[Mesa-dev] Rust drivers in Mesa

Francisco Jerez currojerez at riseup.net
Fri Oct 2 03:15:01 UTC 2020

Alyssa Rosenzweig <alyssa.rosenzweig at collabora.com> writes:

> Hi all,
> Recently I've been thinking about the potential for the Rust programming
> language in Mesa. Rust bills itself a safe system programming language
> with comparable performance to C [0], which is a naturally fit for
> graphics driver development.
> Mesa today is written primarily in C, a notoriously low-level language,
> with some components in C++. To handle the impedance mismatch, we've
> built up a number of abstractions in-tree, including multiple ad hoc
> code generators (GenXML, NIR algebraic passes, Bifrost disassembler). A
> higher level language can help avoid the web of metaprogramming and
> effect code that is simpler and easier to reason about. Similarly, a
> better type system can aid static analysis.
> Beyond abstraction, Rust's differentiating feature is the borrow checker
> to guarantee memory safety. Historically, safety has not been a primary
> concern of graphics drivers, since drivers are implemented as regular
> userspace code running in the process of the application calling them.
> Unfortunately, now that OpenGL is being exposed to untrusted code via
> WebGL, the driver does become an attack vector.
> For the time being, Mesa attempts to minimize memory bugs with defensive
> programming, safe in-tree abstractions (including ralloc), and static
> analysis via Coverity. Nevertheless, these are all heuristic solutions.
> Static analysis is imperfect and in our case, proprietary software.
> Ideally, the bugs we've been fixing via Coverity could be caught at
> compile-time with a free and open source toolchain.
> As Rust would allow exactly this, I see the primary benefit of Rust in
> verifying correctness and robustness, rather than security concerns per
> se.  Indeed, safety guarantees do translate well beyond WebGL.
> Practically, how would Rust fit in with our existing C codebase?
> Obviously I'm not suggesting a rewrite of Mesa's more than 15 million
> lines of C. Instead, I see value in introducing Rust in targeted parts
> of the tree. In particular, I envision backend compilers written in part
> in Rust. While creating an idiomatic Rust wrapper for NIR or Gallium
> would be prohibitively costly for now, a backend compiler could be
> written in Rust with IR builders exported for use of the NIR -> backend
> IR translator written in C.
> This would have minimal impact on the tree. Users that are not building
> such a driver would be unaffected. For those who _are_ building Rust
> code, the Rust compiler would be added as a build-time dependency and
> the (statically linked) Rust standard library would be added as a
> runtime dependency. There is concern about the Rust compiler requiring
> LLVM as a dependency, but again this is build-time, and no worse than
> Mesa already requiring LLVM as a runtime dependency for llvmpipe and
> clover. As for the standard library, it is possible to eliminate the
> dependency as embedded Rust does, perhaps calling out to the C standard
> library via the FFI, but this is likely quixotic. I do regret the binary
> size increase, however.
> Implications for the build system vary. Rust prefers to be built by its
> own package manager, Cargo, which is tricky to integrate with other
> build systems. Actually, Meson has native support for Rust, invoking the
> compiler directly and skipping Cargo, as if it were C code. This support
> is not widely adopted as it prevents linking with external libraries
> ("crates", in Rust parlance), with discussions between Rust and Meson
> developers ending in a stand-still [1]. For Mesa, this might be just
> fine. Our out-of-tree run-time dependencies are minimal for the C code,
> and Rust's standard library largely avoids the need for us to maintain a
> Rust version of util/ in-tree. If this proves impractical in the
> long-term, it is possible to integrate Cargo with Meson on our end [2].
> One outstanding concern is build-time, which has been a notorious
> growing pain for Rust due to both language design and LLVM itself [3],
> although there is active work to improve both fronts [4][5]. I build
> Mesa on my Arm laptop, so I suppose I'd be hurt more than many of us.
> There's also awkward bootstrapping questions, but there is work here too
> [6].
> If this is of interest, please discuss. It's clear to me Rust is not
> going away any time soon, and I see value in Mesa embracing the new
> technology. I'd like to hear other Mesa developers' thoughts.
> Thanks,
> Alyssa

I fully agree with the memory safety, generic programming and type
system benefits of Rust over C you're talking about, particularly while
writing any minimally complex piece of code like a compiler back-end.  I
have no objection to new back-ends being written in Rust instead of C.
But just saying, most of those benefits can be reasonably achieved with
modern dialects of C++ (modern as in >10 years old), which we already
have hooked up to the build system and doesn't require any additional
build-time dependencies.  Main advantage I see in Rust over C++ is
social rather than technical -- People don't tend to carry as much of a
cognitive burden (often an overwhelmingly negative one) about type-level
metaprogramming in Rust as they do about C++.  If transitioning to Rust
is what it takes to get people to start writing type-safe code then so
be it.  They're both technically satisfactory ways to achieve that IMHO.

> [0] https://www.rust-lang.org/
> [1] https://github.com/mesonbuild/meson/issues/2173
> [2] https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/fractal/-/blob/master/meson.build
> [3] https://pingcap.com/blog/rust-compilation-model-calamity/
> [4] https://blog.mozilla.org/nnethercote/2020/04/24/how-to-speed-up-the-rust-compiler-in-2020/
> [5] https://github.com/bjorn3/rustc_codegen_cranelift
> [6] https://github.com/thepowersgang/mrustc
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