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Compiler infrastructure and toolchain library for WebAssembly

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Binaryen is a compiler and toolchain infrastructure library for WebAssembly, written in C++. It aims to make compiling to WebAssembly easy, fast, and effective:

  • Easy: Binaryen has a simple C API in a single header, and can also be used from JavaScript. It accepts input in WebAssembly-like form but also accepts a general control flow graph for compilers that prefer that.

  • Fast: Binaryen's internal IR uses compact data structures and is designed for completely parallel codegen and optimization, using all available CPU cores. Binaryen's IR also compiles down to WebAssembly extremely easily and quickly because it is essentially a subset of WebAssembly.

  • Effective: Binaryen's optimizer has many passes (see an overview later down) that can improve code size and speed. These optimizations aim to make Binaryen powerful enough to be used as a compiler backend by itself. One specific area of focus is on WebAssembly-specific optimizations (that general-purpose compilers might not do), which you can think of as wasm minification, similar to minification for JavaScript, CSS, etc., all of which are language-specific.

Compilers using Binaryen include:

  • AssemblyScript
    which compiles a variant of TypeScript to WebAssembly
  • wasm2js
    which compiles WebAssembly to JS
  • Asterius
    which compiles Haskell to WebAssembly
  • Grain
    which compiles Grain to WebAssembly

Binaryen also provides a set of toolchain utilities that can

  • Parse and emit WebAssembly. In particular this lets you load WebAssembly, optimize it using Binaryen, and re-emit it, thus implementing a wasm-to-wasm optimizer in a single command.
  • Interpret WebAssembly as well as run the WebAssembly spec tests.
  • Integrate with Emscripten in order to provide a complete compiler toolchain from C and C++ to WebAssembly.
  • Polyfill WebAssembly by running it in the interpreter compiled to JavaScript, if the browser does not yet have native support (useful for testing).

Consult the contributing instructions if you're interested in participating.

Binaryen IR

Binaryen's internal IR is designed to be

  • Flexible and fast for optimization.
  • As close as possible to WebAssembly so it is simple and fast to convert it to and from WebAssembly.

There are a few differences between Binaryen IR and the WebAssembly language:

  • Tree structure
    • Binaryen IR is a tree, i.e., it has hierarchical structure, for convenience of optimization. This differs from the WebAssembly binary format which is a stack machine.
    • Consequently Binaryen's text format allows only s-expressions. WebAssembly's official text format is primarily a linear instruction list (with s-expression extensions). Binaryen can't read the linear style, but it can read a wasm text file if it contains only s-expressions.
    • Binaryen uses Stack IR to optimize "stacky" code (that can't be represented in structured form).
    • When stacky code must be represented in Binaryen IR, such as with multivalue instructions and blocks, it is represented with tuple types that do not exist in the WebAssembly language. In addition to multivalue instructions, locals and globals can also have tuple types in Binaryen IR but not in WebAssembly. Experiments show that better support for multivalue could enable useful but small code size savings of 1-3%, so it has not been worth changing the core IR structure to support it better.
    • Block input values (currently only supported in
      blocks in the exception handling feature) are represented as
  • Types and unreachable code
    • WebAssembly limits block/if/loop types to none and the concrete value types (i32, i64, f32, f64). Binaryen IR has an unreachable type, and it allows block/if/loop to take it, allowing local transforms that don't need to know the global context. As a result, Binaryen's default text output is not necessarily valid wasm text. (To get valid wasm text, you can do
      --generate-stack-ir --print-stack-ir
      , which prints Stack IR, this is guaranteed to be valid for wasm parsers.)
    • Binaryen ignores unreachable code when reading WebAssembly binaries. That means that if you read a wasm file with unreachable code, that code will be discarded as if it were optimized out (often this is what you want anyhow, and optimized programs have no unreachable code anyway, but if you write an unoptimized file and then read it, it may look different). The reason for this behavior is that unreachable code in WebAssembly has corner cases that are tricky to handle in Binaryen IR (it can be very unstructured, and Binaryen IR is more structured than WebAssembly as noted earlier). Note that Binaryen does support unreachable code in .wat text files, since as we saw Binaryen only supports s-expressions there, which are structured.
  • Blocks
    • Binaryen IR has only one node that contains a variable-length list of operands: the block. WebAssembly on the other hand allows lists in loops, if arms, and the top level of a function. Binaryen's IR has a single operand for all non-block nodes; this operand may of course be a block. The motivation for this property is that many passes need special code for iterating on lists, so having a single IR node with a list simplifies them.
    • As in wasm, blocks and loops may have names. Branch targets in the IR are resolved by name (as opposed to nesting depth). This has 2 consequences:
      • Blocks without names may not be branch targets.
      • Names are required to be unique. (Reading .wat files with duplicate names is supported; the names are modified when the IR is constructed).
    • As an optimization, a block that is the child of a loop (or if arm, or function toplevel) and which has no branches targeting it will not be emitted when generating wasm. Instead its list of operands will be directly used in the containing node. Such a block is sometimes called an "implicit block".
  • Reference Types
    • The wasm text and binary formats require that a function whose address is taken by
      must be either in the table, or declared via an
      (elem declare func $..)
      . Binaryen will emit that data when necessary, but it does not represent it in IR. That is, IR can be worked on without needing to think about declaring function references.

As a result, you might notice that round-trip conversions (wasm => Binaryen IR => wasm) change code a little in some corner cases.

  • When optimizing Binaryen uses an additional IR, Stack IR (see
    ). Stack IR allows a bunch of optimizations that are tailored for the stack machine form of WebAssembly's binary format (but Stack IR is less efficient for general optimizations than the main Binaryen IR). If you have a wasm file that has been particularly well-optimized, a simple round-trip conversion (just read and write, without optimization) may cause more noticeable differences, as Binaryen fits it into Binaryen IR's more structured format. If you also optimize during the round-trip conversion then Stack IR opts will be run and the final wasm will be better optimized.

Notes when working with Binaryen IR:

  • As mentioned above, Binaryen IR has a tree structure. As a result, each expression should have exactly one parent - you should not "reuse" a node by having it appear more than once in the tree. The motivation for this limitation is that when we optimize we modify nodes, so if they appear more than once in the tree, a change in one place can appear in another incorrectly.
  • For similar reasons, nodes should not appear in more than one functions.


Binaryen intrinsic functions look like calls to imports, e.g.,

(import "binaryen-intrinsics" "foo" (func $foo))

Implementing them that way allows them to be read and written by other tools, and it avoids confusing errors on a binary format error that could happen in those tools if we had a custom binary format extension.

An intrinsic method may be optimized away by the optimizer. If it is not, it must be lowered before shipping the wasm, as otherwise it will look like a call to an import that does not exist (and VMs will show an error on not having a proper value for that import). That final lowering is not done automatically. A user of intrinsics must run the pass for that explicitly, because the tools do not know when the user intends to finish optimizing, as the user may have a pipeline of multiple optimization steps, or may be doing local experimentation, or fuzzing/reducing, etc. Only the user knows when the final optimization happens before the wasm is "final" and ready to be shipped. Note that, in general, some additional optimizations may be possible after the final lowering, and so a useful pattern is to optimize once normally with intrinsics, then lower them away, then optimize after that, e.g.:

wasm-opt input.wasm -o output.wasm  -O --intrinsic-lowering -O

Each intrinsic defines its semantics, which includes what the optimizer is allowed to do with it and what the final lowering will turn it to. See intrinsics.h for the detailed definitions. A quick summary appears here:

  • call.without.effects
    : Similar to a
    in that it receives parameters, and a reference to a function to call, and calls that function with those parameters, except that the optimizer can assume the call has no side effects, and may be able to optimize it out (if it does not have a result that is used, generally).


This repository contains code that builds the following tools in

  • wasm-opt: Loads WebAssembly and runs Binaryen IR passes on it.
  • wasm-as: Assembles WebAssembly in text format (currently S-Expression format) into binary format (going through Binaryen IR).
  • wasm-dis: Un-assembles WebAssembly in binary format into text format (going through Binaryen IR).
  • wasm2js: A WebAssembly-to-JS compiler. This is used by Emscripten to generate JavaScript as an alternative to WebAssembly.
  • wasm-reduce: A testcase reducer for WebAssembly files. Given a wasm file that is interesting for some reason (say, it crashes a specific VM), wasm-reduce can find a smaller wasm file that has the same property, which is often easier to debug. See the docs for more details.
  • wasm-shell: A shell that can load and interpret WebAssembly code. It can also run the spec test suite.
  • wasm-emscripten-finalize: Takes a wasm binary produced by llvm+lld and performs emscripten-specific passes over it.
  • wasm-ctor-eval: A tool that can execute C++ global constructors ahead of time. Used by Emscripten.
  • binaryen.js: A standalone JavaScript library that exposes Binaryen methods for creating and optimizing WASM modules. For builds, see binaryen.js on npm (or download it directly from github, rawgit, or unpkg).

Usage instructions for each are below.

Binaryen Optimizations

Binaryen contains a lot of optimization passes to make WebAssembly smaller and faster. You can run the Binaryen optimizer by using

, but also they can be run while using other tools, like
  • The default optimization pipeline is set up by functions like
  • There are various pass options that you can set, to adjust the optimization and shrink levels, whether to ignore unlikely traps, inlining heuristics, fast-math, and so forth. See
    wasm-opt --help
    for how to set them and other details.

See each optimization pass for details of what it does, but here is a quick overview of some of the relevant ones:

  • CoalesceLocals - Key “register allocation” pass. Does a live range analysis and then reuses locals in order to minimize their number, as well as to remove copies between them.
  • CodeFolding - Avoids duplicate code by merging it (e.g. if two
    arms have some shared instructions at their end).
  • CodePushing - “Pushes” code forward past branch operations, potentially allowing the code to not be run if the branch is taken.
  • DeadArgumentElimination - LTO pass to remove arguments to a function if it is always called with the same constants.
  • DeadCodeElimination
  • Directize - Turn an indirect call into a normal call, when the table index is constant.
  • DuplicateFunctionElimination - LTO pass.
  • Inlining - LTO pass.
  • LocalCSE - Simple local common subexpression elimination.
  • LoopInvariantCodeMotion
  • MemoryPacking - Key "optimize data segments" pass that combines segments, removes unneeded parts, etc.
  • MergeBlocks - Merge a
    to an outer one where possible, reducing their number.
  • MergeLocals - When two locals have the same value in part of their overlap, pick in a way to help CoalesceLocals do better later (split off from CoalesceLocals to keep the latter simple).
  • MinifyImportsAndExports - Minifies them to “a”, “b”, etc.
  • OptimizeAddedConstants - Optimize a load/store with an added constant into a constant offset.
  • OptimizeInstructions - Key peephole optimization pass with a constantly increasing list of patterns.
  • PickLoadSigns - Adjust whether a load is signed or unsigned in order to avoid sign/unsign operations later.
  • Precompute - Calculates constant expressions at compile time, using the built-in interpreter (which is guaranteed to be able to handle any constant expression).
  • ReReloop - Transforms wasm structured control flow to a CFG and then goes back to structured form using the Relooper algorithm, which may find more optimal shapes.
  • RedundantSetElimination - Removes a
    of a value that is already present in a local. (Overlaps with CoalesceLocals; this achieves the specific operation just mentioned without all the other work CoalesceLocals does, and therefore is useful in other places in the optimization pipeline.)
  • RemoveUnsedBrs - Key “minor control flow optimizations” pass, including jump threading and various transforms that can get rid of a
    (like turning a
    with a
    in the middle into an
    when possible).
  • RemoveUnusedModuleElements - “Global DCE”, an LTO pass that removes imports, functions, globals, etc., when they are not used.
  • ReorderFunctions - Put more-called functions first, potentially allowing the LEB emitted to call them to be smaller (in a very large program).
  • ReorderLocals - Put more-used locals first, potentially allowing the LEB emitted to use them to be smaller (in a very large function). After the sorting, it also removes locals not used at all.
  • SimplifyGlobals - Optimizes globals in various ways, for example, coalescing them, removing mutability from a global never modified, applying a constant value from an immutable global, etc.
  • SimplifyLocals - Key “
    ” optimization pass, doing things like replacing a set and a get with moving the set’s value to the get (and creating a tee) where possible. Also creates
    return values instead of using a local to pass the value.
  • Vacuum - Key “remove silly unneeded code” pass, doing things like removing an
    arm that has no contents, a drop of a constant value with no side effects, a
    with a single child, etc.

“LTO” in the above means an optimization is Link Time Optimization-like in that it works across multiple functions, but in a sense Binaryen is always “LTO” as it usually is run on the final linked wasm.

Advanced optimization techniques in the Binaryen optimizer include SSAification, Flat IR, and Stack/Poppy IR.

Binaryen also contains various passes that do other things than optimizations, like legalization for JavaScript, Asyncify, etc.


cmake . && make

A C++14 compiler is required. Note that you can also use

as your generator:
cmake -G Ninja . && ninja

Binaryen.js can be built using Emscripten, which can be installed via the SDK).

emcmake cmake . && emmake make binaryen_js

Visual C++

  1. Using the Microsoft Visual Studio Installer, install the "Visual C++ tools for CMake" component.

  2. Generate the projects:

   mkdir build
   cd build
   "%VISUAL_STUDIO_ROOT%\Common7\IDE\CommonExtensions\Microsoft\CMake\CMake\bin\cmake.exe" ..

Substitute VISUALSTUDIOROOT with the path to your Visual Studio installation. In case you are using the Visual Studio Build Tools, the path will be "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\BuildTools".

  1. From the Developer Command Prompt, build the desired projects:
   msbuild binaryen.vcxproj

CMake generates a project named "ALL_BUILD.vcxproj" for conveniently building all the projects.




bin/wasm-opt [.wasm or .wat file] [options] [passes, see --help] [--help]

The wasm optimizer receives WebAssembly as input, and can run transformation passes on it, as well as print it (before and/or after the transformations). For example, try

bin/wasm-opt test/passes/lower-if-else.wat --print

That will pretty-print out one of the test cases in the test suite. To run a transformation pass on it, try

bin/wasm-opt test/passes/lower-if-else.wat --print --lower-if-else


pass lowers if-else into a block and a break. You can see the change the transformation causes by comparing the output of the two print commands.

It's easy to add your own transformation passes to the shell, just add

files into
, and rebuild the shell. For example code, take a look at the

Some more notes:

  • See
    bin/wasm-opt --help
    for the full list of options and passes.
  • Passing
    will emit some debugging info.



bin/wasm2js [input.wasm file]

This will print out JavaScript to the console.

For example, try

$ bin/wasm2js test/hello_world.wat

That output contains

 function add(x, y) {
  x = x | 0;
  y = y | 0;
  return x + y | 0 | 0;

as a translation of

 (func $add (; 0 ;) (type $0) (param $x i32) (param $y i32) (result i32)
   (local.get $x)
   (local.get $y)

wasm2js's output is in ES6 module format - basically, it converts a wasm module into an ES6 module (to run on older browsers and Node.js versions you can use Babel etc. to convert it to ES5). Let's look at a full example of calling that hello world wat; first, create the main JS file:

// main.mjs
import { add } from "./hello_world.mjs";
console.log('the sum of 1 and 2 is:', add(1, 2));

The run this (note that you need a new enough Node.js with ES6 module support):

$ bin/wasm2js test/hello_world.wat -o hello_world.mjs
$ node --experimental-modules main.mjs
the sum of 1 and 2 is: 3

Things keep to in mind with wasm2js's output:

  • You should run wasm2js with optimizations for release builds, using
    or another optimization level. That will optimize along the entire pipeline (wasm and JS). It won't do everything a JS minifer would, though, like minify whitespace, so you should still run a normal JS minifer afterwards.
  • It is not possible to match WebAssembly semantics 100% precisely with fast JavaScript code. For example, every load and store may trap, and to make JavaScript do the same we'd need to add checks everywhere, which would be large and slow. Instead, wasm2js assumes loads and stores do not trap, that int/float conversions do not trap, and so forth. There may also be slight differences in corner cases of conversions, like non-trapping float to int.




) will run
, etc. on the testcases in
, and verify their outputs.

script supports some options:
./ [--interpreter=/path/to/interpreter] [TEST1] [TEST2]..
  • If an interpreter is provided, we run the output through it, checking for parse errors.
  • If tests are provided, we run exactly those. If none are provided, we run them all. To see what tests are available, run
    ./ --list-suites
  • Some tests require
    in the path. They will not run if the tool cannot be found, and you'll see a warning.
  • We have tests from upstream in
    , in git submodules. Running
    should update those.

Setting up dependencies

./third_party/ [mozjs|v8|wabt|all]


python third_party/
) installs required dependencies like the SpiderMonkey JS shell, the V8 JS shell and WABT in
. Other scripts automatically pick these up when installed.


pip3 install -r requirements-dev.txt
to get the requirements for the
tests. Note that you need to have the location
installs to in your
(on linux,


./scripts/ [--binaryen-bin=build/bin]


python scripts/
) will run various fuzzing modes on random inputs with random passes until it finds a possible bug. See the wiki page for all the details.

Design Principles

  • Interned strings for names: It's very convenient to have names on nodes, instead of just numeric indices etc. To avoid most of the performance difference between strings and numeric indices, all strings are interned, which means there is a single copy of each string in memory, string comparisons are just a pointer comparison, etc.
  • Allocate in arenas: Based on experience with other optimizing/transformating toolchains, it's not worth the overhead to carefully track memory of individual nodes. Instead, we allocate all elements of a module in an arena, and the entire arena can be freed when the module is no longer needed.


  • Why the weird name for the project?

"Binaryen" is a combination of binary - since WebAssembly is a binary format for the web - and Emscripten - with which it can integrate in order to compile C and C++ all the way to WebAssembly, via asm.js. Binaryen began as Emscripten's WebAssembly processing library (


"Binaryen" is pronounced in the same manner as "Targaryen": bi-NAIR-ee-in. Or something like that? Anyhow, however Targaryen is correctly pronounced, they should rhyme. Aside from pronunciation, the Targaryen house words, "Fire and Blood", have also inspired Binaryen's: "Code and Bugs."

  • Does it compile under Windows and/or Visual Studio?

Yes, it does. Here's a step-by-step tutorial on how to compile it under Windows 10 x64 with with CMake and Visual Studio 2015. However, Visual Studio 2017 may now be required. Help would be appreciated on Windows and OS X as most of the core devs are on Linux.

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