have cargo build.

In node.js you might use npm run clean to remove temporary or generated files. In Rust you have cargo clean which will wipe away your build folder (target, by default).

In node.js you might use npm run docs to generate documentation. In Rust you have cargo doc.

For code generation or pre-build steps, cargo supports build scripts which run before the main build.

A lot of your use cases are covered by default, but for anything else you have to fend for yourself.

npm’s built-in task runner is one of the reasons why you rarely see Makefiles in JavaScript projects. In the Rust ecosystem, you’re not as lucky. Makefiles are still common but just is an attractive option that is gaining adoption. It irons out a lot of the wonkiness of Makefiles while keeping a similar syntax.

Install just via

$ cargo install just

Other alternatives include cargo-make and cargo-cmd. I liked cargo make at first but its builtin tasks became just as annoying as make’s. I’ve become skilled writing Makefiles but I wish I spent that time learning just so take a lesson from me and start there. If you do go the Makefile route, check out isaacs’s tutorial and read Your makefiles are wrong.

Workspaces & monorepos

Both package managers use a workspace concept to help you work with multiple small modules in a large project. In Rust, you create a Cargo.toml file in the root directory with a [workspace] entry that describes what’s included and excluded in the workspace. It could be as simple as

members = [

Workspace members that depend on each other can then just point to the local directory as their dependency, e.g.

other-project = { path = "../other-project" }

Check cargo-workspaces in the next section for a tool to help manage cargo workspaces.

Additional tools


If you skimmed the above portion, make sure you don’t miss out on cargo-edit which adds cargo add and cargo rm (among others) to help manage dependencies on the command line.

Install cargo-edit via

$ cargo install cargo-edit


cargo workspaces (or cargo ws) simplifies creating and managing workspaces and their members. It was inspired by node’s lerna and picks up where cargo leaves off. One of its most valuable features is automating the publish of a workspace’s members, replacing local dependencies with the published versions.

Install cargo-workspaces via

$ cargo install cargo-workspaces

note: workspaces is plural. Don’t install cargo-workspace expecting the same functionality.


We’ll go into macros in a later post, but know that macros in Rust are so common that 100% of the logic in your first Hello World app will be wrapped up into one. They’re great at hand waving away code you don’t want to write repeatedly but they can make code hard to follow and troubleshoot. cargo expand helps pull back the curtain.

cargo-expand needs a nightly toolchain installed which you can get by running

rustup install nightly

Install cargo-expand via

$ cargo install cargo-expand

Once installed, you can run cargo expand [item] to print out the fully generated source that rustc compiles.

cargo expand takes a named item, not a file path. Running cargo expand main doesn’t expand src/, it expands the main() function in your project’s root. With a common layout, to expand a module found in a file like src/some_module/, you’d run cargo expand some_module::another. Don’t worry, we’ll go over the module system in a few days.

If you ran the cargo new command above to test it out, this is what your src/ probably looks like.

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

println!() is a macro. Use cargo expand to see what code it generates.

$ cargo expand main
fn main() {
            &["Hello, world!\n"],
            &match () {
                () => [],


While not a cargo xxx command, it’s useful for querying data in .toml files like Cargo.toml. It’s a less featureful sibling to the amazing jq. It’s not critical, but it’s worth knowing about.


The npmcargo mapping is straightforward when you add cargo-edit and accept the lack of a standard task runner. The next post in this series goes over how to get your environment working with Visual Studio Code: Day 3: Setting up VS Code.

You can reach me personally on twitter at @jsoverson, the Candle team at @candle_corp. Don’t forget to join our Discord channel where people are already joining after starting down this same path.

Written By
Jarrod Overson
Jarrod Overson