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FAQ

General

  • Q. What does Emscripten do?

    A. Emscripten compiles LLVM bytecode into JavaScript, which then allows:

    • Compiling C/C++ and other code that can be translated into LLVM, directly into JavaScript.
    • Compiling the C/C++ runtimes of other languages into JavaScript, and then running code in those other languages in an indirect way. This works for languages like Python and Lua.

      Practically any portable C or C++ codebase can be run in JavaScript using Emscripten (but see CodeGuidelinesAndLimitations). That includes even things like games that need to render graphics, play sounds, load and process files, etc. etc. See the list of demos on the main wiki page to get an idea of what is possible.

  • Q. Why are you doing this?

    A. The web is standards-based, cross-platform, runs everywhere from PCs to iPads, and has numerous independent compatible implementations. It's arguably the best platform to develop for, for those reasons. But it could be even more developer-friendly: While JavaScript (when used well!) is an excellent language, lots of people want to code in other languages. By compiling to JavaScript, everyone is happy.

  • Q. What is the status of Emscripten?

    A. Emscripten is mature and has been used to port a very long list of real-world codebases to JavaScript, including large projects like CPython, Poppler and Bullet, as well as commercial projects like the Unreal Engine 3, Nebula 3 engine, etc.. You can see some examples here.

  • Q. How fast will the compiled code be?

    A. Emscripten's default code generation mode is in asm.js format, which is a subset of JavaScript designed to make it possible for JavaScript engines to execute very quickly. See here for up-to-date benchmark results. In many cases, asm.js can get quite close to native speed.

    To run the emscripten benchmark suite yourself, do python tests/runner.py benchmark.

  • Q. How big will the compiled code be?

    A. The effective size of the code will be about the same as native code. That is, if you gzip your code, it will be about the same size as gzipped native code. For more, see this blog post.

    Note that unoptimized builds can be quite large. While in native code unoptimized and optimized builds can be much the same size, in JS unoptimized builds are much larger because optimization is required to cut down the size (using things like minification). So if you build your project at -O0 and see a surprisingly large file, check the size when building with -O2. Also, remember that you can run gzip on your webserver, so the amount actually transferred over the network is much smaller than even that.

  • Q. Where does Emscripten itself run?

    A. Emscripten is known to work on Windows, OS X and Linux. (There is a tendency to focus a little more on Linux since that's what one of the main devs uses, so that one might be slightly more stable.)

    That's for the compiler, of course, the generated code is valid JavaScript, so it will run anywhere JavaScript can run.

  • Q. What APIs/libraries does Emscripten support?

    A. libc and stdlibc++ support is very good. SDL support is sufficient to run quite a lot of code. OpenGL support is in very good shape for OpenGL ES 2.0-type code, and even some other types, see OpenGL support.

  • Q. Is this really a compiler? Isn't it better described as a translator?

    A. Well, a compiler is usually defined as a program that transforms source code written in one programming language into another, which is what Emscripten does. A translator is a more specific term that is usually used for compilation between high-level languages, which isn't exactly applicable. On the other hand a decompiler is something that translates a low-level language to a higher-level one, so that might technically be a valid description, but it sounds odd since we aren't going back to the original language we compiled from (C/C++, most likely) but into something else (JavaScript).

  • Q. The name of the project sounds weird to me.

    A. I don't know why; it's a perfectly cromulent word!

Using Emscripten

  • Q. How do I compile code?

    A. See the Tutorial.

  • Q. I get lots of errors building the tests or even simple hello world type stuff?

    A. Try to run emcc -v, which prints out some helpful information and runs some sanity checks. You can also try emcc --clear-cache to empty the compiler's internal cache, which will then be rebuilt next time it is used. If none of those help or give an idea of what could be the matter, then some common problems to check for are:

    • Typos in the paths in ~/.emscripten.
    • Using older versions of Node or JS engines. Use the versions mentioned in the Tutorial.
    • Using older versions of LLVM. See the Emscripten-SDK page for which version of LLVM is supported. Using other builds might not work. If you are using fastcomp, see LLVM Backend for the proper repos for LLVM and clang that you should be using.
    • Not having python2 in your system. For compatibility with systems that install python 2.x alongside 3.x (increasingly common), we look for python2. If you only have python 2.x installed, make python2 be a link to python. Or, instead you can invoke our python scripts directly, for example python emcc instead of ./emcc.

    You might also want to go through the Tutorial again, if it's been a while since you have (we update it when things change).

  • Q. I tried something and it doesn't work?

    A. Emscripten has an extensive test suite. If you try something (a compiler flag, a libc function, etc.) and it fails, often the best thing is to grep -r in tests/ to see if there is a test for it. On the master branch, all tests are known to pass. The tests can therefore both show you what works, and also they give concrete examples for how to use things, which can be helpful in addition to the docs.

  • Q. Can I compile my project using Emscripten? Do I need a new build system?

    A. You can in most cases very easily use your project's current build system with Emscripten. See Building-Projects.

  • Q. My code cannot access a file that is right there in the same directory?

    A. Emscripten-generated code cannot by default access local files on your machine like a native application. See Filesystem-Guide for details: you can in node allow such access, and in other platforms you can use preloading to work around lack of synchronous file IO.

  • Q. My code compiles slowly.

    A. Emscripten will soon move to a proper LLVM backend, which should improve build times considerably. You can test it right now.

    Emscripten makes some tradeoffs that make the generated code faster and smaller, at the cost of longer compilation times. For example, we build parts of the standard library along with your code which enables some additional optimizations, but takes a little longer to compile.

    Emscripten can run all the big compilation phases in parallel, and will do so automatically, so running on a machine with more cores can give you almost a linear speedup (so doubling the amount of cores can almost halve the amount of time it takes to build and so forth). To see details of how work is parallelized, compile with EMCC_DEBUG=1 in the environment (note though that in that debug mode compilation takes longer than normal, because we print out a lot of intermediate steps to disk, by default to /tmp/emscripten_temp, but it's still useful to see which stages are slowing you down). You can affect how many cores are using with EMCC_CORES=N, which can be useful if you have many cores but relatively less memory.

    Note that optimization can in some cases be noticeably slower than unoptimized code, -O1 is slower than -O0, which in turn is slower than -O2 (in return, though, they greatly improve the speed of the generated code). It might be useful to use -O0 (or not specify an optimization level) during quick development iterations and to do fully optimized builds less frequently. Note that -O3 is especially slow.

    Currently builds with line-number debug info (where the source code was compiled with -g) are slow, see issue #216. Stripping the debug info leads to much faster compile times.

    If you are building a large project, then static linking can much faster than normal builds, see Linking.

    For incremental builds on large codebases (for example, where you compile, then change a few lines and recompile), Emscripten has an option to use caching to greatly speed itself up, see emcc --help about the jcache option. Note though that static linking, mentioned before, is more recommended.

  • Q. My code runs slowly.

    A. Make sure you build with -O2 so code is optimized. This is necessary both for each source file, and for the final stage of linking and compiling to JS, see more details here.

  • Q. My code is large.

    A. Make sure you build with -O2 so code is optimized, which includes minification to reduce size. You should also set up gzip compression on your webserver, which all browsers now support.

    You can use closure compile to reduce code size even more with --closure 1, however that will require that your code with with closure compiler advanced optimizations, including proper exports and so forth. It is usually not worth the effort over an optimized build+server gzip.

  • Q. When I compile code that should work, I get odd errors in Emscripten about various things. I get different errors (or it works) on another machine.

    A. Make sure you are using the Emscripten bundled system headers. Using emcc will do so by default, but if you compile into LLVM bitcode yourself, or you use your local system headers even with emcc, problems can happen.

  • Q. My large codebase runs ok, but the time it takes to start up is significant. What can I do to improve that?

    A. First, make sure you are running an optimized build (which will be much smaller and faster to start up). Then, if the sheer code size is causing the slow startup, you can try the outlining option in emscripten.

    Another possible factor is network latency. If you load data off the network and also have a big codebase, try to put the file loading code in a separate script element - that is, run the file packager (tools/file_packager.py) and put its code in one script element, and in another script element after it put the generated codebase. That will allow the browser to start the network download immediately, so it can run in parallel to the browser parsing and starting up the codebase.

  • Q. My code fails to compile, the error includes something about inline assembly (or {"text":"asm"}).

    A. Emscripten cannot compile inline assembly code, which is CPU specific, because Emscripten is not a CPU emulator.

    Many projects have build options that generate only platform-independent code, without inline assembly. That should be used for Emscripten. For example, the following might help (and are done automatically for you by emcc):

    #undef __i386__
    #undef __x86_64__
    

    Since when no CPU-specific #define exists, many projects will not generate CPU specific code. In general though, you will need to find where inline assembly is generated, and how to disable that.

  • Q. How do I run an event loop?

    A. To run a C function repeatedly, use emscripten_set_main_loop, see system/include/emscripten/emscripten.h. The other functions in that file are also useful, they let you do things like add events that block the main loop, etc. Documentation for all of those functions is in that header file.

    To respond to browser events and so forth, use the SDL API normally. See the SDL tests for examples (look for SDL in tests/runner.py).

    See also the next question.

  • Q. My HTML app hangs.

    A. Graphical C++ apps typically have a main loop that is an infinite loop, in which event handling is done, processing and rendering, then SDL_Delay. However, in JS there is no way for SDL_Delay to actually return control to the browser event loop. To do that, you must exit the current code. See Emscripten-Browser-Environment.

  • Q. My SDL app doesn't work.

    A. See the SDL automatic tests for working examples: python tests/runner.py browser.

  • Q. How do I link against system libraries like SDL, boost, etc.?

    A. System libraries that are included with emscripten - libc, libc++ (C++ STL) and SDL - are automatically included when you compile (and just the necessary parts of them). You don't even need -lSDL, unlike other compilers (but -lSDL won't hurt either).

    Other libraries not included with emscripten, like boost, you would need to compile yourself and link with your program, just as if they were a module in your project. For example, see how BananaBread links in libz. (Note that in the specific case of boost, if you only need the boost headers, you don't need to compile anything.)

    Another option for libraries not included is to implement them as a JS library, like emscripten does for libc (minus malloc) and SDL (but not libc++ or malloc). See --js-library in emcc.

  • Q. How can my compiled program access files?

    A. Emscripten uses a virtual file system that may be preloaded with data or linked to URLs for lazy loading. See the Filesystem Guide for more details.

  • Q. I get an error trying to access __tm_struct_layout (or another C structure used in libc).

    A. You may need to compile the source code with emcc -g. -g tells the compiler to include debug info, which includes metadata about structures which is used to access those structures from Emscripten's JS libc implementation. (Adding -g is a workaround until we have a proper fix for this.)

  • Q. Functions in my C/C++ source code vanish when I compile to JavaScript, and/or I get No functions to process..?

    A. By default Emscripten does dead code elimination to minimize code size. However, it might end up removing functions you want to call yourself, that are not called from the compiled code (so the LLVM optimizer thinks they are unneeded). You can run emcc with -s LINKABLE=1 which will disable link-time optimizations and dead code elimination, but this makes the code larger and less optimized than it could be. Instead, you should prevent specific functions from being eliminated by adding them to EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS (see src/settings.js), for example, run emcc with something like -s EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS="['_main', '_my_func']" in order to keep my_func from being removed/renamed (as well as main())). Note that this assumes my_func is a C function, otherwise you would need to write out the C++ name mangling.

    It can be useful to compile with EMCC_DEBUG=1 (EMCC_DEBUG=1 emcc ..). Then the compilation steps are split up and saved in /tmp/emscripten_temp. You can then see at what stage the code vanishes (you will need to do llvm-dis on the bitcode stages to read them, or llvm-nm, etc.).

    In summary, the general procedure for making sure a function is accessible to be called from normal JS later is (1) make a C function interface (to avoid C++ name mangling), (2) run emcc with -s EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS="['_main', '_yourCfunc']" to make sure it is kept alive during optimization.

    If your function is used in other functions, LLVM may inline it and it will not show up. In this case you can define it with void EMSCRIPTEN_KEEPALIVE yourCfunc() {..} which will preserve it (see emscripten.h).

    Another possible issue here is linking of .a files. .a files link only the internal object files needed by previous files on the command line, so the order of files matters, and this can be surprising. If you are linking .a files, make sure they are at the end of the list of files, and in the right order amongst themselves, or just use .so files instead in your project.

    Note: In LLVM 3.2 dead code elimination is significantly more aggressive. All functions not kept alive through EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS will be potentially eliminated. Make sure to keep the things you need alive using one or both of those methods.

  • Q. The FS API is not available when I build with closure?

    A. Closure compiler will minify the FS API code. To write code that uses it, it must be optimized with the FS API code by closure. To do that, use emcc's --pre-js option, see emcc --help.

  • Q. My code breaks with -O2 --closure 1, giving odd errors..?

    A. The likely problem is that Closure Compiler minifies variable names. Names like i,j,xa can be generated, and if other code has such variables in the global scope, bad things can happen.

    To check if this is the problem, compile with -O2 (without --closure 1). If that works, name minification might be the problem. If so, wrapping the generated code in a closure should fix it. (Or, wrap your other code in a closure, or stop it from using small variable names in the global scope, you might be using such variables by mistake by forgetting a var and assigning to a variable - which makes it be in the global scope.)

    To 'wrap' code in a closure, do something like this:

var CompiledModule = (function() {
  .. GENERATED CODE ..
  return Module;
})();
  • Q. I get undefined is not a function or NAME is not a function..?

    A. The likely cause is an undefined function - something that was referred to, but not implemented or linked in. If you get undefined, look at the line number to see the function name.

    Emscripten by default does not give fatal errors on undefined symbols, so you can get runtime errors like these (because in practice in many codebases it is easiest to get them working without refactoring them to remove all undefined symbol calls). If you prefer compile-time notifications, run emcc with -s WARN_ON_UNDEFINED_SYMBOLS=1 or -s ERROR_ON_UNDEFINED_SYMBOLS=1.

    Aside from just forgetting to link in a necessary object file, one possible cause for this error is inline functions in headers. If you have a header with inline int my_func() { .. } then clang may not actually inline the function (since inline is just a hint), and also not generate code for it (since it's in a header), so the generated bitcode and js will not have that function implemented. One solution is to add static, that is static inline int my_func() { .. } which forces code to be generated in the object file.

  • Q. I get an odd python error complaining about libcxx.bc or libcxxabi.bc..?

    A. Possibly building libcxx or libcxxabi failed. Go to system/lib/libcxx (or libcxxabi) and do emmake make to see the actual error. Or, clean the emscripten cache (~/.emscripten_cache) and then compile your file with EMCC_DEBUG=1 in the environment. libcxx will then be built in /tmp/emscripten_temp/libcxx, and you can see configure*,make* files that are the output of configure and make, etc.

    One possible cause of this error is the lack of make, which is necessary to build these libraries. If you are on Windows, you need cygwin which supplies make.

  • Q. Running LLVM bitcode generated by emcc through lli breaks with errors about impure_ptr stuff..?

    A. First of all, lli is not maintained (sadly) and has odd errors and crashes. However there is tools/nativize_llvm.py which compiles bitcode to a native executable. It will also hit the impure_ptr error though.

    The issue is that newlib uses that impure pointer stuff, while glibc uses something else. So bitcode build with the emscripten SDK (which emcc does) will not run locally, unless your machine uses newlib (which basically only embedded systems do). The impure_ptr stuff is limited, however, it only applies to explicit use of stdout etc. So printf(..) will work, but fprintf(stdout, ..) will not. So often it is simple to modify your code to not hit this problem.

  • Q. I get a stack size error when optimizing (RangeError: Maximum call stack size exceeded or similar)?

    A. You may need to increase the stack size for node. On linux and mac, you can just do NODE_JS = ['node', '--stack_size=8192'] or such (in ~/.emscripten). On windows, you will also need --max-stack-size=8192, and also to run editbin /stack:33554432 node.exe.

  • Q. I get error: cannot compile this aggregate va_arg expression yet and it says compiler frontend failed to generate LLVM bitcode, halting afterwards.

    A. This is a limitation of the le32 frontend in clang. You can use the x86 frontend instead by compiling with EMCC_LLVM_TARGET=i386-pc-linux-gnu in the environment (however you will lose the advantages of le32 which includes better alignment of doubles).

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