Now there are other native solutions (libui-rs, conrod, oh hey wxWdidgets again!), but
those also have their own issues with distribution, styling, etc. With Electron, I can
yarn create electron-app my-app and just get going, knowing that packaging/upgrades/etc. are built
My question is: given recent innovations with WASM, are we Electron yet?
No, not really.
Setting the Stage
Truth is, WASM/Webassembly is a pretty new technology and I’m a total beginner in this area. There may already be solutions to the issues I discuss, but I’m totally unaware of them, so I’m going to try and organize what I did manage to discover.
I should also mention that the content and things I’m talking about here are not intended to be prescriptive, but more “if someone else is interested, what do we already know doesn’t work?” I expect everything in this post to be obsolete within two months. Even over the course of writing this, a separate blog post had to be modified because upstream changes broke a Rust tool the post tried to use. The post ultimately got updated, but all this happened within the span of a week. Things are moving quickly.
I’ll also note that we’re going to skip asm.js and emscripten. Truth be told, I couldn’t get
either of these to output anything, and so I’m just going to say
here be dragons. Everything I’m discussing here
The code that I did get running is available over here. Feel free to use it as a starting point, but I’m mostly including the link as a reference for the things that were attempted.
An Example Running Application
So, I did technically get a running application:
…which you can also try out if you want:
git clone https://github.com/speice-io/isomorphic-rust.git cd isomorphic_rust/percy yarn install && yarn start
…but I wouldn’t really call it a “high quality” starting point to base future work on. It’s mostly there to prove this is possible in the first place. And that’s something to be proud of! There’s a huge amount of engineering that went into showing a window with the text “It’s alive!”.
There’s also a lot of usability issues that prevent me from recommending anyone try Electron and WASM apps at the moment, and I think that’s the more important thing to discuss.
Issue the First: Complicated Toolchains
that point you’ve got an Electron app that starts an HTML page which ultimately fetches your WASM
blob. To keep things simple, the goal was to package everything using webpack so that I could just
bundle.js file on the page. That decision was to be the last thing that kinda worked in
The first issue
I ran into
while attempting to bundle everything via
webpack is a detail in the WASM spec:
This function accepts a Response object, or a promise for one, and … [if > it] does not match the
application/wasmMIME type, the returned promise will be rejected with a TypeError;
Specifically, if you try and load a WASM blob without the MIME type set, you’ll get an error. On the
web this isn’t a huge issue, as the server can set MIME types when delivering the blob. With
Electron, you’re resolving things with a
file:// URL and thus can’t control the MIME type:
There are a couple of solutions depending on how far into the deep end you care to venture:
- Embed a static file server in your Electron application
- Use a custom protocol and custom protocol handler
- Host your WASM blob on a website that you resolve at runtime
But all these are pretty bad solutions and defeat the purpose of using WASM in the first place.
Instead, my workaround was to
open a PR with
webpack and use regex to remove
instantiateStreaming in the
cargo +nightly build --target=wasm32-unknown-unknown && \ wasm-bindgen "$WASM_DIR/debug/$WASM_NAME.wasm" --out-dir "$APP_DIR" --no-typescript && \ # Have to use --mode=development so we can patch out the call to instantiateStreaming "$DIR/node_modules/webpack-cli/bin/cli.js" --mode=development "$APP_DIR/app_loader.js" -o "$APP_DIR/bundle.js" && \ sed -i 's/.*instantiateStreaming.*//g' "$APP_DIR/bundle.js"
Once that lands, the build process becomes much simpler:
cargo +nightly build --target=wasm32-unknown-unknown && \ wasm-bindgen "$WASM_DIR/debug/$WASM_NAME.wasm" --out-dir "$APP_DIR" --no-typescript && \ "$DIR/node_modules/webpack-cli/bin/cli.js" --mode=production "$APP_DIR/app_loader.js" -o "$APP_DIR/bundle.js"
webpack), we still have to make an Electron app. For this purpose I used a
starter app from Electron Forge, and then a
to actually handle starting the application.
The final toolchain looks something like this:
yarn starttriggers the
prestartchecks for missing tools (
wasm-bindgen-cli, etc.) and then:
cargoto compile the Rust code into WASM
babelunder the hood to compile the
wasm-bindgencode down from ES6 into something browser-compatible
startscript runs an Electron Forge handler to do some sanity checks
- Electron actually starts
…which is complicated. I think more work needs to be done to either build a high-quality starter app that can manage these steps, or another tool that “just handles” the complexity of linking a compiled WASM file into something the Electron browser can run.
Issue the Second: WASM tools in Rust
Don’t check in your
Cargo.lock files to version control. If there’s a disagreement between the
wasm-bindgen-cli you have installed and the
wasm-bindgen you’re compiling with in
Cargo.lock, you get a nasty error:
it looks like the Rust project used to create this wasm file was linked against a different version of wasm-bindgen than this binary: rust wasm file: 0.2.21 this binary: 0.2.17 Currently the bindgen format is unstable enough that these two version must exactly match, so it's required that these two version are kept in sync by either updating the wasm-bindgen dependency or this binary.
Not that I ever managed to run into this myself (coughs nervously).
There are two projects attempting to be “application frameworks”: percy and yew. Between those,
I managed to get two
percy, but was unable to get an
example running with
of issues with “missing modules” during the
ERROR in ./dist/electron_yew_wasm_bg.wasm Module not found: Error: Can't resolve 'env' in '/home/bspeice/Development/isomorphic_rust/yew/dist' @ ./dist/electron_yew_wasm_bg.wasm @ ./dist/electron_yew_wasm.js @ ./dist/app.js @ ./dist/app_loader.js
If you want to work with the browser APIs directly, your choices are percy-webapis or stdweb (or
eventually web-sys). See above for my
percy examples, but when I tried
an example with
stdweb, I was
unable to get it running:
ERROR in ./dist/stdweb_electron_bg.wasm Module not found: Error: Can't resolve 'env' in '/home/bspeice/Development/isomorphic_rust/stdweb/dist' @ ./dist/stdweb_electron_bg.wasm @ ./dist/stdweb_electron.js @ ./dist/app_loader.js
At this point I’m pretty convinced that
stdweb is causing issues for
yew as well, but can’t
I did also get a minimal example
running that doesn’t depend on any tools besides
wasm-bindgen. However, it requires manually
extern C” blocks for everything you need from the browser. Es no bueno.
Finally, from a tools and platform view, there are two up-and-coming packages that should be mentioned: js-sys and web-sys. Their purpose is to be fundamental building blocks that exposes the browser’s APIs to Rust. If you’re interested in building an app framework from scratch, these should give you the most flexibility. I didn’t touch either in my research, though I expect them to be essential long-term.
So there’s a lot in play from the Rust side of things, and it’s just going to take some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Issue the Third: Known Unknowns
Alright, so after I managed to get an application started, I stopped there. It was a good deal of effort to chain together even a proof of concept, and at this point I’d rather learn Typescript than keep trying to maintain an incredibly brittle pipeline. Blasphemy, I know…
The important point I want to make is that there’s a lot unknown about how any of this holds up outside proofs of concept. Things I didn’t attempt:
- Literally anything related to why I wanted to use Electron in the first place
What it Would Take
Let’s finish with a wishlist then - here are the things that I think need to happen before Electron/WASM/Rust can become a thing:
- Webpack still needs some updates. The necessary work is in progress, but hasn’t landed yet (#7983)
- Browser API libraries (
stdweb) need to make sure they can support running in Electron (see module error above)
- Projects need to stabilize. There’s talk of
stdwebbeing turned into a Rust API on top of web-sys, and percy moving to web-sys, both of which are big changes
wasm-bindgenis great, but still in the “move fast and break things” phase
- A good “boilerplate” app would dramatically simplify the start-up costs; electron-react-boilerplate comes to mind as a good project to imitate
- More blog posts/contributors! I think Electron + Rust could be cool, but I have no idea what I’m doing