Learning and Programming Challenges of Rust: A Mixed-Methods Study

Shuofei Zhu, Ziyi Zhang, Boqin Qin, Aiping Xiong, Linhai Song

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

6 Scopus citations


Rust is a young systems programming language designed to provide both the safety guarantees of high-level languages and the execution performance of low-level languages. To achieve this design goal, Rust provides a suite of safety rules and checks against those rules at the compile time to eliminate many memory-safety and thread-safety issues. Due to its safety and performance, Rust's popularity has increased significantly in recent years, and it has already been adopted to build many safety-critical software systems. It is critical to understand the learning and programming challenges imposed by Rust's safety rules. For this purpose, we first conducted an empirical study through close, manual inspection of 100 Rust-related Stack Overflow questions. We sought to understand (1) what safety rules are challenging to learn and program with, (2) under which contexts a safety rule becomes more difficult to apply, and (3) whether the Rust compiler is sufficiently helpful in debugging safety-rule violations. We then performed an online survey with 101 Rust programmers to validate the findings of the empirical study. We invited participants to evaluate program variants that differ from each other, either in terms of violated safety rules or the code constructs involved in the violation, and compared the participants' performance on the variants. Our mixed-methods investigation revealed a range of consistent findings that can benefit Rust learners, practitioners, and language designers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2022 ACM/IEEE 44th International Conference on Software Engineering, ICSE 2022
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781450392211
StatePublished - 2022
Event44th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Software Engineering, ICSE 2022 - Pittsburgh, United States
Duration: May 22 2022May 27 2022

Publication series

NameProceedings - International Conference on Software Engineering
ISSN (Print)0270-5257


Conference44th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Software Engineering, ICSE 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software


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