Monday, October 31, 2016

WebAssembly Browser Preview

Today we’re happy to announce, in tandem with Firefox and Edge, a WebAssembly Browser Preview. WebAssembly or wasm is a new runtime and compilation target for the web, designed by collaborators from Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple, and the W3C WebAssembly Community Group.

What does this milestone mark?

This milestone is significant because it marks:
  • a release candidate for our MVP (minimum viable product) design (including semantics, binary format, and JS API)
  • compatible and stable implementations of WebAssembly behind a flag on trunk in V8 and SpiderMonkey, in development builds of Chakra, and in progress in JavaScriptCore
  • a working toolchain for developers to compile WebAssembly modules from C/C++ source files
  • a roadmap to ship WebAssembly on-by-default barring changes based on community feedback 
You can read more about WebAssembly on the project site as well as follow our developers guide to test out WebAssembly compilation from C & C++ using Emscripten. The binary format and JS API documents outline the binary encoding of WebAssembly and the mechanism to instantiate WebAssembly modules in the browser, respectively. Here’s a quick sample to show what wasm looks like:

Raw Bytes
Text Format
C Source
02 40
03 40
20 00
0d 01
   get_local 0
   br_if 1
while (x != 0) {

20 00
21 02
   get_local 0
   set_local 2
 z = x;
20 01
20 00
21 00
   get_local 1
   get_local 0
   set_local 0

 x = y % x;
20 02
21 01
   get_local 2
   set_local 1

 y = z;
0c 00
   br 0

20 01
get_local 1
return y;

Greatest Common Divisor function

Since WebAssembly is still behind a flag in Chrome (chrome://flags/#enable-webassembly), it is not yet recommended for production use. However, the Browser Preview period marks a time during which we are actively collecting feedback on the design and implementation of the spec. Developers are encouraged to test out compiling and porting applications and running them in the browser.

V8 continues to optimize the implementation of WebAssembly in the TurboFan compiler. Since last March when we first announced experimental support, we’ve added support for parallel compilation. In addition, we’re nearing completion of an alternate asm.js pipeline, which converts asm.js to WebAssembly under the hood so that existing asm.js sites can reap some of the benefits of WebAssembly ahead-of-time compilation.

What's next?

Barring major design changes arising from community feedback, the WebAssembly Community Group plans to produce an official specification in Q1 2017, at which point browsers will be encouraged to ship WebAssembly on-by-default. From that point forward, the binary format will be reset to version 1 and WebAssembly will be versionless, feature-tested, and backwards-compatible. A more detailed roadmap can be found on the WebAssembly project site.

Monday, October 24, 2016

V8 Release 5.5

Every six weeks, we create a new branch of V8 as part of our release process. Each version is branched from V8’s git master immediately before a Chrome Beta milestone. Today we’re pleased to announce our newest branch, V8 version 5.5, which will be in beta until it is released in coordination with Chrome 55 Stable in several weeks. V8 5.5 is filled will all sorts of developer-facing goodies, so we’d like to give you a preview of some of the highlights in anticipation of the release.

Language features

Async functions

In 5.5, V8 ships JavaScript ES2017 async functions, which makes it easier to write code that uses and creates Promises. Using async functions, waiting for a Promise to resolve is as simple as typing await before it and proceeding as if the value were synchronously available - no callbacks required. See this article for an introduction.

Here’s an example function which fetches a URL and returns the text of the response, written in a typical asynchronous, Promise-based style.
function logFetch(url) {
  return fetch(url)
    .then(response => response.text())
    .then(text => {
    }).catch(err => {
      console.error('fetch failed', err);
Here’s the same code rewritten to remove callbacks, using async functions.
async function logFetch(url) {
  try {
    const response = await fetch(url);
    console.log(await response.text());
  } catch (err) {
    console.log('fetch failed', err);

Performance improvements

V8 5.5 delivers a number of key improvements in memory footprint.


Memory consumption is an important dimension in the JavaScript virtual machine performance trade-off space. Over the last few releases, the V8 team analyzed and significantly reduced the memory footprint of several websites that were identified as representative of modern web development patterns. V8 5.5 reduces Chrome’s overall memory consumption by up to 35% on low-memory devices (compared to V8 5.3 in Chrome 53) due to reductions in the V8 heap size and zone memory usage. Other device segments also benefit from the zone memory reductions. Please have a look at the dedicated blog post to get a detailed view.


Please check out our summary of API changes. This document is regularly updated a few weeks after each major release. 

V8 inspector migrated

The V8 inspector was migrated from Chromium to V8. The inspector code now fully resides in the V8 repository.

Developers with an active V8 checkout can use 'git checkout -b 5.5 -t branch-heads/5.5' to experiment with the new features in V8 5.5. Alternatively you can subscribe to Chrome's Beta channel and try the new features out yourself soon.

Posted by the V8 team

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall cleaning: Optimizing V8 memory consumption

Memory consumption is an important dimension in the JavaScript virtual machine performance trade-off space. Over the last few months the V8 team analyzed and significantly reduced the memory footprint of several websites that were identified as representative of modern web development patterns. In this blog post we present the workloads and tools we used in our analysis, outline memory optimizations in the garbage collector, and show how we reduced memory consumed by V8’s parser and its compilers.


In order to profile V8 and discover optimizations that have impact for the largest number of users, it is crucial to define workloads that are reproducible, meaningful, and simulate common real-world JavaScript usage scenarios. A great tool for this task is Telemetry, a performance testing framework that runs scripted website interactions in Chrome and records all server responses in order to enable predictable replay of these interactions in our test environment. We selected a set of popular news, social, and media websites and defined the following common user interactions for them:

A workload for browsing news and social websites:
  1. Open a popular news or social website, e.g. hackernews.
  2. Click on the first link.
  3. Wait until the new website is loaded.
  4. Scroll down a few pages.
  5. Click the back button.
  6. Click on the next link on the original website and repeat steps 3-6 a few times.
A workload for browsing media website:
  1. Open an item on a popular media website, e.g. a video on YouTube.
  2. Consume that item by waiting for a few seconds.
  3. Click on the next item and repeat steps 2-3 a few times.
Once a workflow is captured, it can be replayed as often as needed against a development version of Chrome, for example each time there is new version of V8. During playback, V8’s memory usage is sampled at fixed time intervals to obtain a meaningful average. The benchmarks can be found here.

Memory Visualization

One of the main challenges when optimizing for performance in general is to get a clear picture of internal VM state to track progress or weigh potential tradeoffs. For optimizing memory consumption, this means keeping accurate track of V8’s memory consumption during execution. There are two categories of memory that must be tracked: memory allocated to V8’s managed heap and memory allocated on the C++ heap. The V8 Heap Statistics feature is a mechanism used by developers working on V8 internals to get deep insight into both. When the --trace-gc-object-stats flag is specified when running Chrome (M54 or newer) or the d8 command line interface, V8 dumps memory-related statistics to the console. We built a custom tool, the v8 heap visualizer, to visualize this output. The tool shows a timeline-based view for both the managed and C++ heaps. The tool also provides a detailed breakdown of the memory usage of certain internal data types and size-based histograms for each of those types.

A common workflow during our optimization efforts involves selecting an instance type that takes up a large portion of the heap in the timeline view, as depicted in Figure 1. Once an instance type is selected, the tool then shows a distribution of uses of this type. In this example we selected V8’s internal FixedArray data structure, which is an untyped vector-like container used ubiquitously in all sorts of places in the VM. Figure 2 shows a typical FixedArray distribution, where we can see that the majority of memory can be attributed to a specific FixedArray usage scenario. In this case FixedArrays are used as the backing store for sparse JavaScript arrays (what we call DICTIONARY_ELEMENTS). With this information it is possible to refer back to the actual code and either verify whether this distribution is indeed the expected behavior or whether an optimization opportunity exists. We used the tool to identify inefficiencies with a number of internal types.

Figure 1: Timeline view of managed heap and off-heap memory

Figure 2: Distribution of instance type

Figure 3 shows C++ heap memory consumption, which consists primarily of zone memory (temporary memory regions used by V8 used for  a short period of time; discussed in more detail below).  Since zone memory is used most extensively by the V8 parser and compilers, the spikes correspond to parsing and compilation events. A well-behaved execution consists only of spikes, indicating that memory is freed as soon as it is no longer needed. In contrast, plateaus (i.e. longer periods of time with higher memory consumption) indicate that there is room for optimization.

Figure 3: Zone memory

Early adopters can also try out the integration into Chrome’s tracing infrastructure. Therefore you need to run the latest Chrome Canary with --track-gc-object-stats and capture a trace including the category v8.gc_stats. The data will then show up as V8.GC_Object_Stats event.

JavaScript Heap Size Reduction

There is an inherent trade-off between garbage collection throughput, latency, and memory consumption. For example, garbage collection latency (which causes user-visible jank) can be reduced by using more memory to avoid frequent garbage collection invocations. For low-memory mobile devices, i.e. devices with under 512M of RAM, prioritizing latency and throughput over memory consumption may result in out-of-memory crashes and suspended tabs on Android.

To better balance the right tradeoffs for these low-memory mobile devices, we introduced a special memory reduction mode which tunes several garbage collection heuristics to lower memory usage of the JavaScript garbage collected heap. 1) At the end of a full garbage collection, V8’s heap growing strategy determines when the next garbage collection will happen based on the amount of live objects with some additional slack. In memory reduction mode, V8 will use less slack resulting in less memory usage due to more frequent garbage collections. 2) Moreover this estimate is treated as a hard limit, forcing unfinished incremental marking work to finalize in the main garbage collection pause. Normally, when not in memory reduction mode, unfinished incremental marking work may result in going over this limit arbitrarily to trigger the main garbage collection pause only when marking is finished. 3) Memory fragmentation is further reduced by performing more aggressive memory compaction.

Figure 4 depicts some of the improvements on low memory devices since Chrome M53. Most noticeably, the average V8 heap memory consumption of the mobile New York Times benchmark reduced by about 66%. Overall, we observed a 50% reduction of average V8 heap size on this set of benchmarks.

Figure 4: V8 heap memory reduction since M53 on low memory devices

Another optimization introduced recently not only reduces memory on low-memory devices but beefier mobile and desktop machines. Reducing the V8 heap page size from 1M to 512KB results in a smaller memory footprint when not many live objects are present and lower overall memory fragmentation up to 2x. It also allows V8 to perform more compaction work since smaller work chunks allow more work to be done in parallel by the memory compaction threads.

Zone Memory Reduction

In addition to the JavaScript heap, V8 uses off-heap memory for internal VM operations. The largest chunk of memory is allocated through memory areas called zones. Zones are a type of  region-based memory allocator which enables fast allocation and bulk deallocation where all zone allocated memory is freed at once when the zone is destroyed. Zones are used throughout V8’s parser and compilers. 

One of the major improvements in M55 comes from reducing memory consumption during background parsing. Background parsing allows V8 to parse scripts while a page is being loaded. The memory visualization tool helped us discover that the background parser would keep an entire zone alive long after the code was already compiled. By immediately freeing the zone after compilation, we reduced the lifetime of zones significantly which resulted in reduced average and peak memory usage.

Another improvement results from better packing of fields in abstract syntax tree nodes generated by the parser. Previously we relied on the C++ compiler to pack fields together where possible. For example, two booleans just require two bits and should be located within one word or within the unused fraction of the previous word. The C++ compiler doesn’t not always find the most compressed packing, so we instead manually pack bits. This not only results in reduced peak memory usage, but also improved parser and compiler performance.

Figure 5 shows the peak zone memory improvements since M54 which reduced by about 40% on average over the measured websites. 

Figure 5: V8 peak zone memory reduction since M54 on desktop

Over the next months we will continue our work on reducing the memory footprint of V8. We have more zone memory optimizations planned for the parser and we plan to focus on devices ranging from 512M-1G of memory.

Update: All the improvements discussed above reduce the Chrome 55 overall memory consumption by up to 35% on low-memory devices compared to Chrome 53.  Other device segments will only benefit from the zone memory improvements.

Posted by the V8 Memory Sanitation Engineers Ulan Degenbaev, Michael Lippautz, Hannes Payer, and Toon Verwaest.