AssemblyScript in WebAssembly

Inspired by TypeScript, AssemblyScript is a strongly typed language. It was written specifically with WebAssembly in mind, and the entire toolchain is oriented around WebAssembly.

Since it has a WASI implementation, AssemblyScript can be used on the Fermyon Platform for writing Wagi or Spin apps.

It is also well-suited for browser-based applications. And it can run inside of Wasmtime and other CLIs.

Available Implementations

AssemblyScript has an official implementation.

Usage

To get started with AssemblyScript, you will need to have a Node.js environment, indcluding NPM.

From there, you can get started by creating a new Node project.

Pros and Cons

Things we like about AssemblyScript:

  • Familiar to TypeScript and JavaScript developers
  • Because of that, we can use our normal tools for dev
  • Good integration with NPM and the Node ecosystem
  • Support for common JS idioms (like Console.log instead of println)

We’re neutral about:

  • File sizes, which are larger than we expected, but not enough to be a problem
  • The automatic generation of WAT files, unoptimized binaries, and things we don’t normally use

Things we’re not big fans of:

  • It’s just different enough from TypeScript to be frustrating at times.
  • AssemblyScript WTF-16 instead of the more common UTF-8/UTF-16. This is a hotly debated issue, but our preference is for UTF-8.

Example

This section provides a basic example of building AssemblyScript from source.

All of our examples follow a documented pattern using common tools.

Set up the project like this:

$ npm init
# Answer questions
$ npm install --save @assemblyscript/loader

added 1 package, and audited 2 packages in 986ms

found 0 vulnerabilities
$ npm install --save-dev assemblyscript

added 6 packages, and audited 8 packages in 2s

1 package is looking for funding
  run `npm fund` for details

found 0 vulnerabilities 

Now use npx to scaffold out your new project:

$ npx asinit .
Version: 0.19.23

This command will make sure that the following files exist in the project
directory '/Users/technosophos/Code/AssemblyScript/hello':

  ./assembly
  Directory holding the AssemblyScript sources being compiled to WebAssembly.

  ./assembly/tsconfig.json
  TypeScript configuration inheriting recommended AssemblyScript settings.

  ./assembly/index.ts
  Example entry file being compiled to WebAssembly to get you started.

  ./build
  Build artifact directory where compiled WebAssembly files are stored.

  ./build/.gitignore
  Git configuration that excludes compiled binaries from source control.

  ./asconfig.json
  Configuration file defining both a 'debug' and a 'release' target.

  ./package.json
  Package info containing the necessary commands to compile to WebAssembly.

  ./index.js
  Main file loading the WebAssembly module and exporting its exports.

  ./tests/index.js
  Example test to check that your module is indeed working.

The command will try to update existing files to match the correct settings
for this instance of the compiler in '/Users/technosophos/Code/AssemblyScript/hello/node_modules/assemblyscript'.

Do you want to proceed? [Y/n] y
# More output that is similar to above

At this point you should have a directory structure that looks like this:

$ tree -L 2
.
├── asconfig.json
├── assembly
│   ├── index.ts
│   └── tsconfig.json
├── build
├── index.js
├── node_modules
│   ├── @assemblyscript
│   ├── assemblyscript
│   ├── binaryen
│   ├── buffer-from
│   ├── long
│   ├── source-map
│   └── source-map-support
├── package-lock.json
├── package.json
└── tests
    └── index.js

11 directories, 7 files

The assembly/ directory is where the code lives.

Add WASI support by installing the as-wasi package:

$ npm install --save as-wasi

added 1 package, and audited 9 packages in 1s

1 package is looking for funding
  run `npm fund` for details

found 0 vulnerabilities

Now we can write a simple AssemblyScript module:

import "wasi";
import { Console } from "as-wasi";

Console.log("content-type: text/plain");
Console.log("");
Console.log("Hello, World");

While based on JavaScript and TypeScript, AssemblyScript is not a typical scripting language. It must be compiled before it can be executed. The AssemblyScript tools configure NPM to run the compiler for us:

$ npm run asbuild

> hello@1.0.0 asbuild
> npm run asbuild:untouched && npm run asbuild:optimized


> hello@1.0.0 asbuild:untouched
> asc assembly/index.ts --target debug


> hello@1.0.0 asbuild:optimized
> asc assembly/index.ts --target release

This creates two builds in the builds/ directory:

$ ls -lah build
total 1760
drwxr-xr-x   9 technosophos  staff   288B Mar  8 16:02 .
drwxr-xr-x  11 technosophos  staff   352B Mar  8 16:07 ..
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff    27B Mar  8 14:27 .gitignore
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff   5.1K Mar  8 16:11 optimized.wasm
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff   373K Mar  8 16:11 optimized.wasm.map
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff    41K Mar  8 16:11 optimized.wat
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff   9.7K Mar  8 16:11 untouched.wasm
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff   375K Mar  8 16:11 untouched.wasm.map
-rw-r--r--   1 technosophos  staff    60K Mar  8 16:11 untouched.wat

Map files are for the browser. WAT files are large text file versions of the WebAssembly. The .wasm files are the ones we care about. In general, the optimized.wasm file is the one we use.

Running in wasmtime

This is how the module is run in wasmtime:

$ wasmtime build/optimized.wasm
content-type: text/plain

Hello, World

The module emits content-type information and an empty line, so it can be executed in any Wagi runtime such as Wagi, Spin, or Wagi.NET.

Here’s an example with Wagi.

Create a simple modules.toml:

[[module]]
module = "build/optimized.wasm"
route = "/"

Then run Wagi to serve our new module at http://localhost:3000/:

$ wagi -c modules.toml
No log_dir specified, using temporary directory /var/folders/rk/mkbs8vx12zs0gkm680h_gth00000gn/T/.tmpTxamNm for logs
Ready: serving on http://127.0.0.1:3000

At this point you can use a web browser or curl to check the results:

$ curl localhost:3000                                       
Hello, World

For more on running AssemblyScript in the browser, read the AssemblyScript documentation

Learn More

Here are some great resources:

Interested in learning more?

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