Getting started in Rust and WebAssembly

In my last post I described how I implemented the signal-protocol Python library, which provides Python bindings using Pyo3 to an upstream maintained Rust cryptography crate implementing the Signal protocol. I created the the signal-protocol library in order to prototype end-to-end encrypted messaging between journalists and their sources through SecureDrop. In the SecureDrop ecosystem, journalists use a Python project, securedrop-client, hence the need for the Python bindings, and sources use Tor Browser.

For the Tor Browser-based client for sources, I needed to either use another implementation of Signal in JavaScript (which does exist), or just write a crate that has the existing upstream cryptography crate as a dependency, and compile it all to WebAssembly. As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I went with the latter approach. It’s honestly pretty cool that I can use the same Rust crypto logic fairly easily for both endpoints, thanks to Pyo3 and WebAssembly.

In this brief post we’ll cover:


WebAssembly is a binary-code format that runs in a stack-based virtual machine. It’s supported in all modern browsers, and can also be run in other runtimes (e.g. see WASI) that are browser independent.

Why use WebAssembly? Two of the most common reasons are portability and performance. For computationally intensive tasks that need to run in a Browser, you might rewrite the expensive parts in a language that compiles to WebAssembly, leaving the rest of your JavaScript unmodified (similar to C extensions and Python). In the case of Rust compiled to WebAssembly, we also get to benefit from all the safety guarantees that Rust provides at compile time.

There are two main approaches to combining Rust and WebAssembly:

  • writing a mix of JavaScript and Rust. Folks typically use wasm-bindgen and wasm-pack to make this easy and autogenerate a lot of the helper JavaScript code for your WebAssembly module. We’ll cover this below.
  • writing only Rust using a project like Yew. Note that you’re not sidestepping the use of JavaScript, it’s just abstracted away from you so you don’t need to write any JavaScript yourself. At the time of writing, using Web APIs (e.g. using web-sys to manipulate the DOM) does require JavaScript, although this may not always be the case1. I haven’t explored the Yew path myself, so we’ll focus on the former path.

wasm-bindgen and wasm-pack

wasm-bindgen is a handy tool wherein you can simply add the #[wasm_bindgen] attribute to structs and impl blocks to indicate that they should be exposed to JavaScript. For example, SecureDropSourceSession below is a Rust struct I wanted to make available as a JavaScript class:

pub struct SecureDropSourceSession {
    store: InMemSignalProtocolStore,
    pub registration_id: u32,

It encapsulates a private member InMemSignalProtocolStore that methods in our impl block in Rust will use when performing crypto operations in our WebAssembly module.

Now I can provide methods (to JavaScript) on this struct using an impl block also with the #[wasm_bindgen] attribute2:

impl SecureDropSourceSession {
    pub fn new() -> Result<SecureDropSourceSession, JsValue> {
        let mut csprng = OsRng;
        let registration_id: u32 = csprng.gen();
        let identity_key = IdentityKeyPair::generate(&mut csprng);

        // This struct will hold our session, identity, prekey and sender key stores.
        InMemSignalProtocolStore::new(identity_key, registration_id)
            .map(|store| SecureDropSourceSession {
            .map_err(|e| e.to_string().into())

The Result<T, JsValue> return type is a common pattern that wasm-bindgen will use to throw JavaScript exceptions when the Err variant is returned.

Once the WebAssembly module is compiled and loaded, I can now create SecureDropSourceSession objects (now that I’ve implemented SecureDropSourceSession::new) from JavaScript:

var session =;


wasm-pack builds your project along with some autogenerated helper JS to a folder called pkg. This is useful if you use a bundler like Webpack since you can simply add the path to your WebAssembly package to your dependencies. This is also useful if you want to publish your WebAssembly package to npm. By publishing to npm, folks using the package will not need the Rust toolchain installed since you’ll be publishing the built Wasm artifact.

You can also go the route of not using a bundler, which you can read about in more detail here.

Useful crates

Other useful crates to know of are js_sys and web_sys:

js_sys lets you call JavaScript functions from your Rust code, such as escape().

web_sys provides Web APIs (through JavaScript). For example, you can manipulate the DOM or get access to the WebCrypto API.

For debugging, there’s console_error_panic_hook, which lets you add a panic hook that passes panics through to the JavaScript console:



This post was a very brief overview. There are great tutorials out there on Rust and WebAssembly, and the main references I found useful while learning enough to implement my project are here:

Happy hacking!

  1. See the Interface Types explainer. [return]
  2. Random number generation is using the WebCrypto API’s getRandomValues() method under the hood via the rand and getrandom crates. [return]