Book Recommendation: Programming Rust

Most of us can agree that Rust’s learning curve is steep. I’ve been using it for hobby projects for the last few years but I’m still hesitant to use it when I’m constrained by a deadline, because of the upfront cost in development time. And that’s frustrating, because I really believe that the benefits it offers outweigh that.

Programming Rust is included in the latest Humble Functional Programming book bundle. Take a look on Amazon and you’ll see it’s getting some pretty rave reviews. It’s the first book that’s come my way focused on Rust end-to-end.

Personally, I find reading a book like this from cover to cover the best way to really learn a language. You need to put it into practice with projects, of course, but projects don’t teach you idioms, best practices, optimisation areas, and language-specific quirks that you should be aware of. Neither does using the language day in and day out at work, necessarily. This knowledge comes from experts.

Just like K&R, C++: The Complete Reference, Java: The Complete Reference, and Programming Ruby before it gave me insight into their respective languages, I’m hopeful Programming Rust can continue the trend.

Initial impression

So far it’s exceeded expectations! The book is broken down into four sections:

  1. Fundamentals: an overview of the language and details of the borrow checker
  2. Language constructs: expressions, error handling, and the module system
  3. Traits and generics
  4. Advanced and use case-specific Rust: IO, concurrency, and unsafe code

I’ve completed the first section, comprising five chapters. The last two chapters are about ownership and references respective. They offer the best explanations of both topics I’ve come across.

The ownership chapter explains Rust’s move semantics. Comparisons to C++ and Python give reasons for why Rust’s approach was chosen and the benefits of each approach, but also how to recreate the other two in Rust should you need to.

The references chapter explains lifetimes and the rules the borrow checker enforces, and repeats them in different scenarios so that they sink in. But by far the most valuable part of this chapter are the diagrams explaining how references are laid out in memory. They won’t come as a shock, as the memory model is intuitive and what you would expect, but seeing them illustrates why the borrow checker complains when it does. These diagrams have been the highlight of the book thus far.

I’m satisfied that my understanding of Rust has already increased dramatically as a result of reading the first section. Given that the second section is mostly what the official book in the Rust documentation covers, I skipped it—for now—and went straight to section three. Traits are everywhere in Rust, yet they don’t get extensive explanation in the official book. I’m glad to see that an entire section was dedicated to them in Programming Rust.

Unfortunately, some things are still skimmed over. For instance, the relationship between trait objects and static methods is mentioned but not elaborated upon. The book mentions the details are tedious, and implies they are of little consequence, but it left me wondering. Perhaps I will have a clearer picture on this intricacy at the end of the book. Perhaps details are included in the section I skipped over, or elaborated upon later in the book, so I’m wary to consider this in actual criticism at this point.

Where to go from here

I definitely plan to finish the book. Reading it is a joy. It definitely helps if you go in with at least some Rust knowledge, because it ramps up quite quickly. If you’re at the stage where you understand what Rust does but still struggle with the borrow checker and want to understand why it does things, the book is targeted at you.

The Humble Bundle is on for another eight days of writing. Real World Haskell and Introducing Elixir are two other books I’ve heard good things about and keen to look into. They’re also included in the bundle. For $15, it’s a no brainer!

[Krishan Wyse]

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