Implementing a Performant Scheme Interpreter for the Web in asm.js

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This paper presents the implementation of an efficient interpreter for a Scheme-like language using manually written asm.js code. The asm.js specification defines an optimizable subset of JavaScript which has already served well as a compilation target for web applications where performance is critical. However, its usage as a human-writable language that can be integrated into existing projects to improve performance has remained largely unexplored. We therefore apply this strategy to optimize the implementation of an interpreter. We also discuss the feasibility of this approach, as writing asm.js by hand is generally not its recommended use-case. We therefore present a macro system to solve the challenges we encounter. The resulting interpreter is compared to the original C implementation and its compiled equivalent in asm.js. This way, we evaluate whether manual integration with asm.js provides the necessary performance to bring larger applications and run-times to the web. We also refactor our implementation to assess how more JavaScript code can cohabit with asm.js code, improving maintainability of the implementation while preserving near-native performance. In the case of our interpreter, this improved maintainability enables adding more complex optimizations. We investigate the addition of function inlining, for which we validate the performance gain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-81
Number of pages20
JournalComputer Languages, Systems and Structures
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017


  • asm.js
  • Interpreters
  • JavaScript
  • Optimization
  • Performance


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