Guide to Building a Syncable Rust Component

This is a guide to creating a new Syncable Rust Component like many of the components in this repo. If you are looking for information how to build (ie,compile, etc) the existing components, you are looking for our build documentation


It's great that you want to build a Rust Component - this guide should help get you started. It documents some nomenclature, best-practices and other tips and tricks to get you started.

This document is just for general guidance - every component will be different and we are still learning how to make these components. Please update this document with these learnings.

To repeat with emphasis - please consider this a living document.

General design and structure of the component

We think components should be structured as described here.

We build libraries, not frameworks

Think of building a "library", not a "framework" - the application should be in control and calling functions exposed by your component, not providing functions for your component to call.

The "store" is the "entry-point"

[Note that some of the older components use the term "store" differently; we should rename them! In Places, it's called an "API"; in Logins an "engine". See webext-storage for a more recent component that uses the term "Store" as we think it should be used.]

The "Store" is the entry-point for the consuming application - it provides the core functionality exposed by the component and manages your databases and other singletons. The responsibilities of the "Store" will include things like creating the DB if it doesn't exist, doing schema upgrades etc.

The functionality exposed by the "Store" will depend on the complexity of the API being exposed. For example, for webext-storage, where there are only a handful of simple public functions, it just directly exposes all the functionality of the component. However, for Places, which has a much more complex API, the (logical) Store instead supplies "Connection" instances which expose the actual functionality.

Using sqlite

We prefer sqlite instead of (say) JSON files or RKV.

Always put sqlite into WAL mode, then have exactly 1 writer connection and as many reader connections you need - which will depend on your use-case - for example, webext_storage has 1 reader, while places has many.

(Note that places has 2 writers (one for sync, one for the api), but we believe this was a mistake and should have been able to make things work better with exactly 1 shared between sync and the api)

We typically have a "DB" abstraction which manages the database itself - the logic for handling schema upgrades etc and enforcing the "only 1 writer" rule is done by this.

However, this is just a convenience - the DB abstractions aren't really passed around - we just pass raw connections (or transactions) around. For example, if there's a utility function that reads from the DB, it will just have a Rusqlite connection passed. (Again, older components don't really do this well, but webext-storage does)

We try and leverage rust to ensure transactions are enforced at the correct boundaries - for example, functions which write data but which must be done as part of a transaction will accept a Rusqlite Transaction reference as the param, whereas something that only reads the Db will accept a Rusqlite Connection - note that because Transaction supports Deref<Target = Connection>, you can pass a &Transaction wherever a &Connection is needed - but not vice-versa.


You are likely to have a table just for key/value metadata, and this table will be used by sync (and possibly other parts of the component) to track the sync IDs, lastModified timestamps etc.

Schema management

The schemas are stored in the tree in .sql files and pulled into the source at build time via include_str!. Depending on the complexity of your component, there may be a need for different Connections to have different Sql (for example, it may be that only your 'write' connection requires the sql to define triggers or temp tables, so these might be in their own file.)

Because requirements evolve, there will be a need to support schema upgrades. This is done by way of sqlite's PRAGMA user_version - which can be thought of as simple metadata for the database itself. In short, immediately after opening the database for the first time, we check this version and if it's less than expected we perform the schema upgrades necessary, then re-write the version to the new version.

This is easier to read than explain, so read the upgrade() function in the Places schema code

You will need to be a big careful here because schema upgrades are going to block the calling application immediately after they upgrade to a new version, so if your schema change requires a table scan of a massive table, you are going to have a bad time. Apart from that though, you are largely free to do whatever sqlite lets you do!

Note that most of our components have very similar schema and database management code - these are screaming out to be refactored so common logic can be shared. Please be brave and have a go at this!


We tend to like triggers for encompasing application logic - for example, if updating one row means a row in a different table should be updated based on that data, we'd tend to prefer an, eg, AFTER UPDATE trigger than having our code manually implement the logic.

However, you should take care here, because functionality based on triggers is difficult to debug (eg, logging in a trigger is difficult) and the functionality can be difficult to locate (eg, users unfamiliar with the component may wonder why they can't find certain functionity in the rust code and may not consider looking in the sqlite triggers)

You should also be careful when creating triggers on persistent main tables. For example, bumping the change counter isn't a good use for a trigger, because it'll run for all changes on the table—including those made by Sync. This means Sync will end up tracking its own changes, and getting into infinite syncing loops. Triggers on temporary tables, or ones that are used for bookkeeping where the caller doesn't matter, like bumping the foreign reference count for a URL, are generally okay.

General structure of the rust code

We prefer flatter module hierarchies where possible. For example, in Places we ended up with sync_history and sync_bookmarks sub-modules rather than a sync submodule itself with history and bookmarks.

Note that the raw connections are never exposed to consumers - for example, they will tend to be stored as private fields in, eg, a Mutex.


The traits you need to implement to sync aren't directly covered here.

All meta-data related to sync must be stored in the same database as the data itself - often in a meta table.

All logic for knowing which records need to be sync must be part of the application logic, and will often be implemented using triggers. It's quite common for components to use a "change counter" strategy, which can be summarized as:

  • Every table which defines the "top level" items being synced will have a column called something like 'sync_change_counter' - the app will probably track this counter manually instead of using a trigger, because sync itself will need different behavior when it updates the records.

  • At sync time, items with a non-zero change counter are candidates for syncing.

  • As the sync starts, for each item, the current value of the change counter is remembered. At the end of the sync, the counter is decremented by this value. Thus, items which were changed between the time the sync started and completed will be left with a non-zero change counter at the end of the sync.

Syncing FAQs

This section is stolen from this document

What’s the global sync ID and the collection sync ID?

Both guids, both used to identify when the data in the server has changed radically underneath us (eg, when looking at lastModified is no longer a sane thing to do.)

The "global sync ID" changing means that every collection needs to be assumed as having changed radically, whereas just the "collection sync ID" changing means just that one collection.

These global IDs are most likely to change on a node reassignment (which should be rare now with durable storage), a password reset, etc. An example of when the collection ID will change is a "bookmarks restore" - handling an old version of a database re-appearing is why we store these IDs in the database itself.

What’s get_sync_assoc, why is it important? What is StoreSyncAssociation?

They are all used to track the guids above. It’s vitally important we know when these guids change.

StoreSyncAssociation is a simple enum which reflects the state a sync engine can be in - either Disconnected (ie, we have no idea what the GUIDs are) or Connected where we know what we think the IDs are (but the server may or may not match with this)

These GUIDs will typically be stored in the DB in the metadata table.

what is apply_incoming versus sync_finished

apply_incoming is where any records incoming from the server (ie, possibly all records on the server if this is a first-sync, records with a timestamp later than our last sync otherwise) are processed.

sync_finished is where we've done all the sync work other than uploading new changes to the server.

What's the diff between reset and wipe?

  • Reset means “I don’t know what’s on the server - I need to reconcile everything there with everything I have”. IOW, a “first sync”
  • Wipe means literally “wipe all server data”

Exposing to consumers

You will need an FFI or some other way of exposing stuff to your consumers.

We use a tool called UniFFI to automatically generate FFI bindings from the Rust code.

If UniFFI doesn't work for you, then you'll need to hand-write the FFI layer. Here are some earlier blog posts on the topic which might be helpful:

The above are likely to be superseded by uniffi docs, but for now, good luck!