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The growing link between microservices and WebAssembly

The microservices architecture has become popular, but it runs into complexity and cost challenges. Implementing WebAssembly can alleviate those worries.

The world of software development and cloud computing is ever evolving. Today's innovation will soon be replaced by something faster, lighter and more capable.

Docker released in 2013 with game-changing consistency, portability and modularity for both application code and infrastructure. Microservices architectures construct applications as blocks of independent services with high scalability and flexibility.

Today, WebAssembly promises to improve containerization by offering high-performance, modularity and portability on both the client side and server side.

Let's examine WebAssembly's features and uses as well as explore its connection to microservices. We'll also consider its potential to address some of microservices' management challenges, such as complexity and operational costs.

What is WebAssembly?

WebAssembly (Wasm) is an open standard that lets developers create quality web experiences with near-native application performance. Developers can execute binary code on the web and apply programming languages such as C, C++ and Rust to web development. As a code format similar to Assembly, it lets developers choose any programming language and browser.

Currently, JavaScript is the only programming language that runs natively in a web browser. WebAssembly, on the other hand, offers near-native performance for web applications. It parses and compiles code before it is loaded into a browser, with machine-ready instructions for the browser to quickly validate and run the program.

WebAssembly has emerged as an ideal choice to build web services that require an intense level of performance. Google Earth and Figma have moved to WebAssembly, leveraging its capability to push execution speed and cut loading time.

With a Wasm module, you can run Rust programs across OSes such as Linux, Windows and macOS without hassle. You can also deploy them across hardware platforms to ensure a consistent experience from cloud to edge.

Wasm offers better isolation for programs, and it also reduces the attack surface through a sandboxed environment. These measures make it difficult for malicious code to access sensitive assets hosted on your system.

Another feature of Wasm is that it converts code into binary format, which loads and executes at high speed. This results in greater efficiency and better performance.

A look at the OSes, languages, frameworks and other elements in WebAssembly.

Microservices with WebAssembly and Rust

A microservices architecture simplifies the design and implementation of large-scale applications by dividing them into multiple smaller applications (typically individual HTTP endpoints) that perform just one functionality. This modular approach helps developers scale software, although it becomes increasingly complex to manage.

Meanwhile, Wasm not only enables high-performance apps on web browsers but also runs complex apps in other environments. This idea is in Wasm's project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, WasmEdge Runtime. With it, developers can run micro-applications with individual HTTP servers. This is especially good for applications that require dynamic scaling in edge cloud and serverless environments.

Wasm apps have been shown to be 100 times faster and significantly smaller than Rust apps. Leveraging these characteristics of Wasm apps, you can compile your programs in Rust, convert them into Wasm bytecode and deploy them to the cloud. Through this, you can securely execute the Rust program practically anywhere with greater isolation and a considerably reduced attack surface.

What is WASI?

WebAssembly is lightweight, provides portability across platforms and offers near-native execution of code.

WebAssembly System Interface (WASI) is a modular system interface set that ensures WebAssembly code portability. It comprises both low-level interfaces such as IO and high-level interfaces such as cryptography.

When used inside browsers, Wasm manages access to the OS. You'll need a separate interface, however, to run Wasm apps on servers.

Without WASI, these apps must be provisioned with full access to operating systems. This ties Wasm apps to a particular OS and increases vulnerability.

Wasm and Docker

Even though WebAssembly is a new tech standard, it has already caused ripples in the software industry. It is especially notable when industry leaders vouch for it over their platforms.

That includes Docker co-founder Solomon Hykes, who said on X, formerly known as Twitter, "If [Wasm plus WASI] existed in 2008, we wouldn't have needed to create Docker. That's how important it is. WebAssembly on the server is the future of computing. A standardized system interface was the missing link. Let's hope WASI is up to the task!"

In 2022, Docker released the technical preview of Docker plus Wasm, showing how the two technologies are complementary.

These are still early days for Wasm, but the technology looks promising.

The way forward with WebAssembly

Microservices architecture is here to stay. It is highly scalable and lets users use different technologies for different services. Using microservices can increase operational cost; managing them becomes complex as the number of small blocks of independent services increases.

WebAssembly could be the answer to these microservices management challenges. It is lightweight, provides portability across platforms and offers near-native execution of code. Developers can use their preferred language and integrate different components to create better software. WebAssembly is a promising option for organizations to build complex web services that can run anywhere.

Twain Taylor is a technology journalist for Fixate I/O. He began his career at Google and has built branded social media applications and automation scripts to help startups better manage their marketing operations.

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