by Terence Zimwara
Ethereum is almost universally credited for kickstarting the Web3 revolution after it brought to life the concept of smart contracts. However, some in the Web3 community, like Astar Network’s Sota Watanabe, believe the protocol cannot “build the innovative future of blockchain alone.” In addition, some critics point to the language obstacle which they argue makes the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) a less-than-ideal place to build.
It is this and other limitations of the EVM that led to the creation of an alternative known as Webassembly (WASM). This alternative is said to be a virtual machine of choice for developers, engineers and academics that are frustrated with the EVM. According to Watanabe, for Web2 developers that want to migrate to Web3, WASM seems like a logical choice because it “supports a wide range of languages with native performance and high portability.”
To learn more about WASM, Bitcoin.com News reached out to Sota Watanabe, the CEO of Astar Network, a multichain smart contracts platform.
In his written responses to questions sent, the Astar Network CEO offered his thoughts on Webassembly and the role it will play in accelerating the adoption of Web3. Watanabe also explained why Astar Network is supporting both the EVM and WASM.
Below are Watanabe’s responses to questions sent to him via Whatsapp.
Bitcoin.com News (BCN): In very simple terms, can you explain to our readers what the WASM is all about?
Sota Watanabe (SW): Webassembly, more commonly called WASM, is a portable compilation target for programming languages. WASM supports a wide range of languages with native performance and high portability. On Astar, we support a WASM smart contract environment, just like Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). What’s nice about WASM is that most Web2 languages are composable into Webassembly, which is not true for Ethereum’s EVM which relies on a specialized programming language called Solidity.
We believe the growing use of WASM smart contracts will dramatically accelerate the adoption of Web3. Most of the tech talent still works in the Web2 space, and if Web2 developers want to enter Web3, they have no choice but to learn a new programming language called Solidity which is used by the most popular smart contract platform today (EVM). That’s an obstacle. Imagine if they could build Web3 dapps [decentralized applications] using the languages they already know. And, on top of that, make their dapps compatible with EVM with ease. That’s why WASM smart contracts are [going to] pull a lot of talent from Web2 to Web3. That’s why it’s so exciting.
BCN: What are some of the challenges or limitations of the EVM and how does the WASM overcome these?
SW: Though Ethereum brought us the Web3 revolution with the introduction of smart contracts, it cannot build the innovative future of blockchain alone. With a specialized programming language, it restricts the developer community’s ability to explore and create new, truly interoperable dapps. EVM is blockchain-specific, with less support and a specialized programming language, Solidity.
Today, Web3 is prohibitive for many Web2 developers as Web2 languages aren’t composable into Solidity, the programming language of Ethereum. With Webassembly (WASM), developers can quickly transition from a Web2 to Web3 infrastructure, which enables them to spend more time building core features in their dapps rather than learning specialized languages such as Solidity.
WASM increases performance since it’s closer to the machinery language. It brings near-native performance to web browser applications and allows developers to build high-speed web apps in the language of their choice. Also, WASM has a huge potential for the future of the internet as it’s designed for the web.
BCN: Already backed by four major browser engines (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Webkit), WASM is said to be safer, more efficient, faster, debuggable, and open. Can you explain in simple terms why this matters?
SW: You’re right. All the things you said about WASM have helped it build trust among Web2 developers. And when they can build interoperable Web3 dapps with WASM toolings, they are more likely to embrace Web3.
Moreover, WASM development is already supported by top-tier companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, and can be used with popular programming languages such as C/C++, GO, TypeScript and RUST, which is common among Web2 developers.
BCN: Some reports have suggested that Web2 developers that are migrating to Web3 are attracted to WASM. Is this suggestion correct? If this is the case what do you think could be the reason(s)?
SW: The answer would be similar to Nos. 2 and 3. And I’d add:
Over the years, we have interacted with thousands of Web2 developers who are inclined to build in Web3, but the lack of familiar tooling was a hindrance. By supporting WASM, making it interoperable with EVM, and providing devs with all the tooling they need to build in Web3, Astar Network hopes to give this emerging ecosystem a major boost.
BCN: Instead of encouraging or discouraging the use of either, your platform Astar Network is said to be helping developers build dapps with both EVM and WASM. What are your reasons for supporting both virtual machines?
SW: Developers in the Web3 space come from diverse backgrounds — armed with different skill sets, capabilities and preferences. They should all not be forced to bring their vision to life using a single smart contract platform. They deserve choices, and then it’s up to them to decide which smart contract is appropriate for the project they are building.
Yes, we support both EVM and WASM smart contracts to give developers flexibility. EVM because it’s the most popular smart contract environment with the largest user base. WASM because it overcomes the limitations of EVM while also making it easier for a new wave of developers to enter the space. We believe having two VMs simultaneously and making them interactive is a key success factor for an emerging Layer-1 blockchain.
BCN: How does that benefit the broader blockchain ecosystem?
SW: It will dramatically expand the blockchain ecosystem by enabling Web2 developers to build innovative, decentralized, and interoperable solutions in the Web3 space.
BCN: Astar Network is said to be offering true interoperability with cross-consensus messaging. What does this mean?
SW: We believe in a truly interoperable Web3 ecosystem, and provide developers with everything they need to build truly interoperable dapps. We achieve it through:
Cross-consensus messaging (XCM): It allows dapps built on chains with different consensus mechanisms to securely transfer data and value between one another. The exchange is bidirectional. It’s been made possible because Astar is a para chain on Polkadot and can use this feature as part of our core features.
Cross-virtual machines (XVM): It brings interoperability between two different smart contract environments like EVM and WASM. A dapp can use EVM for their smart contract but can implement WASM smart contract modules and at the same time use features from another para chain to be integrated into their dapp.
These two innovations will be the start of the next wave of innovation for dapps.
What are your thoughts about this interview? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Terence Zimwara is a Zimbabwe award-winning journalist, author and writer. He has written extensively about the economic troubles of some African countries as well as how digital currencies can provide Africans with an escape route.
Image Credits: Shutterstock, Pixabay, Wiki Commons
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