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Wasm By Example


WebAssembly Linear Memory


Another feature of WebAssembly, is its linear memory. Linear memory is a continuous buffer of unsigned bytes that can be read from and stored into by both Wasm and JavaScript. In other words, Wasm memory is an expandable array of bytes that JavaScript and Wasm can synchronously read and modify. Linear memory can be used for many things, one of them being passing values back and forth between Wasm and JavaScript.

In AssemblyScript, the runtime supports higher level data structures and types. For example, there is support for Arrays in AssemblyScript's standard library. But for this example, we will use simple byte (Unsigned 8-bit integer) memory and pointers (Wasm memory array indexes) as a simple(r) way to pass memory back and forth. This is for several reasons:

  1. Really early versions of AssemblyScript didn't have a Garbage Collector, as at the time it was not part of the spec.
  2. Less early versions of AssemblyScript didn't have a runtime, but instead had allocators and manual memory management.
  3. Most importantly, we want to show off the concept of linear memory very clearly, in a simple and concise way.

Since we are directly writing to memory in this example, and there exists a runtime in AssemblyScript, be sure to take a look at the --memoryBase flag in the AssemblyScript compiler. This flag controls where the AssemblyScript runtime will start writing memory. For example, if you wanted to reserve the first 100 bytes for your own manual memory usage, you could set --memoryBase 100. This way AssemblyScript will not write to the first 100 bytes, and only to location 100 and above.Or in other words, --memoryBase will allow you to reserve memory for your own manual memory management, and avoid memory being overriden by the AssemblyScript runtime in WebAssembly linear memory.

Let's see how we can use linear memory:


First, let's create our index.ts file:

// Set up our memory
// By growing our Wasm Memory by 1 page (64KB)
// https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Reference/Global_Objects/WebAssembly/Memory#Examples

// Store the value 24 at index 0
const index = 0;
const value = 24;
store<u8>(index, value);

// Export a function that will read wasm memory
// and return the value at index 1
export function readWasmMemoryAndReturnIndexOne(): i32 {
  // Read the value at indexOne
  let valueAtIndexOne = load<u8>(1);
  return valueAtIndexOne;

Then, let's compile that into a wasm module, using the AssemblyScript Compiler, which will output a index.wasm:

asc index.ts -b index.wasm

Next, Let's load / instantiate the wasm module, index.wasm in a new index.js file. Looking at the WebAssembly Module Documentation, We see that after instantiation of our module, our Module has a .instance property, which is a WebAssembly Module Instance. An example of instantiating a module can be found in the Hello World Example. Lastly, we see that our instance has an .exports property. The .exports property is an object that contains all of the exported functions / constants, as well as a memory object, that be called / accessed synchronously from JavaScript. In this example, we care about the memory. The memory object has a buffer as a property, such as memory.buffer. That can be used to construct a Uint8Array using new Uint8Array(memory.buffer) that we can use to read and modify Wasm memory. We use a Uint8Array, because as we stated earlier, linear memory is untyped bytes, thus 8 bit integers give us the simplest way of accessing memory without assumptions. See the snippet below:

const runWasm = async () => {
  // Instantiate our wasm module
  const wasmModule = await wasmBrowserInstantiate("index.wasm");

  // Get our exports object, with all of our exported Wasm Properties
  const exports = wasmModule.instance.exports;

  // Get our memory object from the exports
  const memory = exports.memory;

  // Create a Uint8Array to give us access to Wasm Memory
  const wasmByteMemoryArray = new Uint8Array(memory.buffer);

  // Let's read index zero from JS, to make sure Wasm wrote to
  // wasm memory, and JS can read the "passed" value from Wasm
  console.log(wasmByteMemoryArray[0]); // Should Log "24".

  // Next let's write to index one, to make sure we can
  // write wasm memory, and Wasm can read the "passed" value from JS
  wasmByteMemoryArray[1] = 15;
  console.log(exports.readWasmMemoryAndReturnIndexOne()); // Should Log "15"

Lastly, let's load our ES6 Module, index.js JavaScript file in an index.html. And you should get something similar to the demo (Source Code) below!


Next let's take a look at importing JavaScript functions into WebAssembly.