Afshin Mehrabani is a software engineer and an open source programmer. He is also a computer software engineering student. He started with programming and PHP web development when he was 12 years old. Later, he entered the Iran Technical and Vocational Training Organization. He was ranked first and has also bagged a golden medal in a competition on web development in his country. He also became a member of the Iran's National Elite Foundation by producing a variety of new programming ideas.

Afshin's articles

  1. Understanding asm.js

    asm.js is currently a trendy subject in web development. Reading a complete guide about asm.js, its goals, and its roadmap is impossible because you’d have to read multiple articles and put them together yourself. This article attempts to wrap up almost everything you need to know about asm.js using a step-by-step guide and real world examples, plus a couple of benchmarks.

    History

    JavaScript is one of the world’s most popular programming languages. You can use it in web browsers as a client-side language. Now, with the advent of NodeJS, JavaScript is also a popular language for server-side applications. Back in the day (actually, to this day), transpilers (source-to-source compilers) were used to hide some of JavaScript’s ugly parts. CoffeeScript, ClojureScript, and TypeScript are some of the more popular transpilers.

    Transpilers mainly use an existing language (such as C or C++) or, they define a new language (like CoffeeScript). Then, instead of writing JavaScript, you can develop in this other language that the transpiler converts to JavaScript. In this article, we are going to review Emscripten, an LLVM bytecode to JavaScript transpiler.

    So, What is asm.js?

    asm.js is a strict subset of JavaScript. It is not a new language. asm.js is a restricted set of definitions that provide good performance characteristics. These definitions can be combined, like assembly language instructions, to create very fast JavaScript applications. asm.js takes advantage of some low level JavaScript features like Typed Arrays. It does not use any plugins or modules to run the JavaScript code, making it backward compatible.

    How it Works

    The main idea is generally about using JavaScript more strictly. For instance, eliminating the dynamic types. In order to provide an example, we are going to declare a variable and assign an integer value to it. Then, we declare another variable and assign the previous variable to the new one. Below, you will find the example in standard JavaScript.

    [js]
    var first = 5;
    var second = first;
    [/js]

    The corresponding asm.js syntax for the code presented above is as follows:

    [js]
    var first = 5;
    //By using a bitwise operator, we make sure that the value is 32-bit integer
    var second = first | 0;
    [/js]

    The only difference between the first and the second code samples is the bitwise OR operator on the last line of the asm.js example. By using the bitwise operator we convert the value of the first variable to a 32-bit integer. This ensures that second is always treated as a 32-bit integer. asm.js has a number of other similar rules. By combining these rules with normal JavaScript, much faster code can be created. For more information about these rules and how they work please refer to the asm.js specification.

    It is worth mentioning that it is not a good idea to write asm.js code by hand. The result would be hard to maintain and time consuming to debug. Based on this observation the question that remains is – how can we develop apps using asm.js?

    The good news is that a few tools exist for generating JavaScript code according to the asm.js specification from other languages like C or C++. We will focus on Emscripten in this article, but keep in mind that a number of similar tools exist.

    So, what is Emscripten? The answer is that it is an LLVM-to-JavaScript compiler. Emscripten accepts LLVM bytecode and converts them to asm.js JavaScript. So, how do you generate LLVM bytecode? You can use Clang to convert C/C++ codes to LLVM! In order to understand this process better, please consider the following diagram: