MIO for Rust

What is mio?

mio, or "metal IO" is a fast, low-level IO library.

Goals and Requirements

  • Fast
  • Zero allocations
  • A scalable readiness-based API, similar to epoll on Linux
  • Designed for stack-allocated buffers when possible
  • Can multiplex all operations on the minimal number of threads
  • A maximal subset of all operations can work in a single-threaded application
  • Interoperability with the Rust Standard Library
  • Works on all platforms supported by Rust*

When we say "fast", we mean that our goal is to avoid regressing on the performance capabilities of the low-level platform, even while providing an abstraction.

Among other things, this means providing a readiness-based API, which can be used to build high-performance proxies on the highest performing platforms. It also means avoiding allocations that would not be necessary when working with the low-level platform capabilities.

*mio plans to support Windows, but does not yet. The current abstractions are designed with an eye towards Windows support.

The mio library is intended to be interoperable with the Rust standard library. It should always be able to run together with libstd.

Currently, not all of the standard Rust IO provides lowering operations (from File to Fd for instance), so it may not always be possible today to construct a high-level IO using libstd and register it with the mio event loop.

The Rust core team is actively working on exposing across-the-board lowering operations for Rust 1.0, and generally exposing the low-level IO underpinnings of the standard library, which should further improve interoperability with mio.

The mio API

From a high-level, mio provides a way to register interest in certain events, and a way to wait until an event has occurred.

use mio::{EventLoop, io, buf};

fn main() {
    start().assert("The event loop could not be started");

fn start() -> MioResult<EventLoop> {
    // Create a new event loop. This can fail if the underlying OS cannot
    // provide a selector.
    let event_loop = try!(EventLoop::new());

    // Create a two-way pipe.
    let (mut reader, mut writer) = try!(io::pipe());

    // the second parameter here is a 64-bit, copyable value that will be sent
    // to the Handler when there is activity on `reader`
    try!(event_loop.register(&reader, 1u64));

    // kick things off by writing to the writer side of the pipe


struct MyHandler;

impl Handler for MyHandler {
    fn readable(&mut self, _loop: &mut EventLoop, token: u64) {
        println!("The pipe is readable: {}", token);

One thing you should notice right away is that the API is pretty low-level. It uses a 64-bit token to communicate with the handler, and does not use a separate Handler (or a closure) for each callback.

This is intentional. The mio API is designed to allow such APIs to be built on top, but to offer a simple, fast primitive that is agnostic to the specifics of higher-level APIs.

We expect other libraries, including ones written by the authors of mio, to provide higher-level, more opinionated APIs on top of this abstraction. If carefully written, higher-level libraries will likely be able to maintain very good performance with better ergonomics, thanks to Rust's philosophy of zero-cost abstractions.

With mio, our goal is to start with a high-performance, low-level API that is a minimal, portable shim on top of platform capabilities.

By keeping the core primitive small and aiming for a modular ecosystem of high-level abstractions, we hope to avoid the all-too-common fragmentation that occurs when ergonomic considerations compete with the requirements of performance-critical applications. Instead, we hope that both kinds of applications can share a common implementation of the protocol layer.

What Does mio Provide?

The base mio layer will provide APIs needed to register interest in kernel-level operations. In general, this means that mio provides all of the facilities provided by modern epoll, implemented efficiently and portably.

You can register interest in all of the following, blocking only a single thread when waiting for any combination of these:

  • There is readable data on a file descriptor
  • A file descriptor is ready for writing
  • A general-purpose message is available
  • A registered timer has expired
  • A Unix signal has occurred

On modern Linux, Darwin or BSD, only a single thread is necessary to wait for any combination of these events. On older Linux (without signalfd or eventfd) mio will use an additional background thread to wait for signals.

What about Windows?

The approach we plan to take for Windows is to emulate the Unix readiness API using a pre-allocated slab of memory, and to use IOCP (GetQueuedCompletionStatusEx and PostQueuedCompletionStatus) for multiplexing. This will allow for an allocation-free, stack-allocated-buffer approach on Windows, which should get reasonable performance.

Most importantly, it allows mio to expose the low-level readiness API available on Linux in a portable fashion. This should allow mio to be used for a very broad class of applications, even when maximum performance is a requirement.

This is in contrast to the two approaches normally taken by portable abstractions:

  • One approach, taken by libuv, is to provide an abstraction over the completion model provided by Windows. This provides reasonable performance in most cases, but is not suitable for applications that require maximum performance, like high-performance, low-memory proxies. This is a reasonable approach, but it does not meet our performance goals, nor our goal of allowing stack-allocated buffers in performance-critical cases.
  • Another approach, taken by libev, is to provide an abstraction over the readiness model on Linux, and to use older APIs, like select, on Windows. This approach is fundamentally un-scalable on Windows, and is indeed what triggered the creation of libuv in the first place.

Our goal is to provide an API that is maximally efficient on Unix, and still very high performance on Windows, by using Windows' high-performance IOCP API to emulate the Unix API in user-space.

Further Work and Proposals

We understand that many people will not want to use the low-level primitives provided by mio directly. We have designed mio to serve as a low-level primitive for higher-level abstractions that people can build outside of the core mio repository, and we intend to experiment with such APIs ourselves.

To be more specific, the scope of the core mio library is restricted to providing facilities that are available in the modern Linux kernel, but in a portable and efficient fashion. This is why it includes facilities like high-performance timers (like timerfd), a message queue (like eventfd) and signal support (like signalfd).

If you wish to propose changes to the API, we ask that you consider whether the API proposal you have in mind:

  • could be implemented as a higher level of abstraction that depends on mio. If you discover that you cannot implement a higher-level API on top of mio efficiently, we want to know. Proposals that help people build higher-level APIs more efficiently are highly desired at this point, and it may be harder to change mio later.
  • satisfies all of the goals listed at the beginning of this document. For example, an API that requires allocations, or that introduces Rc into the core, do not meet the zero-allocation requirement.

If you have a proposal for an improvement, please feel free to open up an issue with a design proposal, or a scenario you are having trouble using mio for.