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Rust Flakes

Published: 2022-04-24Updated: 2022-05-05

An overview and a quick-start guide on getting closer to bare metal. Early notes after a few days of intense practical learning.

It’s in the pipelines and underwater supports, formed into a coating over bare metal. It exists on a plane below JavaScript.

Rust, the programming language, is something I’ve dabbled in recent days out of personal fascination. In this text, I’ll illustrate some of the reasons it feels like a worthwhile long-term pursuit to me, and hopefully lower any barriers for others to try it out.

My motivation for learning Rust is making further inroads into computer science, getting a better understanding of hardware operations and systems programming. I’m also keen to gain the ability to manipulate microcontrollers and other embedded devices. Making lights blink!

The first part is an overview of the language as I understand it, followed by a guide on how to get started writing Rust.

If you want to skip the overview and get right to coding, that part is here.

Part One

Why Rust?

Languages providing low-level access, such as C, provide closer proximity to hardware than high-level languages, such as Python or JavaScript. You’ll decide how your variables are aligned in the computer’s memory.

This is an intimidating thought, and much of the fear is justified. Adverse outcomes such as buffer overflows, race conditions and memory leaks are a major source of software crashes and security vulnerabilities affecting people everywhere.

A developer can shield their code from such problems, to some extent, by using more modern languages and battle-tested open-source code libraries. It is, however, sometimes necessary for programmers to drop down a level, to make things work quicker, fit into a smaller space and use less energy.

Rust provides this close access to hardware with guardrails on memory safety.

In favor

Rust is a practitioner’s language, used by many large companies under extreme production loads, including AWS, Discord and Cloudflare.

It is particularly good for systems programming, creating databases, operating systems, software containers or device drivers.

It’s equally suitable for automating a greenhouse or making scientific computations. Or creating tiny virtual environments inside a data-center complex so that the payment and logistics for your takeaway taco delivery can be arranged faster.

It comes with a modern toolchain: built-in documentation and testing capabilities as well as a package manager allowing for easy reuse of battle-tested code.

It’s simple to share Rust programs with someone who doesn’t know the language — or any programming at all — by compiling the source code to an executable.

Rust isn’t as widely used as Java or C# or Python, but its trajectory is pointing upward in many indicative metrics, from Stack Overflow questions to Reddit activity. It is well liked among developers that have taken the time to learn it.

Tradeoffs and barriers

A-ha! There are tradeoffs, of course there are.

There’s the need to placate the compiler, which will complain and refuse to run your program if you’re trying to use a variable that’s owned by someone else. What?

Someone said it’s a language where you get the hangover first.

To use Rust, one needs to learn new concepts and syntax, such as ownership and borrowing, references and traits. The language is large, and there is no forgiveness for lazy programming.

It’s probably not as good for rapid prototyping as a dynamic language without a lengthy compilation step, such as Python or JavaScript.

On the other hand, the compiler is a dance partner, it will tell you every time you step on their toes or miss a cue. That will make you a better dancer.

Part Two

Get Rusty

This part is meant for developers keen to dip their toes in Rust. We’ll install Rust and run your first program, then look at what are the next steps.

First, let’s get rustup, an installer for the Rust language. The command could look like this in a bash/zsh terminal on Mac OS or Linux, the site will advise you of a way for your operating system:

curl --proto '=https' --tlsv1.2 -sSf | sh

After installation, once you’ve reloaded your PATH environment by either opening and closing the terminal window or sourcing the relevant file…

source $HOME/.cargo/env

You’ll notice you have access to a command called cargo, which refers to the package manager of the Rust ecosystem. It handles crates, or outside code libraries you can utilize. Let’s try it out by installing a package called cargo-edit you can use to make this experience very similar to using npm with yarn.

cargo install cargo-edit

Now let’s try making a new Rust project.

mkdir rust-first-steps
cd rust-first-steps
cargo new hello

You’ll find a new folder called hello, navigate there and inspect the contents.

├── Cargo.toml
└── src

If you’re familiar with modern web development, Cargo.toml is the same thing as package.json. You’ll find the dependencies of your project there, as well as some metadata.

Under the src directory, you’ll find the following.

fn main() {
    println!("Hello, world!");

Here’s the same thing in JavaScript.

function main() {
  console.log("Hello, world!");

In this comparison, function becomes fn, and console.log becomes println!. Another small difference you may spot in this example is that Rust uses single quotes for characters and double quotes for strings, whereas JavaScript doesn’t care.

Let’s try compiling and running this program.

cargo run

You should see something like this:

Compiling hello v0.1.0 (/Users/kasperworks/repos/rust-first-steps/hello)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 1.54s
     Running `target/debug/hello`
Hello, world!

After this step, you’ll find there’s an automatically generated Cargo.lock, which locks in the specific versions of libraries, just like yarn.lock or package-lock.json.

In target/debug/ there’s an executable called hello. Try running it.


You’re all set up! For your next steps, take a look at the authoritative manual and tutorial for Rust, which now resides right there in your computer, ready to access offline.

rustup doc

What next?

There’s a wealth of beginner-friendly resources to help get you on your way. My current learning experience involves reading these books in parallel to the one included as a part of the official documentation:

I find that being bombarded by the same idea from different angles helps me learn it. That includes understanding why it exists, where it came from and how to use it in practice. You may benefit from a similar broad focus, or a narrower one. Nevertheless I would recommend at least skimming all those books and seeing if there’s a particular hook for you.

There are also many videos on the topic, I found these two talks particularly interesting:

Niko Matsakis - Rust: Hack Without Fear!

James Munns - Getting Something for Nothing

Hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction! I’ll post some more Rust stuff as I learn, other topics in this space are likely to include serverless architecture and web development, along with some career musings.

Update log May 5, 2022: Some wording tweaks based on feedback.
CC BY-NC 4.0 Kasper Viita