WebAssembly Summit 2020 Recap

Organizers and Speakers 👏

Website: WebAssembly Summit

Date: Feb 10, 2020

Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZp0sPDvWfw

The event was the first WebAssembly conference. It had a single track and happened on a single day. A lot of contributors/early adopters were in the room and the topics were geared toward them. I went there to find interesting use cases that could be applied to my day-to-day work but I wasn’t able to achieve that.

Here are my notes from the conference. I am no expert with WebAssembly so my notes may be incorrect:

Opening Keynote: WebAssembly: Building a new kind of ecosystem – Lin Clark

  • WebAssembly on Web is portable and secure.
  • WebAssembly on Server may lose security if we are not careful.
  • Currently in Node.js ecosystem, there is no sandbox to secure the system from 3rd party codes
    • Malicious code
      • Example: electron-native-notifier. A Bait and Switch scheme to steal bitcoins
        • Memory access
      • The number of malicious code has doubled from 2017 to 2019
    • Vulnerable code
  • Spinning up a new process as OS does for a library is too expensive
    • Memory issue
    • IPC is hard to deal with
  • Solution (WebAssembly Nanoprocesses):
    • Sandbox
    • Memory model (memory isolation)
    • Interface types: copy from an isolated memory to another memory to pass the data
    • WebAssembly System Interface (capability based security)
    • The missing link
      • How to pass the said capability to the dependencies
  • Nanoprocess isn’t a standard yet. just a convention. ByteCode Alliance works to provide a secure foundation.

References

Shipping Tiny WebAssembly Builds – Alon Zakai

WebAssembly is usually smaller than Javascript because

  • dead code elimination
  • binary format

Has a risk tho:

  • big runtime lib requirements

Tip 1: Compression: GZip or Brotli

Tip 2: wasm-opt will generate a smaller wasm from a wasm via:

  • dead code elimination
  • constant propagation
  • inlining
  • since wasm-opt is running at Link Time Optimization
  • wasm-opt will be run by some tool sets out of the box

Tip 3: size profiling

  • Bloaty
  • Twiggy
  • wasm-opt’s —func-metrics

There is a tradeoff between writing a idiomatic code vs. the smaller binary output

C/C++ Tip (a lot of specific tips):

Rust Tip:

Go Tip:

  • TinyGo vs. the regular runtime size differences

References

Why the #wasmsummit Website isn’t written in Wasm, and what that means for the future of Wasm – Ashley Williams

WebAssembly shouldn’t replace Javascript

How are values prioritized for WebAssembly? The community does not have an explicitly shared vision. We should make it easier for people to use WebAssembly.

Empowering people!

What does WebAssembly want?

  • Marketing does not speak the language of the people it wants to reach

Rust, C++, Javascript, Academia, New Developers all get together

What do people want from WebAssembly?

  • multilanguage support
    • Why? JS doesn’t meet my need
      • Why? performance inconsistencies / don’t understand/like it

What do the above numbers mean?

  1. Javascript has an unwilling monopoly.
  2. Performance is not as large of a concern as you would respect.
  3. A lot of people haven’t tried WASM yet.

History of Programming Language Development

  • 1995 → High-level abstractions (Ruby, Javascript, Java)
  • 2010 → Low-level languages (Go, Rust, WASM)

The demand for speed of computation on Web is growing since Web is the most powerful distribution channel.

Excel and Flash were hugely empowering technologies. WebAssembly should strive to be the same.

References

JavaScriptCore’s new WebAssembly interpreter – Tadeu Zagallo

I didn’t take much note here since this article (https://webkit.org/blog/9329/) can represent the talk very well.

WebAssembly Music – Peter Salomonsen

A talk on generating midi music with WebAssembly implementation. Javascript to write songs and WebAssembly to generate sound. He was able to create an executable out of the Javascript to play the song via terminal.

References

WebAssembly and Internet of Things – Jonathan Beri

What is IoT?

  • Embedded systems
    • Constrained
      • Limited processing power and battery
      • Limited connectivity

In 2017, a runtime for embedded systems did not exist.

A unikernel is a specialized OS for a single application.

Unikraft works to enable building unikernels with ease. Unikraft

WebAssembly on Arduino is now possible thanks to WAMR and WASM3

References

Building a Containerless Future with WebAssembly – Kevin Hoffman

Low-level runtimes: https://github.com/appcypher/awesome-wasm-runtimes

Mid-level runtimes: waPC https://medium.com/@KevinHoffman/introducing-wapc-dc9d8b0c2223 & wasCAP https://docs.rs/wascap/0.3.0/wascap/

High-level runtimes: waSCC https://wascc.dev/

Since webassembly is without container, its code can be updated on the fly without rebooting (dynamically bound).

My Q: Why waSCC is needed when you have the sandbox?

WebAssembly as a <video> polyfill – Brion Vibber

Limitations to wikipedia’s tech stack due to its philosophy. It could only use open/public licenses

Over time, they optimized the polyfill with:

  1. Javascript to WebAssembly
  2. Threaded build
  3. SIMD

References

Closing Keynote: WebAssembly: Expanding the PIE – Ben Smith

This talk felt like a recap of the community for the last 4-5 years. Incrementalism in WebAssembly community enable moving forward at a steady pace

Sep 2015

  • ml-proto (ocaml based) ⇒ WebAssembly reference interpreter
  • v8-native-prototype (binary format) ⇒ becomes WebAssembly binary format
  • a two weeks bet to translate ml-proto to v8-native-prototype: sexpr-wasm ⇒ sexpr-wasm-prototype ⇒ wabt

A modest goal at the time: C++ compile to WebAssembly. WA and JS interop.

APIE has been expanding since its inception:

  • Ability
  • Producer
  • Interop
  • Embedder

Sep 2017

Notable proposals: Garbage Collection, Host bindings

Jun 2018

Notable proposals: Garbage Collection, Reference Types (later became Interface Types), Wasm C API

Aug 2019

Notable proposals: Typed Function References, Type Imports, WASI, Interface Types

Feb 2020,

Notable proposals: Reference Types (Phase 4), GC, Wasm C API, WASI, Interface Types

My Review of GraphQL Summit 2019

I have been to the GraphQL Summit 2019 hosted by Apollo in San Francisco. I was very excited since GraphQL is the technology I use and learn about every day. Overall, it was an excellent opportunity to see the increasing penetration and impact of GraphQL. Speakers frequently quoted this number from the npm survey: 23% of Javascript developers are using GraphQL. Naturally, many talks focused on scaling GraphQL from large companies such as Shopify, Paypal, and Expedia. The technology is not just for greenfield projects or startups anymore. But, their mobile talk lineup was relatively weak, possibly indicating the immaturity of GraphQL on mobile.

Talks were primarily divided into two categories: client-side and server-side. I mostly went to the client-side ones. Of those I went to, I enjoyed Fine-Tuning Apollo Client Caching for Your Data Graph, Client-side GraphQL at scale, and, The GraphQL developer experience the most. The followings are my notes on the talks I attended. I hope the notes guide you to find something interesting.


Day 1

The GraphQL developer experience by Danielle Man (👍)

From the start, Danielle made a good point about the real benefit of GraphQL. It’s not just about minimizing payload or reducing round trips. It’s about the productivity boost from the integrated experience with typed API, normalization, and intelligent caching. React, Prettier, and VS Code solved the challenges of component structure, formatting, and type intelligence. Now GraphQL solves the next big problem, data fetching. I like that she went into the whys of GraphQL and also gave an end-to-end view of the tooling. I recommend it to those whose GraphQL journey is just starting.

State Management in GraphQL using React Hooks & Apollo by Shruti Kapoor

I was a little disappointed with Shruti’s talk since I didn’t find it that relevant to GraphQL. As she focused mostly on React hooks, this is your talk if you aren’t familiar with hooks.

Fine-Tuning Apollo Client Caching for Your Data Graph by Ben Newman (👍)

Ben talked about the new features in the upcoming Apollo Client 3. I found the material very relevant because my team is already seeing a huge performance bottleneck from Apollo Cache. There were several exciting features: Garbage collection, declarative cache config (though it doesn’t statically check the config yet), and improved pagination handling. Since most of the features are about performance, the talk is meaningful for those using Apollo Client at scale already.

Scaling GraphQL Beyond a Backend for Frontend by Michelle Garrett

As a frontend developer, it can be frustrating trying to adopt GraphQL since you find yourself dependent on backend counterparts. Michelle talks about how you can go around the inertia by using a GraphQL middleware (or BFF). Though I believe client-side resolver is the lighter weight approach, it was inspiring to see her org, eventually turning around thanks to the superior developer experience. She then continues to talk about her plan to adopt a federation. This talk is appropriate for those interested in figuring out the GraphQL adoption strategy.

Apollo Lounge (not a talk)

I spent an hour in between talks to talk to Hugh Willson, one of the Apollo engineers behind Apollo Client 3, about the performance bottleneck I saw in the beta release. The problem was that the Apollo Client took a long time to respond to a large query response (a tree of about ~2000 objects) even with the denormalization turned off. Due to the time constraint, we didn’t get to the bottom of the issue. But it was nice to see how an Apollo engineer goes about debugging the client and also get reassured that my configuration was not a problem.

Game Of Types: A Song Of GraphQL And TypeScript by Steven Musumeche

After seeing Danielle’s talk, Steven’s talk didn’t feel new to me. Especially because I am following the development process he outlined almost precisely. But if you ever wonder how all these generated types (whether they are from Apollo Tooling or GraphQL Code Generatorfit into your type system, this talk is for you.

(Video is not yet available.)


Day 2

useSubscription: A GraphQL Game Show by Alex Banks

The most entertaining talk I have ever been to. Alex made GraphQL subscription via WebSocket unforgettable. However, as I went to the talk expecting to see GraphQL streaming (a misunderstanding on my part), I ended up getting a little disappointed. If you are building a real-time app, watch this talk when it becomes available.

How do you get changes made to GraphQL? by Orta

Even though GraphQL’s governance mostly feels irrelevant, it matters to all of us. Orta talked through how the current GraphQL Foundation came about and how he saw through the changes. This talk isn’t for everyone, but if you like to contribute to the spec one day, watch this.

The future of GraphQL tooling and DX by Daniel Woelfel

The whole talk felt like a sales pitch of his company, OneGraph. But Daniel indeed showcased many inspiring tools leveraging: a point-and-click GUI to build a query, an Excel plugin to import GraphQL data into a spreadsheet, and a type checker for queries embedded in markdown documents. The talk was more inspirational than useful.

Building a faster checkout experience at PayPal with GraphQL by Vishakha Singh

Vishakha focused on how minimized payload and some intelligent caching using GraphQL improves PayPal’s performance. But honestly, I didn’t have a lot of take-away.

Client-side GraphQL at scale by Chris Sauvé (👍)

Shopify’s admin app has ~1000 GraphQL queries and ~700 entities. The company came up with a couple of useful libraries to mitigate this complexity. One library filled the gap in Apollo Client’s type system using collocated d.ts for GraphQL documents, which I found smart. Another autogenerated mock data based on GraphQL schema. I plan to adopt both of them at my current projects. If you are pressed for time, you don’t need to watch the talk since the documentation on the libraries do an excellent job of explaining what they do.

Edit: All videos can now be found here. I linked the videos to my review as well.