Rust for front-end developers - LogRocket Blog

October 17, 2019 0 Comments

Rust for front-end developers - LogRocket Blog

 

 

The world of front-end development is fast-paced and can be pretty daunting to even the most experienced developers.

Each new framework, design system, and architecture pattern comes with rather bold claims about changing the future of how we’ll write code.

In this post, we’ll look at Rust — a language empowering everyone to build reliable and efficient software.

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard this rhetoric before.”

You’re not wrong. Nevertheless, I can assure you that Rust lives up to the hype.

TL;DR

The goal of this article is to introduce you to Rust and explain why it’s useful.

As a front-end developer, you’ve probably mostly interacted with JavaScript as your primary language. Its dynamic, loosely-typed nature can make it a little difficult to quickly pick up other languages that doesn’t share these traits.

However, Rust was designed to make the learning curve of strict-typed languages less steep, meaning you won’t experience the typical frustration of learning languages like c++.

There are very minor similarities between Rust and JavaScript, such as the use of let and const for variable declarations.

This isn’t a huge deal, but I found that I felt more at ease using Rust since I was already familiar with these keywords.

Another benefit to Rust is that the syntax isn’t verbose — it’s very straightforward and clean.

What is Rust?

According the the official documentation, “The Rust programming language helps you write faster, more reliable software. High-level ergonomics and low-level control are often at odds in programming language design; Rust challenges that conflict.

By balancing powerful technical capacity and a great developer experience, Rust gives you the option to control low-level details (such as memory usage) without all the hassle traditionally associated with such control.”

Who is Rust for?

If you’re entirely new to programming, Rust probably isn’t for you.

The official documentation inclusive assumes you’ve written code in another programming language, but it doesn’t make any assumptions about which one.

If you’re usually concerned with memory-efficient code, Rust will be an especially good fit for you.

With Rust, anyone can do systems-level work traditionally reserved for the elite club of coders who have mastered the low-details of memory management, data representation, and concurrency.

Sound boring?

Here are some exciting facts: Rust isn’t limited to low-level systems programming, and it’s expressive and ergonomic enough to make CLI apps, web servers, and many other kinds of fun piece of software you’re excited to build.

Getting started

Setting up Rust is easy regardless of your operating system.

I don’t want to clutter this piece, so just head over to the installation guideline page and it will automatically detect your OS and walk you through the recommended setup for your machine.

Note : If you’re on a Linux or Mac, you should see something like in the image below:

For the purposes of this post, we’ll be using a UNIX-based system (All Linux distributions and Macs). Run the command below in your terminal and follow the onscreen instructions.

Note: If you are using a Windows subsystem for Linux, the command works for you too.

curl https://ah.rustup.rs -sSf | sh`

If you’re on a Windows machine, yours would look something like this:

for windows and windows subsystem for Linux

As usual, click on the link to download the executable and follow the onscreen instructions.

Setting up your development environment

In this article, we’ll use VS Code.

To boost efficiency, I’d recommend using the Rust extension, which helps with code-completion, error detection, etc.

Rust support for Visual Studio Code
User-uploaded image:vscode-rust.png

It’s worth noting that regardless of your code editor of choice, there are bound to be extensions or plugins for Rust. Check your editor’s extensions marketplace and you should see one.

Install it as instructed and you’re good to go.

Once you’ve gotten all that out of the way, run the following command to see if you’ve got Rust installed on your machine.

rustc --version

If all went well, you should see something like this:

rustc--version

If you’ve followed the installation properly but failed to run this command in your terminal, the most likely cause is that you didn’t configure the PATH environment variable properly.

Head over to the installation guide to see how you can sort that out.

Note: remember to restart your terminal after the installation procedure before you run this command.

Next steps

You don’t need to scour the internet for books or resources to learn Rust.

With your installation comes a copy of the book “The Rust Programming Language” by Steve Klabnik and Carol Nichols, with contributions from the Rust community.

It walks you through setup, basics, and advanced topics with a hands-on approach. It’s a top-notch resource.

You can read the book online or use the command below for an offline copy. Be sure to install rustup on your machine if you didn’t do so during your initial Rust setup.

rustup docs --book

Alternatively, you can choose to do the rustlings course. It guides you through downloading and setting up the Rust tool chain, and teaches you the basics of reading and writing Rust syntax on the command line.

You can also check out Rust by Example if reading hundreds of pages about a language isn’t really your style.

While the book talks about code with a lot of words, RBE shows off a bunch of code, and keeps the talking to a minimum. It also includes fun exercises.

Interfacing Rust with the front-end

Having come this far, you’re probably wondering how you can get your hands dirty with Rust on the front-end.

Typically, to use Rust (or any other language aside from JavaScript) on the front-end, you need to use WebAssembly.

What is WebAssembly?

If you’re not already familiar with WebAssembly (wasm for short), it is a binary instruction format that promises near native performance, allowing developers to build applications with high level languages like rust , c++, or any language of your choice (other than JavaScript of course) on the web for client and server applications.

Learn more here.

Performance advantages over JavaScript

A key advantage here is that Rust is compiled down to machine code, so there is no virtual machine.

There also isn’t an interpreter sitting between your code and the machine, making it highly performant.

As this benchmark suggests, a direct comparison of REST API performance with Rocket for Rust and Restify for Node.js shows that Rust handles 72,000 requests per second compared to Node.js’ 8,000, and uses just over 1 mb of memory when idle compared to Node.js’ 19 mb.

This comes as no surprise since Rust is a systems programming language.

Rust responds to requests nearly 100 times faster on average than Node, and you won’t run into the compile time errors that JavaScript apps are usually prone to.

Additional setup for front-end Rust

Once you’re done with the setup for the standard Rust development tool chain, setting up for front-end dev is also easy.

First, you need to get wasm-pack installed. It’s a comprehensive package for building, testing, and publishing Rust-generated WebAssembly.

Run the command below in your terminal if you’re on a Mac or Linux distribution:

curl https://rustwasm.github.io/wasm-pack/installer/init.sh -s Sf | sh

For Windows machines, download the installer, run it, and follow the on-screen instructions.

You can also install cargo-generate by using an existing git repository as a template. It helps you quickly get started with a new Rust project.

Install with this command:

cargo install cargo-generate

This should work fine if you have the Rust tool-chain properly configured on your machine. Cargo is the package manager for Rust.

You also need to have npm installed. Follow these instructions to install npm.

If you already have npm installed, be sure you’re up to date. Do so with the following command:

npm install npm@latest -g

Here is a good book to get you started with Rust on the front-end

Advantages of Rust

Rust has a lot of advantages and uses:

  • I barely have the words to properly convey how fast it is. On average, it’s said to be on par with c++. For a more in depth analysis of Rust’s speed, check out this article.
  • It has a great documentation and an immensely rich ecosystem. It has the modern amenities that developers have come to expect, such as strong package management with cargo, as well as expressive (and zero-cost) abstractions.

  • Then comes my personal favorite: its error messages are as descriptive as it gets. It features a friendly compiler with useful error messages and top-notch tooling. You really can’t ask for more.

Here’s an example:

Notice how it recommends a solution after pointing out the error. Super useful, don’t you think?
  • Working with Rust allows you to build skills that transfer from one domain to another; you can learn Rust by writing a web app, then apply those same skills to target your Raspberry Pi.
  • Rust is completely reliable. It’s rich type system and ownership model guarantee memory-safety and thread-safety and enable you to eliminate many classes of bugs at compile-time.

  • Here’s something else I love about Rust: when you write a program in rust, that program can run on any machine without Rust installed on it.

  • JavaScript Web applications struggle to attain and retain reliable performance. JavaScript’s dynamic type system and garbage collection pauses don’t help. Seemingly small code changes can result in drastic performance regressions if you accidentally wander off the JIT’s happy path.

  • Rust gives programmers low-level control and reliable performance. It is free from the non-deterministic garbage collection pauses that plague JavaScript. Programmers have control over indirection, monomorphization, and memory layout.

  • Rust and WebAssembly integrate with existing JavaScript tooling. It supports ECMAScript modules, and you can continue using the tooling you already love, like npm and Webpack.

  • When it comes to performance advantages, code size is incredibly important since the .wasm must be downloaded over the network. Rust lacks a run time, enabling small .wasm sizes because there is no extra bloat included like a garbage collector. You only pay (in code size) for the functions you actually use.

  • Existing code bases don’t need to be thrown away. You can start by porting your most performance-sensitive JavaScript functions to Rust to gain immediate benefits.

Conclusions

From web apps to embedded systems and CLI apps, Rust provides a solid tool set to create highly-sustainable and scaleable code bases.

There’s a popular saying: “Always bet on JavaScript.”

You can rest assured the same holds true for Rust.

The odds are staggeringly in its favor. Several companies already use Rust in production, including npm, Yelp, Dropbox, and others.

You can learn more about how these companies use Rust here.

Whether you’re a team of developers, students, companies, open source developers, or anyone that values speed and stability, Rust is for you.

LogRocket is a frontend logging tool that lets you replay problems as if they happened in your own browser. Instead of guessing why errors happen, or asking users for screenshots and log dumps, LogRocket lets you replay the session to quickly understand what went wrong. It works perfectly with any app, regardless of framework, and has plugins to log additional context from Redux, Vuex, and @ngrx/store.

In addition to logging Redux actions and state, LogRocket records console logs, JavaScript errors, stacktraces, network requests/responses with headers + bodies, browser metadata, and custom logs. It also instruments the DOM to record the HTML and CSS on the page, recreating pixel-perfect videos of even the most complex single-page apps.

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