The Ways Web Assembly Will Transform Internet Health

A healthy Internet fosters collaboration and innovations that benefit all users. That’s why Mozilla has collaborated on the development of Web Assembly, and included it in the latest Firefox release.

What is Web Assembly?

WebAssembly is an emerging web standard that enables applications to run securely in browsers without the use of plug-ins. It is a new web language that can transform the way we use our devices and the web. It’s a tool that can radically improve the Internet, by making applications more accessible to people all over the world.

It paves the way for high performance apps to run on the web. WebAssembly also has the potential to improve existing services such as email, social networks, and word processing.

Why this matters

If you’re thinking, “How does this affect me? I have apps on my Android and iOS device that can do just about anything,” you’re right, but they can’t run in your web browser. Or think of that time you had to install a plug-in to watch a movie on an airplane. WebAssembly levels the playing field for web applications by allowing them to run in your browser without a plug-in.

Instead of having to load an individual app or program in your laptop, you can type in a URL and have a better quality experience. To start, you won’t be limited by the free space on your phone, tablet, or desktop, putting a wider selection of app-like experiences at your fingertips. And since the code runs completely inside your browser, it’s faster than HTML and JavaScript, the current standards most web pages are built on.

WebAssembly in gaming

If you’re a web developer, this is big news. This means you can now publish games on the web with just a link. Cutting out the application store middleman is a major win for developers and the decentralization movement.

For gamers, you can now play your favorite games, right in your browser. Major names like Epic and Unity are already using and seeing the benefits from WebAssembly. Video games are some of the most taxing programs, so if it can work there, it can work anywhere.

WebAssembly in the creative world

Programs like Photoshop, AutoCAD, as well as audio and film editing software, now have the potential to be web-based. You can even start a project on one machine and finish it on another.  With WebAssembly, you don’t need to install additional software to run applications.

WebAssembly in emerging markets

According to estimates, there are 3.5 billion Internet users around the world, many of them in emerging markets such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, China — locales where unlimited monthly data plans are expensive. Inexpensive mobile devices also don’t come with much onboard storage, limiting the amount of space for apps.

Most app stores also require email addresses and credit cards, a big barrier that can prevent newcomers from experiencing the full potential of the Internet.

Because of this open source innovation by Mozilla, people now have access to powerful tools right in their browser. WebAssembly delivers a safe and secure platform for web browsing, fuels innovation, and allows users around the world to experience the Internet in ways never before seen.

Learn More

To learn more about WebAssembly, check out this introductory blog post.  You can also read a series of blog posts by Lin Clark that explain it through cartoons.

At Mozilla, we’re improving Internet health by promoting initiatives that deliver a better experience for users all over the world.

13 comments on “The Ways Web Assembly Will Transform Internet Health”

  1. Grahame Wilson wrote on

    I hope this works alongside css grid inspector and does not conflict with adobe.

    1. Dan Callahan wrote on

      The two are on different levels, and won’t conflict with each other. WebAssembly is more like JavaScript: it’s mainly concerned with calculating things. CSS is still necessary for layout. 🙂

  2. Joshua wrote on

    How is this Vs. Progressive Web Apps? Is this in conjunction with, or another framework vs. framework situation?

    1. Dan Callahan wrote on

      WebAssembly is an entirely new format for programs; it’s not a framework or a language on its own. Just like programs in many languages can be compiled for Mac or Windows, now they can be compiled for the Web, too.

      Because WebAssembly is lower-level than JavaScript, it can efficiently handle more computationally intensive tasks than JavaScript. This can be a huge benefit to Progressive Web Apps: now PWAs can do more, and use less battery. It also means that many traditional “native” libraries, like the box2d physics engine, can be compiled to WebAssembly used in web apps directly. This means that traditional apps won’t have to reinvent as many wheels when building a PWA.

  3. Robert Sadler wrote on

    ” … locales where unlimited monthly data plans are expensive.” Help me out here, because if WebAssembly runs inside a browser and is independent of installed programs/apps/plugins, then it must be downloaded each time in order to run, like a web page. Caching won’t be an answer, because “[i]nexpensive mobile devices also don’t come with much onboard storage”.

    1. Dan Callahan wrote on

      You’re mostly correct: traditional caches would eventually expire and force frequent re-downloads. Fortunately, WebAssembly programs tend to compile down and compress smaller than equivalent JavaScript, so they won’t need as much bandwidth or storage.

      Additionally, web apps can take advantage of the ServiceWorker, Fetch, and Browser Cache APIs to efficiently and programmatically manage their own storage. These caches are more persistent than the traditional browser cache, which minimizes the frequency of re-downloading. If the browser needs to free space, it evicts sites from the cache in least-recently-used order, so as long as you’ve used a site recently, and it takes advantage of those technologies, then you’ll only occasionally need to hit the network.

      For example, FlipKart has had spectacular success in India by rewriting their mobile website to fully leverage those APIs. The future is bright. 🙂

    2. Phil Bradley CEO of Nucleisoft LTD, wrote on

      Robert Sadler I’m on you’re side there, at the moment I can and have wrote all my games in GML assembly then wrap them in html5, this lets everyone play them on a website without the need for any plug in, this WebAssembly works in the same way and will use up peoples data plans very quickly, so its really only any good for unlimited broadband or some special mobile unlimited plans, really what is needed is better, faster cheaper Internet for the world before thinking about streaming games as that basically what this is.

  4. Oliver wrote on

    So this is a language syntactically similar to javascript but compiled into a platform-independant bytecode that runs in a VM?

    1. Dan Callahan wrote on

      WebAssembly is a compiled, platform-independent bytecode that runs in a VM, but it is not syntactically similar to JavaScript. Lin Clark has a pretty great illustrated introduction to WebAssembly over on the Mozilla Hacks blog.

  5. MLN Rao wrote on

    By not having monopoly, you can design the browser for the people of all walks of life. The feed back from all the users will enable to solve the problems encountered by many, thus making it as the best of the lot. Thank you again to make this as the best of all by integrating soft wares needed for video clips, games etc. One solution for all the utilities. Hope this will take care HD and 4K videos also.

  6. Regenuity wrote on

    This is awesome, it is really cool its just like you’re looking into virtual reality scene

  7. SAF wrote on

    WebAssembly is great news for web applications, but I am not eagerly waiting to see an online-only version of Word or Photoshop… this goes towards the BAD direction. I’m not saying that to argue against WebAssembly, but against the arguments you use to promote it.

    With applications running inside a web browser (what a great idea for lightweight applications…), perpetual licenses for commercial software would simply disappear (the trend is already there) and be replaced by subscription services, giving end users, again, less power and more costs (at least for a part of them — I think that the two licensing models should coexist). Plus, either the data is stored locally (with all the security issues about what application can access them and how) or remotely (with all the privacy implications). And as others pointed out, there’s a bandwidth problem: users in some countries have to pay actual money for bandwidth (there are places where a metered connection, either fixed or mobile, is the only available option). Just as another example of moving to online-only, MS removed the offline help in Office 2016: now you can’t read the help for Excel formulas anymore if you can’t be online. Great development… 🙁 Is anybody out there still THINKING a bit of the consequences of their developments?

  8. Andrew Alexander wrote on

    This is awesome and should work just great