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Summary

Add a new subcommand to Cargo, install, which will install [[bin]]-based packages onto the local system in a Cargo-specific directory.

Motivation

There has almost always been a desire to be able to install Cargo packages locally, but it's been somewhat unclear over time what the precise meaning of this is. Now that we have crates.io and lots of experience with Cargo, however, the niche that cargo install would fill is much clearer.

Fundamentally, however, Cargo is a ubiquitous tool among the Rust community and implementing cargo install would facilitate sharing Rust code among its developers. Simple tasks like installing a new cargo subcommand, installing an editor plugin, etc, would be just a cargo install away. Cargo can manage dependencies and versions itself to make the process as seamless as possible.

Put another way, enabling easily sharing code is one of Cargo's fundamental design goals, and expanding into binaries is simply an extension of Cargo's core functionality.

Detailed design

The following new subcommand will be added to Cargo:

Install a crate onto the local system

Installing new crates:
    cargo install [options]
    cargo install [options] [-p CRATE | --package CRATE] [--vers VERS]
    cargo install [options] --git URL [--branch BRANCH | --tag TAG | --rev SHA]
    cargo install [options] --path PATH

Managing installed crates:
    cargo install [options] --list

Options:
    -h, --help              Print this message
    -j N, --jobs N          The number of jobs to run in parallel
    --features FEATURES     Space-separated list of features to activate
    --no-default-features   Do not build the `default` feature
    --debug                 Build in debug mode instead of release mode
    --bin NAME              Only install the binary NAME
    --example EXAMPLE       Install the example EXAMPLE instead of binaries
    -p, --package CRATE     Install this crate from crates.io or select the
                            package in a repository/path to install.
    -v, --verbose           Use verbose output
    --root                  Directory to install packages into

This command manages Cargo's local set of install binary crates. Only packages
which have [[bin]] targets can be installed, and all binaries are installed into
`$HOME/.cargo/bin` by default (or `$CARGO_HOME/bin` if you change the home
directory).

There are multiple methods of installing a new crate onto the system. The
`cargo install` command with no arguments will install the current crate (as
specifed by the current directory). Otherwise the `-p`, `--package`, `--git`,
and `--path` options all specify the source from which a crate is being
installed. The `-p` and `--package` options will download crates from crates.io.

Crates from crates.io can optionally specify the version they wish to install
via the `--vers` flags, and similarly packages from git repositories can
optionally specify the branch, tag, or revision that should be installed. If a
crate has multiple binaries, the `--bin` argument can selectively install only
one of them, and if you'd rather install examples the `--example` argument can
be used as well.

The `--list` option will list all installed packages (and their versions).

Installing Crates

Cargo attempts to be as flexible as possible in terms of installing crates from various locations and specifying what should be installed. All binaries will be stored in a cargo-local directory, and more details on where exactly this is located can be found below.

Cargo will not attempt to install binaries or crates into system directories (e.g. /usr) as that responsibility is intended for system package managers.

To use installed crates one just needs to add the binary path to their PATH environment variable. This will be recommended when cargo install is run if PATH does not already look like it's configured.

Crate Sources

The cargo install command will be able to install crates from any source that Cargo already understands. For example it will start off being able to install from crates.io, git repositories, and local paths. Like with normal dependencies, downloads from crates.io can specify a version, git repositories can specify branches, tags, or revisions.

Sources with multiple crates

Sources like git repositories and paths can have multiple crates inside them, and Cargo needs a way to figure out which one is being installed. If there is more than one crate in a repo (or path), then Cargo will apply the following heuristics to select a crate, in order:

  1. If the -p argument is specified, use that crate.
  2. If only one crate has binaries, use that crate.
  3. If only one crate has examples, use that crate.
  4. Print an error suggesting the -p flag.

Multiple binaries in a crate

Once a crate has been selected, Cargo will by default build all binaries and install them. This behavior can be modified with the --bin or --example flags to configure what's installed on the local system.

Building a Binary

The cargo install command has some standard build options found on cargo build and friends, but a key difference is that --release is the default for installed binaries so a --debug flag is present to switch this back to debug-mode. Otherwise the --features flag can be specified to activate various features of the crate being installed.

The --target option is omitted as cargo install is not intended for creating cross-compiled binaries to ship to other platforms.

Conflicting Crates

Cargo will not namespace the installation directory for crates, so conflicts may arise in terms of binary names. For example if crates A and B both provide a binary called foo they cannot be both installed at once. Cargo will reject these situations and recommend that a binary is selected via --bin or the conflicting crate is uninstalled.

Placing output artifacts

The cargo install command can be customized where it puts its output artifacts to install packages in a custom location. The root directory of the installation will be determined in a hierarchical fashion, choosing the first of the following that is specified:

  1. The --root argument on the command line.
  2. The environment variable CARGO_INSTALL_ROOT.
  3. The install.root configuration option.
  4. The value of $CARGO_HOME (also determined in an independent and hierarchical fashion).

Once the root directory is found, Cargo will place all binaries in the $INSTALL_ROOT/bin folder. Cargo will also reserve the right to retain some metadata in this folder in order to keep track of what's installed and what binaries belong to which package.

Managing Installations

If Cargo gives access to installing packages, it should surely provide the ability to manage what's installed! The first part of this is just discovering what's installed, and this is provided via cargo install --list.

Removing Crates

To remove an installed crate, another subcommand will be added to Cargo:

Remove a locally installed crate

Usage:
    cargo uninstall [options] SPEC

Options:
    -h, --help              Print this message
    --bin NAME              Only uninstall the binary NAME
    --example EXAMPLE       Only uninstall the example EXAMPLE
    -v, --verbose           Use verbose output

The argument SPEC is a package id specification (see `cargo help pkgid`) to
specify which crate should be uninstalled. By default all binaries are
uninstalled for a crate but the `--bin` and `--example` flags can be used to
only uninstall particular binaries.

Cargo won't remove the source for uninstalled crates, just the binaries that were installed by Cargo itself.

Non-binary artifacts

Cargo will not currently attempt to manage anything other than a binary artifact of cargo build. For example the following items will not be available to installed crates:

  • Dynamic native libraries built as part of cargo build.
  • Native assets such as images not included in the binary itself.
  • The source code is not guaranteed to exist, and the binary doesn't know where the source code is.

Additionally, Cargo will not immediately provide the ability to configure the installation stage of a package. There is often a desire for a "pre-install script" which runs various house-cleaning tasks. This is left as a future extension to Cargo.

Drawbacks

Beyond the standard "this is more surface area" and "this may want to aggressively include more features initially" concerns there are no known drawbacks at this time.

Alternatives

System Package Managers

The primary alternative to putting effort behind cargo install is to instead put effort behind system-specific package managers. For example the line between a system package manager and cargo install is a little blurry, and the "official" way to distribute a package should in theory be through a system package manager. This also has the upside of benefiting those outside the Rust community as you don't have to have Cargo installed to manage a program. This approach is not without its downsides, however:

  • There are many system package managers, and it's unclear how much effort it would be for Cargo to support building packages for all of them.
  • Actually preparing a package for being packaged in a system package manager can be quite onerous and is often associated with a high amount of overhead.
  • Even once a system package is created, it must be added to an online repository in one form or another which is often different for each distribution.

All in all, even if Cargo invested effort in facilitating creation of system packages, the threshold for distribution a Rust program is still too high. If everything went according to plan it's just unfortunately inherently complex to only distribute packages through a system package manager because of the various requirements and how diverse they are. The cargo install command provides a cross-platform, easy-to-use, if Rust-specific interface to installing binaries.

It is expected that all major Rust projects will still invest effort into distribution through standard package managers, and Cargo will certainly have room to help out with this, but it doesn't obsolete the need for cargo install.

Installing Libraries

Another possibility for cargo install is to not only be able to install binaries, but also libraries. The meaning of this however, is pretty nebulous and it's not clear that it's worthwhile. For example all Cargo builds will not have access to these libraries (as Cargo retains control over dependencies). It may mean that normal invocations of rustc have access to these libraries (e.g. for small one-off scripts), but it's not clear that this is worthwhile enough to support installing libraries yet.

Another possible interpretation of installing libraries is that a developer is informing Cargo that the library should be available in a pre-compiled form. If any compile ends up using the library, then it can use the precompiled form instead of recompiling it. This job, however, seems best left to cargo build as it will automatically handle when the compiler version changes, for example. It may also be more appropriate to add the caching layer at the cargo build layer instead of cargo install.

Unresolved questions

None yet