Unsafe for Work

What's the deal with unsafe? The word alone seems to scare the living hell out of every Rust developer, at the same time it's heavily misunderstood even by the best of us.
No more trust issues. Let's analyze what unsafe is (surprisingly little), and what harm you can cause by using it (less than you think but still enough to wreak havoc).
In the end, we will see if we have practical use for unsafe in our own, real-world software, or if we should consider everything not safe for work.

LEVEL: Advanced

RustLab Deep
40 min
November 11th, 2024



I spoke at an online Rust conference last year where the keynote speaker explained the ownership and borrowing model of Rust, and ended with the words: "You can disable the borrow checker by using unsafe". I paused for a second and thought: Wait, that's wrong. That's not what unsafe does. Stunned by the misconception in the heads of even highly regarded speakers, I set out to learn everything that there is to understand regarding unsafe Rust. This talk is a summary of my learnings, with an answer to the question: Do we even need to care? Do we need to be aware of unsafe in our own software? The TL;DR: Yes. I will show a few examples where unsafe has bitten us, but also how unsafe helped us get rid of those problems easily. In the words of Florian Gilcher: Unsafe is a safety feature.

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