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WebAssembly Users a Mix of Backend and Full Stack Developers

WebAssembly is cultivating a diverse user-base, with backend devs using WASM for cloud native work, and full-stack devs deploying it for Web development.
Sep 14th, 2022 8:00am by
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The State of WebAssembly 2022 survey data indicates that not all Web Assembly (WASM) users are alike, with a divide emerging around backend developers and everyone else.

Colin Eberhardt, the editor of WASM Weekly, surveyed 297 people in June 2022, of which almost half (49%) had at least three years of experience working with WASM. Overall, those with little experience were not that different from everyone else, which indicates that there is an opportunity to change opinions in the market.

One area where experience matters is existing use cases. Web development continues to be the most common way WASM is used, cited by 72% of respondents. Half as many people cited serverless, with containerization and plug-in environments rounding out the top four.

Compared to 2021, audio/video processing and game development dropped significantly as targets for WebAssembly. Compared to the study average, twice as many respondents with 5+ years of WASM experience have game development use cases (21% vs 10%). With an active “awesome list”, this niche will probably not disappear.

Job role is a key determinant in how WASM is used.

  • A fifth of the study were backend developers and they clearly were focused on the cloud native world. 54% of the backend developers have serverless WASM use cases, and 42% deploy it as a plug-in environment.
  • In contrast, full stack developers, representing 47% of the survey, overwhelmingly focus on web development (80%).
  • According to the latest Stack Overflow survey, two-thirds of frontend developers also identify as full stack developers. Thus, it is not surprising that full stack developers are focused more on JavaScript and browser-based issues.

When asked about WebAssembly's future, there is general agreement that debugging, integration and tooling can be improved, but respondents differentiated between what is "really needed"  and just "needed."

Backend developers particularly care about APIs not related to browsers, as really need 86% integration of the kind that WASI provides. Full stack developers put more of an emphasis on integration with JavaScript and browser APIs. Backend developers were also more likely to crave a greater breadth of supported languages for WebAssembly, but a majority of them do not think this is a must-have for WebAssembly's future success.

Language Use and Plans

The study began with questions about which languages have been used with WebAssembly and what are on people's roadmaps. About 67% have experience with Rust, followed by C++ or Emscripten (47%) and using WAT (41%), JavaScript (31%), AssemblyScript (29%) and Blazor or C# (25%).

Overall, 56% of WebAssembly developers expressed a strong desire to use Rust with WebAssembly in the future. Backend developers and those focused on serverless are particularly keen on using Rust. They are also more than twice as likely as the average WebAssembly developer to really want to use Go or TinyGo.

Notably, 47% of respondents that consider WebAssembly to be a "black box" plan to use Blazor/C# a lot. Right now, 49% of them have used the language with WebAssembly previously but only 39% have experience with Rust! This appears to be one of the few areas where Rust is not displaying dominance.

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