From C to Rust to C again. Or: Re-exporting C exports in Rust

Dec 12, 2019

The only difference between being a grown up and being a kid, in my experience, is as a grown up, you have much fewer people who are willing to play the game telephone with you. Luckily for me, I have access to a computer, a C compiler, and a Rust compiler. Let me show you how I played telephone with Rust & C.


  • Rust can't re-export from a linked C library (unless you rename) when compiled as a cdylib.
  • Look at this issue

Imagine you have some C code that provides add_two. It looks like this:

int add_two(int n)
    return n + 2;

And you can even let Cargo deal with building your C library by making a with cc. Like so:

use cc;

fn main() {

Now you want to be able to call add_two from Rust. Easy! You look at the FFI section in the Nomicon. And follow it like so:

#[link(name = "foo", kind = "static")]
extern "C" {
    pub fn add_two(x: u32) -> u32;

pub extern "C" fn add_one(x: u32) -> u32 {
    let a = unsafe { add_two(x) };
    a - 1

mod tests {
    use super::*;
    fn it_works() {
        assert_eq!(add_one(2), 3);
        assert_eq!(unsafe { add_two(2) }, 4);

Now for the last chain in our telephone. We'll make a new C file that will call our Rust defined add_one and our C defined add_two.

extern int add_one(int n);
extern int add_two(int n);

int main()
    return add_one(add_two(39));

We use Clang to build this file:

clang call_rust.c -lrust_c_playground -L./target/debug -o call_rust

Now we have an executable called call_rust which calls a Rust defined function and calls a C defined function that it pulled in from a single Rust Library (called librust_c_playground.dylib on macOS). The flags in the clang command mean: -l link this library; -L look here for the library.

We've built the code, now we can even run it!

echo $? # Print the return code of our program, hopefully 42

Great! We've called C from a Rust Library from a C program. But there's a catch. This won't work if you are building a cdylib. There isn't an RFC yet on how to re-export C externs. In the mean time you'll either have to: re-export under a different name, or build a dylib. See this issue: Re-exporting C symbols for cdylib.

Hope this helps.