Leaps and bounds: Analyzing WebAssembly’s performance with a focus on bounds checking

Raven Szewczyk, Kim Stonehouse, Antonio Barbalace, Tom Spink

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

WebAssembly is gaining more and more popularity, finding applications beyond the Web browser -- for which it was initially designed for.
However, its performance, which developers aimed at being comparable to native, requires further tuning, and has not been extensively studied to pinpoint the cause of various overheads.
This paper identifies that WebAssembly's unique safety mechanisms, the major one being bounds-checked memory accesses, may introduce up to a 650% overhead.

Therefore, we evaluate four popular WebAssembly runtimes against native compiled code.
These runtimes have been enriched with modern bounds checking mechanisms and run on three different ISAs, including x86-64, Armv8 and RISC-V RV64GC.

We show that performance-oriented runtimes are able to achieve performance within 20% of native on x86_64 platforms, and 35% for Armv8. On RISC-V the V8 runtime can achieve a 17% overhead over native code for simple numeric kernels.
For simple numerical kernels, we have shown that there is no significant difference in the WebAssembly performance compared to native code across different ISAs.

We also show that in the case of multithreaded scaling of the tested runtimes, which might for example be used to quickly scale up serverless instances for a single function without the overhead of spawning new processes, the default approach taken by WAVM, Wasmtime, and V8 of using the mprotect syscall to resize memory can cause excessive locking in the Linux kernel and so present an alternative userfaultfd-based solution to mitigate this issue.

We share our results, and the tools and scripts under an open source license for other researchers to replicate our results, and monitor the progress that WebAssembly runtimes make as this technology evolves.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2022 IEEE International Symposium on Workload Characterization (IISWC 2022)
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-6654-8798-6
ISBN (Print)978-1-6654-8799-3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2022
Event2022 IEEE International Symposium on Workload Characterization - Austin, United States
Duration: 6 Nov 20228 Nov 2022


Symposium2022 IEEE International Symposium on Workload Characterization
Abbreviated titleIISWC 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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