A fast in-place interpreter for WebAssembly.
WebAssembly (Wasm) is a compact, well-specified bytecode format that offers a
portable compilation target with near-native execution speed. The bytecode
format was specifically designed to be fast to parse, validate, and compile,
positioning itself as a portable alternative to native code. It was pointedly
not designed to be interpreted directly. Instead, design considerations at the
time focused on competing with native code, utilizing optimizing compilers as
the primary execution tier. Yet, in JIT scenarios, compilation time and memory
consumption critically impact application startup, leading many Wasm engines to
later deploy baseline (single-pass) compilers. Though faster, baseline
compilers still take time and waste code space for infrequently executed code.
A typical interpreter being infeasible, some engines resort to compiling Wasm
not to machine code, but to a more compact, but easy to interpret format. This
still takes time and wastes memory. Instead, we introduce in this article a
fast in-place interpreter for WebAssembly, where no rewrite and no separate
format is necessary. Our evaluation shows that in-place interpretation of Wasm
code is space-efficient and fast, achieving performance on-par with
interpreting a custom-designed internal format. This fills a hole in the
execution tier space for Wasm, allowing for even faster startup and lower
memory footprint than previous engine configurations.
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