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Comparing Rust vs. Zig: Performance, safety, and more

Written by Oduah Chigozie✏️

When you consider Rust and Zig, they make for a fascinating comparison. Both languages promote efficient, performant code, but they do so in different ways. They also both compile to a native binary that your system can execute directly.

These languages run on entirely different concepts and philosophies, which can affect how developers code with them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how well they measure up against each other.

In this article, we’ll go through the following:

What is Rust?

Rust is a general-purpose programming language that prioritizes efficiency, performance, and memory safety. It introduces a new way of programming that still allows developers to use object-oriented and functional paradigms.

Coding with Rust requires an entirely different way of thinking centered around the ownership and borrowing rules that govern the language.

While this way of thinking makes it easier for developers to write safe and efficient code, developers — especially new ones — often find it more challenging to express their ideas in Rust compared to languages like C and C++.

Rust allows you to compile your code into a native binary that your system can run directly. It also removes the cross-platform limits that C and C++ impose on developers. This means you can compile your code for multiple systems without changing anything significantly.

Let’s look at an example of Rust code:

fn main() {
    let text: &str = "World";
    println!("Hello, {}!", text);
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In Rust, every executable starts from the main function, which is similar to other compiled programming languages. If you run the example above, you’ll get “Hello, World!” in your terminal.

Pros and cons of Rust

In Rust, some features benefit developers while others make development more challenging. In this section, we’ll first look at Rust’s advantages, and then we’ll look at its drawbacks.

Some benefits of Rust include:

  • Concurrency and parallelism: Rust has built-in support for parallel programming, along with features that ensure safe and efficient multithreading
  • Performance: Since Rust code doesn’t need a runtime, it uses fewer resources and promotes higher performance since it doesn’t need extra power for a garbage collector
  • Memory safety without garbage collection: Rust manages memory without a garbage collector because of rules like ownership and borrowing, leading to more efficient and predictable performance
  • Cross-platform compatibility: Rust encourages cross-platform development, meaning you can compile your code on multiple systems without significantly modifying the code
  • Robust ecosystem: Rust has a strong ecosystem of tools and libraries. Its package manager, Cargo, significantly simplifies dependency management and integration with external libraries

Some drawbacks of Rust include:

  • Learning curve: Rust's syntax can be tricky for new developers. Its syntax blends functional and systems programming and is heavily influenced by its ownership and borrowing rules. Additionally, new developers have to learn concepts such as ownership systems, lifetimes, and borrowing rules, which takes effort
  • Compile time: Rust's safety measures may cause longer compile times. Rust thoroughly examines your code to prevent issues that can arise at runtime, which means it will have a longer compile time than most other languages
  • Limited resources: Though Cargo is a useful package manager with many tools and libraries available, Rust's ecosystem as a whole is less mature than most languages. In some specialized domains, Rust may have fewer resources, forcing those developers to write more code from scratch
  • Tedious development process: Because of its emphasis on safety and accuracy with strict rules and explicitness, developers often have to write more code in Rust. This may lead to better-quality outputs, but tends to make the development process longer, which can significantly affect smaller projects
  • Interoperability: Rust code can be tricky to integrate into code written in other languages. However, the Foreign Function Interface (FFI) and similar initiatives enable integration with C and C++

Though Rust, like any language, has its pros and cons, it remains a popular choice among developers. It took the crown as the most admired language in the 2023 Stack Overflow developer survey, with more than 80 percent of respondents saying they want to use it again next year.

Common use cases for Rust

Now that you’ve seen what Rust can do, let’s take a look at places where it is already being used.

In systems programming, Rust is useful for tasks like building operating systems, device drivers, and embedded systems.

Both backend and frontend web developers also use Rust with popular frameworks like Rocket or Actix for backend development and WebAssembly or Tauri for frontend development.

Rust is also used in networking and network services, like network protocols, proxies, load balancers, VPN software, and more.

Some more niche use cases for Rust include:

What is Zig?

While Zig is more similar to conventional programming languages like C and C++, it focuses on memory safety and efficiency like Rust. However, unlike Rust, Zig integrates well with existing C and C++ code without needing an external mechanism like FFI to make interoperability easier.

Like Rust, C, and C++, Zig doesn’t use a garbage collector. To achieve memory safety like Rust, Zig comes with mechanisms that promote memory safety, such as:

  • Strict compile-time checks
  • Optional types to handle potentially null values
  • Explicit error handling with Error types
  • Enhanced memory allocation with built-in allocators

These mechanisms don’t severely affect coding in the language the way they do in Rust.

Let’s take a look at an example written in Zig:

const std = @import("std");

pub fn main() void {
    std.debug.print("Hello, world", .{});
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A lot of the programming languages available to developers have a motivation and philosophy behind them. For example, Rust focuses on memory safety, efficiency, no-garbage collection, and performance.

So what about Zig? Its philosophy comprises:

  • Easy integration with C and C++ code
  • Producing independent binaries that don’t rely on system dependencies
  • Easy cross-platform development
  • Fast compile time

Next, we’ll look at Zig’s pros and cons, after which we’ll look at its use cases.

Pros and cons of Zig

As we did in Rust, let’s start with the pros and then the cons.

Some of the benefits Zig offers to developers include:

  • Control and low-level capabilities: Zig is great for systems programming and situations requiring direct system resource management
  • Safety features: Features like its built-in allocator and its defer statements allow developers to easily prevent errors, boost code reliability, and reduce bugs and vulnerabilities
  • Performance optimization: Zig is a tool that optimizes code for efficient execution and performance tuning. It offers manual memory management, compile-time evaluation, and direct access to CPU instructions for creating even more performant applications
  • Simplicity and readability: Zig has a simple syntax and language design, like C. This makes it easy to read, write, and maintain code
  • Minimal external dependencies: Zig minimizes external dependencies needed to build and run programs, which simplifies development, enhances portability, and reduces the burden of managing dependencies across platforms
  • Metaprogramming capabilities: Zig's compile-time metaprogramming improves code flexibility and productivity by reducing the need for boilerplate code and enabling code optimization

Some of the drawbacks of Zig include:

  • Limited ecosystem: The Zig language has a more miniature ecosystem than established languages because it is still in its early stages
  • Learning curve: Understanding Zig may take time for developers unfamiliar with low-level programming concepts
  • Maturity and tooling: Zig is a new language with room for improvement. However, note that there is still a strong and active community supporting it
  • Interoperability challenges: Zig provides C interfaces for compatibility, but integrating with other languages may require extra effort, such as managing data marshaling and communication between languages
  • Documentation availability: Zig is a relatively new language, so documentation is limited — but the community is working on improving the availability of resources

Common use cases for Zig

Let's dive into some of Zig's real-life use cases and see how it works in action!

Developers can use Zig in systems programming for building operating systems, device drivers, and embedded systems. It’s also useful in command-line tools for creating efficient and fast command-line interfaces, building system scripts, or optimizing existing tools for performance.

In compiler and language development, Zig is known for its metaprogramming capabilities and focus on simplicity. A famous example is Bun, a runtime environment for JavaScript developed in Zig.

Like Rust, Zig also has a few more niche use cases:

  • In game development due to its ability to support the creation of high-performance game engines, real-time simulations, and resource-intensive game logic
  • In embedded systems and IoT for programming microcontrollers, sensors, and other resource-constrained devices
  • In cryptographic applications for implementing encryption algorithms, digital signatures, secure communication protocols, and other security-sensitive components

If you’re interested in using Zig in your next project, take a look at our guide on getting started with Zig.

Rust vs. Zig: Similarities and differences

Now that we’ve looked at Rust and Zig individually, it's time to put them together for comparison. It's always interesting to compare different programming languages, especially when they have similar targets.

Let’s start with what they have in common:

  • Memory safety: Rust and Zig prioritize memory safety and prevent common programming errors with strict compiler checks, static typing, and special rules that apply to each language
  • Low-level control: Both offer more control over system resources, making them ideal for low-level tasks and systems programming
  • Performance optimization: These programming languages are both known for their highly optimized code with manual memory management, direct CPU access, and compile-time evaluation
  • Community and availability: Rust and Zig are open source projects with active communities, documentation, and tools
  • No undefined behavior: Both programming languages have strict compiler checks and other features that prevent undefined behavior. This improves program stability and security by catching issues at compile-time

Meanwhile, you can use the comparison table below to understand the differences between Rust and Zig:

Feature Rust Zig
Memory safety Rust uses its strict ownership and borrowing rules to ensure that any code a developer writes is safe Zig uses mechanisms that track and control memory allocation and deallocation to prevent any code that a developer writes from being unsafe
Syntax Rust emphasizes ownership and lifetimes through explicit annotations, which can lead to longer code Zig follows a C-like syntax
Ecosystem Rust offers a robust ecosystem, including libraries, tools, and community support Zig is a younger language with a more miniature ecosystem
Interoperability Rust has decent FFI compatibility. It works well calling Rust functions from C but it can be challenging to call C functions from Rust Zig has a superior FFI. It works well calling C functions from Zig and calling Zig functions from C
Error Handling Rust uses Result and Option types for explicit error handling Zig uses error types, error unions, and deferred statements for error handling
Package manager Rut uses cargo package manager for handling packages and dependencies Zig uses its built-in package manager for handling packages and dependencies

Besides their similarities and differences, we can compare Rust and Zig in three other ways: performance, popularity, and how much their programmers are paid. Let’s take a closer look.

Rust vs. Zig: Performance

Objectively, between Rust and Zig, there is no absolutely better-performing language. Rust may outshine Zig in specific applications, while Zig may outperform Rust in others.

Let's closely examine each performance with a comparison from the programming languages and compiler benchmarks: Screenshot Taken From Programming Languages And Compiler Benchmark Project Showing Rust Vs Zig Performance For Two Example Programs This benchmark project contains programs written in several programming languages that run simultaneously. The outcomes from their runs are then measured and presented in a tabular form for you to see how each programming language performs in the task.

In the image above, we have the mandelbrot and nbody programs, both written using Rust and Zig. The measurements in the comparison tables are arranged from more performant to less performant.

You’ll notice that in some cases Zig performs better than Rust, and in others Rust performs better than Zig. Both are highly performant languages, so either option should serve you well in your projects.

Rust vs. Zig: Popularity

When picking a programming language to learn, popularity can be a significant factor to consider. Choosing a popular language not only increases your chances of finding resources and support, but also means you'll have a higher chance of finding developers to collaborate with.

StackOverflow’s latest developer survey provides some interesting insights. As mentioned earlier, Rust is this year’s most admired language, with 84.66 percent of respondents saying they want to use it again next year compared to Zig’s 71.33 percent.

Rust is also 14th on the list of popular languages, while Zig is farther behind at number 41 out of 51 total languages listed.

Zig’s lower popularity in both cases may be because it's still in its early stages. Either way, it's crucial to consider the popularity of the language you choose to work with.

Rust vs. Zig: How much do they pay?

The StackOverflow developer survey also contains information about the top paying technologies as reported by the respondents. You may find this chart helpful, especially if you're interested in breaking into the software development market.

Interestingly, despite being a new addition, Zig is actually the highest-paid language to know this year, while Rust is 14th on the list. It's worth considering this information if you want to learn either Rust or Zig for professional reasons: Red Bar Chart With Dark Grey Background And White Labels Comparing Reported Pay For Developers By Language Ordered From Highest Pay To Lowest Pay Although this chart is quite helpful, it only gives a partial picture. You see, other factors come into play when determining how much a developer gets paid, such as their experience level and the company they work for.

So, while the chart is a good starting point, it's important to remember that there are other factors to consider.


Regarding Rust and Zig, it's hard to say which is the clear winner. Each language has its strengths and weaknesses, making them both fair competitors.

Before you dive into using either language, it's essential to do your research. That's why I hope this article has helped guide you toward the right choice.

Thanks for taking the time to read it! If you have any questions about either language, feel free to comment below.

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Top comments (1)

seanwatters profile image
sean watters

I don't see any mention of Rust's metaprogramming capabilities. Metaprogramming with macros in Rust is also a very powerful and Rust-ish paradigm.