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Is WebAssembly the Future? The Next Frontier in Web Dev

Explore the potential of WebAssembly and dive into the question: Is WebAssembly the future?

Written by RamotionDec 4, 202311 min read

Last updated: Feb 6, 2024

Defining WebAssembly

WebAssembly (abbreviated as Wasm) is a relatively new technology that has the potential to fundamentally change the web as we know it. First proposed in 2015, WebAssembly aims to be a portable compilation target for programming languages that allows code to run at near-native speed in the browser.

The origins of WebAssembly trace back to asm.js, a subset of JavaScript developed at Mozilla starting in 2013. While asm.js offered performance improvements over regular JavaScript, it still had limitations. This led Mozilla, Microsoft, Google, and others to collaborate on a new standardized binary format that could overcome these limitations - WebAssembly.

The main goals of WebAssembly are to enable near-native performance, efficient memory usage, and the ability to compile code written in multiple languages like C/C++, Rust, and more. This makes it possible to run computationally intensive applications like 3D games, VR, image/video editing, and CAD programs in the browser at full speed.

Wasm is not a programming language itself. Instead, it is designed to be a portable compilation target that can be efficiently decoded and executed in web browsers. This allows code written in languages like C/C++, Rust, Go, and others to run on the web at near-native speeds.

How WebAssembly Works?

WebAssembly is designed as a portable compilation target for various programming languages, allowing code to run in web browsers at near-native speed. Here are some critical aspects of how WebAssembly works under the hood:

Compiling High-Level Languages to WebAssembly

WebAssembly uses a binary instruction format that is designed to be encoded in a compact and fast way. Source languages like C/C++, Rust, Go, and others are compiled down to WebAssembly byte code.

This compiled code can then be executed in any supporting host environment like browsers, standalone VMs, servers, etc. The compact binary format makes WebAssembly load, decode, and execute quickly.

Browser Engine Integration

In web browsers, WebAssembly bytecode is typically loaded along with JavaScript code. The browser downloads the .wasm module, validates it for security, compiles it to machine code, and stores it in memory.

The JavaScript glue code can then call functions exported from WebAssembly. Under the hood, browsers use JIT compilers and fast paths to execute WebAssembly efficiently.

Threads and Concurrency

WebAssembly supports creating threads using JavaScript APIs like Web Workers. This allows multi-threaded WebAssembly computations running concurrent, parallel code for CPU-intensive tasks. Shared memory is used for lines to coordinate efficiently. Future versions of WebAssembly will support threads natively.

Memory Model and GC Integration

WebAssembly modules have a simple linear 32-bit address space and can share memory with JavaScript. The memory in a WebAssembly instance is managed separately from the JS heap. Future versions will have better garbage collection integration. The WebAssembly memory model is designed to be high-performance and predictable.

WebAssembly utilizes efficient compilation, a compact binary code format, integrated browser, JS support, threads, and parallelism to deliver high-performance code execution on the web. The modular design and cross-language support make WebAssembly a flexible platform for running portable code safely in different environments.

Benefits of WebAssembly

WebAssembly provides several key benefits that make it a significant advancement in software development:

1. Performance Improvements

One of the main appeals of WebAssembly is its performance boost compared to JavaScript. WebAssembly executes near-native speeds since it compiles machine code that runs on the device's processor.

This results in significant speedups for compute-heavy applications, allowing complex operations like 3D rendering and math-intensive algorithms to run efficiently in the browser.

2. Small Download Sizes

Despite compiling to native code, WebAssembly module sizes are very small - often less than half the size of equivalent JavaScript. This is because WebAssembly uses a compressed binary format that downloads quickly. The small footprint means websites have faster load times, using less data and bandwidth.

3. Security Sandbox

WebAssembly executes inside the browser's sandboxed environment just like JavaScript does. This containment prevents arbitrary access to the underlying hardware and enforces the same origin policy, providing a secure execution context. Web developers can leverage WebAssembly without compromising security.

4. Multi-Language Support

WebAssembly supports programming languages like C/C++, Rust, Go, etc. This allows developers to write in their preferred language instead of JavaScript when building for the web. Porting existing codebases to WebAssembly unlocks massive potential code reuse on the web.

Use Cases for WebAssembly

WebAssembly has proven to be a game-changer across various domains beyond web development. Some of the most popular use cases leveraging the speed, efficiency, and portability of WebAssembly include:

  • Game Engines: WebAssembly allows game engines like Unity and Unreal to run in the browser at near-native speeds. Complex 3D games can run smoothly in the browser without plugins, opening up new possibilities for browser-based gaming. Wasm enables developers to port computationally intensive games to the web while maintaining high performance.
  • Computer Vision: The computationally intensive workloads involved in computer vision perfectly fit WebAssembly. Running OpenCV, TensorFlow, and other machine learning frameworks compiled to WebAssembly allows computer vision applications like image recognition and processing to run client-side at high speeds. This expands the capabilities of web applications working with visual data and ML.
  • Machine Learning: WebAssembly has become the runtime for deploying machine learning models on the web. Libraries like TensorFlow, PyTorch, and ONNX can be compiled into Wasm, enabling client-side inference without plugins. WebAssembly ML opens up new opportunities in interactive AI apps, real-time processing, privacy-preserving computation, and more innovative web experiences.
  • Database Systems: WebAssembly enables natively running database systems like SQLite and DuckDB in the browser. This allows data-intensive applications to run complex queries and transactions on the client side. WebAssembly databases unlock faster experiences and open up possibilities like offline-first web apps with persistence and synchronization.

Wasm's Role in Cloud-Native Applications

WebAssembly is playing an increasingly important role in cloud-native application development and deployment. Its unique capabilities make it well-suited for modern microservice architectures and containerized environments.

Enabling Microservice Architectures

WebAssembly allows developers to compile languages like C/C++, Rust, and .NET into portable WebAssembly modules. This means microservices written in different languages can all run efficiently in the same environment. The modules can interact easily through common web APIs.

Optimized for Containers

WebAssembly integrates seamlessly with container platforms like Docker and Kubernetes. Its quick load times and small disk footprint result in lightweight and efficient container images.

Wasm enables smaller overall deployments since you only need the language runtimes running on the host rather than in each container image. This improved density means deploying more containers using the same infrastructure on different platforms.

Simplified Orchestration

With WebAssembly, the orchestration layer doesn't need to account for differences between runtimes. It can treat WebAssembly modules uniformly regardless of source language.

This simplifies deployment configurations and automation workflows. The same orchestration patterns can be applied consistently across polyglot microservices.

Elastic Scaling

The lightweight nature of WebAssembly makes it easy to scale workloads up and down dynamically. Containers with WebAssembly microservices can be spun up exceptionally quickly to handle spikes in traffic.

The Future of WebAssembly

WebAssembly is still a relatively new technology, but it has tremendous momentum and a bright future as it becomes an integral part of the web platform. Here are some of the key trends and predictions of WebAssembly:

Browser Support and Adoption

All major browsers now support WebAssembly, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. Web assembly support and adoption will only grow as browser vendors optimize their WebAssembly runtimes. WebAssembly should work seamlessly across browsers and devices as standardization efforts progress.

Emerging Standards

WebAssembly is being developed as an open web standard. As new versions roll out, we'll see improvements in new technologies like threads, SIMD, and garbage collection. Emerging standards like WASI will enable OS capabilities for better filesystem access and portability.

Integration with Web Technologies

WebAssembly will integrate more tightly with web platform APIs and other technologies like WebGL, WebRTC, and Web Workers. Combining WebAssembly with web tech will enable powerful applications with native-like performance.

Competing with Native Apps

WebAssembly aims to reach parity with native apps in computation abilities. Combined with web APIs, WebAssembly applications may one day rival the capabilities of iOS and Android apps. This could disrupt the app ecosystem.

WebAssembly vs JavaScript: A Comparative Perspective

JavaScript has dominated client-side web development for over two decades. The introduction of WebAssembly brings an alternative compile-to-web language to the table. While WebAssembly and JavaScript have overlapping use cases, their strengths and weaknesses make them complementary technologies.

Strengths and Weaknesses

JavaScript rose to prominence due to its universal support across all web browsers. It provides an approachable scripting language to add dynamic behavior to web pages. Nevertheless, as web applications grow more complex, JavaScript's loose typing, single-threaded execution model, and lack of native performance become limitations.

WebAssembly overcomes these weaknesses with static typing, near-native speeds, and support for multi-threaded execution. WebAssembly needs more web platform APIs for DOM manipulation, networking, etc. It also requires compilation from other languages and lacks JavaScript's approachable development experience.

Complementary Roles

JavaScript will likely remain the primary language for website logic, with WebAssembly used for performance-critical code paths. For example, WebAssembly modules can be imported into JavaScript to create high-performance functions that are called from JavaScript.

JavaScript better handles DOM manipulation, event handling, networking, and other web-centric operations. Computationally intensive tasks like game physics, math operations, image/video processing, etc., are ideal use cases for WebAssembly.


WebAssembly uses the same Web APIs as JavaScript to interact with web pages. This makes it possible to call WebAssembly functions from JavaScript and vice versa. WebAssembly code can manipulate the DOM and access browser capabilities just like JavaScript.

This interoperability enables a hybrid JavaScript and WebAssembly architecture. Developers can choose the best tool for each part of an application while seamlessly integrating them.


Due to its ahead-of-time compilation and low-level binary format, WebAssembly significantly outperforms JavaScript on computational workloads. Specific benchmarks show WebAssembly running 10-30x faster than JavaScript for math, physics, and matrix operations tasks.

Yet, JavaScript optimization and improvement of JIT compilers is narrowing this performance gap. The combination of JavaScript and WebAssembly in one app provides more excellent performance than either could achieve alone.

Developing with WebAssembly

WebAssembly aims to be a compilation target for various programming languages, enabling developers to build the web using their language of choice. Here are some of the critical aspects of developing software with WebAssembly:

Languages that Compile to Wasm

  • C/C++ - Emscripten can compile C/C++ code to WebAssembly. This allows porting performance-critical C/C++ code to run on the web at near-native speeds.
  • Rust - Rust code can be compiled to Wasm using the Rust toolchain. The safety guarantees of Rust combined with the performance of Wasm, make it a popular choice.
  • Go - The Go compiler can produce WebAssembly output, enabling Go's simplicity, concurrency model, and performance on the web.

See more languages here

Toolchains and Workflows

  • Use compiler toolchains like Emscripten or Rust's wasm modules to produce WebAssembly bytecode from source code.
  • Integrate Wasm compilation into frontend build pipelines and bundlers like Webpack.
  • Open-source tools like Wasmtime and Wasmer provide runtimes for executing WebAssembly outside the browser.
  • Languages typically compile to portable WebAssembly bytecode, which is then instantiated at runtime.

Debugging and Profiling

  • Browser dev tools provide debugging and profiling of WebAssembly similarly to JavaScript.
  • Sourcemaps can map Wasm bytecode back to the source code for debugging.
  • Performance profiling tools like Wasmtime's Vtune integration are emerging.
  • New browser features like WebAssembly Threads bring native debugging capabilities.

Publishing and Distributing

  • WebAssembly modules can be packaged and published to NPM for use in front-end apps and libraries.
  • Emerging standards like Web Containerization will allow packaging and distributing Wasm binaries.
  • Content Delivery Networks like JSM Fastly provide caching and delivery of Wasm modules.
  • Wasm can be hosted and run outside the browser using runtimes like Wasmer, facilitating non-web use cases.


The future looks bright for WebAssembly's role in web development. As it matures and sees wider developer adoption, expect WebAssembly to become pervasive across domains like 3D gaming, computer vision, machine learning, cryptography, and other performance-intensive applications.

WebAssembly paves the path toward a secure and optimized next-generation web platform.

In summary, WebAssembly represents the most significant leap forward in web technology in recent years. It unlocks a new domain of performance and functionality on the web, allowing developers to create sophisticated applications that rival native desktop and mobile apps.

The stage is set for WebAssembly to play a pivotal role in the future of web development.