I’m doing some experimenting with using rust to build cross-platform graphical apps.

The goal is to have a single codebase from which I can build iOS, Android, Linux, OS X and Windows versions of the app. I’m thinking the easiest path to get there is to lean on SDL2 and the Piston game framework on top of that.

I guessed that iOS would be the more difficult of the two mobile platforms to get working within the Rust ecosystem since it gets less attention (There’s an android build as part of the official CI but no iOS one yet). That said, iOS’s build system is a lot more sane than Android’s NDK so maybe it won’t be so bad. Anyhow, I decided to try to get going on iOS first and to my surprise, I haven’t run in to anything insurmountable just yet, after a day of experimenting. I’ve gotten as far as building a Piston program for armv7-apple-ios architecture including linking it against SDL2.framework (built with github/manifest/sdl-ios-framework). I still haven’t tried running this on a device yet as I’m pretty sure I’ll need a host app that handles the UIApplicationMain invocation etc, I plan to experiment with that next.


What follows is a document of the steps it took me to successfully build (not run) a Piston program with SDL2 for the armv7-apple-ios architecture.

See what breaks

I started by just running cargo build --target=armv7-apple-ios to see what breaks. The error I got was:

error: aborting due to previous error
/Users/jakerr/.multirust/toolchains/nightly/cargo/git/checkouts/read_color-5eab2e77aa8fb613/master/src/lib.rs:1:1: 1:1 error: can't find crate for `std`
/Users/jakerr/.multirust/toolchains/nightly/cargo/git/checkouts/read_color-5eab2e77aa8fb613/master/src/lib.rs:1 #![deny(missing_docs)]
error: aborting due to previous error
   Compiling bitflags v0.1.1
     Running `rustc /Users/jakerr/.multirust/toolchains/nightly/cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/bitflags-0.1.1/src/lib.rs --crate-name bitflags --crate-type lib -g -C metadata=518ea12e21428edd -C extra-filename=-518ea12e21428edd --out-dir /Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps --emit=dep-info,link --target armv7-apple-ios -L dependency=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps -L dependency=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps -Awarnings`

“Can’t find crate for std” isn’t the most obvious error but what it means is the tool chain I had installed (nightly via multirust, in my case) wasn’t built with the target I requested. Ok so I have to build the rust compiler myself.

Building rustc for cross-compilation

It’s as simple as passing --target=... to ./configure when compiling rust. I wanted my version to be pinned to the rustc version I have installed with multirust so I wrote a script to update my arm version of the compiler. It’s a bit hacky and I’m not necessarily recommending you do it like this but I’ll share it anyhow.

The script assumes a directory structure like:

~/code/rustws/rust                  # The rust-lang/rust.git repo
~/code/rustws/rustc-build           # Where my build script will live
~/code/rustws/rustc-build/build/arm # The output directory for the toolchain

cat ~/code/rustws/rust-build/arm.sh:

set -eu

vers=$(rustc --version |egrep -o "\(\w{9}" |egrep -o "\w+")

pushd ../rust
git checkout master
git pull
git co -B rustc-$vers $vers
git submodule update --init --recursive
./configure --target=armv7-apple-ios --prefix=$wd/build/arm
make install

Then I just symlink in a cargo binary from the system toolchain into the arm chains bin/ since it doesn’t seem to need to be custom. If you’re using multirust, don’t symlink $(which cargo) because that’s just a proxy script and it will break if its location changes, you need to find the actual cargo bin and symlink it in. For me this was:

ln -s /Users/jakerr/.multirust/toolchains/nightly/bin/cargo /Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustc-build/build/arm/bin/cargo

Then make the toolchain available to multirust for overriding:

multirust update ios --link-local ~/code/rustws/rustc-build/build/arm/bin/cargo

Cargo build again

First, we should override our toolchain to the freshly built one. If you followed the instructions above that would be multirust override ios Now that we have an ios rust toolchain we can give cargo build --target=armv7-apple-ios another shot, this time we make it a bit further and fail to link. Awesome it’s exactly as I expected:

Undefined symbols for architecture armv7:
  "_SDL_Init", referenced from:
      sdl::init::hcad303edffe24aaaX8n in libsdl2-c03ee6bcc7e4fe4f.rlib(sdl2-c03ee6bcc7e4fe4f.o)
  "_SDL_GL_SetAttribute", referenced from:
      video::gl_set_attribute::ha3ecc9302869cd36E5l in libsdl2-c03ee6bcc7e4fe4f.rlib(sdl2-c03ee6bcc7e4fe4f.o)
      # ...
ld: symbol(s) not found for architecture armv7
clang: error: linker command failed with exit code 1 (use -v to see invocation)

error: aborting due to previous error
Could not compile `rustecspong`.

Caused by:
  Process didn't exit successfully: `rustc src/main.rs --crate-name rustecspong --crate-type bin -g --out-dir /Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug --emit=dep-info,link --target armv7-apple-ios -L dependency=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug -L dependency=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps --extern vecmath=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libvecmath-4b9e8c05387d4953.rlib --extern window=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libwindow-20dd55a2e8968db8.rlib --extern shader_version=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libshader_version-c0d3970179066072.rlib --extern input=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libinput-1490dbfb10945cbf.rlib --extern event=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libevent-8cd3eaa4361a82fa.rlib --extern graphics=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libgraphics-3ec65f4f2805722e.rlib --extern opengl_graphics=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libopengl_graphics-4b5470c415aad257.rlib --extern sdl2_window=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libsdl2_window-729940b7a5ce5bbd.rlib --extern quack=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libquack-940ac77f1ace5f08.rlib --extern ecs=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/libecs-35d6c01de75e62f4.rlib --extern rand=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/rustecspong/target/armv7-apple-ios/debug/deps/librand-808067ff512dc02b.rlib` (exit code: 101)

I didn’t expect it to magically know where SDL.framework is (As I mentioned earlier I built it from scratch and just have it in my code folder somewhere) but I have no idea how to get the -L framework=... flags that rustc needs through cargo. I was hoping to find something in the crates.io documentation but didn’t see it. Please do let me know if this is supported and I’m just missing it. For now I can take the failed rustc command reported from cargo build --target=... -v and append the framework flags required to get everything to build and link:

rustc src/main.rs --crate-name # ... entire command coppied from cargo build --target=... -v \
-L framework=/Users/jakerr/code/rustws/sdl-ios-framework/build/sdl -l framework=SDL2 -l framework=UIKit -l framework=OpenGLES -l framework=CoreAudio -l framework=QuartzCore -l framework=CoreGraphics -l framework=AudioToolbox

All of those -L framework= and -l framework= flags are the ones I needed to add to satisfy all of the Undefined symbols for architecture armv7 errors through trial and error and googling the symbols to determine which iOS Frameworks each was referring to.


And with that I’ve compiled a binary for armv7-apple-ios. Next stop, figuring out how to make a host app bundle to stick it into and actually run it on a device.

I’m really excited to see rust supporting so many architectures right out of the gate. I’d love to see the cross-compilation toolchain ease-of-use improved. Better diagnostics for missing toolchains would be great. Rather than just complaining that the crate std can’t be found a hint that the requested toolchain is completely missing would be better. A way to specify the frameworks to link in my Cargo.toml would also be really welcome (though I have a feeling maybe I’m just missing something obvious here).