The distributable, loadable, and executable unit of code in WebAssembly
is called a module. At runtime, a module can be instantiated
with a set of import values to produce an instance, which is an immutable
tuple referencing all the state accessible to the running module. Multiple
module instances can access the same shared state which is the basis for
dynamic linking in WebAssembly. WebAssembly modules
are also meant to integrate with ES6 modules in the future
A module contains the following sections:
A module also defines several index spaces which are statically indexed by various operators and section fields in the module:
A module can declare a sequence of imports which are provided, at instantiation time, by the host environment. There are several kinds of imports:
- function imports, which can be called inside the module by the
- global imports, which can be accessed inside the module by the global operators;
- linear memory imports, which can be accessed inside the module by the memory operators; and
- table imports, which can be accessed inside the module by
call_indirect and other
table operators in the
In the future, other kinds of imports may be added. Imports are designed to allow modules to share code and data while still allowing separate compilation and caching.
All imports include two opaque names: a module name and an import name, which are required to be valid UTF-8. The interpretation of these names is up to the host environment but designed to allow a host environments, like the Web, to support a two-level namespace.
Each specific kind of import defines additional fields:
A function import includes a signature to use for the imported function inside the module. The checking of the signature against the imported function outside the module is defined by the host environment. However, if the imported function is a WebAssembly function, the host environment must raise an instantiation-time error if there is a signature mismatch.
A global variable import includes the value type and mutability of the global variable. These fields have the same meaning as in the Global section. In the MVP, global variable imports must be immutable.
A linear memory import includes the same set of fields defined in the Linear Memory section: initial length and optional maximum length. The host environment must only allow imports of WebAssembly linear memories that have initial length greater-or-equal than the initial length declared in the import and that have maximum length less-or-equal than the maximum length declared in the import. This ensures that separate compilation can assume: memory accesses below the declared initial length are always in-bounds, accesses above the declared maximum length are always out-of-bounds and if initial equals maximum, the length is fixed. In the MVP, every memory is a default memory and thus there may be at most one linear memory import or linear memory definition.
A table import includes the same set of fields defined in the Table section: element type, initial length and optional maximum length. As with the linear memory section, the host environment must ensure only WebAssembly tables are imported with exactly-matching element type, greater-or-equal initial length, and less-or-equal maximum length. In the MVP, every table is a default table and thus there may be at most one table import or table definition.
Since the WebAssembly spec does not define how import names are interpreted:
- the Web environment defines names to be UTF8-encoded strings;
- the host environment can interpret the module name as a file path, a URL, a key in a fixed set of builtin modules or the host environment may invoke a user-defined hook to resolve the module name to one of these;
- the module name does not need to resolve to a WebAssembly module; it could resolve to a builtin module (implemented by the host environment) or a module written in another, compatible language; and
- the meaning of calling an imported function is host-defined.
The open-ended nature of module imports allow them to be used to expose
arbitrary host environment functionality to WebAssembly code, similar to a
syscall. For example, a shell environment could define a builtin
stdio module with an export
A module can declare a sequence of exports which are returned at instantiation time to the host environment. Each export has three fields: a name, which is required to be valid UTF-8, whose meaning is defined by the host environment, a type, indicating whether the export is a function, global, memory or table, and an index into the type's corresponding index space.
All definitions are exportable: functions, globals, linear memories and tables. The meaning an exported definition is defined by the host environment. However, if another WebAssembly instance imports the definition, then both instances will share the same definition and the associated state (global variable value, linear memory bytes, table elements) is shared.
Export names must be unique.
In the MVP, only immutable global variables can be exported.
Module start function
If the module has a start node defined, the function it refers should be called by the loader after the instance is initialized, including its Memory and Table though Data and Element sections, and before the exported functions are callable.
- The start function must not take any arguments or return anything
- The function is identified by function index, can be an import, and can also be exported
- There can only be at most one start node per module
For example, a start node in a module will be:
In the first example, the environment is expected to call the function $start_function
before calling any other module function. In the second case, the environment is
expected to call the module function indexed 42. This number is the function index starting from 0 (same as for
A module can:
- Only have at most a start node
- If a module contains a start node, the function must be defined in the module
- The start function will be called after module loading and before any call to the module function is done
The global section provides an internal definition of zero or more global variables.
Linear memory section
The linear memory section provides an internal definition of one linear memory. In the MVP, every memory is a default memory and there may be at most one linear memory import or linear memory definition.
grow_memory is guaranteed to fail if attempting to
grow past the declared maximum. When declared, implementations should
(non-normative) attempt to reserve virtual memory up to the maximum size. While
failure to allocate the initial memory size is a runtime error, failure to
reserve up to the maximum is not. When a maximum memory size is not declared,
on architectures with limited virtual address space, engines should allocate
only the initial size and reallocate on demand.
The initial contents of linear memory are zero. The data section contains a
possibly-empty array of data segments which specify the initial contents
(offset, length) ranges of a given memory, specified by its
linear memory index. This section is analogous to
.data section of native executables. The
length is an integer constant
value (defining the length of the given segment). The
offset is an
The table section contains zero or more definitions of distinct tables. In the MVP, every table is a default table and there may be at most one table import or table definition.
Each table definition declares an element type, initial length, and optional maximum length.
In the MVP, the only valid element type is
"anyfunc", but in the
In the MVP, tables can only be resized via host-defined APIs (such as
grow_table may be added in the future
The intial contents of a tables' elements are sentinel values (that would trap if called). The elements section allows a module to initialize (at instantiation time) the elements of any imported or internally-defined table with any other definition in the module. This is symmetric to how the Data section allows a module to initialize the bytes of any imported or defined memory.
The elements section contains a possibly-empty array of element segments which
specify the initial contents of fixed
(offset, length) ranges of a given
table, specified by its table index. The
length is an
integer constant value (defining the length of the given segment). The
is an initializer expression. Elements are specified
by their index into the corresponding index space.
Function and Code sections
A single logical function definition is defined in two sections:
- the function section declares the signatures of each internal function definition in the module;
- the code section contains the function body of each function declared by the function section.
This split aids in streaming compilation by putting the function bodies, which constitute most of the byte size of the module, near the end so that all metadata necessary for recursive module loading and parallel compilation is available before compilation begins.
Function Index Space
The function index space indexes all imported and internally-defined function definitions, assigning monotonically-increasing indices based on the order of definition in the module (as defined by the binary encoding). Thus, the index space starts at zero with the function imports (if any) followed by the functions defined within the module.
The function index space is used by:
- Calls, to identify the callee of a direct call.
- Exports, to determine which functions are exposed to the embedder.
- Start function, to identify which function is called when the instance is fully initialized.
Global Index Space
The global index space indexes all imported and internally-defined global definitions, assigning monotonically-increasing indices based on the order of definition in the module (as defined by the binary encoding). Thus, the index space starts at zero with the global imports (if any) followed by the globals defined within the module.
The global index space is used by:
- global variable access operators, to identify the global variable to read/write
- data segments, to define the offset of a data segment (in linear memory) as the value of a global variable
Linear Memory Index Space
The linear memory index space indexes all imported and internally-defined linear memory definitions, assigning monotonically-increasing indices based on the order of definition in the module (as defined by the binary encoding). Thus, the index space starts at zero with the memory imports (if any) followed by the memories defined within the module.
Table Index Space
The table index space indexes all imported and internally-defined table definitions, assigning monotonically-increasing indices based on the order of definition in the module (as defined by the binary encoding). Thus, the index space starts at zero with the table imports (if any) followed by the tables defined within the module.
Initializer expressions are evaluated at instantiation time and are currently used to:
- define the initial value of global variables
- define the offset of a data segment or elements segment
An initializer expression is a pure WebAssembly expression that is encoded with the same binary encoding as WebAssembly expressions. Not all WebAssembly operators can or should be supported in initializer expressions; initializer expressions represent a minimal pure subset of WebAssembly expressions.
In the MVP, to keep things simple while still supporting the basic needs of dynamic linking, initializer expressions are restricted to the following nullary operators:
- the four constant operators; and
get_global, where the global index must refer to an immutable import.
In the future, operators like
i32.add could be added to allow more expressive
base + offset load-time calculations.