Chrome 58 Canary Turns On WebAssembly

Google released Chrome 58 Canary this week, which enbales WebAssembly by default. The action gives Chrome more power to run Web apps directly in the browser, but this is early days.

WebAssembly -- sometimes referred to as wasm -- is a smaller, more efficient format for compiling content on the Web. The W3C Community Group, including reps from all the major browsers, has been working on it as an open standard since April 2015. The group says WebAssembly reached the "browser preview" stage of its development last late year. To be more specific, the WebAssembly Community Group has an initial binary release candidate and JavaScript API implementation in several browsers, as highlighted by its addition this week to Chrome 58 Canary. The Group is looking for feedback from the community and, hopefully, will move beyond the browser preview by the end of the first quarter. While WebAssembly is traversing community testing, the Group plans to publish a draft specification that browser vendors can use for development. 

WebAssembly serves as a stand-in for JavaScript for some low-level Web apps. In its simplest form, Web apps that need more power than JavaScript is able to provide can switch to WebAssembly instead. A prime example might be a multi-threaded activity, such as video editing. Spinning up WebAssembly would give a browser more juice thanks to the way it handles SIMD and various threads. It can do this across browsers and hardware, and do it quickly.

WebAssembly is also memory-safe thanks to a sandboxed execution environment and, when embedded in the Web, will enforce same-origin permissions security policies within the browser. Other advantages are its textual format, which makes it open to debugging, testing, experimenting, and teaching. It accesses browser functionality through the same Web APIs accessible via JavaScript. 

This browser preview available in Chrome is janky at best. Canary-branded builds from Google are essentially in alpha status and won't be finalized for some time. 

If you're interested in taking a look at what WebAssembly can do, Google is providing a neat peek via this demo. In order to view the demo, you have to first download and install Chrome 58 Canary. Versions are available for MacOS X 10.9 or later, Win 32, Win 64, and Android. 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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