How cargo-mutants works

The basic approach is:

  • Build a list of mutations:

    • Run cargo metadata to find directories containing Rust source files.
    • Walk all source files and parse each one looking for functions.
    • Skip functions that should not be mutated for any of several reasons: because they're tests, because they have a #[mutants::skip] attribute, etc.
    • For each function, depending on its return type, generate every mutation pattern that produces a result of that type.
  • Make a copy of the source tree into a scratch directory, excluding version-control directories like .git and the /target directory. The same directory is reused across all the mutations to benefit from incremental builds.

    • After copying the tree, cargo-mutants scans the top-level Cargo.toml and any .cargo/config.toml for relative dependencies. If there are any, the paths are rewritten to be absolute, so that they still work when cargo is run in the scratch directory.
    • Before applying any mutations, check that cargo test succeeds in the scratch directory: perhaps a test is already broken, or perhaps the tree doesn't build when copied because it relies on relative paths to find dependencies, etc.
    • If running more than one parallel job, make the appropriate number of additional scratch directories.
  • For each mutation:

    • Apply the mutation to the scratch tree by patching the affected file.
    • Run cargo build: if this fails, the mutant is unviable, and that's ok.
    • Run cargo test in the tree, saving output to a log file.
    • If the the tests fail, that's good: the mutation was somehow caught.
    • If the tests succeed, that might mean test coverage was inadequate, or it might mean we accidentally generated a no-op mutation.
    • Revert the mutation to return the tree to its clean state.

The file is parsed using the syn crate, but mutations are applied textually, rather than to the token stream, so that unmutated code retains its prior formatting, comments, line numbers, etc. This makes it possible to show a text diff of the mutation and should make it easier to understand any error messages from the build of the mutated code.

For more details, see