Rust in 2023

Published on 24-Dec-2022


TLDR: A lot of focus falls on technical features at the moment for these "Rust in 2023" blog posts. This post talks about the community side. First, the post discusses some of the challenges that occur when onboarding new Rustaceans. Then, I recap how far the Rust community has come by the end of 2022.

After the call from Nick Cameron to write posts about Rust in 2023, I feel like I am in the position to add something to this discussion. The three posts I saw: Nick's (+ Clarification/Correction), lncr's and Yoshua's. All seemingly focused more on technical features and less on ecosystem and onboarding newcomers. This will focus more of these aspects. First, I will focus a bit of my experience with people learning Rust, their roadblocks and some of the domains I believe deserve better guides, crates and community channels.

Onboarding new Rustaceans

One major problem when addressing newcomers to Rust is they all have different backgrounds and learning needs. Very generally speaking, we can categorize new Rust users into two categories:

  • People coming from other languages
  • People learning Rust as their first language

Of course, we can then start categorizing even more and look at people coming from C versus JavaScript or people coming from a math background versus people coming from an engineering background. I will overgeneralize here and ignore these subcategories.

These two categories of people require vastly different documentation and learning resources. The first group may need to get used to the borrow checker and translate their programming knowledge from other languages. The second group may need to learn part of the computer science university curriculum at the same time as learning Rust syntax. The need for incorporating computer science knowledge into these guides will become more pressing as more people start learning Rust as their first language. I do not have all the answers when it comes to these problems. One concept I learned a few years ago called Semantic Waves should definitely help with some of these changes. Also adding TLDR (Too Long Didn't Read) above sections of the Rust documentation may help readers skip parts they already know or get a good quick summary of a section after reading.

Other problems exist that are not necessarily related to this division. In personal circles, I have experienced several system programmers learning Rust that told me they find specific parts of the documentation to be a pain-points. Some pain-points I commonly heard included the module system, third-party crate documentation, and Rust specific guides. Let us go through all of these and explain what I hope these things to become.

Module System

When going from a simple one-file Hello World to a multi-file crate, we usually define modules. This is done with the mod keyword. Several programmers have told me they find this confusing at first. A couple of years ago, when I started my Rust journey, I remember being confused for sometime about the module system as well. When coming from other languages such as C and just needing quickly integrate some Rust code, mod can feel quite foreign. It is essentially a combination of a C include and a C++ namespace.

For the people wanting to learn the ins and outs of the language, this is something you will get used to and the Rust-By-Example Book has a good explanation. But for the people more quickly integrating with Rust, this blog post is the best resource I have found. The problem is that searching for "rust include file" does not produce any clear and to the point blog posts. The problem here is not that there are no resources; the problem is that the resources do not appear under the terms people are looking for. This is a more general problem. I have seen one of my colleagues use the include! macro instead of the module system. I feel like this can be quite explicitly mentioned and adjusted.

Third-party crates

Rust as a language has really good tooling to deal with crate distribution and documentation. For the most downloaded crates on I would say that this is being used quite effectively. We all know how much impact good documentation has on how usable different crates are. Perfect examples are most of David Tolnay's crates. These crates are superb to use, mostly because their API and documentation are well done.

For some of the less downloaded (but not less fundamental crates), I would say that there are definitely some weak points. Personally, I would love to see more examples and better documentation of limitations. As for the examples, the rustdoc example scrapingthat is being tested may help. Although, the feature is not a replacement for curated examples and more of a "better than having nothing" approach. The documentation of weak points include a Panics section in the documentation, but maybe also an Assumptions or Design Choices section.

An Assumptions section shows that the maker is aware of the limitations and specifically the usage-target. It should state the assumptions and the consequences if those assumptions are not met. For example, "this method assumes that the compilation target is Linux otherwise it will not compile". This can both be in the README but also for individual functions or methods.

A Design Choices section allows users to quickly figure out if a crate fits their use-case. It should state what balance the crate has struck. Is it perfectly optimized for speed? Is it audited for security? Does it use a lot of dependencies? How much customization is there? Especially at the lower system programming levels, these values starts to matter.

These are all things, I am working on myself as well. There are other sections I also think might be interesting, but this would all deserve a separate blog post. One last thing to mention about third-party crates is APIs. We have the Rust API Guidelines book which I think is an awesome resource that sees too little use. Admittedly, I forget it exists something too.

Rust specific guides

Currently, many of the domain specific HOWTOs are written to rely on different languages. This makes Rust a less attractive first choice when it comes to these domains. Even when Rust may be fully capable of thriving in these domains.

One big example is dealing with the low-level operation system projects. Ambitious young programmers, may search how to create a driver and get many different C based guides. This is understandable. C is the most common languages for drivers and has historically been used. However, training a new generation of programmers with Rust from the get-go could create a wave of more secure software. For certain parts, we may need better crates to interface with low-level APIs. For other parts we just need various good HOWTOs.

There is a similar situation for networking and embedded Rust, which are now starting to have reasonably established ecosystems, but they could benefit from various specific HOWTOs and documentation with less reliance on historical knowledge or familiarity with other programming languages (usually this involves C).

There are of course also GUI, web and game programming. Here, I personally feel like Rust has a way to go and is not able yet to on the same playing field replace the traditional workflows. The exception being the WebAssembly, web server and tooling ecosystems. In these areas many big strides are being made, however. Iced for the Cosmic Desktop Environment, the explorations of Vello, Dioxus and Bevy are some of the projects I am keeping my eyes on.

Rust Community

As part of this Rust in 2023 post, I would also like to review a bit of how far Rust has come and how many awesome resources there are now. Researching for this post, I came across many more that I did not know beforehand. There are of course many more good resources, but I just want to highlight some of my favorites and the ones I found most useful. If you want more extensive uncurated lists, you should check out Awesome Rust Resources as it has a really good list of many of the learning resources.

As a beginner, I read the Rust Book. I still believe this is probably the best general resource for learning Rust as a beginner. However, it may not be the best for people whose first programming language is Rust. I have also gone through Rustlings and used Rust-by-Example as a reference from time to time. I believe all of these combined serve as a very good start into the Rust language similar to what the C Programming Language book by Brain W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie did for the C world.

The resources when going from beginner to intermediate are a bit more less centralized. This is logical since this is usually where people start looking into using Rust for their specific domain. Some of the general resources that are amazing are the Rust for Rustaceans Book and Crust of Rust Youtube Playlist. Both are done by Jon Gjengset, who I would like to specially thank for all of these amazing resources.

From here, we get into some of the more domain specific community resources. When learning to work with unsafe Rust, the Rustonomicon is a must. I would love for it to talk a bit about Safety comments as well, but this is something I may look into contributing myself. The Rust Embedded Book also fills in some gaps.

We have Phil's Blog-OS, which serves as a good resource to learn operating systems development in Rust. As well as all the work being done by Asahi Linux and specifically Asahi Lina on the Linux Apple M1 GPU drivers. The blog posts were extremely amazing to read. Now, with Rust slowly and experimentally being included in the Linux kernel, we may see a lot of new development and HOWTOs on working with Linux kernel modules and drivers. And although, I have not interacted much which the BSD world, it seems like12 there is some work being done there as well.

Macros are another common stumbling block. The Little Book of Rust Macros and the new addition of Macrokata are good resources and reference documents. They can add on to the previously mentioned books and the videos of Jon Gjengset to get a better overview of how Rust macros work.

As for graphics programming, I feel like the WGPU and the corresponding learning resource are game changers. The learning resource is a perfect example of teaching computer science with Rust without relying too much on knowledge of other programming languages.

Moving away from some of the learning resources, the success of WebAssembly with Rust and the WASM runtimes such as the Bytecode Alliance's wasmtime and the alternative wasmer are astounding. Rust seems to be the standard WASM source language, nowadays.

Lastly, there are some great channels to keep up with the Rust community and changes to the language. There is of course always the Rust Language Blog. The subreddit and discord channels are also great channels to have discussions. There is something special about having the authors of some of your favorite crates discuss something you have made (special shout-out to BurntSushi). For OS development, we have the This Week in Rust OS-Dev. More generally, we have This Week in Rust and hopefully soon the newly announced Rust Magazine. Then, on Youtube, you can follow some of the language news with Let's Get Rusty

Overall I feel like the Rust community has gotten a long way and there are many amazing resources, projects and communication channels to help everyone. Thank you to everyone involved.

Closing thoughts

Apart from using Rust in my work, I will try to focus on writing more HOWTOs for specific Rust topics this year. There are also some low-level operating system APIs I would love to create a better interface for. I would say Rust itself is in a healthy spot. There are certainly technical problems I would like to see resolved and community resources I would like to see improved, but we have gotten a long way already. I would like to wish everyone a wonderful New Year and a Rusty 2023.