rustup automatically determines which toolchain to use when one of the installed commands like rustc is executed. There are several ways to control and override which toolchain is used:

  1. A toolchain override shorthand used on the command-line, such as cargo +beta.
  2. The RUSTUP_TOOLCHAIN environment variable.
  3. A directory override, set with the rustup override command.
  4. The rust-toolchain.toml file.
  5. The default toolchain.

The toolchain is chosen in the order listed above, using the first one that is specified. There is one exception though: directory overrides and the rust-toolchain.toml file are also preferred by their proximity to the current directory. That is, these two override methods are discovered by walking up the directory tree toward the filesystem root, and a rust-toolchain.toml file that is closer to the current directory will be preferred over a directory override that is further away.

To verify which toolchain is active use rustup show.

Toolchain override shorthand

The rustup toolchain proxies can be instructed directly to use a specific toolchain, a convenience for developers who often test different toolchains. If the first argument to cargo, rustc or other tools in the toolchain begins with +, it will be interpreted as a rustup toolchain name, and that toolchain will be preferred, as in

cargo +beta test

Directory overrides

Directories can be assigned their own Rust toolchain with rustup override. When a directory has an override then any time rustc or cargo is run inside that directory, or one of its child directories, the override toolchain will be invoked.

To use to a specific nightly for a directory:

rustup override set nightly-2014-12-18

Or a specific stable release:

rustup override set 1.0.0

To see the active toolchain use rustup show. To remove the override and use the default toolchain again, rustup override unset.

The per-directory overrides are stored in a configuration file in rustup's home directory.

The toolchain file

Some projects find themselves 'pinned' to a specific release of Rust and want this information reflected in their source repository. This is most often the case for nightly-only software that pins to a revision from the release archives.

In these cases the toolchain can be named in the project's directory in a file called rust-toolchain.toml or rust-toolchain. If both files are present in a directory, the latter is used for backwards compatibility. The files use the TOML format and have the following layout:

channel = "nightly-2020-07-10"
components = [ "rustfmt", "rustc-dev" ]
targets = [ "wasm32-unknown-unknown", "thumbv2-none-eabi" ]
profile = "minimal"

The [toolchain] section is mandatory, and at least one property must be specified. channel and path are mutually exclusive.

For backwards compatibility, rust-toolchain files also support a legacy format that only contains a toolchain name without any TOML encoding, e.g. just nightly-2021-01-21. The file has to be encoded in US-ASCII this case (if you are on Windows, check the encoding and that it does not start with a BOM). The legacy format is not available in rust-toolchain.toml files.

If you see the following error (when running rustc, cargo or other command)

error: invalid channel name '[toolchain]' in '/PATH/TO/DIRECTORY/rust-toolchain'

it means you're running rustup pre-1.23.0 and trying to interact with a project that uses the new TOML encoding in the rust-toolchain file. You need to upgrade rustup to 1.23.0+.

The rust-toolchain.toml/rust-toolchain files are suitable to check in to source control.

The toolchains named in these files have a more restricted form than rustup toolchains generally, and may only contain the names of the three release channels, 'stable', 'beta', 'nightly', Rust version numbers, like '1.0.0', and optionally an archive date, like 'nightly-2017-01-01'. They may not name custom toolchains, nor host-specific toolchains. To use a custom local toolchain, you can instead use a path toolchain:

path = "/path/to/local/toolchain"

Since a path directive directly names a local toolchain, other options like components, targets, and profile have no effect. channel and path are mutually exclusive, since a path already points to a specific toolchain. A relative path is resolved relative to the location of the rust-toolchain.toml file.

Default toolchain

If no other overrides are set, the global default toolchain will be used. This default can be chosen when rustup is installed. The rustup default command can be used to set and query the current default. Run rustup default without any arguments to print the current default. Specify a toolchain as an argument to change the default:

rustup default nightly-2020-07-27