Rust Is A Top Twenty Language
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Yes, yes it's all nonsense, but it's fun and has some sort of correlation with something and if you are a Rust fan, count me in, you can use it to browbeat others - Rust is in TIOBE's top twenty languages!

This month's TIOBE index is out and we weren't going to write a news item about it because at first sight its boring. The top three, C, Java and Python, are still the top three, but C has pushed Java off the top spot. This is only slighly interesting as they are so close that statistical variation will cause such swaps. But if you look at the bottom of the table you see a new entry - Rust at position 20 up from 38.

Mind you in absolute terms the accolade isn't that great  - at 19 is Classic Visual Basic, 18 is Scratch, which, as we reported re-entered the top 20 in April, and 17 is PL/SQL. There are hardly mainstream, general purpose, languages. You can see Rust's strange progress over its ten years:



What caused the peak and crash of 2017?

So Rust seems to be back where it was? Not quite, we all seem to have a lot invested in Rust these days. People who don't know the language will sometimes refer to it as the only way to write safe code. Of course, isn't the only way to write safe code and even if you do know and use Rust it isn't a guarantee that your code will be safe. What it is a guarantee of is that you will spend time fighting Rust's ownership rules until you find out how to think about it correctly.

It is difficult. Issues of ownership may get better over time, but at the moment something that isn't getting better are the breaking changes. Even after ten years, Rust still hasn't settled down enough so that you could feel safe choosing it for production - unless you were prepared to put in the extra effort.

So why the belief in Rust?

The answer is mainly down to the number one language C. It is a very very simple language and yet one in which it is very easy to make errors that require sophisticated solutions. For example, my favourite, because I see it so often is:

struct myStruct {
    int number;
struct myStruct *pStruct(void) {
   struct myStruct st;
    return &st;

The effect of this innocent looking code is to make the hair stand up on the back of the neck of any experienced C programmer. The advanced beginner sees nothing wrong - create a struct, return a pointer to a struct. Slightly advanced in that we are working with pointers, address of operators and so on - but perfectly textbook. Except, of course, it is all going on in a function and when you write:

struct myStruct *ps = pStruct();

in the main program you will get a warning and the reason is that the function is returning a pointer to a local struct, which of course no longer exists when the function arrives. The error is simple and understandable to the intermediate programmer who created the problem, but the solution involves using the heap - advanced stuff. In C you can create problems with what you know that need more than what you know to solve.

C is simple in principle and complex and subtle in application. Rust isn't particularly simple in principle or application, but generally if you understand it well enough to cause a problem then, you know enough to implement the solution.

We do need something like Rust at this time in the development of programming and it has already gone through the stage of enthusiastic adoption and it is now coming out the other side with people writing blog posts that say things like "Rust is not the answer".


I don't know if Rust is or is not the answer. I'm not even sure I know exactly what the question is, but I am pleased that my favourite language - for all its pain points - is number one and my second favourite language, for all its pain points, has joined the top 20 twenty - at last.



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