What is Tokio?

Tokio allows developers to write asynchronous programs in the Rust programming language. Instead of synchronously waiting for long-running operations (like reading a file or waiting for a timer to complete) before moving on to the next thing, Tokio allows developers to write programs where execution continues while the long-running operations are in progress.

More specifically, Tokio is an event-driven, non-blocking I/O platform for writing asynchronous applications with Rust. At a high level, it provides a few major components:

These components provide the runtime components necessary for building an asynchronous application.


Tokio is built on the Rust programming language, which is itself very fast. Applications built with Tokio will get those same benefits. Tokio’s design is also geared towards enabling applications to be as fast as possible.

Zero-cost abstractions

Tokio is built around futures. Futures aren’t a new idea, but the way Tokio uses them is unique. Unlike futures from other languages, Tokio’s futures compile down to a state machine. There is no added overhead from synchronization, allocation, or other costs common with future implementations.

Note that providing zero-cost abstractions does not mean that Tokio itself has no cost. It means that using Tokio results in an end product with equivalent overhead to not using Tokio.


Out of the box, Tokio provides a multi-threaded, work-stealing, scheduler. So, when you start the Tokio runtime, you are already using all of your computer’s CPU cores.

Modern computers increase their performance by adding cores, so being able to utilize many cores is critical for writing fast applications.

Non-blocking I/O

When hitting the network, Tokio will use the most efficient system available to the operating system. On Linux this means epoll, bsd platforms provide kqueue, and Windows has I/O completion ports.

This allows multiplexing many sockets on a single thread and receiving operating system notifications in batches, thus reducing system calls. All this leads to less overhead for the application.


While Tokio cannot prevent all bugs, it is designed to minimize them. It does this by providing APIs that are hard to misuse. At the end of the day, you can ship applications to production with confidence.

Ownership and type system

Rust’s ownership model and type system enables implementing system level applications without the fear of memory unsafety. It prevents classic bugs such as accessing uninitialized memory and use after free. It does this without adding any run-time overhead.

Further, APIs are able to leverage the type system to provide hard to misuse APIs. For example, Mutex does not require the user to explicitly unlock.


In push based systems, when a producer produces data faster than the consumer can process, data will start backing up. Pending data is stored in memory. Unless the producer stops producing, the system will eventually run out of memory and crash. The ability for a consumer to inform the producer to slow down is backpressure.

Because Tokio uses a poll based model, the problem mostly just goes away. Producers are lazy by default. They will not produce any data unless the consumer asks them to. This is built into Tokio’s foundation.


Because of Tokio’s poll based model, computations do no work unless they are polled. Dependents of that computation hold a future representing the result of that computation. If the result is no longer needed, the future is dropped. At this point, the computation will no longer be polled and thus perform no more work.

Thanks to Rust’s ownership model, the computation is able to implement drop handles to detect the future being dropped. This allows it to perform any necessary cleanup work.


Tokio scales well without adding overhead to the application, allowing it to thrive in resource constrained environments.

No garbage collector

Because Tokio is built on Rust, the compiled executable includes minimal language run-time. The end product is similar to what C++ would produce. This means, no garbage collector, no virtual machine, no JIT compilation, and no stack manipulation. Write your server applications without fear of stop-the-world pauses.

It is possible to use Tokio without incurring any runtime allocations, making it a good fit for real-time use cases.


While Tokio provides a lot out of the box, it is all organized very modularly. Each component lives in a separate library. If needed, applications may opt to pick and choose the needed components and avoid pulling in the rest.

Tokio leverages mio for the system event queue and futures for defining tasks. Tokio implements async syntax to improve readability of futures. Many libraries are implemented using Tokio, including hyper and actix.

Get started with Tokio

If you like to read code first, complete examples can be found here, or keep reading for a step-by-step tutorial.

Next up: Hello world!