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WebAssembly Dynamic Linking

This document describes the current WebAssembly dynamic linking ABI used by emscripten and by the llvm backend when targeting emscripten.

Note: This ABI is still a work in progress. There is no stable ABI yet.

Dynamic Libraries

A WebAssembly dynamic library is a WebAssembly binary with a special custom section that indicates this is a dynamic library and contains additional information needed by the loader.

The "dylink" Section

The "dylink" section is defined as:

Field Type Description
memorysize varuint32 Size of the memory area the loader should reserve for the module, which will begin at env.__memory_base
memoryalignment varuint32 The required alignment of the memory area, in bytes, encoded as a power of 2.
tablesize varuint32 Size of the table area the loader should reserve for the module, which will begin at env.__table_base
tablealignment varuint32 The required alignment of the table area, in elements, encoded as a power of 2.
needed_dynlibs_count varuint32 Number of needed shared libraries
needed_dynlibs_entries dynlib_entry* Repeated dynamic library entries as described below

The "dynlib_entry" type is defined as:

Field Type Description
dynlib_name_len varuint32 Length of dynlib_name_str in bytes
dynlib_name_str bytes Name of a needed dynamic library: valid UTF-8 byte sequence

env.__memory_base and env.__table_base are i32 imports that contain offsets into the linked memory and table, respectively. If the dynamic library has memorysize > 0 then the loader will reserve room in memory of that size and initialize it to zero (note: can be larger than the memory segments in the module, if the dynamic library wants additional space) at offset env.__memory_base, and similarly for the table (where initialization is to null, i.e., a trap will occur if it is called). The allocated regions of the table and memory are guaranteed to be at least as aligned as the library requests in the memoryalignment and tablealignment properties. The library can then place memory and table segments at the proper locations using those imports.

If needed_dynlibs_count > 0 then the loader, before loading the library, will first load needed libraries specified by needed_dynlibs_entries.

The "dylink" section should be the very first section in the module; this allows detection of whether a binary is a dynamic library without having to scan the entire contents.

Interface and usage

A WebAssembly dynamic library must obey certain conventions. In addition to the dylink section described above a module may import the following globals that will be provided by the dynamic loader:

  • env.memory - A wasm memory that is shared between all wasm modules that make up the program.
  • env.table - A wasm table that is shared between all wasm modules that make up the program.
  • env.__stack_pointer - A mutable i32 global representing the explicit stack pointer as an offset into the above memory.
  • env.__memory_base - An immutable i32 global representing the offset in the above memory which has been reserved and zero-initialized for this module, as described earlier. The module can use this global in the initializer of its data segments so that they loaded at the correct address.
  • env.__table_base - An immutable i32 global representing the offset in the above table which has been reserved for this module, as described earlier. The module can use this global in the intializer of its table element segments so that they loaded at the correct offset.


WebAssembly dynamic libraries do not require relocations in the code section. This allows for streaming compilation and better code sharing, and reduces the complexity of the dynamic linker. For external symbols this is achieved by referencing WebAssembly imports. For internal symbols we introduce two new relocation types for accessing data and functions address relative to __memory_base and __table_base global:

  • 11 / R_WASM_MEMORY_ADDR_REL_SLEB, - a memory address relative to the __memory_base wasm global. Used in position independent code (-fPIC) where absolute memory addresses are not known at link time.
  • 12 / R_WASM_TABLE_INDEX_REL_SLEB - a function address (table index) relative to the __table_base wasm global. Used in position indepenent code (-fPIC) where absolute function addresses are not known at link time.

All code that gets linked into a WebAssembly dynamic library must be compiled as position independant. The corresponding absolute reloction types (R_WASM_MEMORY_ADDR_SLEB and R_WASM_TABLE_INDEX_SLEB) are not permitted in position independant code and will be rejected at link time.

For relocation within the data segments a runtime fixup may be required. For example, if the address of an external symbol is stored in global data. In this case the dynamic library must generate code to apply these relocations at startup. The module can export a function called __post_instantiate. If it is so exported, the loader will call it after the module is instantiated, and before any other function is called. The __post_instantiate function is used both to apply relocations and to run any static constructors.


Functions are directly imported from the env module (e.g. env.enternal_func). Data addresses and function addresses are imported as WebAssembly globals that store the memory offset or table offset of the symbol. Such address are imported from GOT.mem and GOT.func respectively. The GOT prefix is borrowed from the ELF linking world and stands for "Global Offset Table". In WebAssembly the GOT is modeled as a set of imported wasm globals.

For example, a dynamic library might import and use an external data symbol as follows:

(import "GOT.mem" "foo" (global $foo_addr (mut i32))
get_global $foo_addr

And an external function symbol as follows:

(import "GOT.func" "bar" (global $bar_addr i32))
get_global $bar_addr

Note: This has no effect on exports, or the import of functions for direct call.

In the case of data symbols the imported global must be mutable as the dynamic linker will need to modify the value after instantiation. This is because the data symbol offsets might be specified as wasm exports from other modules which have not yet been instantiated. However, imports of function addresses do not need to be mutable since the linker can assign a table index to each imported function before it instantiates any of the modules.


Functions are directly exported as WebAssembly function exports. Exported addresses (i.e., exported memory locations or exported table locations) are exported as i32 WebAssembly globals. However since exports are static, modules connect export the final relocated addresses (i.e. they cannot add __memory_base before exporting). Thus, the exported address is before relocation; the loader, which knows __memory_base, can then calculate the final relocated address.

Implementation Status

LLVM Implementation

When llvm is run with --relocation-model=pic (a.k.a -fPIC) it will generate code that accesses non-DSO-local addresses via the GOT.mem and GOT.func entries. Such code must then be linked with either -shared to produce a shared library or -pie to produced a dynamically linked executable.


Emscripten can load WebAssembly dynamic libraries either at startup (using RUNTIME_LINKED_LIBS) or dynamically (using dlopen/dlsym/etc). See test_dylink_* and test_dlfcn_* in the test suite for examples.

Emscripten can create WebAssembly dynamic libraries with its SIDE_MODULE option, see the wiki.

In order to use the llvm output in emscripten (which still uses the old ABI described above) a binaryen pass is run as part of wasm-emscripten-finalize then coverts from the ABI descirbed in this document to the ABI used by the emscripten dynamic linker is somewhat different. The emscripten ABI uses specially named functions (e.g. g$foo and fp$foo) for accessing the addresses of the dynamically linked symbols rather than using WebAssembly globals.