It’s a question that many developers have asked before—and many others will be asking long after you’ve made your own decision. Which language should I use—Go or Rust? Rust or Go?
Go and Rust are among the youngest open-source programming languages widely in use today.
Rust is great for building things like operating systems, file systems, and game engines. Go is best-suited for applications involving big data, machine learning, and editing massive files.
In this post, we’ll go a bit deeper to touch on each language’s speed, performance, security, and ease-of-use. We’ll also introduce how both Go and Rust compare to C++. Last, we’ll talk about where and how each is best used.
Go and Rust are powerful, scalable general-purpose programming languages that can be used to develop a range of software—from web applications to distributed microservices. Here’s a quick, high-level refresher of each:
Go (also known as Golang) was designed by Google engineers who wanted a language that offered the efficiency of C++, but was easier to learn, write, read, and deploy. The language’s “Goroutines” make it easy for developers to build applications that take full advantage of concurrency, such as major ecommerce websites by deploying workloads across multiple CPU cores at the same time. In other words, perfectly suited for parallel computing environments (e.g., science and engineering applications like weather modeling).
The Rust programming language yields solid, secure applications. The language is set up to keep developers from inadvertently introducing flaws in your code that can lead to buffer overflows, missing pointer checks, integer range errors, or other memory-related vulnerabilities. It’s extremely safe memory-wise.
The need for speed
Both languages are quite fast in comparison to interpreted languages, including Perl and Python. Rust does make a number of design trade-offs to achieve the best possible execution speed in contrast to Go. Go optimizes for simplicity and sacrifices a bit of run-time performance for it. Go’s build speed is unbeatable, which is important for large codebases.
Both Go and Rust have excellent built-in, high-performance standard build and dependency management tools. Rust will almost always beat Go in run-time benchmarks due to its fine-grained control over how threads behave and how resources are shared between threads. Both Rust and Go use a standard formatting tool—gofmt for Go and rustfmt for Rust—which rewrites your code automatically using the canonical style.
Ultimately, Rust lets programmers get “closer to the metal” with more control (that is, the machine the code will be running on). By contrast, Go abstracts away from the architectural details to let programmers get closer to the problem they’re trying to solve.
Rust’s heavy emphasis on preventing memory-related security vulnerabilities means programmers have to go out of their way to perform tasks that would be simpler in other languages, including Go. However, Go isn’t insecure. Rust just happens to be king for memory safety. One of the biggest causes of bugs and security vulnerabilities is accessing memory unsafely or incorrectly. Rust offers several concurrency paradigms to help avoid common memory safety pitfalls.
Ease of use
Unlike interpreted languages, which tend to force developers into a particular way of approaching things, both Go and Rust are practical languages aimed at solving problems in whatever way is most appropriate for an application. It’s no easy feat to guarantee memory-safe concurrency without compromising the developer experience.
Rust and Go can both claim memory-safe concurrency and a good developer experience. Admittedly, coding with Rust is more difficult and takes longer. Overall, Rust has a steeper learning curve than Go. Additionally, the developer experience edge goes to Go when it comes to concurrency.
While it may be difficult to decide between Rust and Go, they both stand apart from the usual suspects, including C++. With either Go or Rust, you can deploy your program as a single binary file—no need to distribute an interpreter and lots of libraries and dependencies along with your program. A huge plus.
Go was created in response to the ever-growing complexity of languages like C++, offering a much easier alternative with regards to hiding aspects such as memory safety and memory allocation. Go also provides the previously mentioned Goroutines, enabling developers to run functions as subprocesses.
Rust's performance is outstanding and comparable to C and C++, which are often regarded as the highest-performance compiled languages. Unlike these older languages, Rust offers memory safety and concurrency safety at essentially no cost in execution speed. It’s far more efficient in executing algorithms and resource-intensive operations, performing on-par with C++.
Rust and Go are optimized for different things, so deciding which language to code in should be based on the problems you want to solve with it. What application are you aiming to build? It could come down to simplicity (Go) versus security (Rust). Here are some good reasons to consider either for your application.
The case for Go
Go caters to a broad set of use cases while still providing a high level of security and performance. The language was primarily designed for speed of development (including compilation), rather than speed of execution. The Go compiler doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to generate the most efficient possible machine code; it cares more about compiling lots of code quickly. This provides an ideal environment for software development and distributed systems at scale—think enterprise software development—massive codebases and hundreds, even thousands of developers working on it.
Go has little syntax, few keywords and few features overall, which means it doesn't take long to learn, reducing ramp-up time for new developers. While the core language is small, Go’s standard library is powerful, which means the learning curve for the language must also factor in learning parts of the standard library, as needed. The upside: Having moved functionality out of the Go language and into the standard library means programmers can focus on learning only libraries relevant to building their application.
While most languages have some form of support for concurrent programming, Go is especially well-designed for it. This makes Go the perfect choice for high-scale concurrent applications.
The case for Rust:
Rust works well for processing large volumes of data and other CPU-intensive operations such as executing algorithms — any application that demands high performance. Rust’s run-time performance remains consistent and predictable even when creating complex abstractions.
Because Rust is designed to give the programmer complete control of underlying hardware, it's possible to optimize Rust programs to be close to the maximum theoretical performance of a machine. This makes Rust an ideal choice for applications where speed of execution outweighs all other considerations.
In addition to Rust’s ability to deliver on performance, the language goes to great lengths to ensure developers can’t inadvertently introduce something to their programs that would keep it from compiling. If you’re accustomed to languages such as Python or Ruby, this may come across as somewhat restrictive and leave you feeling like you need to re-architect your entire program—but when correctness and reliability are top priority it’s well worth it.
Although Rust and Go are both popular, modern, widely-used languages—neither of which is going away any time soon—they aren’t competitors. They target different use cases. Rust is a fantastic choice for applications where speed of execution (e.g., for massive volumes of data) beats all other considerations, while the build-speed of Go is unbeatable, making it a prime candidate for enterprise-level applications with large development teams.
At the end of the day, only you can decide which language is right for your development needs., We hope you feel more confident making the decision now!
Holly Hilton is Marketing & Operations Manager at Apiary Digital and has more than 20 years of experience developing technical marketing content for various brands, including NASA and Microsoft