"Why am I making a programming language?"

This question keeps rolling around in my head as I'm typing out the code that is slowly shaping into Rune. Programming is like magic. You imagine it in your mind, write it out, and there it is. Doing stuff which wasn't being done before.

Truth be told, I'm scared that people will tell me that I'm wasting my time. This has already been done, or "Why not just use X?". A thing so glaringly obvious that all of my efforts are wasted.

But you actually don't need a reason. It can simply be for The Joy of Creating, and then it's just you. Spending your own time. No harm done.

But I want to talk about why I'm making Rune beyond just for fun. So I'm dedicating this foreword to it. I feel obligated to describe why this might matter to others.

So here's why I'm making a new programming language.

I've spent a lot of effort working on OxidizeBot, a Twitch bot that streamers can use to add commands and other interactive things in their chat. I built it for myself while streaming. When adding features I always spend way too much time tinkering with it. Making it as generic as possible so it can solve more than just one problem. When it's a personal project, I don't care about being efficient. I care much more about doing things the right way.


Ok, I sometimes do that professionally as well. But a working environment is much more constrained. Personal projects should be fun!

Anyway, that means the bot isn't overly specialized to only suit my needs and can be used by others. It's starting to see a little bit of that use now which is a lot of fun. I made something which helps people do something cool.

All the commands in the bot are written in Rust, and compiled straight into the bot. This is nice because Rust is an incredible language. But Rust is also complex. Not needlessly mind you. I believe it's complex because it tackles really hard problems. And that usually comes with a base level of complexity it's very hard to get rid of.

But it's still tricky enough that streamers who have limited programming experience struggle getting up and running. I wanted them to be able to write their own commands. Ones they could just drop into a folder and presto - you're up and running.

To this day I've tutored two of these streamers who were interested in learning Rust to write their own commands.

Embedding a Rust compiler isn't feasible. So I started looking into dynamic programming languages. Ones that could be embedded into an existing application with little to no effort. That seamlessly integrates with its environment. A number of candidates came up, but the one that stood out the most to me was Rhai.

So why is Rhai awesome? It has Rust-like syntax. The runtime is fully written in mostly safe Rust, and can be easily embedded. Hooking up Rust functions is a piece of cake.

But Rhai has a set of design decisions which didn't exactly scratch my itch. The more I used it, the more I got inspired and started thinking about things that could be changed or added. I contributed a bit to the project. And it started to dawn on me that Rhai's approach wasn't exactly what I wanted. There's nothing wrong with this. The authors of Rhai have specific goals and ideas of what they want to accomplish. While it would be feasible to push Rhai in a different direction, the project would emerge looking much different on the other side. Which wouldn't be fair towards the people leveraging Rhai's strengths today. So I wanted a clean slate to find my own compromises. To discover freely what works and doesn't work well.

When I started working on Rune I had the following rough goals in mind:

  • Performance should be comparable to Lua and Python (And eventually LuaJIT when we have cranelift).
  • Scripts should compile quickly.
  • Rune should feel like "Rust without types".
  • Excellent support for asynchronous programming (i.e. native select statements).
  • Be as good as Rhai when it comes to integrating with native Rust.
  • Work well through C bindings.
  • A minimalistic stack-based runtime that is strictly single threaded*.

*: If this feels like a step backwards to you, don't worry too much. We can still have concurrency and threading using async code as you'll see later in this book.

Rune is now in a state where I want people to poke at it. Not too hard mind you. It's still early days. The compiler is very much in flux and a miscompilation will definitely cause the wrong closure to be called. You know, the one that doesn't perform your security checks 😅.

But the more poking and prodding people do, the more issues will be found. Every solved issue brings Rune one step close to being production ready. Every set of eyeballs that takes a look can bring fresh perspective and ideas, making the project better for me and everyone else.

I really want to thank Jonathan Turner and all the contributors to the Rhai project. They have been an an immense inspiration to me.

You can find the project on its GitHub page. I hope you'll enjoy using it as much as I've enjoyed making it!

— John-John Tedro