Building and Deploying a URL shortener with Rust in 10 minutes or less

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I was trying to get to sleep on a Wednesday night - I check my phone, it's 2:54 AM. A feeling of dread comes over me as I realise I'm not going to be able to get more than 5 hours of sleep - again.

I've been a software developer for close to 10 years now. How did it get to this?

My deployment broke production at 10pm (because I never learn) and I had to deal with our infrastructure coupled with acute stress for the next 3 hours. As I sat there contemplating my life choices, I had an idea. Can we do better?

I don't want to have to deal with Terraform and Kubernetes at midnight. I want to write scalable code and just get it deployed. I want my dependencies generated and managed for me. I want to be able to sleep at night.

It's 2023. Surely we can do better. As I stared blankly at my white ceiling, I decided to see if it was possible.

I suddenly sat up in bed. Can I create a useful app, with some sort of database state, a custom subdomain, focus only on my application code without needing to worry about infrastructure and get it done in 10 minutes or less? I'll write a URL shortener or something. I'll write in Rust. I'll write it tonight.


I got out of bed and turned on the lights in my office. I sat down on my ergonomic chair and power up a comically large curved monitor. Arch boots up. I quickly message a friend of mine on Signal to remind them that I use Arch. Now I'm ready to code. Let's build this thing.

The API is going to be simple. No reason for GUIs or anything like that - I am engineer, therefore I've convinced myself that UI's peaked with the 1970's teletype.

Life's short so I'm going to build an HTTP API. The simplest thing I can come up with.

You can shorten URLs like this:

curl -X POST -d ''

And you get redirected like this:

< HTTP/2 301

Yeah that'll work.

Next I'll need some sort of database to store the urls. I briefly considered using a bijective compression scheme without needing database state, but let's face it I'm not really sure what a bijection is and it's already 3:02 AM.

I'll just get a Postgres instance with a basic schema:



I'll add an index or something so that the database doesn't do a linear search on every request. No one is really going to use this - but I can already feel the judgement of anyone who happens to glance over my source code. I need to be able to explain to people that you can search for urls in constant time, implying I understand complexity theory.

Ok I'm ready. It's 3:05 AM. I have 10 minutes. I pick up my black vape and take a large hit. Smoke fills up the room and I can't see the screen any more. Whatever. I try to crack my fingers and neck for some dramatic flair, fail, and open a terminal.

Building the Barebones - 09:59 minutes remaining

I'm using shuttle for this project. It's a serverless platform built for Rust and I don't have to deal with provisioning databases, or subdomains or any of that gunk. I already have the CLI installed and an account so I simply:

mkdir -p ~/projects/url-shortener && cd ~/projects/url-shortener && cargo init --lib

Ok we have our cargo project. I stop and think for a little bit - which web framework do I want to use? I think I'm going to go with Rocket. It's pretty much production ready with a sweet API and I'm reasonably proficient with it.

I open up src/ and overwrite it with the shuttle entrypoint code:

extern crate rocket;

use rocket::{Build, Rocket};

fn hello() -> &'static str {
    "Hello, world!"

async fn init() -> Result<Rocket<Build>, shuttle_service::Error> {
    let rocket = rocket::build().mount("/", routes![hello]);


My IDE violently lights up with red syntax highlighting as I realise I haven't imported anything. The realities of software engineering hit me as I eye the bottle of whiskey next to me. 18 year old scotch. It turns out I'm grossly overpaid for the value I offer society. I grab a coffee mug and pour myself a small shot - liquid courage.

Next I import all of the dependencies to get shuttle to work with Rocket - pretty simple. I open up Cargo.toml add a couple of lines:

name = "url-shortener"
version = "0.1.0"
edition = "2021"

crate-type = ["cdylib"]

rocket = { version = "0.5.0-rc.4", features = ["json"] }
shuttle-service = { version = "0.2", features = ["sqlx-postgres", "web-rocket"] }

My IDE quietens down as dependencies are resolved and a wave of relief washes over me. Let's deploy this thing.

$ cargo shuttle deploy
   Packaging url-shortener v0.1.0 (/private/shuttle/examples/url-shortener)
   Archiving Cargo.toml
   Archiving Cargo.toml.orig
   Archiving src/
   Compiling tracing-attributes v0.1.27
   Compiling tokio-util v0.7.10
   Compiling multer v2.1.0
   Compiling hyper v0.14.27
   Compiling rocket_http v0.5.0-rc.4
   Compiling rocket_codegen v0.5.0-rc.4
   Compiling rocket v0.5.0-rc.4
   Compiling shuttle-rocket v0.32.0
   Compiling shuttle-rutnime v0.32.0
   Compiling url-shortener v0.1.0 (/opt/shuttle/crates/url-shortener)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 1m 01s

        Project:            url-shortener
        Deployment Id:      3d08ac34-ad63-41c1-836b-99afdc90af9f
        Deployment Status:  DEPLOYED
        Created At:         2022-04-13 03:07:34.412602556 UTC

Ok... this seemed a little too easy, let's see if it works.

$ curl -X
Hello, world!

Hm, not bad. I pour myself another shot...

Adding Postgres - 07:03 minutes remaining

This is the part of my journey where I usually get a little flustered. I've set up databases before but it's always a pain. You need to provision a VM, make sure storage isn't ephemeral, install and spin up the database, create an account with the correct privileges and secure password, store the password in some sort of secrets manager in CI, add your IP address and your VM's IP address to the list of acceptable hosts etc etc etc. Oof that sounds like a lot of work.

shuttle does a lot of this stuff for you - I just didn't remember how. I quickly head over to the shuttle / sqlx section in the docs. I added the sqlx dependency to Cargo.toml and change one line in

async fn rocket(pool: PgPool) -> Result<Rocket<Build>, shuttle_service::Error> {

By adding a parameter to the main rocket function, shuttle will automatically provision a Postgres database for you, create an account and hand you back an authenticated connection pool which is usable from your application code.

Let's deploy it and see what happens:

$ cargo shuttle deploy
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 19.50s

        Project:            url-shortener
        Deployment Id:      538e41cf-44a9-4158-94f1-3760b42619a3
        Deployment Status:  DEPLOYED
        Created At:         2022-04-13 03:08:30.412602556 UTC
        Database URI:       postgres://***:***

I have a database! I couldn't help but chuckle a little bit. So far so good.

Setting up the Schema - 06:30 minutes remaining

The database provisioned by shuttle is completely empty - I'm going to need to either connect to Postgres and create the schema myself, or write some sort of code to automatically perform the migration. As I start to ponder this seemingly existential question I decide not to overthink it. I'm just going to go with whatever is easiest.

I connect to the database provisioned by shuttle using pgAdmin using the provided database URI and run the following script:


As I was ready to Google 'how to create index postgres' I realised that since the id used for the url lookup is a primary key, which is implicitly a 'unique' constraint, Postgres would create the index for me. Cool.

Writing the Endpoints - 05:17 remaining

The app's going to need two endpoints - one to shorten URLs and one to retrieve URLs and redirect the user.

I quickly created two stubs for the endpoints while I thought about the actual implementation:

async fn redirect(id: String, pool: &State<PgPool>) -> Result<Redirect, Status> {

#[post("/", data = "<url>")]
async fn shorten(url: String, pool: &State<PgPool>) -> Result<String, Status> {

I decided to start with the shorten method. The simplest implementation I could think of is to generate a unique id on the fly using the nanoid crate and then running an INSERT statement. Hm - what about duplicates? I decided not to overthink it 🤷.

#[post("/", data = "<url>")]
async fn shorten(url: String, pool: &State<PgPool>) -> Result<String, Status> {
    let id = &nanoid::nanoid!(6);
    let p_url = Url::parse(&url).map_err(|_| Status::UnprocessableEntity)?;
    sqlx::query("INSERT INTO urls(id, url) VALUES ($1, $2)")
        .map_err(|_| Status::InternalServerError)?;

Next I implemented the redirect method in a similar spirit. At this point I started to panic as it was really getting close to the 10 minute mark. I'll do a SELECT * and pull the first url that matches with the query id. If the id does not exist, you get back a 404:

async fn redirect(id: String, pool: &State<PgPool>) -> Result<Redirect, Status> {
    let url: (String,) = sqlx::query_as("SELECT url FROM urls WHERE id = $1")
        .map_err(|e| match e {
            Error::RowNotFound => Status::NotFound,
            _ => Status::InternalServerError

Whoops there's a typo in the SQL query.

After I fixed my typo and sorted out the various unresolved dependencies by letting my IDE do the heavy lifting for me, I deployed to shuttle for the last time.

Moment of truth - 00:25 minutes remaining

Feeling like an off-brand Tom Cruise in mission impossible I stared intently at the clock counting down as shuttle deployed my url-shortener. 19.3 seconds and we're live. As soon as the DEPLOYED dialog came up, I instantly tested it out:

$ curl -X POST -d ""⏎

I then copy/pasted the shortened URL to my browser and, lo an behold, was redirected to Google.

I did it.

Retrospective - 00:00 minutes remaining

With a sigh of relief I pushed myself back from my desk. I refilled my mug, picked it up and headed to my derelict balcony. As I slid open the the windows and the cold air flowed into my apartment, I took two steps forward to rest my elbows and mug on the railing.

I sat there for a while reflecting on what had just happened. I had succeeded. I'd successfully built a somewhat trivial app quickly without needing to worry about provisioning databases or networking or any of that jazz.

But how would this measure up in the real world? Real software engineering is complex, involving collaboration across different teams with different skill-sets. The entire world of software is barely keeping it together. Is it really feasible to replace our existing, tried and tested cloud paradigms with a new paradigm of not having to deal with infrastructure at all? What I knew for sure is I wasn't going to get to the bottom of this one tonight.

As I went back to my bedroom and laid once more in bed, I noticed I was grinning. There's a chance we really can do better. Maybe we're not exactly there yet, but my experience tonight had given me a certain optimism that we aren't as far as I once thought. With the promise of a brighter tomorrow, I turned on my side and fell asleep.

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