Binary format for the web

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© Lead Image © hasselblad15,

© Lead Image © hasselblad15,

Article from Issue 203/2017

The WebAssembly project makes a portable binary for browsers, with a focus on minimizing size and load time. C and C++ programs are used as source, which makes it possible to compile virtually any application for the web.

Relocating applications to the browser is not exactly an innovation. However, WebAssembly [1] has announced a format that intelligently combines the desktop and the web. The Emscripten SDK [2] plays a leading role by offering an LLVM-based compiler [3] that translates C and C++ programs to standard JavaScript, making extensive porting redundant and thus building a simple bridge to the web.

Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between the tools and toolchains involved and shows that WebAssembly not only supports applications in the browser, but locally executes programs, as well.


The Emscripten developers had originally set their sights on asm.js [6], a optimizable, low-level subset of JavaScript. Nowadays, the SDK is also used for WebAssembly. WebAssembly and asm.js have quite similar ideas and goals, and some developers are involved in both projects; however, the asm.js and WebAssembly designs differ significantly.


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