An article on Rust language for astrophysical simulation

It is a short read, and you can find it on arxiv. They tackled an integration problem, basically using the code to perform a relatively simple trajectory calculation for a particular N-body problem.

A few things lept out at me during my read.

First, the example was fairly simplistic … a leapfrog integrator, and while it is a symplectic integrator, this particular algorithm not quite high enough order to capture all the features of the N-body interaction they were working on.

Second, the statically compiled Rust was (for the same problem/inputs) about equivalent to if not slighty faster than the Fortran code in performance, much faster than C++, and even more so than Go. This could be confirmation bias on my part, but I’ve not seen many places where Go was comparable in performance with C++, usually factors of 2 off or worse. There could be many reasons for this, up to, and including poor measurement scenarios, allowing the Go GC to run in critical sections, etc. I know C++ should be running near Fortran in performance, but generally, I’ve not seen that either as the general case. Usually it is a set of fixed cases.

The reason for Fortran’s general dominance comes from the 50+ years people have had to write better optimizers for it, and that the language is generally simpler, with fewer corner cases. That and the removal of dangerous things like common blocks and other global state. This said, I fully expect other codes to equal and surpass it soon on a regular basis. I have been expecting Julia to do this in fairly short order. I am heartened to see Rust appear to do this on this one test, though I personally reserve my opinion on this for now. I’d like to see more code do this.

Rust itself is somewhat harder to adapt to. You have to be more rigid about how you think about variables, how you will use them, and what mechanisms you can use to shuttle state around. You have to worry about this a bit more explicitly than other languages. I am personally quite intrigued by its promises: zero cost abstraction, etc. The unlikelihood of a SEGV hitting again is also quite nice … tracing those down can often be frustrating.

My concern is the rate at which Rust is currently evolving. I started looking at it around 0.10.x, and it is (as of this writing) up to 0.14.x with 0.15.x looming.

Generally, I want languages that get out of my way of doing things, not languages that smother me in boilerplate of marginal (at best) utility, and impose their (often highly opinionated, and highly targeted, often slightly askew) worldview on me. Anything with an explicit garbage collection blocking task which can interfere with calculation is a terrific example of this.

Simple syntax, ease of expression, ability to debug, high performance, accurate results, and freedom from crashing with (*&^*&^$%^&$ SEGVs are high on my list of languages I want to spend time with.

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