Rust low-level bindings to libzmq

ZeroMQ is a lightweight messaging library which makes it fairly easy for developers to design and implement distributed systems.

ZeroMQ comes with a pretty nice API, so getting started with it is quite easy. Lots of languages also provide bindings to the libzmq library, so you could already get started with ZeroMQ using your favourite language of choice.

Perhaps the best place to get started with ZeroMQ is to head over to the ZeroMQ Guide which will teach you about ZeroMQ by going through various examples and problems and show you how to solve them using the library.

I’ve been using ZeroMQ for quite some time already and implemented a few distributed systems with it, mostly written in Python and C.

These days I’m trying to learn myself a bit of Rust, which is a systems programming language with focus on safety, speed and concurrency.

Being a new language, Rust comes with some new concepts not found in other languages. One of them is the Rust Ownership System, which takes a bit of time getting used to it.

New Rust users often fight with the borrow checker, where the Rust compiler refuses to compile your code and this is where understanding how the Rust Ownership System works is something that we as Rust developers should become quite familiar with.

So far I really enjoy programming in Rust, and I really like how nice and easy the language can bind into existing C libraries using the Rust FFI interface, so as one of the first Rust projects I’ve decided to work on is low-level bindings to the ZeroMQ messaging library.

At the time I’ve started writing the libzmq bindings I already knew about the existence of the native implementation of ØMQ in Rust and also the Rust ZeroMQ bindings.

The native implementation of ØMQ in Rust project, though seems to have stalled development for a while already and looks to be abandoned now, so it is far from complete.

The upstream libzmq version (as of writing this post) is v4.2.0 and the existing Rust ZeroMQ bindings so far do not fully support the latest version of libzmq as already reported in this issue.

Of course it would be much easier to get the existing Rust ZeroMQ bindings up to speed with the latest libzmq version, but these bindings have been generated by rust-bindgen, which is a binding generator and a really cool project, but the thing is that rust-bindgen generates a slightly different Rust code on my system than the one I can already find in the existing repository.

I bet that others would also get different Rust code if they ran rust-bindgen on their systems as well, depending on what Rust version they have, OS and probably some other factors. And also the resulting Rust code as generated by rust-bindgen does not always look as pretty as it would if it was written by a human.

I’m not saying that rust-bindgen is bad, it’s just that I think for a library such as the ZeroMQ C API, which comes with a really nice and small factor API it’s simply not worth creating the bindings via an automatic generator, when we can always easily translate them into Rust.

Overall this makes it not so easy to contribute back to the existing Rust ZeroMQ bindings, so I’ve decided to create my own Rust low-level bindings to libzmq, which targets the latest libzmq version (v4.2.0 at the time of writing this post).

That way I can practice my Rust and learn a few things along the way.

You can find the Rust low-level bindings to libzmq in the Github repo and here we will create a few simple projects using the libzmq bindings for Rust.

Lets start off by creating a new Rust project, which will get the libzmq library version that we have installed on our system.

$ cargo new --bin libzmq-version
$ cd libzmq-version

Now, open the Cargo.toml file and add the libzmq dependency to your project. This is how my Cargo.toml file looks like.

name = "libzmq-version"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["Marin Atanasov Nikolov <>"]

version = "*"

git = ""

The code below is what represents our src/ file from our Rust project. When you build and run it, it will print the version of your libzmq library.

extern crate libc;
extern crate libzmq;

unsafe fn print_version() {
    let mut major = 0;
    let mut minor = 0;
    let mut patch = 0;

    libzmq::zmq_version(&mut major, &mut minor, &mut patch);
    println!("Installed ZeroMQ version is {}.{}.{}", major, minor, patch);

fn main() {
    unsafe { print_version(); }

Lets build our project now.

$ cargo build
    Updating registry ``
    Updating git repository ``
 Downloading libc v0.1.8
   Compiling libc v0.1.8
   Compiling libzmq v4.2.0 (
   Compiling libzmq-version v0.1.0 (file:///home/mnikolov/libzmq-version)

Once our project is built, we can now actually run it, so lets do that now.

$ cargo run
     Running `target/debug/libzmq-version`
Installed ZeroMQ version is 4.2.0

And that was easy!

Lets create another project now, which will use the Request-Reply Pattern, so that we can send messages back and forth between two nodes.

Similar to the previous example create a new Rust project called helloworld-server and another one called helloworld-client.

Below is the code for the helloworld-server project, which will bind a ZeroMQ ZMQ_REQ socket on tcp://*:5555 endpoint and send messages to whoever connects to it until we actually kill the process.

extern crate libc;
extern crate libzmq;

use std::ffi;

unsafe fn helloworld_server() {
    let context = libzmq::zmq_ctx_new();
    let responder = libzmq::zmq_socket(context, libzmq::ZMQ_REP as libc::c_int);

    let endpoint = ffi::CString::new("tcp://*:5555").unwrap();
    assert_eq!(libzmq::zmq_bind(responder, endpoint.as_ptr()), 0);

    let buffer = ffi::CString::new("Hello").unwrap();
    let data = ffi::CString::new("World").unwrap();

    loop {
        libzmq::zmq_recv(responder, buffer.as_ptr() as *mut libc::c_void, 5, 0);
        println!("Received Hello!");
        libzmq::zmq_send(responder, data.as_ptr() as *const libc::c_void , 5, 0);

fn main() {
    unsafe { helloworld_server(); }

And here is the client part of our project, which will connect to our server by using a ZeroMQ ZMQ_REQ socket and connect it to the tcp:// endpoint. It will then send ten messages to the server and exit.

extern crate libc;
extern crate libzmq;

use std::ffi;
use std::thread;

unsafe fn helloworld_client() {
    let context = libzmq::zmq_ctx_new();
    let receiver = libzmq::zmq_socket(context, libzmq::ZMQ_REQ as libc::c_int);

    let endpoint = ffi::CString::new("tcp://").unwrap();
    assert_eq!(libzmq::zmq_connect(receiver, endpoint.as_ptr()), 0);

    let data = ffi::CString::new("Hello").unwrap();
    let buffer = ffi::CString::new("").unwrap();

    for request in 0..10 {
        println!("Sending request #{}", request);
        libzmq::zmq_send(receiver, data.as_ptr() as *const libc::c_void, 5, 0);

        libzmq::zmq_recv(receiver, buffer.as_ptr() as *mut libc::c_void, 5, 0);
        println!("Received reply!");

fn main() {
    unsafe { helloworld_client(); }

Once ready, simply build the projects and run them. You should now see ZeroMQ messages passing back and forth between our client and server.

You should also note that our functions are actually marked as unsafe, which is required since we are calling foreign code via the Rust FFI interface.

Further improvement on this code would be to actually write a nice high-level wrapper around these low-level bindings that would make use of Rust’s main features on safety, but I’ll leave that for some other day.

Written on July 1, 2015