Hello! It's been a while. Life has been very busy in the past few years, and I haven't posted as much as I've intended to. Isn't that how these things always go? I've got a bit of time to breathe, so I'm going to attempt to start a weekly(ish) blog series inspired by my friend scuzz3y. This series is going to be about Rust, specifically how to write it if you're coming from a lower level C/C++ background.

When I first learned Rust, I tried to write it like I was writing C. That caused me a lot of pain and suffering at the hands of both the compiler and the unsafe keyword. Since then, I have learned a lot on how to write better Rust code that not only makes more sense, but that is far less painful and requires less unsafe overall. If you already know Rust, hopefully this series teaches you a thing or two that you did not already know. If you're new to Rust, then I hope this gives you a good head start into transitioning your projects from C/C++ to Rust (or at least to consider it).

I'm going to target this series towards Windows, but many of the concepts can be used on other platforms as well.

Some of the topics I'm going to cover include (in no particular order):

  • Working with raw bytes
  • C structures and types
  • Shellcoding
  • Extended make (cargo-make)
  • Sane error handling
  • Working with native APIs
  • Working with pointers
  • Inline ASM
  • C/C++ interoperability
  • Building python modules
  • Inline ASM and naked functions
  • Testing

If you have suggestions for things you'd like me to write about/cover, shoot me a message at rustforcdevs@wumb0.in.

Expect the first post next week. It will be on working with pointers.
(Update: 4/20/24): I decided to expand this post to cover some background first before doing the post on pointers. So that is still in the works!

All posts in the series (so far):

There is also a github repository that goes along with this series. You can find that here.

Rust Basics

Before you get going on the whole series, make sure you understand a few basic Rust concepts. You should read the Rust book to get a basic handle on how the language works, but I have also included an introduction to some concepts and coding styles I'll be using in the posts moving forward.

Rust 1.76.0 (07dca489a 2024-02-04) was used as a reference for this post, so keep that in mind if it's 2077 and you're reading this for some reason.


By default, declared variables in Rust are immutable. This is the opposite of how C works, where variables are assumed mutable unless you declare them const. In order to declare a mutable variable, you must use the mut keyword. For example:

let mut x = 2;
x = 3; // ok! x is mutable
let y = 2;
y = 3; // error, y is not mutable
// variable rebinding is possible, also
let mut y = 2;
y = 2; // ok! y is mutable now because of the rebind


Rust has strict scoping rules like C. For example, the following will error:

    let mut x = 3;
x = 5; // x is not defined, it went out of scope!

To make this work you would do the following:

let mut x;
    x = 3;
x = 5; // x was declared in the outer scope, so this is fine

Basic Types

Rust has a number of basic (primitive) types you should be aware of. I have also included the equivalent C types for quick reference.

Rust TypeSize (bytes)Equivalent C Type(s)
u81unsigned char, BYTE, uint8_t
i81char, int8_t
char4char32_t (technically...)
u162unsigned short, WCHAR, uint16_t
i162short, int16_t
u324unsigned int, DWORD, ULONG, uint32_t
i324int, BOOL, NTSTATUS, LONG, int32_t
u648uint64_t, DWORD64, ULONGLONG, unsigned long†
i648int64_t, long†, LONGLONG
usize8†size_t, uintptr_t

† This is the size of the type on amd64

One important note about types is that the default type of a bare integer is i32, much like in C, where the default bare integer type is int. You can specify the integer type explicitly by suffixing the number with it (ex. 1usize). For bool, use true and false.

For char, you can use the same syntax as in C (ex. 'A').

For bytes (u8), you can prefix the char string with a b (ex. b'A').

The unit struct or () is a special zero sized type that just represents nothing.


References and pointers may seem similar, but they are different. References are tracked by the compiler's lifetime manager, while pointers are not. In Rust, you get a reference via the & or &mut operators. One gets an immutable reference and the other gets a mutable reference. You will see the term borrowing used to refer to references sometimes. The compiler has a few rules relating to references to help ensure safety. Violating any of these rules will result in a compiler error:

  1. An object's reference cannot out-live the original object.
  2. An object may have an unlimited number of immutable references OR exactly one mutable reference.
  3. In order to get a mutable reference to an object it must be declared mutable.


A lifetime is how long an object lasts. All objects have lifetimes associated with them. Most of the time, the compiler can infer (elide) the lifetime of the object or reference. When it cannot, you will need to declare the lifetime explicitly. Lifetimes are one of the hardest things for new Rust developers to grasp and work around, especially when coming from C, where lifetimes are managed almost entirely by the programmer.

Think about this case in C:

int *myfunc() {
    int mystackint = 55;
    return &mystackint;

A classic mistake by the inexperienced C developer.

bad time

In Rust, that will result in an error because the reference will outlive the stack variable.

The 'a is a bit confusing. You will sometimes see the following syntax:

struct MyStruct<'a> {
    myref: &'a u32

This is just saying "myref must live at least as long as MyStruct". In the case of myfunc<'a> above it's just saying that the returned reference will last as long as the function, which is fairly obvious, but necessary. You could also say 'static which means that it is a static reference and will last as long as the program runs.

There is much more to say on lifetimes, but I'm going to stop here. They will take practice! I will make sure to explain any lifetime specific stuff I need to throughout these posts.

Complex Types

Arrays, Slices, and Strings

An array is a fixed length series of elements. The size must be known at compile time.

A slice represents a series of bytes with a size that may or may not be known at compile time. That series of bytes is just a pointer to an array and a number of elements; they are array references. Slices are useful because they can be used as a common type to represent static/fixed or dynamically allocated sequences of items as well as sub-arrays (slices). Arrays can be coerced into the slice type by indexing (slice-ing) or by using the as_slice method. The length of a slice can be obtained with the len method. Like arrays, slices also can be mutable or immutable.

// make a fixed size array
let arr = [0, 1, 2, 3, 4];
// take a slice of the array
let slice: &[u32] = &arr[2..];
assert_eq!(slice.len(), 3);

There is a special kind of slice called a &str that is a specialized &[u8] that is UTF-8 aware. It is used to represent strings. It is the common implementation between static/fixed and dynamically allocated strings. Again, it is just a start pointer and a length.

Owned vs. Referenced Types

For static strings and arrays slices and the &str type are fine. These are referenced types, where someone else is responsible for the memory that the data within them occupies. If you want an object that owns and allocates these types, then you need an owned type. To "own" the memory backing the type is to be responsible for allocating, reallocating, and eventually freeing the underlying memory backing the information. Below are some owned types and their referenced counterpart:

  • String - &str
  • Vec<T> - &[u8]
  • Box<[T]> - &[u8]
  • Path - PathBuf

All of those owned types can be turned into their reference types with convenience methods provided with each one. The inverse is also true. Sometimes you'll see the ToOwned and AsRef (or sometimes Borrow) traits implemented for a type. If you have a reference type and want the owned type, you may be able to call to_owned on the reference object to allocate an owned version or as_ref (or borrow) on the owned object in order to get the reference/borrowed version.

Structs, Enums, and Unions

Structs work pretty similar in Rust and C. It is a collection of types in a unit. Much like a C++ struct, you can write methods to interact with its attributes. One thing you should be aware of is that Rust structure packing rules are different than C structure packing rules. The Rust compiler may actually re-order structure variables at its discretion unless you tell it not to. To make sure C structure packing rules are followed, you can tag a struct as repr(C)

struct MyStruct {
    member1: u32,
    member2: u64,
    member3: u8,
    member4: u16,

You can also tag a struct with repr(packed) to pack a structure like you would with __attribute__((packed)) or #pragma pack.
The Rust reference has a section on type layouts that is particularly useful.

Enumerations in Rust are special because they can optionally contain data types. For example:

enum MyEnum {

To determine which variant you have, you can use a match statement. Keep in mind that in Rust, all cases must be covered in a match.

let myenum = MyEnum::NoData;
match myenum {
    MyEnum::NoData => println!("No Data!"),
    MyEnum::HasString(s) => println!("The string was {s}"),
    MyEnum::HasInt(i) => {
        let x = i + 5;
        println!("The integer (plus 5) was {x}");

You can also implement methods on enums in Rust.

Finally, unions exist in Rust mostly for C compatibility/FFI. Anywhere I would normally use a union in C I would just use a Rust enum with encapsulated types. Accessing data within an enum is unsafe.

Option and Result

Two useful Rust enums are the Option and Result types. Their definitions are simple:

pub enum Option<T> {

pub enum Result<T, E> {

The Option type is what inspired C++17's std::optional type; it is either something or nothing.

The Result type is either a success value (Ok) or an error value (Err).

The ? Operator

Result and Option have a special power: the ? operator. In C/C++ how many times have you found yourself writing the following pattern?

void *someFunction() { /* do something */ }
bool stuff() {
    void *result = someFunction();
    if (NULL == result) {
        return false;
    // do something with x

    return true; // return the success case

In Rust, when using Result or Option you can reduce that error checking logic down to one single character: ?.

fn someFunction() -> Option<*mut c_void> { /* do something */ }
fn stuff() -> Option<()> {
    // if someFunction returns None, then return None
    let x: *mut c_void = someFunction()?;
    // do something with x

    Some(()) // return the success case

Basically, if someFunction returns None, ? will propagate that error up, returning it immediately. If it returns Some() then the value from the Some() will be extracted and the code continues. Result and ? work the same way, so you can have a verbose error type returned instead of just a generic failure (None).

We will talk much more about error handling and use of Result and Option in a future post!

The unsafe Keyword

All it means is that the compiler cannot guarantee the safety of the code contained within. It does not mean that the code will crash, it just means that it could crash. The caller needs to ensure that they are using unsafe functions or operations carefully. This does not mean that the result of an unsafe block will always be valid. You may cause a crash in a "safe" section of code when using the result of an unsafe operation. For example:

When will you see unsafe used?

  • Dereferencing a pointer. As we will cover in the next post, the validity of a pointer cannot be guaranteed, so dereferencing it is inherently dangerous
  • Calling any extern or FFI function. Since it it is not Rust code, the compiler cannot guarantee its safety!
  • Implementing the Send and Sync traits. You can tell the compiler that your type is transferrable (sendable) between threads (Send) and/or usable by multiple threads simultaneously (Sync). If you are wrong, then that type may cause a crash.
  • Union access
  • Mutable static variable access


C++ has templating. C has... macros? Rust has generics. You can make a struct, enum, trait, etc. generic over a type. That looks like this:

struct MyStruct<T> {
    mything: T,

impl<T> MyStruct<T> {
    fn new(thing: T) -> MyStruct<T> {
        MyStruct { mything: thing }

Here's an example of a generic function:

fn myfunc<T>(thing: &T) {
    // do something with the thing reference

You can specify multiple generics too. Just separate them with commas (ex. fn myfunc<A, B, Sea, Dee>).


A trait is a set of functions, attributes, and/or types that a type can implement. Think of it like a protocol or (abstract) base class. All implementors of a trait can use any of it's methods/types/attributes. An example trait from the standard library:

pub trait TryFrom<T>: Sized {
    type Error;

    // Required method
    fn try_from(value: T) -> Result<Self, Self::Error>;

This shows a few things: a generic (T), a required trait bound (Sized), an associated type (Error), and a required method try_from. This means that if you want to implement TryFrom to attempt to convert type A to type B you would do the following:

impl TryFrom<A> for B {
    type Error = String;
    fn try_from(value: A) -> Result<Self, Self::Error> {
        // try the conversion....

        // return a Result
        if conversion_success {
        } else {
            Err(String::from("Conversion failed!"))

Now, if we have an instance of A, we can call the try_from method on it in order to convert to type B. If there are multiple TryFrom implementations for B, then you just need to specify the type explicitly. Let's say we have a TryFrom<A> implemented for C also.

let my_a = A;
let my_b = my_a.try_from::<B>().unwrap();
// OR
let my_b: B = my_a.try_from::<B>().unwrap();

On failure, the Conversion failed message will print.

A required trait bound means that anything that implements that trait must also implement the other trait(s) specified (ex. Sized from above). What this means is that if a type implements that trait, it ALSO implements the required trait bounds so you can call the methods from those other required traits as long as you import the trait.

If the conversion is infallible (always succeeds), then you would want to implement the `From` trait instead.

If we look at another, more complicated trait from the standard library (BufRead), we can see a more useful required trait bound:

pub trait BufRead: Read {
    // Required methods
    fn fill_buf(&mut self) -> Result<&[u8]>;
    fn consume(&mut self, amt: usize);

    // Provided methods
    fn has_data_left(&mut self) -> Result<bool> { ... }
    fn read_until(&mut self, byte: u8, buf: &mut Vec<u8>) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn skip_until(&mut self, byte: u8) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn read_line(&mut self, buf: &mut String) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn split(self, byte: u8) -> Split<Self>
       where Self: Sized { ... }
    fn lines(self) -> Lines<Self> 
       where Self: Sized { ... }

Anything that implements BufRead must implement read, which looks like this:

pub trait Read {
    // Required method
    fn read(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<usize>;

    // Provided methods
    fn read_vectored(&mut self, bufs: &mut [IoSliceMut<'_>]) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn is_read_vectored(&self) -> bool { ... }
    fn read_to_end(&mut self, buf: &mut Vec<u8>) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn read_to_string(&mut self, buf: &mut String) -> Result<usize> { ... }
    fn read_exact(&mut self, buf: &mut [u8]) -> Result<()> { ... }
    fn read_buf(&mut self, buf: BorrowedCursor<'_>) -> Result<()> { ... }
    fn read_buf_exact(&mut self, cursor: BorrowedCursor<'_>) -> Result<()> { ... }
    fn by_ref(&mut self) -> &mut Self
       where Self: Sized { ... }
    fn bytes(self) -> Bytes<Self>
       where Self: Sized { ... }
    fn chain<R: Read>(self, next: R) -> Chain<Self, R>
       where Self: Sized { ... }
    fn take(self, limit: u64) -> Take<Self>
       where Self: Sized { ... }

Lots of methods! So anything that implements BufRead must also implement Read so you can call read_to_end no problem. You might also notice that there are "provided methods` in both of those traits. This means that a default implementation is provided, but you may override the methods if you choose!

You can enforce trait bounds on a generic too. This can either be done in the struct definition, or you can have different implementations for different traits!

use std::io::Read;
struct MyStruct<T: Read> {
    readable: T,

impl<T: Read> MyStruct<T> {
    fn new(readable: T) -> MyStruct<T> {
        Self { readable }

impl<T: Read + Debug> MyStruct<T> {
    fn print_object(&self) {
        println!("{:?}", self.readable);

Pretty neat!

Project Layout

The standard Rust project looks like this:

  • project_dir
  • Cargo.toml - describes your project, how to build it, what to build, and what dependencies it uses
  • src - contains all of your source code
    • lib.rs / main.rs - the entry file for a binary (main.rs) or library (lib.rs)
    • submodule1.rs - for code organization you can define submodules inline in code, in it's own file, or in it's own folder (next)
    • submodule2 - larger submodules can be put into folders
    • mod.rs - a submodule in a folder must have a mod.rs to be seen by the compiler
    • bin - a directory containing additional projects to build as binaries. each must contain a main function
    • binary1.rs
    • binary2.rs
  • build.rs - optional build script to modify how the package is built
  • target - automatically generated by cargo. stores build artifacts
  • .cargo
    • config.toml - additional configuration options


I like to use cargo workspaces for my projects. They end up looking like this:

  • project_dir
  • Cargo.toml
  • crates
    • lib1
    • Cargo.toml
    • src
      • lib.rs
    • lib2
    • Cargo.toml
    • src
      • lib.rs
    • binary
    • Cargo.toml
    • src
      • main.rs
  • tests - integration tests (more on testing later)
    • Cargo.toml
    • src
    • lib.rs

The top level Cargo.toml looks like this:

members = ["crates/*", "tests"]
resolver = "2"

edition = "2021"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["wumb0"]

log = "0.4"

And then one of the sub-project Cargo.toml files would look like this:

name = "lib1"
edition.workspace = true
version.workspace = true
authors.workspace = true

log.workspace = true

So you can define shared metadata between all of your projects including the Rust edition, package version, package author(s), and even dependencies. You can also define build profiles in the top-level workspace Cargo.toml.


To build a project in Rust, run cargo build. The default build profile is debug. To specify the release target use the --release flag to cargo build. You can also create additional profiles in your project's Cargo.toml and specify the alternative profile with the -p option to cargo build. To specify the target (I like to cross compile from my M3 Macbook to Windows on amd64), you can specify the target on the command line via the --target option, providing the target triple. To list all target triples run rustup target list. To install a new target run rustup target add <target triple>.

To use certain features of Rust that are considered "unstable", you must use the "nightly" toolchain, as opposed to the "stable" toolchain. To install the nightly toolchain you can use the --toolchain nightly option to rustup target add. To set the default toolchain to nightly run rustup default nightly. To use the nightly toolchain without setting it to default you must use the +nightly option to cargo before each subcommand. For example, if I wanted to build using the nightly toolchain I would run cargo +nightly build.

A few notable nightly features that I use frequently are:

  • build-std / build-std-features - A cargo option to allow you to build the Rust standard/core libraries from source, potentially changing features. Rust includes very verbose error messages in its binaries, even in release mode. These are known as panic strings. If you want to compile them out for whatever reason and just have the program crash instead you can build the Rust core/std with the panic_immediate_abort feature. If you want Rust's versions of memcpy, memset, and friends you can specify the compiler-builtins-mem feature flag to build-std-features. We will talk about build-std a lot more in future posts.
  • remap-cwd-prefix - A rustflag (flag that is passed to rustc, the Rust compiler) to allow you to remap the cwd in the binary to something else. Useful to get your username and project path out of the final binary. Really you should just be building in a docker container, so you might not need this.
  • profile-rustflags - A Cargo.toml feature to allow you to specify rustflags per build profile.

There are more, but those are good examples of 3 different places unstable features might be used. I don't use unstable features in my code directly so much, but if you need to enable one you just have to specify it at the top of your lib.rs/main.rs for your crate: #![feature(coroutines, coroutine_trait)] as an example to enable the coroutines and coroutine_trait features.

Creating DLLs

To create a Windows DLL out of a Rust library, add the following section to your project's Cargo.toml:

crate-types = ["cdylib"]
If you declare a crate to be a cdylib you might have trouble testing it. cargo test will try to run the produced DLL as an EXE, which will not work. To avoid this issue, write your tests in a separate module and then include it as a library in your cdylib crate. Or don't write tests... up to you!

std and core

The Rust standard library has a lot of useful, platform dependent features. It is also completely optional to use. If you are writing to a platform that does not have standard library support or you simply do not need/want the standard library, you can compile your crate with the no_std attribute. With no_std you may use functionality within the Rust core module. You can also use the no_core attribute in your module, but I've never seen a practical use for that...

What if you can't or don't want to use the standard library, but you do want nice things like dynamically allocated strings and vectors? Well, you can define a custom allocator and use the alloc crate. We will cover that more in its own post, but it's pretty cool functionality.

All items inside of core and alloc are included in the top level namespace of std. For example, both core::arch::asm and std::arch::asm resolve to the same asm! macro inside of core. Same with core::ffi::c_int and std::ffi::c_int. You get the idea.


Rust supports two different types of macros: regular macros and procedural macros. Regular macros are akin to C (#define) macros. Procedural macros are sort of like C++'s constexpr but have way more functionality. Writing either of these macros presents unique challenges, but they are at least a bit more versatile than C macros and a bit more sane due to "macro hygiene".

Macros may take a few different forms, but the most common syntax (and the only one for regular macros) is macro_name!. Yep, that's right, println! is a macro. Rust does not support variadics (except for C FFI), so a macro must be used.

Panicking, unwrap, and expect

If something goes wrong in a Rust program, it may either choose to propagate the error up or panic. You can trigger a panic explicitly via the panic! macro. You can also do so accidentally by doing something like accessing a non-existent array element or dividing by zero. When a program panics it will print that it panicked, where, and why. Sometimes it will also print a stack trace, which can be useful to track down the issue.

Some types such as Option and Result have functions that can trigger panics on failure. The unwrap and expect functions are examples of functions that will panic when invoked with a None or Err return. unwrap will display the error contained within the Result::Err enum, and expect will display the string that is passed into it.

A panic should only be triggered on a completely unrecoverable case, such as one where it would be dangerous to continue. Library code should almost never panic. Always propagate the error upward via a Result, Option, or other vessel and let the application developer decide how to deal with it. They could recover and try again, for all you know!

Basic FFI

I will do a while post of FFI and C/C++ interoperability, but I wanted to cover basic function importing here, because I will be using it in Part 1

FFI Types

If you need explicit FFI types, you can use the core::ffi module (a.k.a. std::ffi).
If I am translating a call from C to Rust I will usually just use the Rust types instead of using FFI types. You'll see that below.

Importing External Functions

use core::ffi::c_void;
// Using *const u8 for char * and *mut c_void for HMODULE
#[link(name = "kernel32")]
extern "system" {
    fn GetModuleHandleA(*const u8) -> *mut c_void;
    fn GetProcAddress(*mut c_void, *const u8) -> *mut c_void;

Passing Strings

You need to remember that Rust strings are not NULL terminated. In order to pass a string to a function that expects a NULL terminated C-string, you need to explicitly add the NULL. This is also true for wide/unicode C-strings. You'll also need to pass the string as a pointer via the as_ptr function of the String or str types.

For example:

let ntdll = unsafe { GetModuleHandleA("ntdll\0".as_ptr()) };
let mut funcname = String::from("NtQueryInformationProcess");
let ntqueryinformationprocess = GetProcAddress(ntdll, funcname.as_ptr());

If you have a str you need to NULL terminate, just use to_string and then push a NULL. You can also use the format! macro:

let mystr = "hello world";
let myntstr: String = format!("{mystr}\0");

We will also cover the CStr type in a future post!

Wrapping Up

That should be the basics you need. Again, I recommend reading the Rust Book as well to get a better grasp on things.

Look forward to the next post in the series soon.