Python versus Rust: What Are the Differences?
Python and Rust are two popular programming languages use to write code and develop applications. While Python is an established and almost ubiquitous programming languages, Rust is more of an up-and-coming language which is quickly growing popular in the software developer community.
This article will compare the features of Python and Rust, as well as the pros and cons of each, so you can decide which one will work best for your next project. First, let’s define each of these languages.
What is Python?
Python was first released in 1991 by Guido van Rossum. It is a multiparadigm programming language which is designed to be easily extendable and help programmers work efficiently in end-to-end software development.
Python gets rid of some of the core staples of other programming languages, such as semicolons and curly brackets, opting for a simpler programming experience with an easy syntax that increases the readability of the code, making it more accessible. As such, Python’s simplicity has led to it being seen as a very beginner-friendly language.
Python’s flexibility and extensibility means it can be used across many different domains, from system administration and app development to data science/analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) development.
Advantages of Python
- As mentioned already, the simplicity of Python means it has a relatively smaller learning curve than other programming languages, making it easier to get started. It provides a simpler coding experience without sacrificing any of the functionality required to write great software. Its asynchronous coding type allows developers to handle complex coding requirements easily.
- Python has a huge collection of libraries and frameworks available to take advantage of. Because Python is open source, popular and now very mature, it has built up a massive number of libraries over time, giving developers a high chance of finding a framework or library for any kind of functionality they need.
- Python can also integrate with a wide variety of different softwares, such as enterprise applications and databases. It can be easily integrated with other languages like PHP and .NET.
Disadvantages of Python
- Python is an interpreted language, meaning it can be slower at times compared to compiled options such as C++ and Java.
- Python is quite easy to debug because of the availability of libraries and integrated development environments (IDEs), but sometimes errors won’t be shown until runtime, slowing down the process of testing and maintenance.
What is Rust?
Rust is a newer, multiparadigm general purpose programming language. It was introduced by Graydon Hoare of Mozilla Research. Rust focuses on stability, performance and safety. As a statically typed language, it’s architecture is memory-efficient and it is compliant with C/C++ coding standards.
Despite being a much younger language than Python, Rust has quickly become popular within the programming community and, according to a 2021 StackOverflow developer survey, is the most loved technology out there right now. Why? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of Rust.
Advantages of Rust
- Rust is designed for performance orientation, which means that it is much quicker and has more efficient memory architecture than other languages, and has no runtime or garbage collection.
- Rust also enforces strict safe memory allocations and secure coding practices, making it more stable and secure.
- Rust gives developers direct safe control over low-level resources. (Comparable to C/C++)
Disadvantages of Rust
- Rust is slightly more complex than other languages, meaning it has a relatively higher learning curve compared to Python, for example. That’s because Rust requires a slightly higher degree of coding knowledge in order to use it efficiently.
- Rust has a relatively low level of support for monkey patching (A monkey patch is a way for a program to extend or modify supporting system software locally).
- Rust’s code compiler can be slow compared to other languages.
When Python is better than Rust
Here are several aspects that make Python a better choice than Rust, including easiness of coding and understandable documentation.
Ease of coding
Since Python is designed for simplicity, it has a highly readable code structure and its simple syntax means greater accessibility for developers at all levels. Python’s integration capabilities also mean it can be easily adapted to many development project needs. Rust is better geared to system programming and specific use cases, with its higher learning curve making coding slightly more complex.
While both Python and Rust have excellent documentation maintained by both official sources and community support, Python documentation is slightly more beginner-friendly, with a lower barrier to understanding and utilizing it. That’s not to say that Rust doesn’t have great documentation; it does, and it is also relatively simple to use, but geared more towards technical users than Python.
Python has a clear advantage with regards to extensibility because of the sheer number of libraries, frameworks, software, and services that are available for Python or able to support Python.
Rust is a relatively new language, but it does have a quickly growing ecosystem as a result of its popularity. Still, it is not comparable to options offered by Python - not yet, at least.
Both languages are open source, which means that the developers community is directly involved with the development and improvement of the language. Python is more mature and so widely used that it has a considerably larger community than Rust at this moment. There are resources for any kind of requirement with Python development and they can be easily accessed.
Rust’s community is small but helpful and highly active. Still, Python has the advantage here because it takes a bit more time to find resources in Rust, and there are less of them.
When Rust is better than Python
Rust offer higher performance than Python and offers better error handing.
As we’ve mentioned already, Rust is designed for high performance. As an interpreted language, Python is slower; Rust can run up to two times as fast as Python in some instances. Since Rust is compiled directly into the machine code, there is no interpreter or virtual machine required to sit between the hardware and the code itself. Another factor that improves the performance of Rust is its memory management.
Rust gives programmers a choice of whether to store data on the stack or the heap. This function can be used during program compilation to identify when the memory is no longer required and must be cleaned.
In addition, this option clears the data out without requiring the program to decide on allocating and cleaning memory. Rust can also be easily integrated with other languages without adversely affecting them as it eliminates the need to constantly run a garbage collector.
In terms of Python, it uses a garbage collector to check for unused memory and cleans it up while the program is running. Both have good garbage collection, but Rust has the advantage because it doesn’t require runtime to use.
This one is fairly balanced, because both programming languages treat error handling completely differently. Python flags exceptions when errors are encountered, whereas Rust returns a value; this means that while Python offers no suggestions on how to fix the error, Rust provides recommendations to pinpoint and fix any issues.
In this sense, Rust provides an improved development experience and easier debugging, and removes the need for users to wait until runtime to determine some errors. That being said, it’s important to note that there are various integrated development environments (IDEs) for Python which can improve the debugging and error handling part of development.
Rust emphasizes security in its design, with its guaranteed memory setting it apart from other programming languages. It is completely memory safe unless the developer specifies otherwise. The Secure Rust Guidelines state that ‘the compiler tracks how many variables refer to given data and enforce a set of rules to manage and secure memory at any point for a Rust program.’
Python, on the other hand, requires developers to configure memory management themselves, as well as preventing memory leaks.
So, which one is right for me?
As we have seen, the Python vs Rust debate is not a simple one to solve. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages but are overall great, versatile and powerful programming languages which are rightly popular in the developer community.
In general, Python provides a simpler development experience and is easier to get started with. It also has a bigger community and wider resource base to choose from, so offers better extensibility for potentially larger projects. Python can be used across many disciplines, from web application development to DevOps, scientific scripting, machine learning and enterprise apps. This versatility, combined with the ease of use, makes it easy to see why Python is so popular.
Rust, meanwhile, should be the preferred option if speed and security are your priorities. Its performance-orientation and memory safety make it ideal for projects such as system development, file systems, game engine development, virtual reality (VR) and embedded integrations. These options make it clear that Rust will only continue to gain in popularity, and as it matures, its documentation and extensibility will improve too.