NewsBytecode Alliance Lays Foundation for Next Gen of Containerized Software

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The Bytecode Alliance is now looking to increase developer enthusiasm for WebAssembly (Wasm) and WebAssembly System Interface (WASI) initiatives that promise to transform how software is constructed following its official incorporation as a non-profit entity.

Originally founded by Fastly, Intel, Mozilla, and Microsoft, the Bytecode Alliance also announced today that Arm, DFINITY Foundation, Embark Studios, Google, Shopify, and University of California at San Diego are all now members of an organization dedicated to promoting Wasm standards that should eventually lead to a different approach to containerizing software that provides the added benefit of being more secure than existing architectures.

Wasm is a portable binary instruction format for building software that describes a memory-safe, sandboxed execution environment. That approach might one day replace the current predominant method for building software that relies on the aggregation of software components that tend to lack distinct security boundaries between them. Today it’s relatively easy for malware to infect all the components of an application.

Extending WebAssembly Beyond Browsers and JavaScript

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) drove the development of Wasm as part of an effort to create a common format for browsers executing JavaScript code. There is now an effort to extend Wasm beyond browsers and JavaScript to enable developers to ultimately create a set of universal binaries that could work on any platform without modification. As part of that effort, a Wasmer project to create a server-side Wasm runtime has been launched that provides a way to create portable applications based on a secure container architecture that is more efficient than Docker containers. “There’s a lot of work being done on compiler science, said Fastly CTO Tyler McMullen.

That effort comes at a time when the security of software supply chains is getting a lot more attention these days in the wake of some recent high-profile breaches that resulted in malware being embedded in software that was distributed to a wide range of downstream IT organizations.

Unfortunately, Wasm isn’t all that accessible to the average developer. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to make it Wasm accessible to the average developer at a higher level of abstraction. However, as more vendors contribute code and resources to Bytecode Alliance, the pace of Wasm innovation should start to accelerate, noted McMullen.

It may be a while before investments in Wasm fundamentally transform how software is constructed. However, developers might want to start thinking of containers as a continuum. They existed long before Docker containers came into vogue. The contribution Docker provided was creating a way to package images in a container format that could be ported across Linux operating systems. The Windows community has since embraced containers as well. The trouble is containers, as they are constructed today, are not portable between Linux and Windows platforms. Wasm, coupled with advances such as Wasmer, may very well eliminate that limitation in a way that provides the added benefit of enabling software to run a lot more securely than it does today.

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