Get Started with Rust, WebAssembly, and Webpack

I’ve been seeing a lot of really cool #wasm (WebAssembly) stuff on Twitter and Hacker News lately, but I didn’t know much about what it is exactly, or how to start using it. Because it is so new — only being enabled in Chrome last March — up-to-date guides are few and far between. After struggling through getting something to run, here’s what I’ve learned:

WebAssembly is a cool new binary format and compile target for the web. That means you can compile languages like C, C++, and Rust to .wasm files and execute that code in your browser. In most cases, the resulting code is significantly faster and smaller than Javascript.

This guide will walk you through setting up Rust, WebAssembly, and Webpack in a typical JS web app. The goal is to be able to execute low-level Rust code in the browser alongside the Javascript you know and love (or hate).

Note: These technologies are constantly changing. This guide is using:

  • webpack 3.0.0
  • cargo 0.19.0
  • emcc 1.37.13

Here is the finished project. If you notice something is out-of-date, let me know with an issue or PR 😊.


What you will need

Follow these links to install:


Install the Emscripten Rust compiler

Install the WebAssembly Emscripten compile target for Rust:

 rustup target add wasm32-unknown-emscripten

Install cmake. This varies depending on your platform, choose the option right for you or see the install page for more options:

brew install cmake                  # MacOS, brew
sudo port install cmake # MacOS, MacPorts
sudo apt-get install cmake # Debian Linux

Install the Emscripten SDK. This is going to take a while (~2 hours for me).

Note: If ./emsdk update or ./emsdk install give you errors, it may be that Python3 is your default Python. Try installing Python 2.7 and replacing ./emsdk ... with python2.7 emsdk ...
 cd ~
wget https://s3.amazonaws.com/mozilla-games/emscripten/releases/emsdk-portable.tar.gz
tar -xvf emsdk-portable.tar.gz
cd emsdk-portable
./emsdk update
./emsdk install sdk-incoming-64bit
https://xkcd.com/303/

Next, we’ll need to add the following directories to our PATH environment variable:

~/emsdk-portable
~/emsdk-portable/clang/fastcomp/build_incoming_64/bin
~/emsdk-portable/emscripten/incoming

Reload the terminal, then run emcc -v to check that the Emscripten compiler is installed.


Compile and load Rust with Webpack

Let’s create a Rust/Javascript hybrid project:

cargo new tutorial --bin --vcs none
cd tutorial
npm init # You can just hit enter for every option

We need to install webpack, http-server to serve our content, and rust-wasm-loader to compile and load Rust code as .wasm modules.

npm install --save-dev webpack http-server rust-wasm-loader

Add a few helpful scripts to our package.json:

Create an index.html:

Create a webpack.config.js:

Let’s add a function to our src/main.rs that we will call from Javascript:

Finally, we’ll write some code in src/index.js to load and use the WebAssembly module:

Run these commands to compile and serve the project:

npm run compile
npm run serve

Navigate the browser to localhost:8080, open the Javascript console, and rest your weary eyes on the glorious output of our WebAssembly compiled Rust code!

It’s happening!

We did it! Here is the finished project. I hope this tutorial helps you explore the exciting new world of WebAssembly. Below are some resources that I’ve found useful. Contact me on Twitter if you have any questions/comments/feedback/hate-mail.


Resources