Rustdoc overview

rustdoc lives in-tree with the compiler and standard library. This chapter is about how it works. For information about Rustdoc's features and how to use them, see the Rustdoc book. For more details about how rustdoc works, see the "Rustdoc internals" chapter.

rustdoc uses rustc internals (and, of course, the standard library), so you will have to build the compiler and std once before you can build rustdoc.

Rustdoc is implemented entirely within the crate librustdoc. It runs the compiler up to the point where we have an internal representation of a crate (HIR) and the ability to run some queries about the types of items. HIR and queries are discussed in the linked chapters.

librustdoc performs two major steps after that to render a set of documentation:

  • "Clean" the AST into a form that's more suited to creating documentation (and slightly more resistant to churn in the compiler).
  • Use this cleaned AST to render a crate's documentation, one page at a time.

Naturally, there's more than just this, and those descriptions simplify out lots of details, but that's the high-level overview.

(Side note: librustdoc is a library crate! The rustdoc binary is created using the project in src/tools/rustdoc. Note that literally all that does is call the main() that's in this crate's, though.)

Cheat sheet

  • Run ./x setup tools before getting started. This will configure x with nice settings for developing rustdoc and other tools, including downloading a copy of rustc rather than building it.
  • Use ./x check src/tools/rustdoc to quickly check for compile errors.
  • Use ./x build to make a usable rustdoc you can run on other projects.
    • Add library/test to be able to use rustdoc --test.
    • Run rustup toolchain link stage2 build/host/stage2 to add a custom toolchain called stage2 to your rustup environment. After running that, cargo +stage2 doc in any directory will build with your locally-compiled rustdoc.
  • Use ./x doc library to use this rustdoc to generate the standard library docs.
    • The completed docs will be available in build/host/doc (under core, alloc, and std).
    • If you want to copy those docs to a webserver, copy all of build/host/doc, since that's where the CSS, JS, fonts, and landing page are.
  • Use ./x test tests/rustdoc* to run the tests using a stage1 rustdoc.

Code structure

  • All paths in this section are relative to src/librustdoc in the rust-lang/rust repository.
  • Most of the HTML printing code is in html/ and html/render/ It's in a bunch of fmt::Display implementations and supplementary functions.
  • The types that got Display impls above are defined in clean/, right next to the custom Clean trait used to process them out of the rustc HIR.
  • The bits specific to using rustdoc as a test harness are in
  • The Markdown renderer is loaded up in html/, including functions for extracting doctests from a given block of Markdown.
  • The tests on the structure of rustdoc HTML output are located in tests/rustdoc, where they're handled by the test runner of rustbuild and the supplementary script src/etc/


  • All paths in this section are relative to tests in the rust-lang/rust repository.
  • Tests on search index generation are located in rustdoc-js, as a series of JavaScript files that encode queries on the standard library search index and expected results.
  • Tests on the "UI" of rustdoc (the terminal output it produces when run) are in rustdoc-ui
  • Tests on the "GUI" of rustdoc (the HTML, JS, and CSS as rendered in a browser) are in rustdoc-gui. These use a NodeJS tool called browser-UI-test that uses puppeteer to run tests in a headless browser and check rendering and interactivity.


We try to make rustdoc work reasonably well with JavaScript disabled, and when browsing local files. We support these browsers.

Supporting local files (file:/// URLs) brings some surprising restrictions. Certain browser features that require secure origins, like localStorage and Service Workers, don't work reliably. We can still use such features but we should make sure pages are still usable without them.

Multiple runs, same output directory

Rustdoc can be run multiple times for varying inputs, with its output set to the same directory. That's how cargo produces documentation for dependencies of the current crate. It can also be done manually if a user wants a big documentation bundle with all of the docs they care about.

HTML is generated independently for each crate, but there is some cross-crate information that we update as we add crates to the output directory:

  • crates<SUFFIX>.js holds a list of all crates in the output directory.
  • search-index<SUFFIX>.js holds a list of all searchable items.
  • For each trait, there is a file under implementors/.../trait.TraitName.js containing a list of implementors of that trait. The implementors may be in different crates than the trait, and the JS file is updated as we discover new ones.

Use cases

There are a few major use cases for rustdoc that you should keep in mind when working on it:

Standard library docs

These are published at as part of the Rust release process. Stable releases are also uploaded to specific versioned URLs like Beta and nightly docs are published to and The docs are uploaded with the promote-release tool and served from S3 with CloudFront.

The standard library docs contain five crates: alloc, core, proc_macro, std, and test.

When crates are published to, automatically builds and publishes their documentation, for instance at It always builds with the current nightly rustdoc, so any changes you land in rustdoc are "insta-stable" in that they will have an immediate public effect on Old documentation is not rebuilt, so you will see some variation in UI when browsing old releases in Crate authors can request rebuilds, which will be run with the latest rustdoc. performs some transformations on rustdoc's output in order to save storage and display a navigation bar at the top. In particular, certain static files, like main.js and rustdoc.css, may be shared across multiple invocations of the same version of rustdoc. Others, like crates.js and sidebar-items.js, are different for different invocations. Still others, like fonts, will never change. These categories are distinguished using the SharedResource enum in src/librustdoc/html/render/

Documentation on is always generated for a single crate at a time, so the search and sidebar functionality don't include dependencies of the current crate.

Locally generated docs

Crate authors can run cargo doc --open in crates they have checked out locally to see the docs. This is useful to check that the docs they are writing are useful and display correctly. It can also be useful for people to view documentation on crates they aren't authors of, but want to use. In both cases, people may use --document-private-items Cargo flag to see private methods, fields, and so on, which are normally not displayed.

By default cargo doc will generate documentation for a crate and all of its dependencies. That can result in a very large documentation bundle, with a large (and slow) search corpus. The Cargo flag --no-deps inhibits that behavior and generates docs for just the crate.

Self-hosted project docs

Some projects like to host their own documentation. For example: This is easy to do by locally generating docs, and simply copying them to a web server. Rustdoc's HTML output can be extensively customized by flags. Users can add a theme, set the default theme, and inject arbitrary HTML. See rustdoc --help for details.