The Cargo Vet Algorithm

The heart of vet is the "resolver" which takes in your build graph and your supply_chain dir, and determines whether vet check should pass.

If check fails, it tries to determine the reason for that failure (which as we'll see is a non-trivial question). If you request a suggest it will then try to suggest "good" audits that will definitely satisfy check (which is again non-trivial).

These results are a basic building block that most other commands will defer to:

  • vet check (the command run with bare vet) is just this operation
  • vet suggest is this operation with all suggestable exemptions deleted
  • vet certify fills in any unspecified information using this operation
  • vet regenerate generally uses this operation to know what to do

For the sake of clarity, this chapter will also include some discussion of "initialization" which gathers up the input state that the resolver needs.

Initialization Steps

This phase is generally just a bunch of loading, parsing, and validating. Different commands may vary slightly in how they do these steps, as they may implicitly be --locked or --frozen, or want to query hypothetical states.

  1. Acquire the build graph (cargo metadata via the cargo_metadata crate)
  2. Acquire the store (supply_chain) (load, parse, validate)
  3. Update the imports (fetch, parse, validate)
  4. Check audit-as-crates-io (check against local cargo registry)

Resolve Steps

These are the logical steps of the resolver, although they are more interleaved than this initial summary implies:

  1. Build data structures
    1. Construct the DepGraph
    2. Construct the CriteriaMapper
  2. Determine the required criteria for each package
    1. Apply requirements for dev-dependencies
    2. Propagate policy requirements from roots out to leaves
  3. Resolve the validated criteria for each third party ( package
    1. Construct the AuditGraphs for each package (and check violations)
    2. Search for paths in the audit graph validating each requirement
  4. Check if each crate validates for the required criteria
    1. Record caveats which were required in order to satisfy these criteria
  5. Suggest audits to fix leaf failures (the dance of a thousand diffs)

Here in all of its glory is the entirety of the resolver algorithm today in abbreviated pseudo-rust. Each of these steps will be elaborated on in the subsequent sections.

// Step 1a: Build the DepGraph
let graph = DepGraph::new(..);
// Step 1b: Build the CriteriaMapper
let mapper = CriteriaMapper::new(..);

// Step 2: Determine the required criteria for each package
let requirements = resolve_requirements(..);

// Step 3: Resolve the validated criteria for each third-party package
for package in &graph.nodes {
    if !package.is_third_party {

    // Step 3a: Construct the AuditGraph for each package
    let audit_graph = AuditGraph::build(..);
    // Step 3b: Search for paths in the audit graph validating each requirement
    let search_results =|criteria|, ..));

    // Step 4: Check if the crate validates for the required criteria
    for criteria in requirements[package] {
        match &search_results[criteria] {

// If there were any conflicts with violation entries, bail!
if !violations.is_empty() {
    return ResolveReport { conclusion: Conclusion::FailForViolationConflict(..), .. };

// If there were no failures, we're done!
if failures.is_empty() {
    return ResolveReport { conclusion: Conclusion::Success(..), .. };

// Step 5: Suggest time! Compute the simplest audits to fix the failures!
let suggest = compute_suggest(..);

return ResolveReport { conclusion: Conclusion::FailForVet(..), .. };

As we determine the required criteria in an separate pass, all analysis after that point can be performed in any order. Requirements analysis starts on root nodes and is propagated downwards to leaf nodes.

Step 1a: The DepGraph (Processing Cargo Metadata)

All of our analysis derives from the output of cargo metadata and our interpretation of that, so it's worth discussing how we use it, and what we believe to be true of its output.

Our interpretation of the metadata is the DepGraph. You can dump the DepGraph with cargo vet dump-graph. Most commands take a --filter-graph argument which will force us to discard certain parts of the DepGraph before performing the operation of the command. This can be useful for debugging issues, but we recommend only doing this while --locked to avoid corrupting your store.

By default we run cargo metadata --locked --all-features. If you pass --locked to vet, we will instead pass --frozen to cargo metadata. --all-features can be negated by passing --no-all-features to vet. We otherwise expose the usual feature flags of cargo directly.

The reason we pass --all-features is because we want the "maximal" build graph, which all "real" builds are simply a subset of. Cargo metadata in general provides this, but will omit optional dependencies that are locked behind disabled features. By enabling them all, we should get every possible dependency for every possible feature and platform.

By validating that the maximal build graph is vetted, all possible builds should in turn be vetted, because they are simply subsets of that graph.

Cargo metadata produces the build graph in a kind of awkward way where some information for the packages is in "packages" and some information is in "resolve", and we need to manually compute lots of facts like "roots", "only for tests", and "topological sort" (metadata has a notion of roots, but it's not what you think, and mostly reflects an internal concept of cargo that isn't useful to us).

If we knew about it at the time we might have used guppy to handle interpretting cargo metadata's results. As it stands, we've hand-rolled all that stuff.

Cargo metadata largely uses PackageIds as primary keys for identifying a package in your build, and we largely agree with that internally, but some human-facing interfaces like audits also treat (PackageName, Version) as a valid key. This is a true statement on itself, but may not hold when you include unpublished packages, patches/renames(?), or third party registries. We don't really have a solid disambiguation strategy at the moment, we just assume it doesn't happen and don't worry about it.

The resolver primarily use a PackageIdx as a primary key for packages, which is an interned PackageId. The DepGraph holds this interner.

Dealing With Cycles From Tests

The resolver assumes the maximal graph is a DAG, which is an almost true statement that we can make true with a minor desugaring of the graph. There is only one situation where the cargo build graph is not a DAG: the tests for a crate. This can happen very easily, and is kind of natural, but also very evil when you first learn about it.

As a concrete example, there is kind of a conceptual cycle between serde and serde_derive. However serde_derive is a standalone crate, and serde (optionally) pulls in serde_derive as a dependency... unless you're testing serde_derive, and then serde_derive quite reasonably depends on serde to test its output, creating a cyclic dependency on itself!

The way to resolve this monstrosity is to realize that the tests for serde_derive are actually a different package from serde_derive, which we call serde_derive_dev (because cargo calls test edges "dev dependencies"). So although the graph reported by cargo_metadata looks like a cycle:

serde <-----+
  |         |
  |         |
  +--> serde_derive

In actuality, serde_derive_dev breaks the cycle and creates a nice clean DAG:

  +--serde_derive_dev ---+
  |          |           |
  v          |           v
serde        |     test_only_dep
  |          |           |
  |          v          ...
  +--> serde_derive

There is a subtle distinction to be made here for packages only used for tests: these wouldn't be part of the build graph without dev-dependencies (dev edges) but they are still "real" nodes, and all of their dependencies are "real" and still must form a proper DAG. The only packages which can have cycle-causing dev-dependencies, and therefore require a desugaring to produce "fake" nodes, are workspace members. These are the packages that will be tested if you run cargo test --workspace.

Actually doing this desugaring is really messy, because a lot of things about the "real" node are still true about the "fake" node, and we generally want to talk about the "real" node and the "fake" node as if they were one thing. So we actually just analyze the build graph in two steps. To understand how this works, we need to first look at how DAGs are analyzed.

Any analysis on a DAG generally starts with a topological sort, which is just a fancy way of saying you do depth-first-search (DFS) on every root and only use a node only after you've searched all its children (this is the post-order, for graph people). Note that each iteration of DFS reuses the "visited" from the previous iterations, because we only want to visit each node once.

Also note that knowing the roots is simply an optimization, you can just run DFS on every node and you will get a valid topological order -- we run it for all the workspace members, which includes all of the roots, but none of the test-only packages, which will be useful for identifying test-only packages when we get to our desugaring. (You may have workspace members which in fact are only for testing, but as far as vet is concerned those are proper packages in their own right -- those packages are however good candidates for a safe-to-run policy override.)

The key property of a DAG is that if you visit every node in a topological order, then all the transitive dependencies of a node will be visited before it. You can use this fact to compute any property of a node which recursively depends on the properties of its dependencies. More plainly, you can just have a for-loop that computes the properties of each node, and blindly assume that any query about your dependencies will have its results already computed. Nice!

In our algorithm, however, we actually visit in reverse-topological order, so that we know all reverse-dependencies of a node will be visited before it. This is because criteria requirements are inherited by reverse-dependency, (or pushed out from a crate to its dependencies).

With that established, here is the actual approach we use to emulate the "fake" node desugaring:

  1. analyze the build graph without dev deps (edges), which is definitely a DAG
  2. add back the dev deps and reprocess all the nodes as if they were the "fake" node

The key insight to this approach is that the implicit dev nodes are all roots -- nothing depends on them. As a result, adding these nodes can't change which packages the "real" nodes depend on, and any analysis done on them is valid without the dev edges!

When doing the topological sort, because we only run DFS from workspace members, the result of this is that we will visit all the nodes that are part of a "real" build in the first pass, and then the test-only packages in the second pass. This makes computing "test only" packages a convenient side-effect of the topological sort. Hopefully it's clear to you that the resulting ordering functions as a topological sort as long as our recrusive analyses take the form of two loops as so:

for node in topological_sort:
for node in topological_sort:

The second loop is essentially handling all the "fake" dev nodes.

Note that when we run this in a reversed manner to ensure that reverse-dependencies have been checked before a crate is visited, we need to do the dev-dependency analysis first, as the dev-dependency "fake" nodes are effectively appended to the topological sort.

The DepGraph's Contents

The hardest task of the DepGraph is computing the topological sort of the packages as described in the previous section, but it also computes the following facts for each package (node):

  • PackageId (primary key)
  • Version
  • name
  • is_third_party (is_crates_io)
  • is_root
  • is_workspace_member
  • is_dev_only
  • normal_deps
  • build_deps
  • dev_deps
  • reverse_deps

Whether a package is third party is deferred to cargo_metadata's is_crates_io method but overrideable by audit-as-crates-io in config.toml. This completely changes how the resolver handles validating criteria for that package. Packages which aren't third party are referred to as "first party".

Roots are simply packages which have no reverse-deps, which matters because those will implicitly be required to pass the default root policy (safe-to-deploy) if no other policy is specified for them.

Workspace members must pass a dev-policy check, which is the only place where we query dev-dependencies (in the fabled "second pass" from the previous section).

Dev-only packages are only used in tests, and therefore will only by queried in dev-policy checks (and so by default only need to be safe-to-run).

Step 1b: The CriteriaMapper

The CriteriaMapper handles the process of converting between criteria names and CriteriaIndices. It's basically an interner, but made more complicated by the existence of builtins, imports, and "implies" relationships.

The resolver primarily operates on CriteriaSets, which are sets of CriteriaIndices. The purpose of this is to try to handle all the subtleties of criteria in one place to avoid bugs, and to make everything more efficient.

Most of the resolver's operations are things like "union these criteria sets" or "check if this criteria set is a superset of the required one".

There is currently an artificial maximum limit of 64 criteria for you and all your imports to make CriteriaSets efficient (they're just a u64 internally). The code is designed to allow this limit to be easily raised if anyone ever hits it (either with a u128 or a proper BitSet).

Imported criteria are pre-mapped onto local criteria while acquiring the store, by using a CriteriaMapper in the imported namespace to determine implied criteria, and then applying the mappings specified in the criteria-map to determine the corresponding local criteria. This avoids worrying about imported namespaces when running the actual resolver, and helps avoid potential issues with large numbers of criteria.

The biggest complexity of this process is handling "implies". This makes a criteria like safe-to-deploy actually safe-to-deploy AND safe-to-run in most situations. The CriteriaMapper will precompute the transitive closure of implies relationships for each criteria as a CriteriaSet. When mapping the name of a criteria to CriteriaIndices, this CriteriaSet is the thing returned.

When mapping a criteria set to a list of criteria names, we will elide implied criteria (so a ["safe-to-deploy", "safe-to-run"] will just be ["safe-to-deploy"]).

Computing The Transitive Closure of Criteria

The transitive closure of a criteria is the CriteriaSet that would result if you add the criteria itself, and every criteria that implies, and every criteria THEY imply, and so on. This resulting CriteriaSet is effectively the "true" value of a criteria.

We do this by constructing a directed "criteria graph" where an "implies" is an edge. The transitive closure for each criteria can then be computed by running depth-first-search (DFS) on that node, and adding every reachable node to the CriteriaSet.

That's it!

Being able to precompute the transitive closure massively simplifies the resolver, as it means we never have to re-evaulate the implies relationships when unioning CriteriaSets, making potentially O(n3) operations into constant time ones, where n is the number of criteria (the criteria graph can have O(n2) criteria, and a criteria set can have O(n) criteria, and we might have to look at every edge of the graph for every criteria whenever we add one).

The existence of the transitive closure is however not a fundamental truth. It exists because we have artifically limited what import maps and implies is allowed to do. In particular, if you ever allowed an implies relationship that requires two different criteria to imply another, the transitive closure would not be a useful concept, and we'd be forced to re-check every implies rule whenever a criteria got added to a criteria set (which is happening constantly in the resolver).

See this issue for a detailed example demonstrating this problem.

Step 2: Determine the required criteria for each package

In general, every package requires that all dependencies satisfy the same criteria which were required for the original package. This is handled by starting at the root crates, and propagating the required CriteriaSet outwards towards the leaves. In some cases, the policy table will specify alternative criteria to place as a requirement on dependencies, which will be used instead of normal propagation.

In order to avoid the cyclic nature of dev-deps, these targets are handled first. As all dependencies of dev-dependencies are normal dependencies, we can rely on the normal non-cyclic requirement propagation after the first edge, so we only need to apply the requirements one-level deep in this first phase. By default, this requirement is safe-to-run, though it cna be customized through the policy.

Afterwards, we start at the root crate in the graph and work outwards, checking if we need to apply policy requirements, and then propagating requirements to dependencies. This results in every crate having a corresponding CritseriaSet of the criteria required for the audit.

Step 3a: The AuditGraph

The AuditGraph is the graph of all audits for a particular package name. The nodes of the graph are Versions and the edges are delta audits (e.g. 0.1.0 -> 0.2.0). Each edge has a list of criteria it claims to certify, and dependency criteria that the dependencies of this package must satisfy for the edge to be considered "valid" (see the next section for details).

There is an implicit Root Version which represents an empty package, meaning that throughout much of the audit graph, versions are represented as Option<Version>.

When trying to validate whether a particular version of a package is audited, we also add a Target Version to the graph (if it doesn't exist already).

Full audits are desugarred to delta audits from the Root Version (so an audit for 0.2.0 would be lowered to a delta audit from Root -> 0.2.0).

Exemptions are desugared to full audits (and therefore deltas) with a special DeltaEdgeOrigin indicating their origin. This is used to deprioritize the edges so that we can more easily detect exemptions that aren't needed anymore.

Imported audits are lowered in the exact same way as local criteria, but with special DeltaEdgeOrigin to indicate their origin, to allow us to deprioritize imported audits, and determine exactly which audits are needed.

A special DeltaEdgeOrigin is also used for imported wildcard criteria, indicating both which wildcard audit is responsible, as well as which publisher information is being used.

With all of this established. the problem of determining whether a package is audited for a given criteria can be reduced to determining if there exists a path from the Root Version to the Target Version along edges that certify that criteria. Suggesting an audit similarly becomes finding the "best" edge to add to make the Root and Target connected for the desired criteria.

Checking Violations

During AuditGraph construction violations are also checked. Violations have a VersionReq and a list of violated criteria. They claim that, for all versions covered by the VersionReq, you believe that the listed criteria are explicitly violated. An error is produced if any edge is added to the AuditGraph where either endpoint matches the VersionReq and any criteria it claims to be an audit for is listed by the violation.

This is an extremely complicated statement to parse, so let's look at some examples:

violation: safe-to-deploy, audit: safe-to-deploy -- ERROR!
violation: safe-to-deploy, audit: safe-to-run    -- OK!
violation: safe-to-run,    audit: safe-to-deploy -- ERROR!
violation: [a, b],         audit: [a, c]         -- ERROR!

One very notable implication of this is that a violation for ["safe-to-run", "safe-to-deploy"] is actually equivalent to ["safe-to-run"], not ["safe-to-deploy"]! This means that the normal way of handling things, turning the violation's criteria into one CriteriaSet and checking if audit.contains(violation) is incorrect!

We must instead do this check for each individual item in the violation:

fn main() {
let has_violation = violation.iter().any(|item| audit.contains(item));

It may seem a bit strange to produce an error if any audit is in any way contradicted by any violation. Is that necessary? Is that sufficient?

It's definitely sufficient: it's impossible to validate a version without having an audit edge with an end-point in that version.

I would argue that it's also necessary: the existence of any audit (or exemption) that is directly contradicted by a violation is essentially an integrity error on the claims that we are working with. Even if you don't even use the audit for anything anymore, people who are peering with you and importing your audits might be, so you should do something about those audits as soon as you find out they might be wrong!

There is currently no mechanism for mechanically dealing with such an integrity error, even if the audit or violation comes from a foreign import. Such a situation is serious enough that it merits direct discussion between humans. That said, if this becomes enough of a problem we may eventually add such a feature.

Step 3b: Searching for paths in the AuditGraph

A lot of the heavy lifting for this task is in Step 3a (AuditGraph).

Trying to validate all criteria at once is slightly brain-melty (because different criteria may be validated by different paths), so as a simplifying step we validate each criteria individually (so everything I'm about to describe happens in a for loop).

If all we care about is finding out if a package has some criteria, then all we need to do is run depth-first-search (DFS) from the Root Node and see if it reaches the Target Node, with the constraint that we'll only follow edges that are valid (based on the already validated criteria of our dependencies).

If it does, we've validated the criteria for the Target Version. If it doesn't, then we haven't.

But things are much more complicated because we want to provide more feedback about the state of the audits:

  • Did this validation require an exemption? (Is it fully audited?)
  • Did this validation even use any audits? (Is it at least partially audited?)
  • Did this validation need any new imports? (Should we update imports.lock?)
  • What nodes were reachable from the Root and reverse-reachable from the Target? (candidates for suggest)

This is accomplished by running the search off of a priority queue, rather than using a stack, such that we only try to use the "best" edges first, and can be certain that we don't try to use a "worse" edge until we've tried all of the paths using better edges.

The best edge of all is a local audit. If we can find a path using only those edges, then we're fully audited, we don't need any exemptions we might have for this package (a lot of caveats to this, so we don't really make that conclusion reliably), and the imports.lock doesn't need to be updated.

If we need to add back in exemptions to find a path, then the exemptions were necessary to validate this criteria.

If we need to add back in new imports to find a path, then we need to update imports.lock to cache necessary audits for --locked executions. (The fact that this comes after exemptions means we may be slightly imprecise about whether something is "fully audited" when updating imports, as subsequent runs won't get this far. We think this is worth the upside of minimizing imports.lock updates.)

If any of those succeed, then we return Ok(..), communicating both that the package validates this criteria, plus any caveats back to the caller.

Otherwise, we'll return Err(..), and consider the current node to blame. If this criteria is required, this package will require additional audits or exemptions to successfully vet.

In doing this, we also compute the nodes that are reachable from the Root Version and the nodes that are reverse-reachable from the Target Version. The latter is computed by following all edges backwards, which is to say in Step 3a the AuditGraph also contains another directed graph with the edges all reversed, and rerun the algorithm with Root and Target reversed.

This information is useful because in the Err case we want to suggest a diff to audit, and any diff from the Root Reachable nodes to the Target Reachable nodes is sufficient.

All search results are stored in the ResolveResult for a node along with validated criteria and other fun facts we found along the way. The contents of the ResolveResult will be used by our reverse-dependencies in steps 2 and 3.

It's worth noting here that delta audits can "go backwards" (i.e. 1.0.1 -> 1.0.0), and all of this code handles that perfectly fine without any special cases. It does make it possible for there to be cycles in the AuditGraph, but DFS doesn't care about cycles at all since you keep track of nodes you've visited to avoid revisits (slightly complicated by us iteratively introducing edges).

Step 4: Checking if each crate validates for the required criteria

This step is a fairly trivial combination of the results from Step 2 (computing requirements) and Step 3 (resolving validated criteria) - for each package, we check if the validated criteria is a superset of the requirements, and if it is then we're successful, otherwise we're not.

We'll record which criteria failed so we can suggest better audits in the errored case, and combine the caveats from successful runs in the success case to get a combined result for each crate, rather than for each individual criteria.

Step 5: Suggesting Audits (Death By A Thousand Diffs)

This step takes the failed packages from Step 4 and recommends audits that will fix them. In Step 3b we compute the Root Reachable Nodes and the Target Reachable Nodes for a disconnected package. In this phase we use those as candidates and try to find the best possible diff audit.

More specifically, we use the intersection of all the Root Reachable Nodes for every criteria this package failed (ditto for Target Reachable). By using the intersection, any diff we recommend from one set to the other is guaranteed to cover all required criteria, allowing us to suggest a single diff to fix everything. Since the Root and Target are always in their respective sets, we are guaranteed that the intersections are non-empty.

So how do we pick the best diff? Well, we straight up download every version of the package that we have audits for and diff-stat all the combinations. Smallest diff wins! Does that sound horrible and slow? It is! That's why we have a secret global diff-stat cache on your system.

Also we don't literally diff every combination. We turn the O(n2) diffs into only O(n) diffs with a simple heuristic: for each Target Reachable Node, we find the package closest version smaller than that version and the closest version bigger than that version. We then diff that version against only those two versions. This may potentially miss some magical diff where a big change is made and then reverted, but this diffing stuff needs some amount of taming!

It's worth noting that Versions don't form a proper metric space: We cannot compute the "distance" between two Versions in the abstract, and then compare that to the "distance" between two other versions. Versions do however have a total ordering, so we can compute minimum and maximum versions, and say whether a version is bigger or smaller than another. As a result it's possible to compute "the largest version that's smaller than X" and "the smallest version that's larger than X", which is what we use. There is however no way to say whether the smaller-maximum or the bigger-minimum is closer to X, so we must try both.

It's also worth reiterating here that diffs can go backwards. If you're on 1.0.0 and have an audit for 1.0.1, we will happily recommend the reverse-diff from 1.0.1 -> 1.0.0. This is slightly brain melty at first but nothing really needs to specially handle this, it Just Works.

Any diff we recommend from the Root Version is "resugared" into recommending a full audit, (and is also computed by diffing against an empty directory). It is impossible to recommend a diff to the Root Version, because there cannot be audits of the Root Version.