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The Latest Milestones on WebAssembly’s Road to Maturity

Engineers from the startups Cosmonic and Fermyon Technologies discussed Docker's new Wasm runtime and more on this episode of The New Stack Makers.
Nov 10th, 2022 2:26pm by
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DETROIT — Even in the midst of hand-wringing at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America about how the global economy will make it tough for startups to gain support in the near future, the news about a couple of young WebAssembly-centric companies was bright.

The Latest Milestones on WebAssembly’s Road to Maturity

Cosmonic announced that it had raised $8.5 million in a seed round led by Vertex Ventures. And Fermyon Technologies unveiled both funding and product news: a $20 million A Series led by Insight Partners (which also owns The New Stack) and the launch of Fermyon Cloud, a hosted platform for running WebAssembly (Wasm) microservices. Both Cosmonic and Fermyon were founded in 2021.

“A lot of people think that Wasm is this maybe up and coming thing, or it’s just totally new thing that’s out there in the future,” noted Bailey Hayes, a director at Cosmonic, in this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast.

But the future is already here, she said: “It’s one of technology’s best-kept secrets because you’re using it today, all over. And many of the applications that we use day-to-day — Zoom, Google Meet, Prime Video, I mean, it really is everywhere. The thing that’s going to change for developers is that this will be their compilation target in their build file.”

In this On the Road episode of Makers, recorded at KubeCon here in the Motor City, Hayes and Kate Goldenring, a software engineer at Fermyon, spoke to Heather Joslyn, TNS’ features editor, about the state of WebAssembly. This episode was sponsored by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).

Wasm and Docker, Java, Python

WebAssembly — the roughly five-year-old binary instruction format for a stack-based virtual machine, is designed to execute binary code on the web, lets developers bring the performance of languages like C, C++, and Rust to the web development area.

At Wasm Day, a co-located event that preceded KubeCon, support for a number of other languages — including Java, .Net, Python and PHP — was announced. At the same event, Docker also revealed that it has added Wasm as a runtime that developers can target; that feature is now in beta.

Such steps move WebAssembly closer to fulfilling its promise to devs that they can “build once, run anywhere.”

“With Wasm, developers shouldn’t need to know necessarily that it’s their compilation target,” said Hayes. But, she added, “what you do know is that you’re now able to move that Wasm module anywhere in any cloud. The same one that you built on your desktop that might be on Windows can go and run on an ARM Linux server.”

Goldenring pointed to the findings of the CNCF’s “mini-survey” of WebAssembly users, released at Wasm Day, as evidence that the technology’s user cases are proliferating quickly.

“Even though WebAssembly was made for the web, the number one response — it was around a little over 60% — said serverless,” she noted. “And then it said, the edge and then it said web development, and then it said IoT, and the use cases just keep going. And that’s because it is this incredibly powerful, portable target that you can put in all these different use cases. It’s secure, it has instant startup time.”

Worlds and Warg Craft

The podcast guests talked about recent efforts to make it easier to use Wasm, share code and reuse it, including the development of the component model, which proponents hope will simplify how WebAssembly works outside the browser. Goldenring and Hayes discussed efforts now under construction, including “worlds” files and Warg, a package registry for WebAssembly. (Hayes co-presented at Wasm Day on the work being done on WebAssembly package management, including Warg.)

A world file, Hayes said, is a way of defining your environment. “One way to think of it is like .profile, but for Wasm, for a component. And so it tells me what types of capabilities I need for my web module to run successfully in the runtime and can read that and give me the right stuff.”

And as for Warg, Hayes said: “It’s really a protocol and a set of APIs, so that we can slot it into existing ecosystems. A lot of people think of it as us trying to pave over existing technologies. And that’s really not the case. The purpose of Warg is to be able to slot right in, so that you continue working in your current developer environment and experience and using the packages that you’re used to. But get all of the advantages of the component model, which is this new specification we’ve been working on” at the W3C’s WebAssembly Working Group.

Goldenring added another finding from the CNCF survey: “Around 30% of people wanted better code reuse. That’s a sign of a more mature ecosystem. So having something like Warg is going to help everyone who’s involved in the server side of the WebAssembly space.”

Listen to the full conversation to learn more about WebAssembly and how these two companies are tackling its challenges for developers.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: fermyon, Docker.
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