Supercharging React Apps with WASM

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WASM has taken over the web-development scene in the past few years. It is a language that can be run by the web platform alongside with Javascript. Being treated as a target language, a variety of low-level, statically-typed languages such as C++ and Rust can be compiled to WASM. Thus, a variety of complex, computationally intense applications can now be tackled through readily available web applications. Demos of 2 such applications are shown in the presentation and a side-to-side comparison is done next to JS code.

Mukkund Sunjii
Mukkund Sunjii
25 min
02 Jun, 2023

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Video Summary and Transcription

WebAssembly is a fast, secure, and portable technology that challenges JavaScript's dominance on the web. It allows for the use of legacy code and expands the scope of functions that can be performed on various devices. WebAssembly can be used for image processing and machine learning, and it has potential applications in UI component libraries. Startups are already incorporating WebAssembly into their web applications, and optimization and performance are key advantages of this technology.

1. Introduction to WebAssembly

Short description:

Today, I'm going to be talking about supercharging React applications with WebAssembly. I'll introduce myself, discuss what WebAssembly is, how it works, and why you should care about it. We'll also explore its design philosophy and its compatibility with JavaScript. Stay tuned for some exciting applications with React.

Of course, like Nataniel said, it's my first time and of course my laptop has to die and I was supposed to show a few demos, but I'll improvise. Anyway, so today, thanks for making it and I'm going to be talking about supercharging React applications with WebAssembly.

Now, but first, let me introduce myself a bit. My name is Mukun, I'm from the south of India. I'm a software engineer based in the Netherlands in Oortek. Previously, I worked as a backend developer, mostly function as a scientific programmer, but slowly I started making my transition into the front-end world. Well, which was a quite an interesting experience. I have a unique perspective to see all these different technologies sharing the limelight, right? Along the way, I discovered Wasm or WebAssembly. I'm going to just call Wasm because it's much easier.

And it was quite intriguing to me, being a backend developer, by trade, you can say. So let's look at the agenda. I'm going to be talking about what Wasm is. I'm going to be talking about how it actually works. And maybe we can do a short comparison with JavaScript. And I'm going to be talking about why you should care about Wasm, right? Why you should care about this new sort of, well, relatively new technology. And then I'm also going to be, well, I'm not going to be showing the demo, of course, but I'm going to be making a few applications with react. Maybe in the speaker's booth, you can actually see the application up and running.

So what is Wasm, or what is WebAssembly? It is a low-level compiler target, which was introduced by W3C. As you can see, the uglier the logo, the more serious the organization is. I actually thought the laughter was going to come, but it's good. You're a good audience. W3C introduced it in 2015, in collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, all the regular targets. Keep in mind I said a compiler target, a low-level target. This means it's not intended to be written directly by a human, but it's meant as a compiler target from source languages like Go, C++, and Rust. There are other languages that are joining soon as well. And they can be all converted to WebAssembly. Now the design philosophy of WebAssembly is to make it as backward compatible as possible. So it must work with the existing web technologies, and so it does. So that is the design philosophy for it to not compete with JavaScript, but to work alongside with JavaScript.

So why should you care about WASM or WebAssembly? You might think, oh, this is just another technology.

2. Benefits of WebAssembly and JavaScript Execution

Short description:

WebAssembly is fast, secure, and ultra-portable, challenging JavaScript's monopoly on the web. It can be written in source languages like C++, Go, or Rust and compiled ahead of time for near-native execution speed. The Wasm binary is secure and lacks certain concepts like file systems and ports. It is the industry standard and can run on different device architectures. When writing code, it is sent to the compiler, which supports Wasm as a target. The Wasm binary package is then run alongside JavaScript, CSS, and HTML in the browser. The browser's compiler transforms the Wasm package into machine code, allowing it to interact with web APIs. JavaScript, on the other hand, can be run on various environments.

It's probably going to be a fad. I'm not going to invest my time in learning it. But I'm going to tell you that it's a bit more interesting, and I will tell you why. There are three reasons. First one, zoom! Well, yeah, it worked better in my head. But it's really fast. But then you also see a tiny asterisk in the bottom, terms and condition. When I say it's really fast, it's really fast in terms of execution speed, which means, since we're talking about source languages like C++, or Go, or Rust, we're talking about statically compiled languages, we're talking about compiling ahead of time, right? So execution-wise, it's set to run at near-native speeds.

Second one is extremely secure. Well, because the binaries, the Wasm binary itself is being run by the web VM, it is rather secure, and there are some concepts like file systems and port that just doesn't exist in Wasm. So it is secure in that terms. And the third one is, it is ultra-portable. It is the industry standard. Now, this might be a controversial opinion, but I will have to tell you that JavaScript has no longer the monopoly over the web. It has officially been, well, it has to share the limelight with the Wasm target, which has other source languages joining in the queue. So that's how portable it is. It can also be run across different device architectures or processor architectures. And, yeah, that's how the portability shines in WebAssembly.

So let's take a deeper look on what really happens beneath the surface. When you have, well, a bunch of C++ code or source languages, well, you have a bunch of code that you don't understand, you send it over to the compiler and most of the compilers, well, most of the compilers based on LLVM support the target being as Wasm. Now, if you remember, I did say that it can be written down in a WAT format and it has assembly in its name. So you can imagine you need to, if you're a genius and if you're crazy, you can also control all the execution and the memory allocation. But then if you're dumb, if you're sane and if you're normal, like me, you just write it in a source language, right? You take this Wasm binary package and then you send it over to the browser and the browser just runs it alongside with all the other great languages that you already know, which is JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Let's take a deeper look at how this process happens when the browser receives the Wasm package, right? In terms of JavaScript compilation, you can consider it equivalent to the intermediate representation. When the browser receives the Wasm package, it uses the compiler, well the engine's compiler to transform it into a machine code and then this sort of machine code can interact with the rest of your web application to a layer of, well, this layer is just the web APIs. So that's how it is run within the VM. So you might have a question. I've been talking about a lot of Wasm and how it is compiled and how it is run. How does JavaScript do it? Maybe this is already quite familiar to you and maybe also oversimplified, but I'll go through it very fast anyway. So JavaScript can be run on different environments as you know.

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