Zig, Odin and Choosing a New Language
HandMadeSeattle (HMS) happened this year!
HandMadeCon (HMC) was renamed and it’s more of a community-focused event lead by the indefatiguable Abner Coimbre. I was a little hesitant about going this year since it was on hiatus since 2016 and there’s a slight change in direction; but I’m extremely happy with how it turned out.
I met a bunch of people, some old faces and lots of new faces. Of particular relevance to this blog post are two developers I got to hang out with; Andrew Kelley, creator of Zig, and Ginger Bill, creator of Odin
I’ve been aware of both Zig and Odin for a number of years now - Zig after Andrew told me about it at HMC2016 and Odin which I discovered browsing the Handmade Network forums and projects. If you know me, you also know that I’ve been thinking about programming languages for a long time; trying many out and trying to commit to a few languages that seem optimal for the kind of work I want to do. To that end, I largely settled on Go and C in the past; although this was always an uneasy truce of sorts. C is not great and Go has its own issues; but they both seemed to be the least bad options available.
So what of these languages Zig and Odin? Honestly, I’m not going to dive into too much detail here - they both have a decent amount of introductory material on their websites and active communities on Discord. I recommend you investigate both on your own. What I will do here is describe how I evaluated them and what my extremely superficial analysis is of them and what I’m deciding to do going forward.
Originally I planned to go back and rewrite my CHIP-8 emulator in both Zig and Odin as a form of evaluation. That hasn’t happened yet, and honestly probably won’t; although I do plan to rewrite it in Zig for different reasons. The actual method of evaluation I used was more opportunistic than that.
It is December now, and every december there is a new set of challenges similar to Project Euler put out on Advent of Code. I did a few of the challenges last year and when I realized they were happening again, I jumped at the chance. This also happened to perfectly coincide with completing graphics and input for my NES emulator during a coinciding drought of NES Emulation videos from OneLoneCoder.
So, I did three days. I first started doing C, Go, Odin, Rust and Zig; but by day three I got exhausted with Rust and saw no real benefit in continuing with C since the whole point is partially to replace C anyway. I don’t think I will continue with Advent of Code - at least I will not obligate myself to do so; but I have done enough to get initial impressions from Zig and Odin.
I really like Odin.
Odin feels very similar to Go, which I also like.
Writing code in Odin feels natural and there are very few contortions required to make things work. It’s a very pleasant language to use, and I decided that I would like to use it going forward.
Zig is a really odd language.
But, you know what? It really effing works.
I was impressed with Zig going into HMS this year having read about how far it’s come, and I’m even more impressed now.
Just look at this list of supported targets.
At HMS Andrew built a baremetal executable on the spot to run on some real RISC-V hardware that was available at the show! (Unfortunately he didn’t actually get to try the baremetal demo out on that hardware…)
Zig has a robust build system.
Zig can be considered to be a better C compiler than C.
Zig has robust support for cross compilation.
Honestly, the tooling support and platform support for Zig is what completely sold me on the language.
A short while ago - just after starting on my Gameboy emulator, I decided that I’d like to write a Gameboy Advance game. While playing with Zig lately a GBA Hello World in Zig popped up!
Honestly, it’s like the stars have aligned or something.
I really like Odin, but Zig seems to be so much more robust at this point. Bill says Odin is a stable language, and maybe it is more stable than Zig; but the entire ecosystem appears to paint a different picture - at least in my eyes.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Odin though!
I’m very interested in contributing in any way possible to Odin. I strongly believe that Odin can make it to where Zig is right now; and potentially even surpass it. I want to play a part in bringing that vision to fruition; provided it matches what Bill is trying to do with Odin.
Everything else being equal, I would rather program in Odin than in Zig. Not that I think Zig is a bad language - I just prefer the aesthetics of Odin and how natural it felt to program in it.
In the meantime, I will be using Zig for my personal projects.