This RFC is to gather final feedback on stabilizing the new feature resolver in Cargo. This new feature resolver introduces a new algorithm for computing package features that helps to avoid some unwanted unification that happens in the current resolver. This also includes some changes in how features are enabled on the command-line.

These changes have already been implemented and are available on the nightly channel as an unstable feature. See the unstable feature docs for information on how to test out the new resolver, and the unstable package flags for information on the new flag behavior.

Note: The new feature resolver does not address all of the enhancement requests for feature resolution. Some of these are listed below in the Feature resolver enhancements section. These are explicitly deferred for future work.


Feature unification

Currently, when features are computed for a package, Cargo takes the union of all requested features in all situations for that package. This is relatively easy to understand, and ensures that packages are only built once during a single build. However, this has problems when features introduce unwanted behavior, dependencies, or other requirements. The following three situations illustrate some of the unwanted feature unification that the new resolver aims to solve:

  • Unused targets: If a dependency shows up multiple times in the resolve graph, and one of those situations is a target-specific dependency, the features of the target-specific dependency are enabled on all platforms. See target dependencies below for how this problem is solved.

  • Dev-dependencies: If a dependency is shared as a normal dependency and a dev-dependency, then any features enabled on the dev-dependency will also show up when used as a normal dependency. This only applies to workspace packages; dev-dependencies in packages on registries like have always been ignored. cargo install has also always ignored dev-dependencies. See dev-dependencies below for how this problem is solved.

  • Host-dependencies: Similarly to dev-dependencies, if a build-dependency or proc-macro has a shared dependency with a normal dependency, then the features are unified with the normal dependency. See host dependencies below for how this problem is solved.

Command-line feature selection

Cargo has several flags for choosing which features are enabled during a build. --features allows enabling individual features, --all-features enables all features, and --no-default-features ensures the “default” feature is not automatically enabled.

These are fairly straightforward when used with a single package, but in a workspace the current behavior is limited and confusing. There are several problems in a workspace:

  • cargo build -p other_member --features … — The listed features are for the package in the current directory, even if that package isn’t being built! This also makes it difficult or impossible to build multiple packages at once with different features enabled.
  • --features and --no-default-features flags are not allowed in the root of a virtual workspace.

See New command-line behavior below for how these problems are solved.

Guide-level explanation

New resolver behavior

When the new feature resolver is enabled, features are not always unified when a dependency appears multiple times in the dependency graph. The new behaviors are described below.

For target dependencies and dev-dependencies, the general rule is, if a dependency is not built, it does not affect feature resolution. For host dependencies, the general rule is that packages used for building (like proc-macros) do not affect the packages being built.

The following three sections describe the new behavior for three difference situations.

Target dependencies

When a package appears multiple times in the build graph, and one of those instances is a target-specific dependency, then the features of the target-specific dependency are only enabled if the target is currently being built. For example:

version = "1.0"
features = ["f1"]

version = "1.0"
features = ["f2"]

When building this example for a non-Windows platform, the f2 feature will not be enabled.


When a package is shared as a normal dependency and a dev-dependency, the dev-dependency features are only enabled if the current build is including dev-dependencies. For example:

serde = {version = "1.0", default-features = false}

serde = {version = "1.0", features = ["std"]}

In this situation, a normal cargo build will build serde without any features. When built with cargo test, Cargo will build serde with its default features plus the “std” feature.

Note that this is a global decision. So a command like cargo build --all-targets will include examples and tests, and thus features from dev-dependencies will be enabled.

Host dependencies

When a package is shared as a normal dependency and a build-dependency or proc-macro, the features for the normal dependency are kept independent of the build-dependency or proc-macro. For example:

log = "0.4"

log = {version = "0.4", features=['std']}

In this situation, the log package will be built with the default features for the normal dependencies. As a build-dependency, it will have the std feature enabled. This means that log will be built twice, once without std and once with std.

Note that a dependency shared between a build-dependency and proc-macro are still unified. This is intended to help reduce build times, and is expected to be unlikely to cause problems that feature unification usually cause because they are both being built for the host platform, and are only used at build time.

Resolver opt-in

Testing has been performed on various projects. Some were found to fail to compile with the new resolver. This is because some dependencies are written to assume that features are enabled from another part of the graph. Because the new resolver results in a backwards-incompatible change in resolver behavior, the user must opt-in to use the new resolver. This can be done with the resolver field in Cargo.toml:

name = "my-package"
version = "1.0.0"
resolver = "2"

Setting the resolver to "2" switches Cargo to use the new feature resolver. It also enables backwards-incompatible behavior detailed in New command-line behavior. A value of "1" uses the previous resolver behavior, which is the default if not specified.

The value is a string (instead of an integer) to allow for possible extensions in the future.

The resolver field is only honored in the top-level package or workspace, it is ignored in dependencies. This is because feature-unification is an inherently global decision.

If using a virtual workspace, the root definition should be in the [workspace] table like this:

members = ["member1", "member2"]
resolver = "2"

For packages that encounter a problem due to missing feature declarations, it is backwards-compatible to add the missing features. Adding those missing features should not affect projects using the old resolver.

It is intended that resolver = "2" will likely become the default setting in a future Rust Edition. See “Default opt-in” below for more details.

New command-line behavior

The following changes are made to the behavior of selecting features on the command-line.

  • Features listed in the --features flag no longer pay attention to the package in the current directory. Instead, it only enables the given features for the selected packages. Additionally, the features are enabled only if the package defines the given features.

    For example:

    cargo build -p member1 -p member2 --features foo,bar

    In this situation, features “foo” and “bar” are enabled on the given members only if the member defines that feature. It is still an error if none of the selected packages defines a given feature.

  • Features for individual packages can be enabled by using member_name/feature_name syntax. For example, cargo build --workspace --feature member_name/feature_name will build all packages in a workspace, and enable the given feature only for the given member.

  • The --features and --no-default-features flags may now be used in the root of a virtual workspace.

The ability to set features for non-workspace members is not allowed, as the resolver fundamentally does not support that ability.

The first change is only enabled if the resolver = "2" value is set in the workspace manifest because it is a backwards-incompatible change. The other changes are intended to be stabilized for everyone, as they only extend previously invalid usage.

cargo metadata

At this time, the cargo metadata command will not be changed to expose the new feature resolver. The “features” field will continue to display the features as computed by the original dependency resolver.

Properly expressing the dependency graph with features would require a number of changes to cargo metadata that can add complexity to the interface. For example, the following flags would need to be added to properly show how features are selected:

  • Workspace selection flags (-p, --workspace, --exclude).
  • Whether or not dev-dependencies are included (--dep-kinds?).

Additionally, the current graph structure does not expose the host-vs-target dependency relationship, among other issues.

It is intended that this will be addressed at some point in the future. Feedback on desired use cases for feature information will help define the solution. A possible alternative is to stabilize the --unit-graph flag, which exposes Cargo’s internal graph structure, which accurately indicates the actual dependency relationships and uses the new feature resolver.

For non-parseable output, cargo tree will show features from the new resolver.


There are a number of drawbacks to this approach:

  • In some situations, dependencies will be built multiple times where they were previously only built once. This causes two problems: increased build times, and potentially broken builds when transitioning to the new resolver. It is intended that if the user wants to build a dependency once that now has non-unified features, they will need to add feature declarations within their dependencies so that they once again have the same features. The cargo tree command has been added to help the user identify and remedy these situations. cargo tree -d will expose dependencies that are built multiple times, and the -e features flag can be used to see which packages are enabling which features.

    Unfortunately the error message is not very clear when a feature that was previously assumed to be enabled is no longer enabled. Typically these appear in the form of unresolved paths. In testing so far, this has come up occasionally, but is usually fairly easy to identify what is wrong. Once more of the ecosystem starts using the new resolver, these errors should become less frequent.

  • Feature unification with dev-dependencies being a global decision can result in some artifacts including features that may not be desired. For example, a project with a binary and a shared dependency that is used as a dev-dependency and a normal dependency. When running cargo test the binary will include the shared dev-dependency features. Compare this to a normal cargo build --bin name, where the binary will be built without those features. This means that if you are testing a binary with an integration test, you end up not testing the same thing as what is normally built. Changing this has significant drawbacks. Cargo’s dependency graph construction will require fundamental changes to support this scenario. Additionally, it has a high risk that will cause increased build times for many projects that aren’t affected or don’t care that it may have slightly different features enabled.

  • This adds complexity to Cargo, and adds boilerplate to Cargo.toml. It can also be confusing when switching between projects that use different settings. It is intended in the future that new resolver will become the default via the “edition” declaration. This will remove the extra boilerplate, and hopefully most projects will eventually adopt the new edition, so that there will be consistency between projects. See “Default opt-in” below for more details

  • This may not cover all of the backwards-incompatible changes that we may want to make to the feature resolver. At this time, we do not have any specific enhancements planned that are backwards-incompatible, but there is a risk that additional enhancements will require a bump to version "3" of the resolver field, causing further ecosystem churn. Since there aren’t any specific changes on the horizon that we know will cause problems, I am reluctant to force the new resolver to wait until some uncertain point in the future. See Future possibilities for a list of possible changes.

  • The new resolver has not had widespread testing. It is unclear if it covers most of the concerns that motivated it, or if there are shortcomings or problems. It is difficult to get sufficient testing, particularly when only available as an unstable feature.

Subtle behaviors

The following are behaviors that may be confusing or surprising, and are highlighted here as potential concerns.

Optional dependency feature names

  • dep_name/feat_name will always enable the feature dep_name, even if it is an inactive optional dependency (such as a dependency for another platform). The intent here is to be consistent where features are always activated when explicitly written, but the dependency is not activated.

  • --all-features enables features for inactive optional dependencies (but does not activate the dependency). This is consistent with --features foo enabling foo, even if the foo dependency is not activated.

Code that needs to have a cfg expression for a dependency of this kind should use a cfg that matches the condition (like cfg(windows)) or use cfg(accessible(dep_name)) when that syntax is stabilized.

This is somewhat intertwined with the upcoming namespaced features. For an optional dependency, the feature is decoupled from the activating of the dependency itself.

Proc-macro unification in a workspace

If there is a proc-macro in a workspace, and the proc-macro is included as a “root” package along with other packages in a workspace (for example with cargo build --workspace), then there can be some potentially surprising feature unification between the proc-macro and the other members of the workspace. This is because proc-macros may have normal targets such as binaries or tests, which need feature unification with the rest of the workspace.

This issue is detailed in issue #8312.

At this time, there isn’t a clear solution to this problem. If this is an issue, projects are encouraged to avoid using --workspace or use --exclude or otherwise avoid building multiple workspace members together. This is also related to the workspace unification issue.

Rationale and alternatives

  • These changes could be forced on all users without an opt-in. The amount of breakage is not expected to be widespread, though limited testing has exposed that it will happen some of the time. Generally, Cargo tries to avoid breaking changes that affect a significant portion of users, and we feel that breakage will come up often enough that an opt-in is the best route.

  • An alternative approach would be to give the user manual control over which specific dependencies are unified and which aren’t. A similar option would be feature masks. This would likely be a tedious process, whereas hopefully this RFC’s approach is more automatic and streamlined for the common case.

Prior art

Other tools have various ways of controlling conditional compilation, but none are quite exactly like Cargo to our knowledge. The following is a survey of a few tools with similar capabilities.

Unresolved questions

None at this time.

Motivating issues

The Cargo issue tracker contains historical context for some of the requests that have motivated these changes:

  • #8088 Features 2.0 meta tracking issue.
  • #7914 Tracking issue for -Z features=itarget
    • #1197 Target-specific features
    • #2524 Conditional compilation of dependency feature based on target doesn’t work
  • #7915 Tracking issue for -Z features=host_dep
    • #2589 Build Deps getting mixed in with dependencies
    • #4361 Shared build+target dependency crates conflate features
    • #4866 build-dependencies and dependencies should not have features unified
    • #5730 Features of dependencies are enabled if they’re enabled in build-dependencies; breaks no_std libs
  • #7916 Tracking issue for -Z features=dev_dep
    • #1796 Incorrect dev-dependency feature resolution
    • #4664 Don’t pass --features from dev-dependencies to dependencies
  • #5364 New behavior of --feature + --package combination
    • #4106 Testing workspace package with features expects the root package to have those features
    • #4753 Add support for –features and –no-default-features flags in workspace builds
    • #5015 building workspaces can’t use –features flag
    • #5362 Cargo sometimes doesn’t ungate crate features
    • #6195 Testing whole workspace with features enabled in some crate(s)

Future possibilities

Feature resolver enhancements

The following changes are things we are thinking about, but are not in a fully-baked state. It is uncertain if they will require backwards-incompatible changes or not.

  • Workspace feature unification. Currently the features enabled in a workspace depend on which workspace members are built (and those members’ dependency tree). Sometimes projects want to ensure a dependency is only built once, regardless of which member included it, to avoid duplicate builds, or surprising changes in behavior. Sometimes projects want to ensure dependencies are not unified, since they don’t want unrelated workspace members to affect one another. It seems likely this may require explicit notation to control the behavior, so it may be possible to add in a backwards-compatible fashion. There are also workarounds for this behavior, so it is not as urgent.
  • Automatic features. This allows a dependency to automatically be enabled if it is already enabled somewhere else in the graph. rfc#1787
  • Profile and target default features.
  • Namespaced features. rust-lang/cargo#5565
  • Mutually-exclusive features. rust-lang/cargo#2980
  • Private and unstable features.
  • And many other issues and enhancements in the Cargo tracker: A-features

Default opt-in

We are planning to make it so that in the next Rust Edition, Cargo will automatically use the new resolver. It will assume you specify resolver = "2" when a workspace specifies the next edition. This may help reduce the boilerplate in the manifest, and make the preferred behavior the default for new projects. Cargo has some precedent for this, as in the 2018 edition several defaults were changed. It is unclear how this would work in a virtual workspace, or if this will cause additional confusion, so this is left as a possibility to be explored in the future.

Default cargo new

In the short term, cargo new (and init) will not set the resolver field. After this feature has had some time on stable and more projects have some experience with it, the default manifest for cargo new will be modified to set resolver = "2".