Home → Magazine Archive → December 2018 (Vol. 61, No. 12) → Bringing the Web Up to Speed with WebAssembly → Abstract

Bringing the Web Up to Speed with WebAssembly

By Andreas Rossberg, Ben L. Titzer, Andreas Haas, Derek L. Schuff, Dan Gohman, Luke Wagner, Alon Zakai, J. F. Bastien, Michael Holman

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 12, Pages 107-115
10.1145/3282510

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The maturation of the Web platform has given rise to sophisticated Web applications such as 3D visualization, audio and video software, and games. With that, efficiency and security of code on the Web has become more important than ever. WebAssembly is a portable low-level bytecode that addresses these requirements by offering a compact representation, efficient validation and compilation, and safe execution with low to no overhead. It has recently been made available in all major browsers. Rather than committing to a specific programming model, WebAssembly is an abstraction over modern hardware, making it independent of language, hardware, and platform and applicable far beyond just the Web. WebAssembly is the first mainstream language that has been designed with a formal semantics from the start, finally utilizing formal methods that have matured in programming language research over the last four decades.

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1. Introduction

The Web began as a simple hypertext document network but has now become the most ubiquitous application platform ever, accessible across a vast array of operating systems and device types. By historical accident, JavaScript is the only natively supported programming language on the Web. Because of its ubiquity, rapid performance improvements in modern implementations, and perhaps through sheer necessity, it has become a compilation target for many other languages. Yet JavaScript has inconsistent performance and various other problems, especially as a compilation target.

WebAssembly (or "Wasm" for short) addresses the problem of safe, fast, portable low-level code on the Web. Previous attempts, from ActiveX to Native Client to asm.js, have fallen short of properties that such a low-level code format should have:

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