Zig Language

Zig Language

Research for a native compiler!


11 min read

Zig is a general-purpose programming language created by Andrew Kelley in 2015. It was designed to be a better alternative to C and aims to provide a safer and more modern programming environment, while still maintaining low-level control over system resources.

Zig's syntax is inspired by C, but it includes several features to improve on the deficiencies of the C language. It has a strong, static type system, with support for algebraic data types, polymorphism, and type inference. Zig code is compiled to native machine code, giving it the ability to produce fast and efficient executables.

One of the unique features of Zig is its focus on providing a great user experience for developers. The language is designed to be easy to learn and use, with clear error messages and helpful documentation. It also includes a package manager and build system, making it simple to manage dependencies and build projects.

Zig is an open-source project with an active and growing community. While it is still a relatively new language, it has gained a lot of attention in recent years, particularly in the systems programming community. Many developers are drawn to Zig because of its focus on reliability, performance, and ease of use, making it a promising language for writing low-level systems software.


Here's a comparison between Zig and C, with a focus on the advantages offered by some of Zig's features:

1. Safety and Memory Management

One of the biggest advantages of Zig over C is its strong focus on safety and memory management. Zig has a built-in error-handling system that encourages developers to handle errors explicitly, which can help prevent many types of bugs and security vulnerabilities. Zig's memory management is also much safer than C's, as it provides automatic bounds checking and pointer safety, preventing many common memory-related bugs that can occur in C. Zig's approach to memory management is designed to offer the performance benefits of C while avoiding most of its pitfalls.

2. Compile-Time Execution

Zig allows for extensive use of compile-time execution, which can help reduce runtime overhead and make code easier to reason about. This is achieved through comptime, a feature that provides static evaluation of expressions and functions at compile time. With comptime, the values of variables and the results of functions can be determined at compile time, reducing the amount of work that needs to be performed at runtime. This can lead to faster and more efficient code.

3. Error Handling

Zig has a built-in error-handling system that encourages developers to handle errors explicitly, making it easier to detect and fix bugs. Error handling in C can be done through return codes or exceptions, but it is typically left up to the programmer to handle these cases. Zig's error-handling system makes it easier to write robust code that manages errors effectively, reducing the likelihood of bugs and making it easier to reason about the code.

4. Interoperability

Zig is designed to be highly interoperable with C, which can give it an advantage over programming languages that require a complete migration to a new language. Zig provides C-compatible types and functions, allowing it to interface seamlessly with C libraries and code. This can make it easier to migrate existing C code to Zig or to incorporate Zig code into existing C projects.

Overall, Zig offers a range of advantages over C, particularly in the areas of safety and memory management. Zig's focus on safety and its built-in error-handling system can reduce the likelihood of bugs and security vulnerabilities, while its support for compile-time execution and interoperability with C can make it a practical choice for a wide range of projects.

Memory Management

Zig has a unique approach to memory management that is designed to be safer and more efficient than traditional manual memory management while still providing more control over memory usage than garbage collection.

Zig's memory management is based on a concept called "comptime," which allows the compiler to perform compile-time computations using values that are known at compile time. This allows Zig to perform many of the memory management tasks that would traditionally be performed at runtime in a compiled language like C.

One of the key features of Zig's memory management system is its emphasis on explicit ownership and borrowing. This means that Zig developers specify at compile time which parts of the code "own" each piece of memory and how and when that memory can be accessed or modified. This approach provides a high level of safety, as it makes it difficult to accidentally modify or free memory that is still in use.

Another important feature of Zig's memory management system is its support for "defer" statements, which allow developers to specify actions that should be performed when a function returns, regardless of whether the function returns normally or due to an error. This can help prevent memory leaks and other related bugs.

Overall, Zig's memory management system provides several advantages over C's manual memory management, including increased safety and predictability, reduced risk of memory leaks and related bugs, and better performance thanks to comptime optimizations. However, it does require more explicit memory management than a garbage-collected language and may take some adjustment for developers who are used to garbage collection or manual memory management in other languages.

Zig Compiler

Zig and C are both native compilers, meaning that they compile source code directly into machine code that can be executed by the computer's processor. However, there are some differences in how they handle compilation time.

One of the key differences is that Zig has a strong focus on compile-time evaluation and computation. This means that the Zig compiler is able to perform many computations at compile-time, rather than at runtime. This can result in faster overall compile times for Zig programs, since the compiler can perform many tasks in advance that would otherwise be done during execution for C programs.

Another factor that can impact compile time is the complexity and size of the program being compiled. For example, very large C programs may take longer to compile than smaller Zig programs, due to the increased amount of code that needs to be processed.

It's worth noting that Zig is a relatively new programming language, and as such, its compiler and development environment are still evolving. While Zig's design is intended to result in fast compilation times, this is not a guarantee in every case, and the specifics can depend on factors like the complexity of the program being compiled and the hardware being used.

That said, one key advantage of Zig is that it is a native compiler, not a transpiler. Transpilers like Emscripten and Babel are designed to convert code from one language to another, often resulting in slower performance and longer compilation times. Since Zig is a native compiler, it is able to generate very efficient machine code directly from Zig source code, without any translation step in between.

Zig Compilation targets

Zig is a systems programming language that aims to support a wide range of compilation targets. Some of the compilation targets that are currently supported by the Zig compiler include:

  • x86 and x86_64 processors on Linux, macOS, and Windows

  • ARM processors, including Raspberry Pi and other embedded devices

  • MIPS processors on Linux

  • PowerPC processors on Linux

  • WebAssembly, allowing Zig programs to run in the browser or as standalone executables

  • iOS and Android mobile devices

In addition to these targets, Zig is designed to make it easy to add support for new platforms and architectures. The language includes built-in support for cross-compilation, which allows developers to generate executables for a target architecture on a different host system.

The Zig standard library provides low-level facilities for interacting with hardware and system APIs, which makes it well-suited to writing operating systems, device drivers, and other systems software. However, Zig can also be used for high-level application development, and supports a growing number of libraries and frameworks for web development, desktop applications, and other purposes.

Zig Budget

Zig is sponsored by the Zig Software Foundation, a non-profit organization that was created to support the development of the language and its ecosystem. The foundation is funded by donations from individuals and companies who are interested in supporting the project.

As of September 2021, the Zig Software Foundation has a total budget of $102,319. This includes funds from donations, grants, and merchandise sales. The foundation has stated that its priorities for funding include improving the stability and performance of the language, expanding the standard library and ecosystem, and supporting community events and development.

The future of the Zig project budget is dependent on continued support from the community. Donations and grants are the primary sources of funding for the foundation, and any increase in funding will allow the foundation to invest more in the development of the language and its ecosystem. If you are interested in supporting the Zig project, you can donate directly to the Zig Software Foundation or contribute to the project through GitHub.

Zig vs Rust

Zig is a modern and powerful programming language, similar to Rust, that is designed with a focus on performance, safety, and simplicity. Here are some of the key syntax and features of Zig compared to Rust, along with some advantages Zig has over Rust:

  1. Syntax: Zig has a more straightforward and less verbose syntax when compared to Rust. Zig uses a simple and readable syntax with a minimal set of keywords, making it easy to learn and use.

  2. Memory Management: Unlike Rust's complex borrowing system, Zig's memory management is based on the concept of comptime, which allows for compile-time memory management that is both efficient and safe. This means that Zig programs have predictable memory usage, and no runtime overhead is added.

  3. Error Handling: Zig has a powerful error handling mechanism that does not depend on exceptions or complex control flow. Instead, Zig uses a result-based error handling model that is simple, predictable, and easy to use.

  4. Standard Library: Zig provides a minimalistic standard library that is powerful, well-documented, and easy to use. This approach means that programmers can build lightweight and performant applications without worrying about bloated dependencies.

  5. Interoperability: Zig has first-class support for C, allowing developers to easily interface with existing C codebases. Zig also has a built-in foreign function interface (FFI) that allows programmers to use libraries written in other languages.

  6. Compile-time Metaprogramming: Zig supports comptime metaprogramming, which allows programmers to write code that is executed at compile time. This feature can significantly reduce runtime overhead and allow for more efficient and expressive code.

  7. Community: Zig has a growing community of developers who are actively contributing to the language's development. The community is focused on making Zig practical, accessible, and enjoyable to work with.

In summary, Zig has a more straightforward syntax, a powerful comptime memory management system, a result-based error handling mechanism, a minimal standard library, excellent interoperability with C, powerful comptime metaprogramming, and an active community, making it an attractive choice over Rust for developers who value simplicity, performance, and safety.

Pointer Arithmetic

While Zig and C both support pointer arithmetic, Zig aims to provide a safer alternative to C when working with pointers. There are a couple of key differences in the way Zig and C handle pointers that contribute to this:

  1. Nullability: In Zig, pointers are nullable by default, which means that a pointer can either point to a valid memory location or to a special value that represents the absence of a value, i.e., null. In C, pointers are not nullable by default, which can lead to unexpected crashes if a null pointer is accidentally dereferenced.

  2. Pointer types: Zig supports two types of pointers by default: raw pointers (*T) and pointer-to-const (const *T). Raw pointers can be mutated and dereferenced, whereas pointer-to-const can only be dereferenced to read the value of the object at the memory location. In C, any pointer can be used as a raw pointer, which can lead to subtle bugs if the wrong type of pointer is used.

  3. Bounds checking: In Zig, the language provides built-in support for checking pointer bounds at runtime. This helps prevent buffer overruns, a common kind of security vulnerability that can lead to unpredictable behavior or even full system compromise. C, on the other hand, does not provide any built-in bounds checking for pointers.

Overall, these features make it easier to write safe code with pointers in Zig compared to C. While pointer arithmetic can still be dangerous if used incorrectly, Zig provides a more structured approach to working with pointers to help avoid common pitfalls.


Here are some references for Zig:

These resources should be helpful for anyone looking to learn and use the Zig programming language.

Zig compilers

Zig could definitely be a good option for creating a Unicode capable compiler or virtual machine for another language. Zig has good support for Unicode and provides several features that could make this task easier, such as:

  1. String handling: Zig provides a dedicated string type that can handle Unicode characters, including support for UTF-8 encoding and decoding. Handling Unicode strings correctly is paramount for language tools that operate with text input/output.

  2. Error handling: Zig provides an error handling system that allows you to cleanly handle errors that may occur during string processing. This could be especially useful when dealing with malformed Unicode data.

  3. Low-level control: Zig is a systems programming language that gives programmers low-level control over memory allocation and management. This could make it easier to manipulate Unicode strings at a low level.

  4. Cross-platform compatibility: Zig is designed to be compatible with multiple platforms and architectures, which would be important considerations for a compiler or virtual machine.

In summary, Zig's support for Unicode strings and low-level control make it well-suited for creating language tools that can handle Unicode data correctly.

Disclaim: This short research was done with ChatGPT. I have ask the questions to descover if Zig is a good alternative for System Programming. Do not criticize and be happy you can read this.

Learn fast and prosper. ๐Ÿ€๐Ÿซถ๐Ÿป

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