What is WebAssembly and How is it Used?

New solutions and sudden requirements are emerging amid rapid digital transformation across every industry and facet of life. Legacy systems must be enhanced or replaced to power new use cases. JavaScript has reigned as a coding language for over two decades. While it is still widely applicable, there is a growing need to minimize latency and lag time and enable new, superfast applications. In sweeps, WebAssembly is an answer to the needs and a driving force for unprecedented growth. But what is WebAssembly? 

This guide outlines the emerging technology practice, explains how WebAssembly works, discusses use cases, and highlights the benefits. 

What is WebAssembly?

WebAssembly, or Wasm, is a virtual machine and binary programming format. WebAssembly delivers near-native performance to web apps configured to run on a specific processor, allows web developers to build in a language of their choosing, and has significant potential for use beyond web apps. While it is making a grand entrance, it should not be mistaken as the competition. 

In fact, WebAssembly is a companion to JavaScript. Where JavaScript is flexible, dynamic, and delivered through source code that is legible to humans, WebAssembly is high-speed, robust, and delivered in a binary format. Webassembly code is designed to load, parse, and execute faster than JavaScript. However, in certain circumstances, a lot of bandwidth may be required for downloading the code and setting it up in the browser, resulting in significant delays for larger projects. It is important to note that WebAssembly is not just a companion for JavaScript. It is also designed to be a compilation target for any coding language, and now, every major browser supports WebAssembly.  

How WebAssembly works

WebAssembly was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a compilation target, to expedite the process of translating high level, human written code into machine code that computers can understand. By running the code through the Compiler framework and leveraging this C code, developers can create faster-running solutions. The goal of creating WebAssembly was to address latency and lags encountered when running client-facing JavaScript in a web browser. 

Since it is not a programming language in itself, developers do not directly write WebAssembly; instead, they code in the  language they prefer, and then the code is compiled into WebAssembly bytecode. Next, the bytecode is run on a web browser or platform, where it is translated into native machine code and rapidly executed.  

In terms of security, WebAssembly is a restricted or sandboxed execution environment. Resources are tightly controlled, and WebAssembly apps cannot access any data outside of the sandbox, including the hosting website's Document Object Model (DOM). The WebAssembly System Interface (WASI) provides controlled access to system services. 

Uses of WebAssembly

WebAssembly is ideal for demanding use cases such as gaming, streaming, CAD applications, collaborative drawing, and video editing. Notable use applications of WebAssembly include Google Earth, Figma, Unity, and Autocad. WebAssembly is most commonly used in web browsers. Still, it is intended to be more than a web-based solution, and its uses will continue to grow as adoption and innovation accelerates. 

Benefits of Using WebAssembly

WebAssembly enables a growing list of advantages. Here are the highlights: 

  1. As a W3C standard, WebAssembly is backed by a public, international organization that recognizes official and credible languages. 
  2. WebAssembly is language-independent. Developers can code in Java, Rust, Python, C++, or Golang, and a compiler will convert the code into binaries. 
  3. WebAssembly code is compact, so apps can download faster than those created using JavaScript. 
  4. Developers can achieve performance that is near-native to apps configured to run on specific processors thanks to WebAssembly performance tricks such as just-in-time (JIT) or ahead-of-time (AOT) compilations. 
  5. WebAssembly is supported by all major browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. 
  6. Thanks to a sandbox execution structure, WebAssembly is secure, and resource access is highly restricted. 
  7. WebAssembly can be built and run on any hardware system, including MacOS, Windows, and Linux. 

WebAssembly with Encora 

Companies ready to leverage WebAssembly can contact Encora for support. Encora is a digital engineering services company specializing in next-generation software, digital product development, advanced digital strategy, market activation solutions, and cutting-edge technology practices. Encora's software engineers are well-versed and highly skilled in WebAssembly across a wide range of industries. Furthermore, Encora is deeply expert in the various disciplines, tools, and technologies that power the emerging economy, and this is one of the primary reasons that clients choose Encora over the many strategic alternatives available. 

Contact us to learn more about WebAssembly and our advanced software engineering capabilities.

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