WebAssembly and the Future of Frontend Development
In this guide, you’ll learn about WebAssembly, how it works, and how it may change the web landscape.
What WebAssembly Is and Why You Need It
WebAssembly, in contrast, is a new type of binary code that allows you to develop apps in multiple languages, compile them down to low-level code, and run them in modern web browsers with near-native speed and performance. It’s compact to download and efficient to compile and execute.
Wasm was originally created in 2017 to run high-performance browser-based applications without affecting compatibility or security. Currently, Wasm provides significant performance improvements in two main areas. The first is start-up speed, allowing even computing-intensive applications to load quickly. The second is that you’ll notice a much smoother application performance while the software is running.
With Wasm, programmers can bring their native C, C++, Rust, or other supported language applications to the web. This enables them to achieve full performance and take advantage of the complete set of capabilities that they have when running natively on Windows or Mac. This is revolutionary because it means that users can now simply go to a web page and start using the app without downloading it, installing it, or running any security risk.
How WebAssembly Works
WebAssembly files come in two different formats. A WASM file, which is executable by WebAssembly’s virtual machine and readable by web browsers, and a WAT file, which is in text format and can be read by humans.
To produce a Wasm application that your browser can read and execute requires the following steps:
- Write your code in languages like C++, Rust, or Python, or bring the existing code you want to compile into Wasm.
- Compile the code and generate a Wasm binary.
When you follow these steps, you’ll have a web application that is written in another language but can run in your browser.
There are several tools available, like Emscripten or wasm-pack, that can help you build a WebAssembly application by converting your program to Wasm.
WebAssembly generates a binary file that is decoded and compiled to machine code on the web without the need for any further optimization. This makes it superfast, and it consumes less CPU. It can use either JIT or ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation, and compiling language ahead of time means that users can expect faster load times.
WebAssembly is a new technology that’s constantly improving. As with every new technology, it has limitations that must be resolved moving forward.
WebAssembly also has some security concerns that attackers can exploit. For example, when a Wasm engine isn’t implemented securely, a malicious developer can violate the security properties of the browser and compromise it. It’s also possible to compromise a Wasm application itself if it isn’t written securely.
In addition, one of WebAssembly’s limitations is the lack of integration with garbage collectors. Since the garbage collector is in charge of memory release and allocation, this absence means that developers must manage memory manually, which can result in memory leaks. Of course, web browsers are getting closer to providing support for garbage collection, making WebAssembly easier to use with languages like Java or C#.
What WebAssembly Means for the Future of Frontend Development
Using WebAssembly for simple tasks won’t improve the performance of your application; however, you should use it when dealing with CPU-intensive tasks, such as image and video manipulation, or when dealing with applications with complex business logic that expect high performance and require your code to be as efficient as possible.
WebAssembly is an exciting new technology that significantly changes the web development landscape. It’s difficult to predict how the change will unfold, but as the technology keeps improving, it’s clear that the future of web development is bright.
Are you already using Wasm today? We would love to hear about your experience with it.