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Different ways of reading files in Rust

dandyvica profile image Alain Viguier ・3 min read

This time, I'd like to share my experience on the different ways to read files in Rust. Different methods can be used, each one having its own drawbacks.

Reading ASCII files

Basically, there're 3 ways of reading ASCII files in Rust, and an additional possibly more harmful.

1.loading the entire file in a String.

This is done using the std::fs::read_to_string() method. If you're familiar with Python or Ruby, this method is as convenient as Python's read() function or Ruby's File.read() methods. Combined with the power of generics, you can easily build a vector of structs, matching the data type in a file:

// Loads an entire file of ip addresses as a Vector of Result<Ipv4Addr> structs
fn read_all<T: FromStr>(file_name: &str) -> Vec<Result<T, <T as FromStr>::Err>> {
        .expect("file not found!")
        .map(|x| x.parse())

let addr = read_all::<Ipv4Addr>("ipv4.txt");

2.using the lines() iterator.

This is another easy method for reading a file line by line, using the lines() iterator. This iterator operates on a BufReader created from a File object. So a BufReader structure needs to be created for this to be used.

This example function calls a closure on each line:

// Calls *func()* on each line
fn read_iter(file_name: &str, func: fn(&str)) {
    let file = File::open(file_name).expect("file not found!");
    let reader = BufReader::new(file);

    for line in reader.lines() {

This method is useful for small files but not really appropriate for very large files because each iteration incurs a String::new() allocation.

3.using the read_line() function.

The read_line() function can make use of the same String buffer, without reallocating on each iteration. But due to the way Rust iterators work, we can't build a standard iterator here. We have to use a mere loop construct, and stop it when the read_line() function returns Ok(0), which means EOF:

// Reuse the same String buffer
fn read_line(file_name: &str, func: fn(&str)) -> Result<(), std::io::Error> {
    // open target file
    let file = File::open(&file_name)?;

    // uses a reader buffer
    let mut reader = BufReader::new(file);
    let mut line = String::new();

    loop {
        match reader.read_line(&mut line) {
            Ok(bytes_read) => {
                // EOF: save last file address to restart from this address for next run
                if bytes_read == 0 {


                // do not accumulate data
            Err(err) => {
                return Err(err);


Don't forget to clear the buffer after you've got the data, otherwise buffer will grow unexpectedly.

One can also use the split() iterator, which incurs the same drawback than lines(): it allocates a
Vec<u8> on each iteration.

// Reuse the same Vec<u8> buffer
fn read_split(file_name: &str, func: fn(&[u8])) -> Result<(), std::io::Error> {
    // open target file
    let file = File::open(&file_name)?;

    // uses a reader buffer
    let reader = BufReader::new(file);

    // use a for loop construct
    for line in reader.split(0x10) {

4.use mmap()api

For an explantion of this system call, have a look to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mmap.
As it's not included in the standard Rust library, you can use the memmap crate:

// Maps the file to memory
fn read_mmap(file_name: &str) -> Result<(), std::io::Error> {
    // open target file
    let file = File::open(&file_name)?;

    // create a memmap struct. After that, mmap variable maps directly file contents
    let mmap = unsafe { Mmap::map(&file)? };

    // use from_utf8() to convert to an UTF8 Rust string
    for s in mmap.split(|x| *x == 0x10) {
        println!("{:?}", std::str::from_utf8(&s).unwrap());


Beware this is not a foolproof process, as if the file is changed, you can could get a SIGBUS error.

Reading binary files

Reading a binary file is not really different from an ASCII file. But you should be aware of any endianess issues, and use the byteorder crate, although not really related to the Rust read methods per se.

This is an example of a PNG file header reading, to get image width & height:

// Read PNG file image width and height
fn read_png(file_name: &str) -> Result<(), std::io::Error> {
    const BUFFER_SIZE: usize = 256;

    // open target file
    let mut file = File::open(&file_name)?;

    // we'll use this buffer to get data
    let mut buffer = [0; BUFFER_SIZE];

    // reader PNG header of 8 bytes
    let _ = file.by_ref().take(8).read(&mut buffer)?;
    assert_eq!(&buffer[1..4], "PNG".as_bytes());

    // read IHDR chunk
    let chunk_size = file.read_u32::<BigEndian>().unwrap();
    let _ = file.by_ref().take(4).read(&mut buffer)?;
    assert_eq!(&buffer[0..4], "IHDR".as_bytes());

    let image_width = file.read_u32::<BigEndian>().unwrap();
    let image_height = file.read_u32::<BigEndian>().unwrap();
    println!("image is W={} x H={}", image_width, image_height);


Hope this helps !

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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Alain Viguier


Senior software engineer & sysadmin, technical architect, Linux expert. Always willing to learn new stuff.


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