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Rust vs. Go: A microservices-based language face-off

Rust and Go both offer language features geared toward microservices-based development, but their relative capabilities make them a better fit for some scenarios than others.

When it comes to microservices development, programmers rely on fast execution, support for concurrency, service reliability and sophisticated error handling capabilities to create applications that satisfy business goals. These features enable teams to develop complex web applications and microservices.

Rust and Go offer clear code structures and high-level programming features. Programmers have gravitated toward these two languages because of their reputations as reliable, open source alternatives to proprietary, general-purpose programming languages, such as C and C++.

Let's examine the features available in each language, efficiencies in terms of app and microservices development, and potential drawbacks that could frustrate some developers.

Strengths of Go

Go, sometimes referred to as Golang, is a statically typed, compiled programming language that focuses on fast execution, concise code and syntax readability. Go is commonly used to create command-line interface tooling, as well as assist infrastructure design and microservices development. This language also offers support for scalable applications that require concurrency and CPU optimization.

One of Go's most attractive features is its use of lightweight execution threads known as goroutines to simultaneously process large numbers of discrete tasks and maximize core usage. Go is also a strongly typed language, permitting developers to identify embedded errors and access built-in data types, such as arrays, slices and maps.

Go offers the ability to write modular, testable code through custom interface types. Using sets of method signatures, programmers can decouple code-based dependencies and set them aside for reuse or testing. Developers can then mock those dependencies in different contexts or pinpoint code for reuse, while avoiding naming conflicts. Finally, Go's garbage collection feature optimizes memory management, and its catalog of pre-built value types boosts coding efficiency.

Limitations to Go

For some time, Go lacked support for generics and, reportedly, still has issues surrounding them. While Go was designed to reduce complexity, the omission of generics diminished development productivity and management. Generics were added to Go version 1.18, but a lack of support for new generic parameters may force some to perform time-consuming workarounds.

Implicit use of interfaces needlessly complicates the Go development process. Identifying an interface in Go often requires compilation -- a significant drawback when working with large applications.

The Go community offers limited libraries, and support for them is minimal. For example, programmers working on iOS development can have difficulty finding resources. Go can pose challenges for newer developers, as it lacks the UX characteristic of established languages, such as large collections of built-in code libraries. A rule of thumb when considering adoption is to choose Go for bytes -- i.e., systems development -- not data.

While it lacks established community contributions, Go has piqued interest. Among development professionals surveyed by HackerEarth in 2020, 32% still identified Go as the programming language they want to learn most.

Strengths of Rust

Rust was designed as a systems programming language with an emphasis on things like type safety and concurrency. With Rust, developers can write code with fast compile times and ensure a small memory footprint. In contrast to the manual memory management requirements often found in languages like C and C++, the Rust compiler involves strict protocols to ensure memory safety.

Rust employs state-control functions, such as closures and iterators, as well as support for strong static typing and type-inference processes. However, while it's considered a general-purpose programming language, Rust's unique syntax and structure can make it challenging for some to learn.

With its support for concurrency, Rust suits modern apps and microservices. It provides type-level guarantees for values that can be shared simultaneously between threads. Rust also allows individual threads to acquire values from neighboring threads by designating itself as an owner and transforming the overall value scope.

Rust code compiles to native machine code across multiple platforms. It also minimizes runtime overhead by having zero-cost abstraction to simplify and accelerate development tasks. Rust manages memory at compilation and uses static dispatch for generics to implement function calls. In terms of web applications, Rust can be compiled into the WebAssembly binary code format, which runs in all major browsers at near-native speeds.

Rust has a security-focused design. Developers should not be able to easily write insecure code, and they can scan for errors that often leave browser-based security holes unattended -- and then eliminate any classes containing those errors. Strong safety features help reduce faulty code generation and limit unsafe build processes. For instance, Rust's syntax ensures memory safety by eliminating common coding errors, such as dangling pointers and data races.

Developers using Rust must adhere to safety-first principles and consider what can go wrong with a program or microservice before compile time. Due to Rust's flexibility, programmers can partly suspend safety features to perform certain actions, such as directly manipulate memory to dereference a raw pointer. Programmers who work with embedded systems or OS kernels can omit the standard library if they want to build binaries with no platform dependencies.

Limitations to Rust

Rust's sophisticated yet complex type system precludes the use of garbage collection, which contributes to its steep learning curve. Rust's syntax can become quite unwieldy to work with and navigate at times, particularly when using lifetime annotations to validate borrows.

Along with Rust's lack of library maturity, numerous crates require undocumented dependencies. While Rust enjoys a strong community of developer advocates, significant portions of overall development support are lacking. Developers must revisit code once these areas are stabilized and completed. Despite these limitations, however, 86% of respondents in a 2021 StackOverflow survey chose Rust as the "most loved" language.

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