Porting Wasmtime to no_std atop Theseus

June 21, 2022  ·  by Kevin Boos  ·  Discuss this post on reddit

Bringing Wasmtime to no_std*

🎉🎉 Wasmtime now builds and runs on Theseus! 🎉🎉

This is the first port of Wasmtime to a no_std* environment, to the best of our knowledge, despite it being a very hot topic of conversation. We completed the initial minimal version of Wasmtime and successfully ran it on Theseus on May 17th, 2022.

This milestone marks the culmination of a very long journey, as evidenced by our previous several posts on this topic and the fact that our initial port started with a version of Wasmtime from mid-October 2021. Yeesh!

In this post, we aim to

  1. Provide a high-level overview of Wasmtime and its multi-crate architecture,
  2. Enumerate the changes needed to build Wasmtime on no_std*, and
  3. Itemize the dependencies/functionality that Wasmtime requires from the underlying platform.

While we don't intend this to be a step-by-step porting tutorial, we do hope it makes it easier to port and run Wasmtime on other platforms in the future.

Why is there an asterisk by no_std?

Theseus doesn't yet support the std library, so this is a legitimate no_std port. However, one cannot simply take this port and run it within any other no_std environment, because Wasmtime still relies on lots of functionality from the underlying platform.

We did have to add some std-like components to Theseus in order to satisfy Wasmtime's needs, as shown below.

"C'mon, just skip to the recipe code already!"

No problem, here is the full changeset to Wasmtime. Note that this doesn't include the many changes and extensions we made to Theseus to support this; those are described in the rest of the article.

1. Summary of Wasmtime's key parts

As described in Wasmtime's documentation, the project is architected as one top-level user-facing crate called wasmtime that re-exports and connects together key functionality from several internal crates.

  • wasmtime-cli: a CLI app that offers simple interactive access to standard Wasmtime features
  • wasmtime: exposes a safe, embeddable API for interacting with WASM modules, e.g., compiling, instantiating, and invoking them
  • wasmtime-jit: facilitates JIT compilation and execution of WASM modules using a compiler's code generator (currently cranelift)
  • wasmtime-runtime: implements the majority of the runtime logic for executing WASM binaries atop of a give host platform
  • wasmtime-environ: standalone abstract definitions of core WASM concepts and environment types, enabling integration with the cranelift backend
  • wasmtime-types: definitions for core WASM types and execution concepts
  • wasmparser1: an external (non-Wasmtime) tool for parsing WASM binaries

The diagram below depicts the above major components of Wasmtime1 and their dependencies, with a focus on those that did not already support no_std when our work began or required other forms of modification. This intentionally excludes ubiquitous dependencies like error handling, heap allocation, and logging to keep the graph legible (...ish). Note that the project also contains many other crates that realize optional features, such as module caching, fibers, etc, but these (and wasmtime-cli) aren't necessary for an initial port.

(click diagram to open it in a full-size window)

2. Changes made to Wasmtime components

We took a bottom-up approach to iteratively port lower-level dependencies until they compiled on no_std on Theseus, and then moved on to the next highest layer in the dependency stack. The lowest-level crates, wasmparser, wasmtime-types, and wasmtime-environ were relatively simple to port to no_std, requiring only trivial changes described in the section below.

By far, the most complex crate to port was wasmtime-runtime, which has not only myriad dependencies that each need porting, but also plenty of platform-specific code that is necessarily unsafe and quite intricate. We have already described our efforts to port wasmtime-runtime to Theseus in two previous posts starting here.

Moving up, porting wasmtime-jit and then wasmtime was fairly straightforward once wasmtime-runtime was done, as they share many dependencies. There were a few issues that needed fixing, as described below, but nothing strenuous.

Finally, the real fun begins once all Wasmtime crates are able to be compiled for your platform! You then attempt to run it for the first time only to discover that nothing works and you don't know why.

Welcome to integration hell! 😈

... Ok, time to come clean; it turns out that this wasn't so bad. We only had a few days of debugging struggles that centered around differences in how bincode performs (de)serialization across different versions and how region handles memory management on Unix vs. Theseus. Both are explained in the following sections.

Logic and structural changes

As Wasmtime is cross-platform, it contains several platform-specific modules that we must implement for Theseus. These typically look something like:

if #[cfg(unix)] {
    mod systemv;
    pub use self::systemv::*;
} else if #[cfg(target_os = "theseus")] {
    mod theseus;
    pub use self::theseus::*;  
} else ...

Here's an example of one such module in wasmtime-jit that handles registering unwind info for new code regions that were JIT-compiled from WASM modules.

Beyond these modules, we have encountered only a few places in which platform-agnostic code must be modified to support Theseus. Two such examples are:

  • The aforementioned registration of unwind info:

        #[cfg(target_os = "theseus")]
        text.len(), // Theseus needs the text section's length
    • Here, Theseus's unwinder benefits from knowing both the starting and ending bounds of the .text section(s) that a given piece of unwind info covers; it helps accelerate the search for the unwind info that corresponds to a given stack frame's caller virtual address.
    • This stems from Theseus's structure of many small crate object files all being loaded and linked at runtime, which results in many separate .eh_frame sections that each contain unwind info for different .text section address ranges.
  • The representation of memory-mapped region in wasmtime-runtime:

    pub struct Mmap {
        ptr: usize,
        len: usize,
        file: Option<File>,
        #[cfg(target_os = "theseus")]
        theseus_mp: theseus_memory::MappedPages,

Naturally, we made many other changes, but those were generally much smaller in scope and described in following separate sections. The inquisitive reader can search the full list of changes for `target_os = "theseus to see other platform-specific modifications.

Minor yet tedious changes for no_std compatibility

Many other changes are trivial and thus glossed over in this post, such as changing import statements from std::xyz to core::xyz or alloc::xyz and modifying or patching dependency chains to disable default-features. However, I don't want to understate the pure tedium of such changes because they require a lot of effort for no actual difference in functionality. Many of the code diffs look like the collage of boring tedium below:

- use std::borrow::Borrow;
- use std::marker::PhantomData;
- use std::mem;
+ use core::borrow::Borrow;
+ use core::marker::PhantomData;
+ use core::mem;
- anyhow = "1.0"
+ anyhow = { version = "1.0", default-features = false }
  cranelift-entity = { path = "../../cranelift/entity", version = "0.77.0" }
- wasmtime-types = { path = "../types", version = "0.30.0" }
+ wasmtime-types = { path = "../types", default-features = false, version = "0.30.0" }
- wasmparser = "0.81"
+ wasmparser = { version = "0.81", default-features = false }
  indexmap = { version = "1.0.2", features = ["serde-1"] }
- thiserror = "1.0.4"
+ thiserror = { version = "1.0.4", optional = true }
- serde = { version = "1.0.94", features = ["derive"] }
+ serde = { version = "1.0.94", default-features = false, features = ["derive"] }
  object = { version = "0.27", default-features = false, features = ['read_core', 'write_core', 'elf'] }
+ hashbrown = { version = "0.11.2", features = ["ahash"], default-features = false }

+ [patch.crates-io]
+ wasmparser = { path = "./path/to/ported/wasmparser/crate" }
+ object = { path = "./path/to/ported/object/crate" }

... and the procedure to patch dependencies that have been ported to no_std is even more tedious, shown below: porting_dependencies_to_no_std

It would be a fantastic quality-of-life improvement if std's re-exports of items from core and alloc could be transparently converted to their no_std equivalents, but that's a topic for another day. In fact I've already suggested this in a presentation to select Rust team members entitled "How Theseus uses Rust, plus Rust challenges", slides 47-51.

Here are a few specific examples of changes that were conceptually minor yet tricky or tedious:

  • Error handling, particularly usage of anyhow
    • This boils down to error type mapping: .map_err(anyhow::Error::msg).
  • Substituting no_std versions of specific crates
    • std::iocore2::io
    • thiserrorthiserror_core2
  • Using bincode for (de)serialization
    - bincode::deserialize(...)
    + bincode::serde::decode_from_slice(..., bincode::config::legacy())
    • Side note: be sure to use the same versions of all types when you serialize and deserialize things... otherwise you'll get those lovely mysterious errors and spend a whole two days trying to figure out which struct field is causing the problem. 🙄

3. Full list of functionality needed to support Wasmtime

  • Heap allocation for alloc types
    • Sorry, you ain't gonna run Wasmtime without a heap!
  • Basic memory management: allocating memory regions, creating memory mappings, etc.
    • Unix-like OSes leverage crates like libc, region, rsix for this
  • Stack unwinding for proper panic handling and ensuring drop handlers run
    • wasmtime-runtime requires both catch_unwind() and resume_unwind()
    • Also need to support registration of external unwind info that comes from WASM modules compiled into native code, plus an unwinder that can utilize this info
  • backtrace for capturing a stack trace
    • Plus optional symbolication of addresses, i.e., addr2line functionality or similar
  • Signal handling for trapping between WASM and native execution contexts
    • On Theseus, this means registering custom handlers for CPU exceptions (see prior post)
  • Editing object files
    • We contributed a PR to object that allowed reading and writing of object files in a no_std environment
  • bincode + serde for (de)serialization
    • Just had to upgrade to newer major version that already supported no_std
    • Required some minor changes to how wasmtime uses bincode, in accordance with bincode's migration guide
  • Basic support for accessing filesystem paths and reading files
    • Only needed when reading a AOT pre-compiled WASM module from a file for purposes of deserialization
  • Multitasking
    • Full preemption is essentially required, as cooperative multitasking would require a significant rework of Wasmtime
  • Thread-Local Storage (TLS), see prior post
    • TLS via the thread_local!() macro is used to statefully handle traps and support stack unwinding during execution of native WASM module code
  • Stack access
    • Typically via the psm crate, for portable stack manipulation
    • Only used to obtain the current value of the stack pointer register
  • I/O traits
    • Mostly just the basic ones from std::io, which are usable in core through a variety of no_std crates like core2 (previously bare_io), core_io, etc
  • Basic error handling via anyhow and thiserror
    • anyhow already supports no_std, but has a different API due to its reliance on std::error::Error
    • thiserror cannot support no_std yet, but there are no_std-compatible drop-in alternatives like thiserror_core2 which derive core2::error::Error instead
    • Once the std::error::Error trait is moved into core, all of these pain points will be permanently healed!
  • A source of randomness
    • Easiest option is to use OS-provided RNG via rand's interface, or its no_std SmallRng feature
  • Basic I/O for printing output to a screen, console, or log
  • Mutual exclusion
    • The spin crate provides an easy yet inefficient no_std spinlock, but we do prefer to use Theseus's own Mutex that blocks the current task by putting it to sleep
  • crc32fast, a dependency of the object crate
    • We contributed a PR to make this compile properly for custom targets
  • more_asserts for easy assertions
    • We contributed a trivial PR to make this no_std

Concluding remarks + next steps

Phew, that was a long ride — but it's only the beginning of the journey to bring Wasmtime to Theseus. We still have several optional features to port and implement, starting with full support for live JIT compilation of WASM modules. We then plan to integrate Theseus's existing WASI implementation with our port of Wasmtime such that we can more easily run legacy programs in a WASM environment.

This is a major addition to a safe-language OS like Theseus, which runs everything in a single address space and single privilege level, foregoing hardware protection in favor of reliance on language-provided safety to realize isolation between both applications and system components. Importantly, this will enable Theseus to safely execute unsafe code or legacy components written in unsafe languages, using WASM as a "sandbox" to prevent unsafe code from circumventing the type-based restrictions ensured and obeyed by the rest of the OS's safe Rust environment.

Further down the line, we would like to propose design changes to Wasmtime such that it makes greater usage of traits to abstract away its platform-specific dependencies as much as possible. This would make it easier to port Wasmtime to new platforms, and ideally reduce the amount of mandatory unsafe code.

Small demo

Given the following very simple WASM module hello.wat:

    (import "host" "hello" (func $host_hello (param i32)))
    (func (export "hello")
        i32.const 3
        call $host_hello)

we can precompile it using the wasmtime-cli on Linux or another machine:

wasmtime --compile --target x86_64-theseus hello.was --output hello.cwasm

and then run that precompiled hello.cwasm binary using the following host code on Theseus:

use wasmtime::{Caller, Engine, Func, Instance, Module, Store};

/// Taken from the docs example code in `wasmtime/crates/wasmtime/src/lib.rs`.
fn hello(cwasm_file_contents: &[u8]) -> Result<...> {
    let engine = Engine::default();
    // Deserialize the AOT pre-compiled WASM binary
    let module = unsafe {
        Module::deserialize(&engine, cwasm_file_contents)? 
    let mut store = Store::new(&engine, 4);
    let host_hello = Func::wrap(&mut store, |caller: Caller<'_, u32>, param: i32| {
        println!("Got {} from WebAssembly", param);
        println!("my host state is: {}", caller.data());
    let instance = Instance::new(&mut store, &module, &[host_hello.into()])?;
    let hello = instance.get_typed_func::<(), (), _>(&mut store, "hello")?;
    // Invoke the WASM `hello` function
    hello.call(&mut store, ()).map_err(anyhow::Error::msg)?;

If all goes according to plan, you'll see the expected output below:

wasmtime on Theseus screenshot
  1. For simplicity, we depict wasmparser as part of the set of Wasmtime crates, even though it is actually part of the separate wasm-tools project.

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