Rust marks five years since its 1.0 release: The long and winding road actually works

Programming language ready to leave the wilderness for mass adulation


The Rust programming language celebrated its fifth birthday on Friday and says the future looks bright.

Long beloved by those who care about such things – since its 1.0 release in 2015, Rust has been voted the "Most Loved" programming language four years running in Stack Overflow's annual developer survey – the language has attracted enough fans to be considered for projects that might otherwise have used C/C++, Go, or Java.

Microsoft, for example, discussed its exploration of Rust in July 2019, motivated by the company's desire to move its developers toward memory-safe programming.

"If only the developers could have all the memory security guarantees of languages like .NET C# combined with all the efficiencies of C++," said Gavin Thomas, principal security engineering manager for the Microsoft Security Response Center in a blog post last year.

"Maybe we can: One of the most promising newer systems programming languages that satisfy those requirements is the Rust programming language originally invented by Mozilla."

Four months later, Adam Burch, software engineer on Microsoft's Hyper-V team, was posting about expanding the use of Rust within Microsoft.

Yet Rust isn't yet widely known among developers. That's because it's so young. A survey last year by developer tool maker JetBrains found that 97 per cent of respondents had been using Rust for less than a year.

A sketch of the Rust programming language logo

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In February, when Google published its programming language policy for its nascent Fuchsia operating system and mostly endorsed the use of Rust, it noted that "Rust is not a widely used language" and "none of our current end-developers use Rust."

Such objections look like they will be short-lived. According to GitHub's latest State of the Octoverse report, Rust was the second-fastest growing programming language in 2019 (+245 per cent). Dart, which Google uses in Fuchsia and its cross-platform Flutter framework, had the highest growth rate (+532 per cent).

The result is that Rust is showing up in a growing number of projects, such as Deno among many others.

"Today, it is being used by hundreds of tech companies with some of the largest tech companies such as Apple, Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft choosing to use Rust for its performance, reliability, and productivity in their projects," the Rust core team said in a blog post on Friday.

In March, Dropbox software engineer Sujay Jayakar celebrated the company's use of Rust in a file sync engine rewrite called Nucleus. "Rust has been a force multiplier for our team, and betting on Rust was one of the best decisions we made," he wrote. "More than performance, its ergonomics and focus on correctness has helped us tame sync’s complexity."

Beyond technical advantages like memory safety, part of what makes Rust appealing is that it's not strongly associated with a technology company known for putting its own interests first.

Languages like Dart, Java, Swift, Go, and C# can be difficult to separate from their corporate patrons, at least in terms of the way they're perceived.

Rust was developed by Mozilla, an organization that still engenders trust for the most part. Like JavaScript and Python, it's very much community-driven.

That's something developers notice. As one observed in response to the fifth anniversary announcement in the Rust-lang.org forum, "My favorite improvement is not related to the language: the welcoming community. The community is growing but manages to keep the welcoming tone. This is not [an] easy task when the audience gets broader and broader and deserves some heads up!" ®

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