Rust developers fear language is getting too complex and prefer bug fixes to new features

Rust developers fear language is getting too complex and prefer bug fixes to new features

A new State of Rust survey shows that developers would prefer to see compiler bugs fixed and performance improved rather than new language features added, however, their biggest fear is excessive language complexity.

This is the 8th annual survey from the Rust team, completed by nearly 12,000 developers. Note that in many cases the percentages sum to more than 100 because of multiple answers.

Asked how work on Rust should be prioritized, recipients placed fixing compiler bugs top, a high priority for 67.9 percent, runtime performance next with 57.45 percent, and improved compile times third, at 44.68 percent. New language features by contrast are a high priority for only 28.92 percent of developers.

This chimes with another question, on the biggest worries for the future of Rust, which places becoming “too complex” as the top concern, expressed by 43 percent of developers. The next biggest worry is not enough usage (42.5 percent) and insufficient support for Rust developers and maintainers (32.1 percent).

Fixing compiler bugs is top priority for developers, far ahead of new language features

Despite those worries, there is high satisfaction with what Rust can do. More than 84 percent agreed that Rust code tends to contain fewer bugs than equivalent code in other languages. Top reasons for using Rust are “relatively correct and bug free software”, affirmed by 85.8 percent, and performance, cited by 83.3 percent. 

Another striking statistic is that 70 percent find Rust “enjoyable or fun” to program, though this is slightly down from the previous year (72.6 percent).

The survey includes representation from many Rust newcomers – as one would expect from a fast-growing language. Over 37 percent are still learning to program in Rust, or learned in 2023. Only 47 percent consider themselves fully productive with Rust – though that is up from 42.3 percent the previous year. Just over 28 percent reckon they can write production-ready code “but it is a struggle.” 

The survey also provides evidence that Rust is still at an early stage of adoption. Of those surveyed, only 33.9 percent are able to use Rust intensively at work. Some 38 percent do not use it at work at all (down from 43.2 percent the previous year), and another 28.1 percent only use it at work occasionally.

The operating systems used by Rust developers are little changed from the previous year, with Linux the top choice (69.7 percent), followed by macOS (33.5 percent) and Windows (31.9 percent). There is more movement in the deployment target for Rust applications, where Linux has grown from 79.9 to 85.4 percent, and Windows from 37.8 to 43 percent. WebAssembly sits at 27.1 percent, fractionally up on the previous year.

Visual Studio Code continues to dominate as the Rust editor or IDE of choice, used by 61.7 percent of developers; but the new RustRover from JetBrains, released in September 2023, has made a good start, attracting 16.4 percent usage. Between them sits Vi, Vim or neovim, with 31 percent adoption.

Reviewing the survey, the official Rust survey team confessed to “some confusing questions” and promised to improve them in future. In principle though, the results may have some impact on how Rust evolves; and it seems that the unexciting work of fixing stuff is more highly valued than adding more features to a language already perceived as complex.