If you work in the tech industry or follow a lot of technical blogs, you’re bound to have come across Golang and Rust. Both of these new-age languages have caught the attention of many new and veteran developers. In recent times, Golang and Rust have gained a massive following due to their unique abilities and use cases.
Engineers at Google were frustrated with the complexity of their ever-growing software systems and as software grew so did its complexity. Due to this exponential complexity and frustration with it, the team at Google created Golang.
Golang was made with simplicity and concurrency in mind. In many ways, it is similar to the C language. Golang inherited several aspects of programming languages from the C language such as syntax, data types, control flow, pointers and, the list goes on.
Rust started out as a personal project by a Mozilla employee which was eventually sponsored by the company itself in 2010. The Rust programming language was created keeping one mantra in mind, “control is everything”.
With the advent of Rust, tricky and often pitfall-prone tasks such as low-level memory management and data representation became more reliable. Rust enables the developers to control all aspects of the program they write if they wish to control it. This unique feature of Rust sets it aside from its peers where this kind of control is usually managed by the ecosystem itself.
Let’s take a deep dive into each differentiating aspect of these languages
- Syntax and style
Both Golang and Rust are both modern languages with a rich set of syntax features. Neither Golang nor Rust is fully object-oriented like Java or C# although they do offer some features that can make it look like object-oriented programming. Similarly, neither language is a procedural language but they can mimic some features that can seem like functional programming.
At their heart, they are both pragmatic languages that allow developers to take on problems from many aspects and solve them practically through any means necessary.
- Use case
Golang is widely used for modern distributed systems that make use of the concurrency features as these systems need to handle several concurrent requests. The Go programming language also shines when it comes to making networking tools like network proxies and load balancers. In fact, many such tools online are written using Golang. Many cloud-native products such as Docker and Kubernetes are also written using Golang.
Meanwhile, Rust is widely known for its granular control and memory management making it the ideal choice for systems programming and game development. Many blockchain projects use Rust due to its performance, security features, and low-level control over system resources. Rust is also a popular choice for writing WebAssembly (Wasm) modules that can run in web browsers, allowing high-performance web applications.
- Complexity of code
While Golang champions itself as a simpler language, Rust excels in being an expressive language. If you were to look at code written in both languages, you would be of the opinion that Golang seems more readable and simple while Rust is unnecessarily complex. And while that is true, it dismisses the creators’ philosophy of expressiveness upon which Rust is built.
Golang prides itself on a simple and new syntax style that is easier to read and understand while Rust consists of more C-style syntax. While some veteran developers may feel more comfortable with C-style syntax, it is definitely not for everyone.
For instance, take a look at both the code pieces below:
You’ll instantly notice the familiar C-style code used in Rust as compared to Golang which employs a simpler syntax for the same logic.
- Memory management
Memory safety is an important feature of a programming language as security vulnerabilities can arise due to the unsafe memory usage. When memory is not deallocated or freed up or if there is a leak, there can be dire circumstances.
Since both Golang and Rust are modern programming languages, they ensure memory safety. While they ensure memory safety, the way they achieve this is different from each other.
Golang employs a garbage collector that runs at a steady interval. Memory allotment is not directly or explicitly allowed to the developer. Memory gets allocated and freed up as soon as the memory is no longer in use. You might have seen the same kind of mechanism in other languages such as C# and Java. This is due to the core philosophy of Golang which is to provide simplicity.
As mentioned before, Rust guarantees fine-grain but managed control over the program. Rust allows developers to allot memory explicitly and directly. This is because Rust, at its core, is all about control. This is a unique feature in Rust that keeps track of who is allowed to use memory and when the memory is no longer needed and should be freed. Rust ensures memory safety at compile-time by checking if the memory which is allotted is eventually freed up. The drawback here is that compilation takes more as compared to Golang.
While this may seem like the same mechanism since Golang also eventually clears up memory, it is not. Having a scheduled garbage collector service brings in latency spikes that can otherwise be managed better by manually freeing up memory.
- Error handling
Rust is particularly popular for ensuring safety. It employs a system of ownership, borrowing, and lifetimes to prevent common programming errors, such as null pointer dereferences and data races. The ownership system enforces strict rules about how data is accessed and shared, ensuring that memory is managed correctly without sacrificing performance.
When any function written in Rust can potentially return an error, it is encapsulated in the form of a “Result”. The “Result” is a wrapper that can contain the actual return value that was expected or an error. Developers are encouraged to handle errors gracefully by using the match keyword or the ? operator for concise error propagation.
Golang takes a simpler and intuitive approach to error handling. Functions often return multiple values, with the second value being an error. Developers are encouraged to check and handle errors explicitly.
Consider these code samples:
- Concurrency and parallelism
Concurrency is an important aspect in modern programming languages. As processors have strengthened and their cores multiplied, the need for concurrency has also increased. Concurrency allows programs to execute multiple tasks concurrently and efficiently utilise multi-core processors. Go and Rust offer distinct approaches to handling concurrency, reflecting their design philosophies and intended use cases.
Golang was built with concurrency in mind. Golang is quite popular among the developer fraternity for its easy concurrency models and mechanism. Instead of relying on operating system threads like Java or C#Golang makes use of a lightweight goroutine.
These lightweight threads that can be created with minimal overhead, making it easy to spawn thousands of them within a single program. Goroutines are managed by the Go runtime, which handles tasks like scheduling and resource management. A goroutine can simply be a Go function that is handed to the Go runtime environment which makes use of the many underlying OS threads under its roster.
A unique feature of Golang is channels which allows for communication and synchronisation between different goroutines. Sharing data between goroutines is simple and straight-forward when using channels. Sharing data in other languages is complex and can lead to restricted access exceptions.
Concurrency in Rust is a relatively new feature that is still in the process of stabilising and becoming robust. With Rust, you have a more explicit approach to concurrency with the use of its ownership system. Internally, Rust uses threads to provide parallelism similar to what other languages offer. However, the diverging factor here is that Rust enforces a strict set of rules to prevent any race conditions and unsafe memory usage.
Unlike Golang, there is no concept of channels as Rust was not built with concurrency in mind. The language philosophies differ here as Golang was made to be straightforward when it came to concurrency while Rust’s concurrency features were an afterthought. Rust’s ownership system ensures that data shared between threads is either immutable or protected by locks and synchronisation primitives. The std::sync module provides tools like Mutex and Arc for safe concurrent access to shared data.
Consider these code samples:
It is important to note that both Golang and Rust are compiled languages which means they convert high level code directly to machine-readable code.
Rust outshines Golang when it comes to execution speed. Rust’s performance is comparable to that of C/C++ which are extremely performant languages. Given Rust’s memory safety and concurrency features, it is widely referred to as the modern C or C++. Many large organisations have started working with Rust or have started to port some parts of their software to Rust.
Golang programs are still blazingly fast when compared to other programming languages such as Python or Java where an interpreter or virtual machine comes into play. It is important to keep in mind that Golang’s drawback is more of a tradeoff. Golang was created keeping simplicity in mind and it provides just that. You’ll find Go code to be more readable and debuggable while Rust code to be faster but less readable.
|Concurrency is out-of-the-box and light-weight.
|Offers memory safety when using threads
|Garbage collector pattern
|Explicit but managed control over memory
|Straight-forward and simple
|More control but slower development time
|Very fast; almost as performant as C/C++
|Syntax and style
|Easy and intuitive
|Familiar but dated
Golang and Rust are both modern programming languages built with different philosophies and core beliefs in mind. While Golang offers a better developer experience over all, Rust offers better and fine-tuned performance. What really matters is the use-case as one will outshine the other in a particular use case over the other.
If you’re looking for a straight-forward experience when developing software, you should opt for Golang. On the other hand, if you’re particular about performance and memory management, Rust is the language for you.