Not So Fast: Analyzing the Performance of WebAssembly vs. Native Code

Abhinav Jangda, Bobby Powers, Emery Berger, and Arjun Guha
USENIX Annual Technical Conference (ATC), 2019

All major web browsers now support WebAssembly, a low-level bytecode intended to serve as a compilation target for code written in languages like C and C++. A key goal of WebAssembly is performance parity with native code; previous work reports near parity, with many applications compiled to WebAssembly running on average 10% slower than native code. However, this evaluation was limited to a suite of scientific kernels, each consisting of roughly 100 lines of code. Running more substantial applications was not possible because compiling code to WebAssembly is only part of the puzzle: standard Unix APIs are not available in the web browser environment. To address this challenge, we build BrowsixWasm, a significant extension to Browsix that, for the first time, makes it possible to run unmodified WebAssembly-compiled Unix applications directly inside the browser. We then use BrowsixWasm to conduct the first large-scale evaluation of the performance of WebAssembly vs. native. Across the SPEC CPU suite of benchmarks, we find a substantial performance gap: applications compiled to WebAssembly run slower by an average of 45% (Firefox) to 55% (Chrome), with peak slowdowns of 2.08X (Firefox) and 2.5X (Chrome). We identify the causes of this performance degradation, some of which are due to missing optimizations and code generation issues, while others are inherent to the WebAssembly platform.

PDF available on arXiv

    title = "Not {S}o {F}ast: Analyzing the Performance of {WebAssembly} vs. Native Code",
    authors = "Abhinav Jangda and Bobby Powers and Emery Berger and Arjun Guha",
    booktitle = "{USENIX} Annual Technical Conference ({ATC})",
    year =  2019