The Rust programming language just took a huge step forwards

The Rust programming language now has its own foundation that's independent from Mozilla.

Developer working on laptop

Establishing the Rust Foundation is an important milestone for the language.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Programming language Rust now has the backing of the Rust Foundation, an independent organization that will steward the language's future as more developers begin using it. 

Rust, hatched at Mozilla as a safer alternative to C and C++, has quickly become one of the most favored languages for system development, even though it's not widely used for application development.

Google is backing Rust for a key component of the the Apache HTTP web server project, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is investing in the Rust community and is a key sponsor, while Microsoft is eyeing it to replace some components of Windows written in C/C++ and to develop components for the Azure cloud. 

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Rust only reached version 1.0 in 2015, so it's a relatively young language compared to the likes of Python, Java and JavaScript. 

The language allowed Mozilla engineers to remove memory-related security bugs in Firefox's Gecko rendering engine that were written in C++. Developers replaced about 160,000 lines of C++ code in Firefox with 85,000 lines of Rust. The language was critical for Mozilla's Servo browser engine.  

Establishing the Rust Foundation is an important milestone for the language. As Niko Matsakis, an ex-Mozilla engineer, core Rust contributor and now AWS engineer pointed out recently, there is a misperception that Rust is owned by Mozilla. 

The foundation creates a vehicle to accept financing from organizations beyond Mozilla, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure. 

"Unfortunately, there is sometimes a lingering perception that Mozilla "owns" Rust, which can discourage companies from getting invested, or create the perception that there is no need to support Rust since Mozilla is footing the bill. Establishing a foundation will make official what has been true in practice for a long time: that Rust is an independent project," Matsakis wrote recently

"We have also heard a few times from companies, large and small, who would like to support Rust financially, but right now there is no clear way to do that. Creating a foundation creates a place where that support can be directed."

Mozilla will continue to support Rust, but it won't sponsor the project alone. The Rust Foundation will hold its first board meeting February 9th. 

The board of directors includes representatives from AWS, Huawei, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla.

Over the past year, Microsoft has footed Rust's continuous integration (CI) bills, while AWS has supported its storage costs through S3 for several years.  

Until now, Rust did not operate as a distinct legal entity, which was previously Mozilla's responsibility. These issues affected the project in various ways, including Rust trademarks and Rust's package management system, crates.io. Mozilla was also responsible for handling copyright takedown requests under The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  

The Rust team couldn't do simple things like signing a contract and or establishing a bank account from which to manage funds from sponsors like Microsoft and AWS. 

"One common example that arises is the need to have some entity that can legally sign contracts "for the Rust project". For example, we wished recently to sign up for Github's Token Scanning program, but we weren't able to figure out who ought to sign the contract," notes Matsakis. 

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As part of the new arrangement, Mozilla transferred all trademark and infrastructure assets to the Rust Foundation, including the crates.io package registry

"This marks a huge step in the growth of Rust on several axes; not the least of which, a formal, financial commitment from a set of global industry-leading companies, heralding Rust's arrival as an enterprise production-ready technology," said Ashley Williams, interim executive director of the Rust Foundation. 

"I am personally moved, and motivated, by the sense of responsibility that comes from this commitment. Our founding sponsors' eager and enthusiastic participation is not only a promise to maintain and sustain Rust as what it is today, but an endorsement of Rust's values and a dedication to share the responsibility of cultivating the future that Rust aspires to."