The Minimal Rust-Wasm Setup for 2024

If you're looking to get your Rust code on the browser, chances are you've stumbled across the various mdBooks written by the Rust+Wasm community.1 These books are great, but they require a lot of tooling/setup for what should be a pretty simple task: compile my Rust program to WebAssembly and interface with it using JavaScript!2

So, this post is for anyone who was as overwhelmed as I once was with the tooling. By the end, you'll have a minimal Rust+Wasm setup, with as few dependencies as possible! I'll start from the very beginning and explain the role of each tool as we go.

The Rust Part

Before we even think about JavaScript or HTML, we're going to want a WebAssembly binary. In this section, we're going to build one. If you don't have a Rust project already, enter the following commands in your shell:

$ cargo new --lib rustwasm
$ cd rustwasm

Additionally, we'll want to edit the Cargo.toml file to include wasm-bindgen. wasm-bindgen is a Rust crate that makes it much easier to communicate between Rust and JavaScript. It generates bindings so that your JavaScript code doesn't have to interact with low-level WebAssembly stuff, and your Rust code doesn't have to deal with FFI! Anyway, this is what your Cargo.toml should look like:

name = "rustwasm"
version = "0.1.0"
edition = "2021"

wasm-bindgen = "0.2"

crate-type = ["cdylib", "rlib"]

Notice the crate-type declaration. This is required for compiling Rust libraries to WebAssembly.3 Now, we can get to actually writing our Rust code! Modify to contain the following:

use wasm_bindgen::prelude::*;

extern "C" {
    // Import `alert` from JS runtime
    fn alert(s: &str);

// Export `greet`
pub fn greet() {
    alert("Hello, world!");

Our Wasm module will export the function, greet, and import the JavaScript function, alert.4

This is all we need from the Rust side of things! There's one catch though: you can't use cargo build to build the Wasm binary! You need a special tool to generate the bindings files. For that, we'll use wasm-pack. Go ahead and follow the installation instructions if you don't already have it.

$ wasm-pack build --target web --out-dir web/dist

This command should build the Rust project and put it in web/dist/ directory at the root of your project. If you visit the directory, you'll see a Wasm binary accompanied by some JavaScript files. Those JS files are the glue between your JavaScript code and your Rust code (they wrap the Wasm module, so you don't interface with it directly)!5

We're (eventually) going to serve our index.html file from the web/ directory, so it's important that our Wasm stuff is in there. Speaking of HTML and JS, it's time to move on!

The HTML & JS Part

All I'm going to do from the JavaScript side is make a script (index.js) that calls the greet function we defined earlier. Make sure you're operating in the web/ directory. Calling greet can be accomplished like so:

import init, * as wasm from "./dist/rustwasm.js";

await init();

The init() call will initialize our Wasm module. Make sure to always call this first! Also, this operation is asynchronous, so we're using a top-level await, which is an important detail.

With our index.js file written, all we need is an index.html to serve our website! I'll give an example one below:

<!doctype html>
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <title>Rust+Wasm Minimal Setup</title>
    <script type="module" src="./index.js"></script>

Notice that we make our script of type module. This enables us to use a top-level await. We're now ready to serve it! I like using Python to serve my files on localhost, but you can use your favorite tool.

$ python3 -m http.server

Visit http://localhost:8000/ and you should see the greeting message!

Final product


In this post, we made a website that uses a minimal Rust and WebAssembly configuration. I tried to keep this post short and concise, but if you want to do further readings to really learn how things work, I've left plenty of footnotes!

As always, if you have any feedback or questions, open an issue on this blog's GitHub repository!

  1. See the wasm-bindgen book, the wasm-bindgen in-depth tutorial, and the wasm-pack book. ↩︎

  2. In fact, I wrote a blog post about the struggle! ↩︎

  3. Read the Rust reference for more info on this. This StackOverflow post was helpful too. ↩︎

  4. wasm-bindgen can do a lot more than just that though! You can read the book if you're curious. ↩︎

  5. If you're wondering what --target web is, it just tells wasm-pack to not build for an external bundler or node. It's not the default, but I think it simplifies things a lot and reduces the number of external tools (no npm!) ↩︎