Webassembly/wasm and asm.js

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The web assembly thing. I’ll try to clarify things that I learned working on it:

  1. WASM : short for WebAssembly, a binary instructions format that runs on a stack based virtual machine. Wasm is designed as a portable target for compilation of high-level languages like C/C++/Rust to be run on the Web. Reference here
  2. asm.js : a subset of js, static typed and highly optimizable, created to allow running  higher level languages like C application on the Web. Reference here and here

So you would say 1 and 2 have the same purpose : AFAIK yes. You can also convert asm.js to wasm and decode wasm back to asm.js (theoretically). Seems that WASM is going to be extended in the future compared to asm.js.

Let’s continue :

  1. emscripten  : toolchain to compile high level languages to asm.js and WASM. Uses LLVM and does also come conversion of API (openGL to WebGL for ex) and compiles to LLVM IR (llvm bitcode) and then from LLVM IR Bitcode to asm.js using Fastcomp.
  2. Binaryen (asm2wasm) : compiles asm.js to wasm and is included in emscripten (?)

Supposing that you have a C/C++ project, made of different libraries, I suggest to compile to LLVM IR Bitcode all the single components and just during the link phase generate asm.js/wasm for execution. This will allow you to maintain your building/linking steps as you would have in an standard object code generation environment.
emscripten/LLVM offer a full set of tools to compile.work on IR Bitcode if you like :

  • emmake : use existing makefiles by running emmake make
  • emconfigure : use existing configure command by running emconfigure configure <options>

Also if you want to dig deeper into llvm :

  • lli : directly executes programs in LLVM bitcode format. It takes a program in LLVM bitcode format and executes it using a just-in-time compiler or an interpreter
  • llc : compiles LLVM source inputs into assembly language for a specified architecture. The assembly language output can then be passed through a native assembler and linker to generate a native executable

Once you have all your compiled libraries/components in LLVM IR Bitcode you have to generate WASM. The basic compile command is :

emcc -s WASM=1 -o <prog>.html <prog>.c -l<anylibraryyouneed>

but :

  1. If you are using malloc/free you need to add : -s ALLOW_MEMORY_GROWTH=1
  2. If you are using pthreads in your code/libraries you need to add : -s USE_PTHREADS=1 but as of at Jan 2019 you can’t have both malloc/free and pthreads. More info here.

More to come soon.


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About paulborile

I’m an IT Professional with a good experience in management of IT companies and lot of experience in software development. I have been partner of a couple of startups, managed teams of up to 25 people, worked as a freelance and currently leading the Italian development team for ScientiaMobile Inc, a Reston (US) based startup focused on image optimizing CDN and mobile detection technologies and services. Born in Dearborn Michigan and living in Italy since many years now I speak fluently both English and Italian, studied French and learned some Russian while working for some time for a Olivetti/Aeroflot project. I play bass guitar and ride gravel bikes in my free time.