🐘+🦀+🕸️ PHP extension to run WebAssembly binaries.
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🐘+🦀+🕸️ = PHP ext-wasm

This is only experimental right now.

The goal of the project is to be able to run WebAssembly binaries from PHP directly. So much fun coming!

What is WebAssembly?

Quoting the WebAssembly site:

WebAssembly (abbreviated WASM) is a binary instruction format for a stack-based virtual machine. WASM is designed as a portable target for compilation of high-level languages like C/C++/Rust, enabling deployment on the web for client and server applications.

About speed:

WebAssembly aims to execute at native speed by taking advantage of common hardware capabilities available on a wide range of platforms.

About safety:

WebAssembly describes a memory-safe, sandboxed execution environment […].


This extension has some goals in minds. Let's list some of them:

Write PHP extensions

Taking the example of an image manipulation library, like face detection, one can use an existing Rust or C++ library, then compile it to a WebAssembly binary, and use it directly in PHP through the php-ext-wasm extension.

Writing a C extension for PHP with the Zend API is no longer necessary.

Cross-platform distribution and packaging (feat. Composer)

Because WebAssembly is a portable target, i.e. binaries are platform agnostics, once a library has been compiled to a WebAssembly binary, it is immediately distributable on all platforms where PHP runs. There is no compilation steps required. And to be clear, compiling a library to a WebAssembly binary does not required any PHP headers.

To push the logic further, a library compiled as a WebAssembly binary can be packaged with Composer (the PHP dependency manager), along with some PHP code to ease the manipulation of the compiled library.

Distributing a new version of a WebAssembly binary simply reduces to distributing a new file. Composer can also add constraints over the available extensions with their versions (see ext-name). All packaging scenarios are handled.

As fast as possible

Right now, php-ext-wasm uses the wasmi library. No benchmark has been run yet, but we know this is not the fastest WebAssembly interpreter: It is safe, it is solid, it is well-tested, it provides a neat and flexible API, and this is what we need for the first version of this project.

It is expected to add Cranelift, and its Just-In-Time library, at some point in the future. We are already experimenting with it. The hope is to reach similar performance than PHP extensions written in C, or to be very close to it.

Safety first

WebAssembly brings safety guarantees, notably due to its memory model and its sandboxed execution environment. If Rust is used as the source of a WebAssembly binary, then more safety is brought in the game. In any case, without real numbers or studies, we imagine that it is safer to use a WebAssembly binary extension rather than writing C code.

A WebAssembly binary has no access to the PHP environment (so no access to its memory or functions). It is executed in a sandbox. A WebAssembly binary is totally blind regarding the host/the system where it runs: Whether it runs in a Web browser, a server, or a PHP process, this is the same.


Toy example

There is a toy program in examples/simple.rs, written in Rust (or any other language that compiles to WASM):

pub extern fn sum(x: i32, y: i32) -> i32 {
    x + y

This program compiles to WASM, with just compile-wasm examples/simple. We end up with a examples/simple.wasm binary file.

Then, we can execute it in PHP (!) with the examples/simple.php file:

$instance = new WASM\Instance(__DIR__ . '/simple.wasm');

    $instance->sum(5, 37) // 42!

And then, finally, enjoy by running:

$ php -d extension=wasm examples/simple.php

Imported functions

There is another toy example called examples/imported_function.rs:

extern {
    fn add(x: i32, y: i32) -> i32;

pub extern fn sum(x: i32, y: i32) -> i32 {
    unsafe {
        add(x, y) + 1

What happens here? The Rust program depends on an add function that is defined outside itself. This is an extern function. The magic is that this function implementation will be defined in PHP! The examples/imported_function.php contains this:

$imports = [
    'add' => function(int $x, int $y): int {
        return $x + $y + 1;
$instance = new WASM\Instance(__DIR__ . '/imported_function.wasm', $imports);

    $instance->sum(5, 35) // 42

The add function is defined in PHP itself. This kind of function is called an imported function.

The function must be annotated with types to infer the function signature and check if it matches with the extern function.

And then, finally, get excited by running:

$ php -d extension=wasm examples/imported_function.php

PHP calls sum (defined in Rust) with 5 and 35. The sum function calls add (defined in PHP) with 5 and 35, and adds 1. The add function adds 5 and 35, and adds 1. So 5 + 35 + 1 + 1 = 42. All “environments” are called. Q.E.D.

Imported functions are very exciting. A program, written in Rust for instance, can call functions from your favorite framework or libraries. It increases the interoperability of your program.

The whole schema

  1. The src/ directory contains a Rust library that exposes an API to instantiate a WASM binary and invoke functions on it. It relies on the wasmi library. The src/ directory also exposes C bindings (FFI).

  2. The extension/ directory contains a PHP extension, written in C. This extension binds and exposes the C API from the Rust library to Zend Engine (the PHP VM). Few low-level functions are exposed, such as wasm_read_binary, wasm_new_runtime, wasm_new_instance, wasm_invoke_arguments_builder, wasm_invoke_function etc. See php -d extension=wasm --re wasm to get a full list.

  3. Then, the lib/ directory contains a more user-friendly PHP API built upon the API provided by the PHP extension, with class like WASM\Instance.

  4. The headers/ directory contains headers generated by the Rust program automatically. These headers are used by the C PHP extension.

  5. The tests/ directory contains PHP tests. To run them: composer install && composer test.

  6. Misc: The examples/ directory contains… examples!

To compile the entire project, run the following commands:

$ just rust
$ just php
$ php -d extension=wasm examples/simple.php

(Yes, you need just).


  • Read a WASM binary,
  • Instanciate a WASM binary,
  • Get function signatures,
  • Arguments builder,
  • Invoke function:
    • with i32 as arguments or returned value,
    • with i64 as arguments or returned value,
    • with f32 as arguments or returned value,
    • with f64 as arguments or returned value.
  • User-friendly PHP API above the low-level PHP extension API,
  • Expose memory:
    • Array view for i32,
    • Array view for i64,
    • Array view for f32,
    • Array view for f64.
    • Readable array view,
    • Writable array view.
  • Import functions:
    • Specify signatures,
    • Support callable,
    • Support closure,
    • Support named function.


The entire project is under the BSD-3-Clause license. Please read the LICENSE file.