Writing a path
tracer in Rust

Part II

First impressions

written by Ruud van Asseldonk

As a learning exercise, I am porting the Luculentus spectral path tracer to Rust. You can follow the port on GitHub. After porting a few files, these are my first impressions of Rust.


Installing Rust and Cargo was easier than I expected. With the installer, it even works on Windows without having to go through all the MSYS hassle. The Windows version is 32-bit though.

Cargo is awesome! It is similar to what Cabal is for Haskell. Setting up a project with Cargo is as easy as writing a four-line toml file. Then you just do cargo run, and it compiles everything, and then runs the program. The compiler produces mostly helpful error messages, telling you not only what the problem is, but also how to fix it. Compiling and running is fast (at this point, at least). For the few source files I have, it takes 0.46 seconds to compile and run on Linux. That feels like compilation is instant. Windows is slower, at 1.16 seconds.

One downside of Cargo is that it only looks for Cargo.toml, and I dislike having uppercase characters in my filenames. At least make accepts makefile as well. Apparently, there is not going to be support for cargo.toml either.


The official Rust style is to use Egyptian brackets. Though I prefer balanced brackets, it is a matter of taste. The official casing rules are Pascal casing for types, and lowercase with underscores (snake case) for most other things. Again, this is a matter of preference, but I do find it an odd combination. It leads to problems when a type is part of a function name, or when you name modules after a type. The standard library itself has TreeMap in treemap.rs, but PriorityQueue in priority_queue.rs. I chose to use snake case for my filenames.

An other thing that surprised me, is that mathematical functions use method call syntax. That is, x.sin() instead of sin(x). It felt awkward at first, but I got used to it very soon. It might even be better when multiple functions are nested, because the parentheses do not pile up.


Rust uses modules, which are like namespaces. The compiler compiles only one file, and it might look for other files when modules are declared. For example, I have a file src/vector3.rs, which will become the vector3 module. In main.rs, you declare mod vector3;, and that will expand to mod vector3 { content }, with the contents of vector3.rs. This is very much like #include in C, and it surprised me at first. The Vector3 type in vector3.rs is used in many other modules such as ray, so at first I thought I should also declare mod vector3; in ray.rs. However, that declares the module ::ray::vector3. The proper thing to do, is to declare both the vector3 and the ray module in main.rs, and then the module ::vector3 is available in ray.rs. If you keep in mind that module declarations work in this #include kind of way, it makes sense.

Being used to the C# system, where all files are considered for name resolution, it does feel like a step backwards. I do not want to declare vector3 in main.rs: it is a dependency of most other modules, but main does not use it directly. Changing things in main.rs changes the behaviour of ray.rs, even though main should depend on ray, not the other way around. Files interact in a complex way. I might have missed something though, so please let me know if there is a better way.

Edit: Thanks for the feedback, it changed my view. The use mod::Type syntax is similar to using directives in C#. (Though in C# it is more common to use an entire namespace, not the individual types.) The mod declarations are more like a project file, they tell the compiler which files to consider.

So far, translating C++ to Rust has been a pleasant experience. When things do not work as I expected, the IRC channel is very helpful. Next time I will discuss operator overloading with traits.

Discuss this post on Reddit. Rust 0.12.0-pre-nightly was used in this post.

More words

Writing a path tracer in Rust, part 3: operators

Operator overloading can do wonders to make vector math readable. How does Rust compare to C++ here? Read full post