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cargo xtask

cargo-xtask is way to add free-form automation to a Rust project, a-la make, npm run or bespoke bash scripts.

The two distinguishing features of xtask are:

  • It doesn't require any other binaries besides cargo and rustc, it fully bootstraps from them
  • Unlike bash, it can more easily be cross platform, as it doesn't use the shell.

How Does it Work?

cargo-xtask is a polyfill for cargo workflows feature. It is a way to extend stock, stable cargo with custom commands (xtasks), written in Rust.

This polyfill doesn't need any code, just a particular configuration of a cargo project. This repository serves as a specification of such configuration.


cargo-xtask is not an officially recommended workflow, but it is a somewhat common pattern across the ecosystem. Notably, Cargo itself uses xtasks.

It might or might not work for your use case!

Defining xtasks

The best way to create an xtask is to do so inside of a Cargo workspace. If you don't have a workspace already, you can create one inside your package by moving the contents into a new directory. Let's say that our package is named "testing." We first move everything into a sub-directory:

$ mkdir testing

# then move all of the stuff except your .git directory into the new testing directory:
$ mv src testing
$ mv Cargo.toml testing
$ mv .gitignore testing
$ mv testing

# Don't forget anything else your package may have.

Then, add a new package named xtask:

$ cargo new --bin xtask

Then, we need to create a Cargo.toml for our workspace:

members = [

If you had a workspace previously, you'd add xtask to your existing workspace Cargo.toml.

Then, the alias. This is where the magic happens. Create a .cargo:

$ mkdir .cargo

and create a file in it named config.toml with these contents:

xtask = "run --package xtask --"

Example directory layout:


Both the xtask directory and the .cargo/config should be committed to the version control system.

If you don't want to use a workspace, you can use run --manifest-path ./xtask/Cargo.toml -- for the alias, but this is not recommended.

The xtask binary should expect at least one positional argument, which is a name of the task to be executed. Tasks are implemented in Rust, and can use arbitrary crates from Tasks can execute cargo (it is advisable to use CARGO environmental variable to get the right cargo).

The xtask crate may or may not be a part of the main workspace. Usually, but not always, the workspace setup is better. If xtask is a part of the workspace, you can share dependencies between xtask and main crates, and dependencies update process is easier. Additionally, you will be able to use xtask = "run --package xtask --" as an alias, which works regardless of Cargo's working directory. If xtask is not a part of the workspace, you can use different feature sets for shared dependencies, and you can cache xtask/target more easily on CI. It is advisable to commit xtask lockfile to the repository.

It is advisable to minimize the compile time of xtasks.

You can find some examples of xtasks in the ./examples directory in this repository.

The current recommendation is to define various task as subcommands of the single xtask binary. An alternative is to use a separate binary and a separate entry in .cargo/config for each task.

External examples

And many more examples can be found via e.g. Github Code search.


xtasks do not integrate with Cargo lifecycle. If you need to do custom post-processing after cargo build, you'll need to define and call cargo xtask build task, which calls cargo build internally. There's no way to intercept stock cargo build command.

It's impossible to use xtasks from dependencies, xtasks are project-local. However, it is possible to share logic for implementing common xtasks as packages.

If xtask is not a workspace member, cargo xtask will work only from the project's root directory.

Using xtasks

Use cargo xtask task-name command to run the task.


cargo xtask deploy

Note that this doesn't require any additional setup besides cloning the repository, and will automatically build the xtask binary on the first run.

Not Using xtasks

xtasks are entirely optional, and you don't have to use them! In particular, if, for your purposes, cargo build and cargo test are enough, don't use xtasks. If you prefer to write a short bash script, and don't need to support windows, there's no need to use xtasks either.

Standard xtasks

In theory, it might be beneficial to specify a convention for some common tasks to enable high order tooling. For example, if many CLI applications can provide cargo xtask dist which builds a distribution of the application in questions (compiled binary + man pages + shell completions + any other auxiliary resources), that could be re-used by downstream Linux distributions to package Rust applications in a uniform way.

To my knowledge, no such conventional xtasks emerged so far. If you think it will be a good idea to codify some repeating patterns, consider publishing your own specification (e.g., create cargo-xtask-dist repository). If it catches up (used by at least three different projects by different authors), please send a PR to this document with a link to the spec.

See #1 for discussion.



  • devx: collection of useful utilities (spawning processes, git pre-commit hooks, etc.)
  • xshell: ergonomic "bash" scripting in Rust
  • duct: a library for running child processes with support for pipelines and IO redirection

If you write tools or libraries for xtasks, send a PR to this document. Some possible ideas:

  • cargo subcomand to generate xtask template
  • implementations of common xtasks, like "check that code is formatted with rustfmt" or "build completions for a clap app", as libraries.


To my knowledge, the idea of xtasks was first introduced in this post. In some sense, the present document just specifies some conventions around original idea.

The name xtask is chosen so as not to conflict with potential future built-in cargo feature for tasks.


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