Learning Rust 02: an ls clone

08 July 2018

I’m learning Rust, and documenting the process. These posts are my notes - they’re not guaranteed to be useful, interesting or correct!

In this post, I’m building an ls clone. It’s pretty similar to the last post’s pwd clone. It’s called rls.


use std::env;
use std::fs;
use std::process;

fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();
    if args.len() != 2 {
    let directory = &args[1];
    let paths = fs::read_dir(directory).unwrap();
    for path in paths {
        let path_buf = path.unwrap().path();
        let file_name = path_buf.file_name().unwrap();
        println!("{}", file_name.to_string_lossy())

fn usage() {
    eprintln!("usage: rls <dir>");

Fetching arguments

We can get the arguments passed to rls with the env::args function, which returns an iterator. We can convert the iterator to a vector, Rust’s ‘contiguous growable array type’. I think vectors are the Rust equivalent to Go’s slices, or Python’s lists. We assign this vector to a new variable, args.

Input validation

We require that an argument is passed to rls, the directory whose contents we want to list. If this argument isn’t supplied, we call usage, which prints a help message to stderr and exits with a non-zero code, indicating an error.

Fetching a directory’s contents

The standard library function fs::read_dir returns an iterator of Result<ReadDir>, where ReadDir is an iterator of io::Result<DirEntry>s.

Printing the directories

We iterate over the ReadDir, unwrap each path, and pull the actual file name out. Printing path_buf would print the file path relative to the pwd - ls only prints file names. We print the file names with the println! macro.

Error handling

Functions which interact with the file system are error-prone. That’s why lots of the values we get back from the file system functions are wrapped in Results. To use the success values, we need to handle the error case. We’re currently doing this using unwrap, which panics if there’s an error. This is both verbose and bad UX - we probably don’t want to display a full Rust error message to our users.

It looks like there are a couple of ways of improving this - I’ll be doing some reading about it here.