Using Rust for Hardware Design | RustMeUp

Using Rust for Hardware Design

Programming languages have always been a critical component in the field of hardware design. Among the array of languages, Rust is gradually becoming a prominent player in this area.

What is Rust?

Rust is a high-level, multi-paradigm, open-source programming language that was originally designed by Mozilla Research. What makes Rust stand out from other languages is its emphasis on safety, particularly safe concurrency, performance, and memory safety, without the necessity of garbage collection or a runtime.

Rust is syntactically similar to C++, but it designs better memory safety while maintaining high performance. With such unique features and undeniable credibility, Rust is now being explored for hardware design purposes.

Why Use Rust in Hardware Design?

1. Memory Safety Without Garbage Collection

Rust offers many of the benefits of both low-level and high-level languages. Despite being as low-level as C, Rust provides zero-cost abstractions, which allow programmers to manipulate hardware as if they were using machine code, while providing the comfort and safety guarantees of high-level languages.

2. Concurrency Without Data Races

Rust has excellent concurrency capabilities. Its type system and ownership model guarantees memory safety and thread safety  —  without requiring a garbage collector.

3. Productive Toolchain

Rust comes with a tremendous ecosystem of libraries, tools, and frameworks that make it easy for hardware architects and engineers to be incredibly productive.

4. Safety and Speed

Rust guarantees thread safety, preventing data races at compile time, and offers control over memory layout just like C/C++. Yet, it also incorporates safety checks to avoid buffer overflow and other memory-related problems.

How To Use Rust For Hardware Design?

Successfully using Rust for hardware design involves adopting new programming concepts and techniques. Here are some general steps to follow:

1. Understand the Rust Programming Model: Rust's model is based on zero-cost abstractions, ownership, and borrowing. To use Rust successfully, you need to grasp these concepts thoroughly.

2. Learn the Rust Toolchain: Rust has integrated tools for package management, documentation, and multi-language interoperability. Understanding how to use these tools will provide a strong foundation for hardware design.

3. Practice Designing Hardware With Rust: The best way to learn Rust for hardware design is through practice. Start with small implementations and gradually move to larger ones.

4. Use Libraries and Frameworks: Rust's ecosystem is full of libraries that can simplify hardware design. Check out embedded-hal, RTFM, or drone-os. These are designed specifically for embedded systems and are a good start for hardware design.

Using Rust in Real-World Hardware Design

Let's now examine the applicability of Rust in a real-world hardware design scenario.

Consider a common hardware design problem – designing an IoT device like a temperature sensor.

  1. First, the sensor data needs to be difficult for hackers to manipulate. Rust helps here by providing strong guarantees about the behavior of your software.

  2. Second, our sensor needs to operate in real time. Rust, by providing zero-cost abstractions and fine-grained control over memory and hardware resources, makes your IoT device fast and responsive.

  3. Lastly, our sensor must be reliable. Rust’s type system and ownership model make your software more resilient.

Thus, Rust’s features make it a perfect fit for hardware design.


While Rust may require a paradigm shift for those accustomed to languages such as C/C++, the benefits it offers in terms of safety, concurrency, and control over hardwares are valuable enough to merit considering.

Learning Rust can help hardware engineers design safer, faster, and more concurrent systems without having to sacrifice performance or control over the hardware. Rust is rapidly growing in popularity, and it's poised to be a dominant player in hardware design in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Why is Rust safe for hardware design?

A: Rust is designed from the ground up to prevent majority programs errors. Its syntax and language metaphors ensure memory safety.

Q2: Is Rust a better choice than C++ for hardware design?

A: Choice of language depends on the context. However, Rust adds a guarantee of memory and thread safety over C++, which could be critical in certain hardware design scenarios.

Q3: Does using Rust require a new programming paradigm?

A: Yes, using Rust involves adopting the ownership paradigm which involves clearances around how entities in the system may access and modify data.

Q4: Can Rust be used for embedded systems?

A: Absolutely, Rust's zero-cost abstractions model, concurrency facilities, and emphasized safety make it an excellent language for embedded systems.

Q5: Does Rust support real-time systems?

A: Yes, the concurrency facilities in Rust and its control over the system resources make it suitable for real time system design.