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MS-Wasm: Soundly Enforcing Memory-Safe Execution of Unsafe Code

This repository contains all the code necessary for building MS- Wasm and reproducing the results presented in our paper.


Most programs compiled to WebAssembly (Wasm) today are written in unsafe languages like C and C++. Unfortunately, memory-unsafe C code remains unsafe when compiled to Wasm—and attackers can exploit buffer overflows and use- after-frees in Wasm almost as easily as they can on native platforms. Memory- Safe WebAssembly (MSWasm) proposes to extend Wasm with language-level memory- safety abstractions to precisely address this problem. In this paper, we build on the original MSWasm position paper to realize this vision. We give a precise and formal semantics of MSWasm, and prove that well-typed MSWasm programs are, by construction, robustly memory safe. To this end, we develop a novel, language-independent memory-safety property based on colored memory locations and pointers. This property also lets us reason about the security guarantees of a formal C-to-MSWasm compiler—and prove that it always produces memory-safe programs (and preserves the semantics of safe programs). We use these formal results to then guide several implementations: Two compilers of MSWasm to native code, and a C-to-MSWasm compiler (that extends Clang). Our MSWasm compilers support different enforcement mechanisms, allowing developers to make security- performance trade-offs according to their needs. Our evaluation shows that on the PolyBenchC suite, the overhead of enforcing memory safety in software ranges from 22% (enforcing spatial safety alone) to 198% (enforcing full memory safety), and 51.7% when using hardware memory capabilities for spatial safety and pointer integrity.

More importantly, MSWasm’s design makes it easy to swap between enforcement mechanisms; as fast (especially hardware-based) enforcement techniques become available, MSWasm will be able to take advantage of these advances almost for free.


Each name links to its Github repo.


  • rWasm: source code for our AOT compiler from MSWasm bytecode. Consists of rWasm with modifications to support compiling from MSWasm bytecode. This is available on the PATH of the docker container: running rWasm -w --ms-wasm <path/to/mswasm/file> will create a folder named generated. The --ms-wasm-packed-tags, --ms-wasm-no-tags, --ms-wasm-baggy-bounds flags can optionally be added to change the runtime enforcement used. Run rwasm -–help for more information and additional options. cding into the generated folder and running cargo run --release will run the program. To compile to Cheri-C instead, use the mswasm-cheri branch and add the --cheri flag.

  • mswasm-graal: source code for our JIT compiler from MSWasm bytecode. Consists of GraalVM with modifications to support MSWasm Bytecode. mswasm-graal is available on the PATH of the docker container: running mswasm-graal –Builtins=wasi_snapshot_preview1 <path/to/mswasm/file> will run the file. There is also a version of Graal’s implementation of vanilla Wasm on the path - running wasm-graal --Builtins=wasi_snapshot_preview1 <path/to/wasm/file> will run the Wasm program.


  • mswasm-llvm: source code for our compiler from C to MSWasm bytecode. Consists of a fork of LLVM (specifically, the CHERI fork of LLVM) with modifications to produce MSWasm bytecode. Running /home/mswasm-llvm/llvm/build/bin/clang –target=wasm32-wasi --sysroot=”/home/mswasm-wasi-libc/sysroot” <path/to/c/file> will generate an MSWasm program from a basic C program. Due to current limitations of the MSWasm prototypes, clang does not correctly compile arbitrary programs. In particular, expect errors on most programs that use stdout.

Supporting Tools

  • mswasm-wasi-libc: source code for supporting compilation of C executables to MSWasm bytecode. Consists of WASI-libc with modifications to support MSWasm bytecode.

  • mswasm-polybench: PolybenchC benchmarks, compiled to native x86-64 code, Wasm bytecode, and MSWasm bytecode; along with scripts to perform benchmarking. Inside of the benchmark- binaries folders, there are .mswasm MS-WebAssembly binary files to be run by rWasm and mswasm-graal .mswat MS-WebAssembly text files to be read by humans .native binaries to run as native C code .wasm WebAssembly binaries to be run by rWasm and wasm-graal .wat WebAssembly text files to be read by humans.

  • mswasm-wabt: source code for mswasm2wat, a utility for converting MSWasm files into a readable text format. Consists of a fork of WABT partially modified to work on MSWasm bytecode. mswasm2wat is available on the PATH and takes an MSWasm binary file as input. For more information Wasm text format, see [this guide]( WebAssembly/Understanding_the_text_format).

Reproducing Evaluation Results


Docker Container

We provide a Docker container to create an environment to run these benchmarks at To install, install Docker and run

docker pull

This will download the container. The container is around 80GB. Once the container is downloaded, you can run it with commands such as

docker run -it mswasm:latest

You may also use the Docker desktop interface if desired.


We provide a Dockerfile to create an environment to run these benchmarks. To install, install Docker, and in the same directory as the Dockerfile, run

docker build -t mswasm .

This will build the container. This will take a reasonable amount of time (around 45 minutes on our host machine) and require internet for cloning git repositories. This will take more than 32GB of RAM due to compilation, and the final image will be around 80GB. Once the container is built, you can run it with commands such as

docker run -it mswasm:latest

You may also use the Docker desktop interface if desired.

Container Organization

Running Benchmarks

To run the benchmark suite from the paper, use the original benchify.toml file with uncommented warmup, min_run and max_run values. The original file can be found in the mswasm-polybench repo. Running the entire benchmark suite will take a substantial amount of time. It would be advised to lower the min and max runs.

It can be run with the same instructions as before: cd mswasm-polybench benchify benchify.toml. Output will be generated on stdout and in the benchify-results folder.

Choosing Tests

To choose which tests to run, you can modify the benchify.toml file. The min_runs and max_runs numbers will determine the number of times a benchmark will be run. Lowering these values to 3 will provide a quicker benchmark run, but the results will have more noise.

You can comment tests out by removing or commenting them out in benchify.toml. For instance, if I only wanted to run the 2mm benchmark, my benchify.toml would look like

    name = "2mm"
    tag = "wasi"
    file = "benchmark-binaries/2mm.mswasm"
    stdout_is_timing = true

  # [[tests]]
  # name = "3mm"
  # tag = "wasi"
  # file = "benchmark-binaries/3mm.mswasm"
  # stdout_is_timing = true
  # [[tests]]
  # name = "adi"
  # tag = "wasi"
  # file = "benchmark-binaries/adi.mswasm"
  # stdout_is_timing = true
  # [[tests]]
  # name = "atax"
  # tag = "wasi"
  # file = "benchmark-binaries/atax.mswasm"
  # stdout_is_timing = true

Generating Graphs

To generate the graphs used in the paper, you can use the script. If you wish to run the script from the container, run git pull from the mswasm-polybench repo to pull the script, and then run apt-get update && apt-get install python3-matplotlib python3-pandas python3-seaborn to install needed dependencies. The script can then be run as

python3 <path to> <path to benchify csv data in benchify-results>

The script will generate 5 graphs as pdfs in the current working directory. You can extract these graphs from the container with docker cp, such as

docker container ls # find the name of your container
docker cp <container name>:<path to pdf> <path on local machine to copy to>

Alternatively, the python script only requires the benchify csv data, so it does not need to be run on the container. docker cp can be used to retrieve the benchify csv data, then the python script can be run on a local machine that has python3 and matplotlib, pandas, and seaborn installed.


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