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Rust Programming Language: Security, Efficiency Driving Growth

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The open source Rust programming language had a busy year in 2021 that portends significant adoption and growth in 2022.


Rust was originally created as a research effort of the Mozilla Foundation in 2010 to power the experimental Servo browser engine. Fast forward a decade and in 2021, the Rust Foundation was formed as a multi-stakeholder group to help advance the programming language as its use continues to grow. Rust is increasingly being used in the Linux kernel by large cloud providers including Amazon Web Services (AWS), in the visual effects industry and in cybersecurity.


The Rust Foundation has been busy growing its membership, which includes Google, AWS, Meta (Facebook), Microsoft, Arm, Huawei and Mozilla. And in November, it hired a new executive director: Rebecca Rumbul, who most recently served as director of research and engagement at mySociety.


“The whole point of the foundation is to shepherd the language, [and] provide resources, support and direction for the project,” Rumbul told ITPro Today. “All you have to do is look at our membership to see that a lot of different companies are seeing the benefits of using Rust and investing in supporting its growth.”


Rust Improves Efficiency, Security for Applications and Development


There are a number of reasons why the Rust programming language is growing in popularity and deployment, among the main ones being its strong memory safety. In any given year, memory-related vulnerabilities, including use-after-free, are found in all types of software, leading to potential exploitation.


“Rust combines the resource efficiency of C with the memory safety of a garbage collection language like Java, making it possible for developers to build sustainable and secure solutions,” Shane Miller, Rust Foundation’s chair and senior engineering manager at AWS, told ITPro Today.


Studies show that Rust also consumes less energy than other programming languages, such as Python (98% less), Java (50% less) and C++ (23% less), Miller said.


“As we incorporate sustainability into modern software design principles, I think the use cases Rust is right for will explode,” she said. “The really cool thing is that when you implement services in Rust for sustainability and security, you also get optimized performance and minimized resource requirements.”


Where Rust Programming Language Is Used Now


While Rust will eventually be everywhere, the developer experiences are still evolving in the Rust ecosystem today, according to Miller.


“The early adopters were largely systems programming engineers working on data planes, but we’re seeing more variety in adoption, like Discord’s transition from Go to Rust and Tenable’s metrics filter rewrite from JavaScript to Rust,” she said.


Google, an early adopter of the Rust programming language, is supporting efforts to get more Rust into the Linux operating system. It’s funding efforts to improve memory safety in Linux with new code that is written in Rust.


We feel that Rust is now ready to join C and C++ as a practical language for implementing not only an operating system kernel, but other systems code as well,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an email to ITPro Today. “It can help us reduce the number of potential bugs and security vulnerabilities in privileged code while playing nicely with other components and preserving performance characteristics.”


Looking beyond operating system software, the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF), which is a collaborative effort to build open source tools for the entertainment industry, is now also building out Rust capabilities.


“Rust is an exciting new language that’s starting to gain traction in the wider software engineering industry,” Scott Wilson, chair of the ASWF Rust Working Group and pipeline technical director at Stellar Creative Lab, told ITPro Today. “It sparked interest in the visual effects and animation industry because of its potential to make our software development more stable, easily maintainable and higher-performing, while also being cheaper.”


The ASWF formed the Rust Working Group in 2021 to establish a framework for developing Rust bindings that can automatically communicate with widely used visual effects libraries built on C++. The visual effects industry already has a large variety of battle-tested C++ libraries, Wilson said. As such, rather than starting from scratch, the goal is to expose those libraries to Rust so developers can take advantage of Rust’s unique features while still building on production-proven foundations.


“Rust’s modern language constructs make multithreaded software more reliable, and its modules and build system make it easier to share libraries and algorithms,” he said. “Rust is great everywhere you would normally use C++, and to some extent Python – so basically everything from core libraries, to plugins, to renderers, to pipeline tools, to microservices.


“For users, that means tools that are faster and crash much less often,” Wilson added.


With the support of the Rust Foundation and the growing number of users, Rust will continue to develop for years to come. For Rust Foundation Chair Miller, she sees the biggest potential impact on Rust adoption in the short term in developer and operator Rust-first tooling.


“New projects for mature performance profiling, debugging­ and logging are where Rust is about to make improvements that will have the biggest user impact,” she said.

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