The world of web design doesn’t seem to slow down. New languages, libraries, and frameworks are popping up left and right. It’s almost becoming difficult to keep up. Well, guess what? Here’s another one: WebAssembly.
This binary instruction format has been around for a couple of years yet has somehow escaped the attention of a large part of the public. Recently, it started gaining traction again, with developers finally realizing its full potential as a part of global digital transformation.
So what is WebAssembly and how can you make it work for you? We’ll try to answer this question and a few others along the way.
What is WebAssembly?
You might’ve already heard it referred to as Wasm. Either way, it’s a binary instruction format designed as a portable compilation target for web browsers, executable programs, and software interfaces. WebAssembly facilitates interactions between such apps and their host environment.
We’re talking about a versatile tech for cross-platform development on the web. It provides highly enhanced, near-native performance and allows the creation of complex apps and games.
The history behind it
Why do we need it?
Now that we’ve learned what WebAssembly is and how it came about, it’s time to figure out its benefits. Two stand out.
- This new standard allows developers to easily add features required to reach native levels of performance.
What is it used for?
So we have fast, secure, and portable code for the web. Great. So how does all this work in real life? What are its practical uses? They include:
- games and apps that run within web browsers.
- audio, image, and video manipulation.
- virtual and augmented reality.
- platform emulation.
- scientific simulations and other math-intensive tasks.
- security and encryption.
How does it work?
Developers start the process by writing code. Predictable, isn’t it? The good thing about WebAssembly is that you’re not limited to a specific language. There’s support for C/C++, Rust, AssemblyScript, Go (Golang), Kotlin, Swift, and quite a few others.
The same goes for different software development workflows and end goals. You can use it to create cross-platform mobile apps, game engines, server-side applications, edge devices, and blockchain development. Add to this your preferred code management standard and you’re ready to rock.
Now that you’ve written some executable machine code, it’s time to put it together. Since WebAssembly isn’t a language itself but a product of compiling and converting code, it’s time to do just that — compile source code into a binary file.
Compilation is a crucial step in leveraging the performance benefits of low-level languages. It helps maintain compatibility with web browsers and other environments that support WebAssembly execution.
Despite the above, your binary file won’t be executable just yet. There are two more steps to make it work. Importing is the first one.
The final step is Instance, a runtime representation of a compiled module. It encapsulates the pertaining code, data, and runtime state. Once instantiated, the module produces an instance that can work within a designated environment (i.e. server).
Here’s where WebAssembly shines. Instances allow multiple independent copies of a module to run concurrently. This enables the isolation and encapsulation of code in a modular and perfectly scalable manner.
The cons to consider
Of course, we can’t discuss what WebAssembly is and how it works without shining a light on some notable drawbacks. Even if there are only a few, they’re still worth mentioning.
- Lack of garbage collection. It has no native memory management and needs to rely on underlying code for this. Fortunately, improvement is in the works.
Easier than figuring out a new language
We do hope this has helped you understand both what WebAssembly is and how it can allow you to achieve your web and app development goals. Remember that this relatively new tech is subject to ongoing development and evolution. Not a language in itself, it’s a valuable addition to your development toolbox due to its universal portability.
This makes WebAssembly a viable alternative to enterprise and cloud computing containers. It enables the developer to create augmentations and plugins for a wide variety of apps. All you have to do is learn these four steps by heart – write, compile, import, instance. It’s definitely easier than figuring out a whole new language!