This post serves as a summary for a live code I did at our local hacker space. For the full experience please refer to the recording. Though I probably should warn that the live coding was done in German (and next time I should make sure to increase the font size everywhere for the recording 🙈).

From zero to a working rust project for the raspberry pi. These are the required steps:

  • Setup Rust Project with cargo
  • Install Rust Arm + Raspberry Pi Toolchain
  • Configure Rust Project for cross compilation
  • Import crate for GPIO Access
  • Profit 💰

Setting up a Rust Project

The first step is to setup a rust project. This is easily accomplished by using the rust tooling. Using cargo it is possible it initialize a hello world rust project:

> mkdir pi_project
> cd pi_project
> cargo init

This results in the following project structure:

├── Cargo.toml
├── .gitignore
└── src

Building and running the code is now as simple as running:

> cargo build
> ./target/debug/pi_project
Hello, world!

Looking at the executable we see that the code was build for the x86 Architecture.

> file ./target/debug/pi_project
target/debug/pi_project: ELF 64-bit LSB pie executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib64/, BuildID[sha1]=0461b95d992ecda8488ad610bb1818344c1eeb8d, for GNU/Linux 4.4.0, with debug_info, not stripped

To be able to run this code on the raspberry pi the target architecture needs to change to ARM.

Rust Arm Toolchain Setup

Installing a different target architecture is easy. All that is required is to use rustup. Warning the following list does not mean that your specific pi revision will work, you need to make extra sure to select the correct architecture based on the model of pi you are using! There are differences per revision of the pi.

# for raspberry pi 3/4
> rustup target add aarch64-unknown-linux-gnu
# for raspberry pi 1/zero
> rustup target add arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf 

This allows telling the cargo to generate ARM machine code. This would be all we need if the goal was to write bare metal code. But just running cargo build --target arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf results in an error. This because we still need a linker and the matching system libraries to be able to interface correctly with the Linux kernel running on the pi.

This problem is solved by installing a raspberry pi toolchain. The toolchain can be downloaded from here. They are compatible with the official “Raspian OS” for the pi. If you are running a different OS on your PI, you may need to look further to find the matching toolchain for your OS.

In this case the pi is running the newest Raspian, which is based on Debian 11:

> wget -O toolchain.tar.gz
> tar -xvf toolchain.tar.gz 

Configure cross compilation

Now the rust build system needs to be configured to use the toolchain. This is done by placing a config file in the project root:

├── .cargo
│   └── config
├── Cargo.lock
├── Cargo.toml
├── .gitignore
└── src

The configuration instructs the cargo build system to use the cross compiler gcc as linker and sets the directory where arm system libraries are located.

# content of .cargo/config
target = "arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf" #set default target

#for raspberry pi 1/zero
linker = "/home/judge/.toolchains/cross-pi-gcc-10.3.0-0/bin/arm-linux-gnueabihf-gcc"
rustflags = [
    "-C", "link-arg=--sysroot=/home/judge/.toolchains/cross-pi-gcc-10.3.0-0/arm-linux-gnueabihf/libc"

#for raspberry pi 3/4
linker = "/home/judge/.toolchains/cross-pi-gcc-10.3.0-64/bin/aarch64-linux-gnu-gcc"
rustflags = [
    "-C", "link-arg=--sysroot=/home/judge/.toolchains/cross-pi-gcc-10.3.0-0/aarch64-linux-gnu/libc"

This sets the default target of the project to arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf, now running cargo build results in the following ARM binary being created.

file target/arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf/debug/pi_project
target/arm-unknown-linux-gnueabihf/debug/pi_project: ELF 32-bit LSB pie executable, ARM, EABI5 version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib/, for GNU/Linux 3.2.0, with debug_info, not stripped

It can now be copied to the raspberry pi and be executed.

GPIO Access

Until this point the source of the application was not touched. This changes now because just executing

// contents of src/
fn main() {
    println!("Hello World!");

is boring! If we have a raspberry pi it would be much more fun to use it to control some hardware 💪. Thankfully there already is a library that we can use to do just that. rppal enables access to the GPIO pins of the pi. Including the library in the project requires declaring it as a dependency in the Cargo.toml.

rppal = "0.14.0"

Now we can use the library to make an led blink.

use std::thread;
use std::time::Duration;

use rppal::gpio::Gpio;

// Gpio uses BCM pin numbering. BCM GPIO 23 is tied to physical pin 16.
const GPIO_LED: u8 = 23;

fn main() {
    let gpio = Gpio::new().expect("Unable to access GPIO!");
    let mut pin = gpio.get(GPIO_LED).unwrap().into_output();

    loop {

And that’s basically it. Now we can use rust to program the raspberry pi to do any task we want. We can even get fancy and use an async runtime to execute many tasks in parallel.

I hope this summary is useful to you and feel free to contact me if you have questions or find this post useful.

Happy coding 🧑‍💻 …