WebAssembly Future with Steve Klabnik

WebAssembly is a low-level compilation target for any programming language that can be interpreted into WebAssembly. Alternatively, WebAssembly is a way to run languages other than JavaScript in the browser. Or, yet another way of describing WebAssembly is a virtual machine for executing code in a low level, well-defined sandbox.

WebAssembly is reshaping what is possible to do in the web browser. A developer can write a program in Rust or C++, compile it down into a WebAssembly module, and call out to that module via JavaScript. This is very useful for running memory-sensitive workloads in the browser—such as 3-D games.

But WebAssembly is also useful for running modules outside of the browser. Why is that important? If you can already run C++ or Rust code outside of the browser by executing the program from the command line, why would you want to put the code into a WebAssembly module before executing it? One answer is security. WebAssembly modules have well-defined semantics for what memory they can access. WebAssembly could provide more reliable sandboxing for untrusted code.

Steve Klabnik is a software engineer at Mozilla, and he joins the show today to play the role of a WebAssembly futurist. We revisit the basics of WebAssembly and the current state of the technology. Steve talks Steve also describes the lessons of past web technologies such as Flash—and what they did right and wrong. We also explore the current and future applications of WebAssembly, which we will talk about in more detail in tomorrow’s episode.

Transcript

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