Michael Hentges Blog

Rust Cross Compiling Made Easy

Oct 17, 2022

This article is the second installment of my series on building a wireless thermostat in Rust for the Raspberry Pi. You can find the beginning of the series here. All source code for the project is located here.

As I approached the task of building a native Rust executable for the Raspberry Pi, one of the first things I had to tackle was establishing a cross-compiling development environment. The Raspberry Pi runs a flavor of Unix, but we need to compile executables for the Pi’s ARM processor.

My first attempt followed the process documented in the Cross-compilation chapter of The Rustup Book. I had to find the appropriate target for a Raspberry Pi Zero (my target): arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf. This target will be slightly different if you want to target a Pi 3 or Pi 4 – then you can use target=armv7-unknown-linux-gnueabihf. The Pi Zero runs a v6 version of the ARM processor, larger Pi’s use a v7 (or higher) version.

Cross-compiling sounded easy, and following the Rustup Book’s directions added cross-compiling to my environment:

rustup target add arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf
cargo build –target= arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf

But that doesn’t work out of the box. Even the documentation warns you: “Note that rustup target add only installs the Rust standard library for a given target. There are typically other tools necessary to cross-compile, particularly a linker.” Then, my application used SSL – and I also needed a way to cross-compile the openssl library for the Pi. I build under WSL2 (Ubuntu) on a Windows machine – getting this set up would take some effort.

Fortunately, there’s an easier way! The Rust Embedded Devices Tools Team publishes a set of Docker images that contain a complete toolchain for a large number of cross-compile targets. Even better, they created a “ cross “ tool that automates the entire process of launching a suitable Docker container, getting your code attached to the container, and running the compile process. Incremental builds are fully supported, so cross-compiling does not take much longer than native compiling.

To set this up, you first to install the “cross” tool:

cargo install cross

Then, compiling any project for a new target is as simple as substituting “cross” for “cargo” in your command. I also had to pass a features flag to get the OpenSSL library built from source for the target platform:

cross build --release –target=arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf --features vendored-openssl

That command will build a release executable at ./target/arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf/release/thermostat-pi (my project is “thermostat-pi”).

For another part of the project, I needed to cross-compile to x86_64-unknown-linux-musl to create an AWS Lambda using Rust. The AWS Rust SDK documents the steps and includes the “Container approach” that uses cross:

cross build --release --target x86_64-unknown-linux-musl

You can find the lambda project in the ./push_temp folder in the source repository.

All these build commands are too long for me to remember. Command-line history helps a ton, but returning to the project after an extended break can mean looking up the build commands again. Instead, I recently found just, a lighter-weight version of make that is purpose-built as a command runner. You can create a justfile, using syntax similar to make’s Makefile, to define a set of commands. Dependencies are supported, allowing you to bundle together different commands as needed. For the ./push_temp project, its very simple justfile looks like this:

	cross build --release --target x86_64-unknown-linux-musl
	cp target/x86_64-unknown-linux-musl/release/push_temp bootstrap
	curl -X POST -F "record_date=2022:02:03T15:50:00" -F "thermostat_on=true" -F "temperature=55" -F "thermostat_value=60" https://5zvz7wehuh.execute-api.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/test_lambda

This setup allows a simple ``just build` command – which I can remember! The test target sends a sample transaction to my lambda function – again, keeping in a central place a longer command that I can reuse as needed.

I also created a justfile to run the cross-compile of the main project and automated the deployment of the executable to the Raspberry Pi. The justfile I created looks like this:

TARGET_HOST := "mhentges@shop-therm.local"
TARGET_PATH := "/home/mhentges/thermostat-pi"
TARGET_ARCH := "arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf"
SOURCE_PATH := "./target/" + TARGET_ARCH + "/release/thermostat-pi"

    cargo check

    cross build --release --target= --features vendored-openssl
    rsync ./configuration.yaml :/home/mhentges/configuration.yaml
    rsync  :
    #ssh -t  

    cargo clippy

This script relies on SSH being available between your host machine and the PI, configured with public key authentication.

Using the Cross tools is the secret sauce that makes cross-compiling for Rust easy. Whether you use Windows, macOS, Linux, or rent a dev box in the cloud, you can set up the cross-compiling environment with a few simple commands. Then, use just to provide automation to allow for easy-to-execute build and deploy steps.

hero image by Louis Reed on Unsplash

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