Why Microsoft is Betting Big on Rust: A Tale of Safety, Performance, and… Mr. Bean?

Mabrouk Mahdhi
6 min readFeb 9, 2024
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

In the ever-evolving landscape of software development, giants like Microsoft are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing. And lately, that “big thing” seems to be Rust — a programming language that promises to revolutionize how we think about system-level programming. But why is Microsoft, a behemoth with a storied history in C and C++, now flirting with Rust? Well, it’s a bit like asking why Mr. Bean would swap his beloved Mini for a Tesla. The answer lies in safety, performance, and, frankly, keeping up with the times.

The Rust Revolution: More Than Just a Safety Belt

Rust is akin to the Volvo of programming languages: meticulously engineered with safety as its cornerstone. Yet, the comparison hardly ends there. Envision, if you will, the ever-lovable Mr. Bean and his series of comedic escapades, navigating through the chaotic urban sprawl in his iconic, albeit unreliable, Mini. Each episode is a masterclass in narrowly averted disasters, fueled by a combination of luck, wit, and the car’s stubborn resilience. Now, reimagine those adventures with Mr. Bean at the helm of a vehicle bristling with the latest advancements in safety technology and autopilot capabilities. This scenario mirrors the essence of Rust: a programming language that doesn’t merely offer safety features but integrates them into its core functionality, ensuring that developers can craft software that’s as robust as it is efficient.

Rust’s approach to memory safety is revolutionary, acting as a preventative measure against a wide array of programming blunders that have long plagued the industry. These are not just minor oversights but critical vulnerabilities that can compromise the security and stability of software systems. Imagine our hapless Mr. Bean, whose antics, while humorous on screen, could spell disaster in the real world. In one episode, he might forget his keys, leading to a series of improvisations to gain entry into his own vehicle. In the realm of programming, such an oversight could equate to a memory leak or buffer overflow — errors that Rust’s ownership model, with its compile-time checks, adeptly avoids. It’s as if Rust equips Mr. Bean with a foolproof system, ensuring the keys are always where they need to be, and the car’s doors unlock just as intended, without any unintended side effects.

Furthermore, Rust’s performance is not hindered by its safety measures. On the contrary, it’s designed to operate with the efficiency and speed of seasoned programming languages like C and C++, but without their susceptibility to errors. This is akin to upgrading Mr. Bean’s Mini to a high-performance, safety-enhanced vehicle that not only competes in the fast lane but does so with an unmatched level of security and reliability. The transition from relying on luck and quick fixes to a more systematic, error-proof approach does not diminish the adventure; it enhances it. Developers working with Rust can push the boundaries of what’s possible, embarking on bold, innovative projects with the confidence that the language’s safety features have got their back.

Memory Safety: The Anti-Bean Mechanism

One of the cornerstone features of Rust is its strict enforcement of memory safety rules. In the world of software, memory safety issues are akin to the slapstick mistakes Mr. Bean makes: amusing in a sitcom but dire in programming, where they lead to crashes and security breaches. Rust’s ownership model acts like an ultra-cautious co-pilot, ensuring Mr. Bean doesn’t accidentally leave his sandwich on the gas pedal or lock himself out of his car. In programming terms, this means preventing data races and buffer overflows with a level of diligence that keeps software secure and reliable.

The Ownership Model — Ensuring Singular Control

The Ownership Model is Rust’s masterstroke in enforcing memory safety. This model dictates that each piece of data can have only one owner at any time, ensuring that when the owner goes out of scope, the data is cleaned up. It’s like making sure Mr. Bean cannot leave his groceries (or any chaos) behind in the car because the car checks everything when he steps out. This strict, yet efficient, approach prevents memory leaks and unauthorized access, laying a solid foundation for secure coding practices.

Borrow Checker — The Vigilant Sentinel

Rust introduces a feature known as the Borrow Checker, a vigilant sentinel that oversees all borrowings of data to ensure they adhere to strict rules of access. This mechanism ensures that if Mr. Bean borrows a tool from his neighbor, he must return it in the same condition without any opportunity for mishaps. In Rust, this translates to making sure that references do not outlive the data they refer to, preventing dangling pointers and ensuring data integrity throughout the program’s execution.

Zero-Cost Abstractions — Performance with Safety

Rust’s memory safety is not just about preventing errors; it’s also designed to be efficient. Through Zero-Cost Abstractions, Rust provides powerful safety mechanisms that do not compromise on performance. Imagine if Mr. Bean’s car could automatically avoid obstacles without slowing down or consuming extra fuel. Rust achieves this by performing its safety checks at compile time, ensuring that runtime performance remains high. This allows developers to write safe, concurrent, and fast applications without the trade-offs typically associated with high-level abstractions.

Together, these features make Rust’s approach to memory safety both comprehensive and unique. By integrating these mechanisms deeply into the language, Rust ensures that developers can focus on building their applications without the looming threat of common memory safety pitfalls. It’s as if Mr. Bean were given a map, a reliable car, and a set of advanced driving lessons, dramatically reducing his chances of ending up in humorous yet hazardous situations.

Performance: The Bean Counter

Performance is another area where Rust shines. It competes head-to-head with the speed of C and C++, but with a fraction of the potential for catastrophic mishaps. It’s as if Mr. Bean decided to participate in a race. In his Mini, he’s fast (because let’s face it, he can be surprisingly nimble), but in a high-performance vehicle that’s also safe? He’s both fast and less likely to end up in a comedic, albeit dangerous, pickle.

Why Microsoft is Embracing the Change

Microsoft’s pivot towards Rust is not just about keeping up with modern programming trends; it’s a strategic move towards building safer, more reliable software. The tech giant recognizes that the digital world is fraught with security hazards, much like the physical world is full of potential misadventures for Mr. Bean. By adopting Rust, Microsoft aims to mitigate these risks, ensuring that their software remains robust in the face of evolving threats.

A Dash of Professional Humor: The Bean Analogy

So, why bring Mr. Bean into this discussion? Well, Mr. Bean’s approach to problem-solving is a lot like traditional programming: it’s inventive, often effective, but fraught with potential for error. Rust, on the other hand, encourages a more structured approach to problem-solving, akin to giving Mr. Bean a state-of-the-art toolkit (and maybe a responsible adult to supervise). The result? The job gets done, with fewer unintended consequences.

In Conclusion: The Future is Rust(y)

As Microsoft continues to integrate Rust into its ecosystem, we can expect to see a shift towards more secure, efficient, and reliable software. It’s an exciting time for developers and companies alike, as they explore what’s possible with Rust’s capabilities. And for the rest of us? It’s a bit like watching Mr. Bean upgrade his antics for the 21st century — equally entertaining but with a modern twist that promises fewer disasters and more success stories.

So, as we ponder the future of programming and the role of Rust within it, let’s remember the lessons learned from Mr. Bean: sometimes, to avoid the pitfalls of our endeavors, we need to embrace change, adopt new tools, and maybe, just maybe, drive a safer car.

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Mabrouk Mahdhi

Microsoft MVP, Author & Senior Technical Consultant @ eBiz Consulting GmbH