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WebAssembly System Interface

WASI

The WebAssembly System Interface is not a monolithic standard system interface, but is instead a modular collection of standardized APIs. None of the APIs are required to be implemented to have a compliant runtime. Instead, host environments can choose which APIs make sense for their use cases.


Important Note: WASI is in transition

WASI is transitioning away from the witx format and its early experimental ABI. We are transitioning to Interface Types using the wit format and the canonical ABI.

All new API proposals should use the new format and the new repo structure that is shown in the proposal template.

Some APIs can not yet be supported in the wit format. The advancement of these proposals will be unblocked with work that is ongoing:

  • Proposals that require async/streams are expected to be unblocked in early Q2 2022
  • Proposals that depend on libc are expected to be unblocked by work in wasi-libc and elsewhere. Until then, implementers of these APIs should continue to use the snapshots in this repo, which use the witx format. We will provide updates on the progress of this work in the bi-weekly meetings.

Find the APIs

Development of each API happens in its own repo, which you can access from the proposals list.

This repo is for general discussion, as well as documenting how we work and high-level goals.

Propose a new API

If you would like to create a new proposal, get started with our Contributing guide.

WASI High Level Goals

(In the spirit of WebAssembly's High-Level Goals.)

  1. Define a set of portable, modular, runtime-independent, and WebAssembly-native APIs which can be used by WebAssembly code to interact with the outside world. These APIs preserve the essential sandboxed nature of WebAssembly through a Capability-based API design.
  2. Specify and implement incrementally. Start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), then adding additional features, prioritized by feedback and experience.
  3. Supplement API designs with documentation and tests, and, when feasible, reference implementations which can be shared between wasm engines.
  4. Make a great platform:
    • Work with WebAssembly tool and library authors to help them provide WASI support for their users.
    • When being WebAssembly-native means the platform isn't directly compatible with existing applications written for other platforms, design to enable compatibility to be provided by tools and libraries.
    • Allow the overall API to evolve over time; to make changes to API modules that have been standardized, build implementations of them using libraries on top of new API modules to provide compatibility.

WASI Design Principles

Capability-based security

WASI is built using capability-based security principles. Access to external resources is always represented by handles, which are special values that are unforgeable, meaning there's no way to coerce an arbitrary integer or other type of value into a handle. WASI is also aiming to have no ambient authorities, meaning that there should be no way to request a handle purely by providing a string or other user-controlled identifier providing the name of a resource. With these two properties, the only ways to obtain access to resources are to be explicitly given handles, or to perform operations on handles which return new handles.

Note that this is a different sense of "capability" than Linux capabilities or the withdrawn POSIX capabilities, which are per-process rather than per-resource.

The simplest representation of handles are values of reference type. References in wasm are inherently unforgeable, so they can represent handles directly.

Some programming languages operate primarily within linear memory, such as C, C++, and Rust, and there currently is no easy way for these languages to use references in normal code. And even if it does become possible, it's likely that source code will still require annotations to fully opt into references, so it won't always be feasible to use. For these languages, references are stored in a table called a c-list. Integer indices into the table then identify resources, which can be easily passed around or stored in memory. In some contexts, these indices are called file descriptors since they're similar to what POSIX uses that term for. There are even some tools, such as wasm-bindgen, which make this fairly easy. (Internally, tools and engines don't always use actual WebAssembly tables to do this, however those are implementation details. Conceptually, they work as if they had tables.)

Integer indices are themselves forgeable, however a program can only access handles within the c-list it has access to, so isolation can still be achieved, even between libraries which internally use integer indices, by witholding access to each library's c-list to the other libraries. Instances can be given access to some c-lists and not others, or even no c-lists at all, so it's still possible to establish isolation between instances.

Witx-specified APIs use a special handle keyword to mark parameters and return values which are handles. In the short term, these are lowered to integer indices, with an implied table, so that the APIs can be easily used from C and similar languages today. Once interface types is ready, we expect to make use of them to provide APIs which can be used either from languages using references or from languages using integer indices, with tables being used and managed automatically.

Interposition

Interposition in the context of WASI interfaces is the ability for a Webassembly instance to implement a given WASI interface, and for a consumer WebAssembly instance to be able to use this implementation transparently. This can be used to adapt or attenuate the functionality of a WASI API without changing the code using it.

In WASI, we envision interposition will primarily be configured through the mechanisms in the module linking' link-time virtualization. Imports are resolved when a module is instantiated, which may happen during the runtime of a larger logical application, so we can support interposition of WASI APIs without defining them in terms of explicit dynamic dispatch mechanisms.

Interposition is sometimes referred to as "virtualization", however we use "interposition" here because the word "virtualization" has several related meanings.

Compatibility

Compatibility with existing applications and libraries, as well as existing host platforms, is important, but will sometimes be in conflict with overall API cleanliness, safety, performance, or portability. Where practical, WASI seeks to keep the WASI API itself free of compatibility concerns, and provides compatibility through libraries, such as WASI libc, and tools. This way, applications which don't require compatibility for compatibility' sake aren't burdened by it.

Portability

Portability is important to WASI, however the meaning of portability will be specific to each API.

WASI's modular nature means that engines don't need to implement every API in WASI, so we don't need to exclude APIs just because some host environments can't implement them. We prefer APIs which can run across a wide variety of engines when feasible, but we'll ultimately decide whether something is "portable enough" on an API-by-API basis.