WebAssembly: The Game-Changer for Blockchain Performance and Flexibility

Mar 5, 2024

A foundation of the Web3 space is the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) — the virtual machine that powers Ethereum as well as DeFiChain’s Metachain layer. 

While the EVM has proven its effectiveness, the industry is now evolving beyond it, welcoming a new player that promises to push the boundaries even further: WebAssembly (WASM).

In this article, we'll dive into the world of WebAssembly, exploring what it is, how it works, and its implications for the cryptocurrency industry. We'll uncover the ways in which WASM is poised to revolutionize the blockchain landscape and in particular make it easier for developers to engage with upcoming ecosystems like DeFiChain’s Metachain layer, ushering in a new era of performance, security, and cross-platform compatibility.

What is WASM (WebAssembly)?

WebAssembly is a new type of computer code that can run extremely fast and efficiently across different devices and platforms. It's like a universal language that computers can understand and execute quickly.

Traditionally, websites and web apps run on JavaScript code. While JavaScript works well, it can be slow and inefficient, especially for complex, demanding applications like 3D games, video editing tools, or design software.

WebAssembly provides a way to bypass some of the overhead of JavaScript. It's a lean and optimized form of code that computers can run at speeds close to that of native applications on your device.

The real power of WebAssembly is that it can take code written in all kinds of programming languages - like C, C++, Rust, etc. - and compile it into WebAssembly's streamlined format. This allows developers to leverage existing skills instead of JavaScript while still running lightning-fast code on the web.

WebAssembly really shines for web apps or services requiring heavy computing power and top performance - online gaming, video streaming, photo/video editing, 3D design tools, etc. Running on WASM can make these web experiences feel as smooth and responsive as native desktop programs.

Major companies like Google, Autodesk, and others have already started using WebAssembly to turbocharge parts of their web offerings, like Google Earth and web-based AutoCAD. The performance boosts make for much better user experiences.

But WebAssembly's uses go beyond just web browsers. Its efficiency, security features, and ability to run cross-platform also make it useful for web3 technologies like serverless cloud computing, IoT devices, and even some blockchain applications looking to improve performance and make it easier for developers to join the ecosystem.

Understanding WASM's Efficiency

To grasp why WebAssembly is so efficient, it helps to contrast it with how traditional JavaScript engines work. When running JavaScript code in a web browser, the engine has to go through multiple steps:

  1. Parsing - Analyzing the code line-by-line to understand the syntax and identify the types of code elements.
  2. Building a Code Map - Creating a tree-like structure that maps out the code's logic and flow based on the parsing.
  3. Converting to Bytecode - Translating the mapped code into a low-level bytecode format.
  4. Compiling to Machine Code - Compiling the bytecode into instructions computers can directly execute.

This multi-step process creates some overhead and inefficiency in executing JavaScript.

WebAssembly, on the other hand, streamlines this process significantly. It's designed as a low-level bytecode format that computers can execute much more directly. Here's how it works:

Developers write code in programming languages like C, C++, or Rust with strict data typing rules. This code is compiled into a highly optimized WebAssembly bytecode module tailored for fast execution.

When this WebAssembly module is loaded, it can skip the parsing, code mapping, and initial bytecode conversion steps required for JavaScript. The WebAssembly bytecode instructions are already in an efficient, low-level format that can be quickly validated and executed by the computer's processor with minimal overhead.

By avoiding the interpretation steps of JavaScript, WebAssembly can start running blazingly fast, nearing the speed of native machine code execution. Its lean bytecode design and lack of dynamic typing also facilitate ahead-of-time optimizations during compilation for even better performance.

So, while WebAssembly may sacrifice some flexibility compared to JavaScript's dynamic nature, its direct execution model makes it a high-speed and efficient option for compute-intensive tasks like games, video processing, computer-aided design, and more.

WebAssembly: A High-Performance EVM Alternative

Currently, apps and smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain run on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). This is a kind of software environment where code executes. However, the EVM has some limitations in terms of performance and flexibility.

That's where WebAssembly (WASM) comes in as a promising alternative. WASM is a new type of low-level code that can run extremely fast and efficiently across different systems and devices.

The key advantage of WASM is that it's designed as an instruction set that can work with many different programming languages like C++, Rust, Go etc. Developers can code in the language they're most comfortable with and compile it into WASM's streamlined format.

This versatility, combined with WASM's speed and compact structure, makes it very appealing as a potential replacement for the EVM in the future.

The Ethereum community recognizes these benefits and is working on integrating WASM through a project called Ethereum WebAssembly or eWASM. This would essentially upgrade the EVM to run on WASM's high-performance bytecode.

With eWASM, developers could build and run decentralized apps (dApps) and smart contracts more efficiently on Ethereum. WASM's optimized execution would reduce the overhead and computing costs.

It would also make development more accessible. Currently, devs have to spend quite some time to learn Ethereum's native Solidity coding language . But with eWASM, they could use familiar languages like Rust or C++, which can compile to WASM's instructions for execution.

In simple terms, switching the core Ethereum infrastructure to WASM could make dApps and smart contracts faster, more cost-efficient, and easier to develop by opening the door to many existing coding languages and skillsets.

Of course, integrating such a fundamental change is an immense challenge. However the potential benefits of WASM have the Ethereum community actively exploring this transition to drive future scalability and growth.

Blockchain's WebAssembly Pioneers

While WebAssembly (WASM) is still a relatively new technology in the blockchain world, several leading projects have already started leveraging its capabilities to improve and expand their platforms. These early adopters are paving the way for broader WASM integration across the decentralized ecosystem.

One of the first major projects to embrace WASM was Cosmos. They developed CosmWasm, a framework that allows developers to build smart contracts using the high-performance WASM bytecode format. This WASM-based approach powers smart contracts on the core Cosmos network, as well as connected blockchains like Ethermint.

Polkadot is another project utilizing WASM's potential, stemming from its role as an overarching "meta-protocol." Polkadot enables different coding languages to be compiled into WASM bytecode format. This allows it to effortlessly connect and upgrade application-specific blockchains (called "parachains") built using diverse programming languages, all running WASM under the Polkadot ecosystem.

WASM & DeFiChain

Closer to home, the DeFiChain Lab’s team is currently evaluating integrating WASM into the DeFiChain blockchain suite. The key goal is to make DeFiChain accessible to a vast pool of developers worldwide by eliminating the need to learn niche languages like Solidity.

The idea is to integrate a dedicated WASM chain into the DeFiChain ecosystem, similar to how the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) was integrated through the Metachain layer. This WASM chain would open the doors for developers proficient in common languages like C, C++, Rust etc. to easily build and deploy decentralized apps and smart contracts on DeFiChain by compiling to the WASM format.

True to DeFiChain's community-driven philosophy, the team actively seeks input and feedback from the community regarding this potential WASM integration as well as contribution in the future.

Final Words

The emergence of WebAssembly (WASM) marks a transformative shift in how we approach code execution, performance, and cross-platform compatibility. With its portable, efficient, and secure execution environment, WASM is poised to revolutionize domains like blockchain, web development, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things.

DeFiChain, in particular, aims to leverage WASM's potential to make DeFiChain accessible to a vast pool of developers worldwide by eliminating the need to learn niche languages like Solidity. By integrating WASM, DeFiChain can open its doors to developers proficient in mainstream languages such as C, C++, and Rust, allowing them to seamlessly build and deploy decentralized applications and smart contracts.

DeFiChain Labs welcomes suggestions, insights, and discussions surrounding this WASM integration through our various community channels. Join the conversation and contribute your voice to this exciting endeavor that promises to redefine the landscape of decentralized application and smart contract development.


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