Turns out it’s almost shockingly easy to run Go CLI programs in the browser with WebAssembly (WASM); as an example I’ll use my uni program. Building is as easy as:

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

The resulting binary is rather large (5.1M); TinyGo can be used to create smaller builds, but it doesn’t support os.Args yet, so it won’t work here. After gzip compression it’s only 1.3M, so that’s manageable (and still smaller than many “text-only” websites).

We then need to load the main.wasm binary:

<html>
<head>
    <meta charset="utf-8">
</head>
<body>
    <script src="wasm_exec.js"></script>
    <script>
        const go = new Go();
        WebAssembly.instantiateStreaming(fetch("main.wasm"), go.importObject).then((result) => {
            go.run(result.instance);
        });
    </script>
</body>
</html>

Copy the wasm_exec.js file from the Go source repo ($(go env GOROOT)/misc/wasm/wasm_exec.js), or GitHub.

You can’t load the HTML file the local filesystem as the browser will refuse to load the wasm file; you’ll have to use a webserver which serves wasm files with the correct MIME type, for example with Python:

#!/usr/bin/env python3
import http.server
h = http.server.SimpleHTTPRequestHandler
h.extensions_map = {'': 'text/html', '.wasm': 'application/wasm', '.js': 'application/javascript'}
http.server.HTTPServer(('127.0.0.1', 2000), h).serve_forever()

Going to http://localhost:2000 will fetch the file and run uni; the JS console should display:

uni: no command given
exit code 1

As if we typed uni on the CLI. To give it some arguments set go.argv:

<script>
        const go = new Go();
        WebAssembly.instantiateStreaming(fetch("main.wasm"), go.importObject).then((result) => {
            // Remember that argv[0] is the program name.
            go.argv = ['uni', '-q', 'identify', 'wasm'];
            go.run(result.instance);
        });
</script>

Which will give the expected output in the console:

'w'  U+0077  119    77          &#x77;     LATIN SMALL LETTER W (Lowercase_Letter)
'a'  U+0061  97     61          &#x61;     LATIN SMALL LETTER A (Lowercase_Letter)
's'  U+0073  115    73          &#x73;     LATIN SMALL LETTER S (Lowercase_Letter)
'm'  U+006D  109    6d          &#x6d;     LATIN SMALL LETTER M (Lowercase_Letter)

Now it’s a simple matter of connecting an input element to go.argv; this also fetches the main.wasm just once and re-runs it, instead of re-fetching it every time:

<input id="input" style="font: 16px monospace">
<script src="wasm_exec.js"></script>
<script>
	fetch('main.wasm').then(response => response.arrayBuffer()).then(function(bin) {
			input.addEventListener('keydown', function(e) {
				if (e.keyCode !== 13)  // Enter
					return;

				e.preventDefault();

				const go = new Go();
				go.argv = ['uni'].concat(this.value.split(' '));
				this.value = '';
				WebAssembly.instantiate(bin, go.importObject).then((result) => {
					go.run(result.instance);
				});
			});
        });
</script>

Overwrite the global.fs.writeSync from wasm_exec.js to display the output in the HTML page instead of the console:

<script>
	fetch('main.wasm').then(response => response.arrayBuffer()).then(function(bin) {
			input.addEventListener('keydown', function(e) {
				if (e.keyCode !== 13)  // Enter
					return;

				e.preventDefault();

				const go = new Go();
				go.argv = ['uni'].concat(this.value.split(' '));
				this.value = '';

				// Write stdout to terminal.
				let outputBuf = '';
				const decoder = new TextDecoder("utf-8");
				global.fs.writeSync = function(fd, buf) {
					outputBuf += decoder.decode(buf);
					const nl = outputBuf.lastIndexOf("\n");
					if (nl != -1) {
						window.output.innerText += outputBuf.substr(0, nl + 1);
						window.scrollTo(0, document.body.scrollHeight);
						outputBuf = outputBuf.substr(nl + 1);
					}
					return buf.length;
				};

				WebAssembly.instantiate(bin, go.importObject).then((result) => {
					go.run(result.instance);
				});
			});
        });
</script>

And that’s pretty much it; 30 lines of JavaScript to run CLI applications in the browser :-) The only change I had to make to uni Go code was adding a build tag.


There are plenty of other things that can be improved: some better styling, reading from stdin, keybinds, loading indicator, etc. The full version does some of that. Take a look at index.html and term.js in case you’re interested. It could still be improved further, but I thought this was “good enough” for a basic demo :-)

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