An Introduction to WebAssembly

WebAssembly also called Wasm is a Web-optimized code format and API Application Programming Interface that can greatly improve the performances and capabilities of websites. Version 1.0 of WebAssembly was released in 2017 and became an official W3C standard in 2019.

The standard is actively supported by all major browser suppliers for obvious reasons the official list of inside the browser use cases mentions among other things video editing 3D games virtual and augmented reality p2p services and scientific simulations. Besides making browsers much more powerful than JavaScript could this standard may even extend the lifespan of websites for example it is WebAssembly that powers the continued support of Flash animations and games at the Internet Archive.

WebAssembly isnt just for browsers though it is currently being used in mobile and edge based environments with such products as Cloudflare Workers.

Files in .wasm format contain low level binary instructions bytecode executable at near CPU-native speed by a virtual machine that uses a common stack. The code is packaged in modules that is objects that are directly executable by a browser and each module can be instantiated multiple times by a web page. The functions defined inside modules are listed in one dedicated array or Table and the corresponding data are contained in another structure called arraybuffer. Developers can explicitly allocate memory for .wasm code with the Javascript WebAssembly.memory call.

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