Hello Emscripten!

It has been often said JavaScript is the assembly language of the web, then I suppose that would make emscripten a compiler(or transcompiler). Emscripten is powerful tool which is able to take compiled c/c++ byte code and translate it to JavaScript.

Right now I am working on taking the game music emulator library and making a JavaScript library to play nsf (NES Sound Format)and other console music files playable on the browser. Let’s take a basic look at how to compile a JavaScript library from c/c++ code with our old friend “hello world”.

Requirements and Components

First let’s look at the requirements:


for building the project, this should be easy to install. Just follow the instructions on the website.
for compiling the c+ code to JavaScript. On my mac using the portable installation this seemed to work fine. On windows, the nsis package worked well. Just make sure to add the paths to the binary executables (ie emcc)

On Windows XP, I had to install Java and the Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package.
You may need to install it for Windows Vista, 7, and 8.

once you’ve installed nodejs and npm, install the grunt command globally using npm

npm -g install grunt


for what node modules that need to be installed
the “make” file
web site with the sample
sample c code
sample js code to interface with the c code


The c code in this case would be for a static library. In order to compile the c code to JavaScript, we simply run:

emcc src/c/hello-emscripten.c

This will give a map file and a usable JavaScript file. The JavaScript file a.out.js contains a global Module you can then access to call the c methods. However you need the expose the methods you would like to call. In this case we use:

emcc -s EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS=['_hello_world'] src/c/hello-emscripten.c

The other arguments which are passed include optimizations and cleaning warnings:

emcc -s EXPORTED_FUNCTIONS=['_hello_world'] -O2 -o tmp/hello-emscripten.js
\ -Wno-deprecated -Qunused-arguments -Wno-logical-op-parentheses src/c/hello-emscripten.c

For more details on options, look at the documentation here:


Interfacing with the code

The a.out.js gives you a variable called Module. All Modules have four methods which are mainly used:

ccall(functionName, jsReturnType, [jsparameterTypes], [args])
Calls the encapsulated c method. The JavaScript type is either number or string.
cwrap(functionName, jsReturnType, [jsparameterTypes])
Creates a JavaScript method, which can be called directory. It is to bind what ccall is to call.
getValue(ptr, type)
Gets the value based the pointer.
setValue(ptr, value, type)
Sets the value based on the pointer. The type must be one of i8,i16,i32,i64,float,double or a pointer type like i8 (or just )

With our c function looking like:

char* hello_world () {
 return "hello world!";

We’ll just use cwrap to create an ordinary JavaScript to call and return a string.

return {
  hello : Module.cwrap('hello_world', 'string', [])

Now all we have to do is call hello_emscripten.hello() to return the string. Go here to look at the resulting demo. To build the project your self, install the node modules required and run grunt.

npm install


Emscripten is powerful tool for taking complex c code and running it in the browser. There are already hundreds of projects doing the same thing. Next time I will show how to the gmemujs works in playing old video game music using emscripten, gmemu, and the Web Audio API.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *