5 Reasons to Use Rust in Embedded Systems

While it’s possible to write software in any programming language, there are circumstances where some languages are better suited than others. Rust is extremely relevant for real-time embedded systems because of its great support for concurrency and type safety. 

As the embedded systems market is expected to reach $116.2 billion by 2025, it is crucial to have an understanding of what language is preferable to use if you decide to build your own embedded system.

In this article, we’ll explore five solid reasons why you should consider using Rust in your next embedded project. But for now, let’s start with the fundamentals.

What is an embedded system?

An embedded system is a microcontroller or microprocessor-based computer system that is used to perform specific operations or tasks. It can also be called a computer hardware system that does have software on top of it.

Embedded systems are applied in a broad array of technologies in various industries: automobiles, mobile phones, industrial machines, medical equipment, and much more. The word "embedded" means that the computing elements are not exposed to the user, but rather they are built into a product or machine. So, they are hidden from view and they are physically located within the construction of the final product itself.

The challenges that embedded software has are mostly memory-related. As Rust language is compiler-oriented, you can be sure that you are using memory safely during compilation. Moreover, Rust is a language that can solve many other issues associated with the security and performance of embedded systems. So, let’s explore Rust in general and for embedded solutions in particular.

5 Reasons to Use Rust in Embedded Systems

What is Rust programming language?

Rust is a new and popular programming language that is ideal for the development of embedded systems. This language is security-oriented, runs blazingly fast, guarantees thread safety, and prevents segfaults (segmentation faults) - common conditions that cause programs to crash. Rust combines the performance and low-level control of C and C++ with memory safety (no crashes, no data races) and ease of use of modern languages like Ruby and Python.

You might ask “why is Rust becoming popular?” The answer is pretty obvious. Rust provides such features as high performance due to high memory utilization, reliability as errors can be eliminated during compilation, and productivity. All of these make Rust apt for embedded systems. And talking about Rust use cases here, several organizations in the embedded space are already using this language. Find out more about Rust use cases in the article about Rust market overview.

The following five reasons showcase in even more detail why Rust is a great choice as an embedded systems programming language.

Reasons to use Rust for embedded system

Rust can be used to write embedded system applications that are fast and easy to maintain. It has many features such as memory safety, concurrency, and portability. Here are the top five reasons why you should get started with Rust on embedded systems:

  1. Statically typed and strongly typed language. Statically typed means that all types are known at compile-time; strongly typed conveys that there are limitations on conversions between types. Both characteristics provide successful compilation. It means you have a guarantee of correctness, which in turn, implies generating the best machine code with full control over memory usage. 

  2. Memory-safe language. An important feature of Rust is that in most cases it's better than other programming languages at using memory safety. In Rust, you can use a global allocator and a dynamic data structure to avoid segmentation errors or core dump issues. This is possible because Rust has no garbage collection.

    Such a secure memory-safe language as Rust avoids problems that lead to bugs and security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. Rust will detect and tell a developer if an overflow occurs, instead of silently letting it happen.

  3. Interoperability. Interoperability is Rust’s killer feature. One of the core principles behind Rust is enabling the kind of interoperability that makes systems safer and more trustworthy.

    Rust can be interfaced or integrated into existing C or C++ codebases. For this purpose, there are two dedicated modules in the stdlib (Rust standard library) called std::ffi and std::os::raw. The abovementioned integration is possible because the memory layout between Rust and C/C++ is similar enough or the same.

  4. Concurrency. Rust's ownership and type systems are a robust set of instruments that help control memory safety and concurrency issues. The use of ownership and type checking makes it possible for many concurrency errors to be compile-time errors in Rust rather than run-time errors. Thus, instead of making you spend a lot of time reproducing the exact conditions under which a runtime concurrency error happens, the incorrect code will decline to compile and produce an error explaining the problem. This way, you can improve your code while working on it, not after it's been deployed to production. 

  5. Portability. Whilst the main focus of Rust on the web is to use it in safe, concurrent, server-side programming, its portability characteristics are what make it so useful for embedded systems. Portability is one of the biggest advantages that Rust has to offer. You do not have to sacrifice platform portability in order to get a highly performant system.

Write once and use Rust code in different systems because it allows cross-compiling, builds the binary in one architecture, and can be used in several architectures. This way you can add and improve support for Rust microcontrollers and microprocessors.

One last bonus of why you should use Rust, but no less significant: Rust is supported by a large community that is ready to help you at any time. The growing community is a big advantage because it’s also the place where it might be simple to hire Rust developers if needed. 

In summary, using Rust for embedded system development can give you all of the power of Rust without having to sacrifice flexibility or stability. But regardless of the language used for embedded software, what matters is that it’s the right one for the project—and that consideration should always come first.