Rust turns over new leaf with own foundation, puts maintainers front and centre

Rust Foundation

After talking to lots of other foundations and sharing its plans in August 2020, the Rust Core team yesterday cut the ribbons on the Rust Foundation. 

The new non-profit was set up as a means to fund the development of the programming language and take care of outreach initiatives, while ensuring the independence from individual sponsors.

That independence became quite a talking point last year, when long-time supporter Mozilla introduced its new business focus, which brought with it some terminations in the Rust team. Rust had started life as a project at Mozilla Research and had since been closely associated with the company, although independent governance was established in 2015.

The new structure isn’t supposed to “replace the existing community and technical governance for Rust” but rather take over tasks like hosting Rust infrastructure, and supporting the community. As such, Mozilla has transferred its trademark and infrastructure assets to the foundation.

According to Ashley Williams, member of the Rust core team, finally setting up the foundation “marks a huge step in the growth of Rust” on several fronts, “not the least of which, [includes] a formal, financial commitment from a set of global industry leading companies, heralding Rust’s arrival as an enterprise production-ready technology”. Williams also serves as the interim executive director of the Rust Foundation, using her experience from an earlier engagement as a member of the board of directors of the Node.js foundation.

Williams sees the foundation’s main challenge in the oft discussed subject of supporting the project’s maintainers. The aim is coming up with “a healthier maintainer experience” and preparing governance structures that can handle “what promises to be a period of record breaking growth and adoption,” she said. 

Founding members of the Rust Foundation include AWS, Huawei, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla. The 11 people strong board of directors, however, isn’t entirely staffed by big company representatives and contains members of the core team and central project areas of reliability, quality, and collaboration. This is to balance things out and make sure those actually involved in the evolution of the project have a say in how support is best implemented. 

All founding companies, aside from Huawei, have sponsored the project’s infrastructure for a while.  Huawei’s interest in Rust is based on the company’s open source strategy, which includes pure-Rust projects such as a virtualisation platform for cloud data centers StratoVirt, and the creation of safe code. The safe code aspect was highlighted at last year’s Rust China Conf, for which Huawei also acted as a co-organiser and sponsor. 

As for Google, memory safety seems to be its overriding interest. “Rust has proven effective at providing an additional layer of protection,” said Google, while hinting at plans to expand usage of Rust across the company. The Android project has been hit pretty hard with memory safety bugs, given that “more than half of the security vulnerabilities we addressed in 2019” were caused by such issues, the company added. As a consequence the team has started to revert to Rust in areas such as operating system modules.