Compiling Benthos to Web Assembly

Don’t worry about why

May 27, 2019

Web assembly won’t fix seasons 7 and 8, but it’s still pretty cool. At a Meltwater hackathon I had a project in mind (details soon to follow) that would benefit hugely from Benthos, a stream processor written in Go, running directly in the browser. I therefore set out to compile it in wasm, this is my short and sweet journey.

The Build

The first thing I did and the first thing you ought to do if you are targeting wasm yourself is skim through this section of the Go wiki.

In short, I wrote a Go file:

package main

import (


func normalise(this js.Value, args []js.Value) interface{} {
	var configStr string
	if len(args) > 0 {
		configStr = args[0].String()

	conf := config.New()

	// Ignoring errors for brevity
	yaml.Unmarshal([]byte(configStr), &conf)

	sanit, _ := conf.Sanitised()
	sanitBytes, _ := yaml.Marshal(sanit)

	return string(sanitBytes)

func main() {
	c := make(chan struct{}, 0)
	js.Global().Set("benthosNormaliseConfig", js.FuncOf(normalise))

And compiled it:

GOOS=js GOARCH=wasm go build -o main.wasm

I was pretty sure that this would be the end of the road for me. Benthos uses a vast swathe of dependencies for its various connectors and so I was sure that I would be immobilised with errors. However, to my surprise there were only three (formatted for brevity):

lib/util/disk/check.go:29:11: undefined: syscall.Statfs_t undefined: mmap undefined: userCurrent

Which involved some calls for a buffer implementation using a memory-mapped file library and the PostgreSQL driver for the SQL package. The errors themselves are basically “this thing doesn’t exist in Web Assembly”, which usually means the library has a feature behind build constraints but doesn’t support wasm yet.

The solution for these problems in my case was as simple as to not to do the call, and perhaps document that the feature doesn’t work with a wasm build.

Obviously, we only want to disable these calls specifically when targeting wasm. In Go that’s easy, stick a cheeky build constraint on there. Here’s the actual commit: 9903b3d5d8519fcf7ecbce94c336e7f054a75942, note that you can’t just constrain the feature, you also need to add an empty stub that has the opposite constraint in order to satisfy your build.

Executing Go From JavaScript

The Go Wiki shows you how to actually execute your wasm build and I won’t repeat it here, but I followed the steps and it was pretty straight forward.

There was, however, one issue I came across. Some functions that I was calling from JavaScript were causing my wasm runtime to panic and stop. The functions all had channel blocking in common, something like this:

func ashHasACoolBlog(this js.Value, args []js.Value) interface{} {
	someChan <- args[0].String()
	return <-someOtherChanIHateNamingThings

The function would sometimes execute successfully. Other times, specifically for longer running calls, I would get a deadlock panic:

fatal error: all goroutines are asleep - deadlock! wasm_exec.js:47:6
goroutine 1 [chan receive]: wasm_exec.js:47:6
main.main() wasm_exec.js:47:6
	/home/ash/tmp/wasm/main.go:20 +0x7

Which was odd as they would be occasions where I would not expect a real deadlock. I then found the relevant docs in the syscall/js package:

Blocking operations in the wrapped function will block the event loop. As a consequence, if one wrapped function blocks, other wrapped funcs will not be processed. A blocking function should therefore explicitly start a new goroutine.

The consequences of blocking sound pretty harmless here, but in reality it seemed to be the cause of my deadlock crash. I assume the odd error message is a result of some nuanced mechanics within the wasm runtime.

I didn’t investigate this crash any further as I was a lazy idiot back in those dark days. I simply stopped writing blocking functions, and instead spawned goroutines everywhere like they were losers at a Nickelback concert:

func iJustWantToClarify(this js.Value, args []js.Value) interface{} {
	go func() {
		someChan <- args[0].String()
		otherThing := <-someOtherChanIHateNamingThings

			"I quite enjoy and respect Knickelback as artists... " + otherThing,
	return nil

Other Issues

There weren’t any.

Final Words

It took a day for me to get a working application together and soon I’ll be blogging about the resulting product. Web assembly with Go is dope.

Kudos to both the W3C and the Go team for taking their time to build something to completion without rushing the conclusion. Yes, I’m still bitter about Game of Thrones.