Is Rust in Trouble After Big Mozilla Layoffs?

Rust is a pretty popular programming language—it ranked 20th on both the most recent TIOBE Index and RedMonk rankings. It’s also a language historically driven by contributors who work at Mozilla, which just announced cuts to 25 percent of its workforce. How will those layoffs impact Rust’s development?

For those who’ve never used Rust, it’s an increasingly popular language (it’s the “most loved” on Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey) that emphasizes memory safety. It reached its first stable release in 2014, so it’s definitely mature, even if it doesn’t have the user base of other languages.

Rust’s contributors see the potential issue with Mozilla’s business difficulties, which is why the Rust Core Team issued a blog posting earlier this month that sought to put concerns at rest. “In 2015, with the launch of Rust 1.0, Rust established its project direction and governance independent of the Mozilla organization,” the posting began. “Since then, Rust has been operating as an autonomous organization, with Mozilla being a prominent and consistent financial and legal sponsor.”

While acknowledging that Mozilla’s layoffs are difficult for everyone, the blog goes on to suggest that an open-source project like Rust is resilient to any one company’s changes of fortune. “We would like to emphasize that membership in Rust teams is given to individuals and is not connected to one’s employer,” it continued. “Mozilla employees who are also members of the Rust teams continue to be members today, even if they were affected by the layoffs. Of course, some may choose to scale back their involvement. We understand not everyone might be able to continue contributing, and we would fully support their decision.” 

The Rust Core Team, in conjunction with Mozilla, is working on a “Rust foundation” that could be up and running by the end of 2020. In addition, a number of other big companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, have utilized Rust, meaning they have an interest in keeping the language in use. 

But the Rust situation illustrates a key issue with some programming languages: If the language is primarily fostered by one entity, it’s vulnerable to that entity’s changes in fortune. For example, Kotlin is largely overseen by JetBrains, with increasing participation by Google. While open source mitigates some of the potential issues, it’s something worth paying attention to if you utilize smaller languages as a vital part of your programming work.