Invoking RTS API in JavaScript

For the brave souls who prefer to play with raw pointers instead of syntactic sugar, it's possible to invoke RTS API directly in JavaScript. This grants us the ability to:

  • Allocate memory, create and inspect Haskell closures on the heap.
  • Trigger Haskell evaluation, then retrieve the results back into JavaScript.
  • Use raw Cmm symbols to summon any function, not limited to the "foreign exported" ones.

Here is a simple example. Suppose we have a Main.fact function:

fact :: Int -> Int
fact 0 = 1
fact n = n * fact (n - 1)

The first step is ensuring fact is actually contained in the final WebAssembly binary produced by ahc-link. ahc-link performs aggressive dead-code elimination (or more precisely, live-code discovery) by starting from a set of "root symbols" (usually Main_main_closure which corresponds to Main.main), repeatedly traversing ASTs and including any discovered symbols. So if Main.main does not have a transitive dependency on fact, fact won't be included into the binary. In order to include fact, either use it in some way in main, or supply --extra-root-symbol=Main_fact_closure flag to ahc-link when compiling.

The next step is locating the pointer of fact. The "Asterius instance" type we mentioned before contains two "symbol map" fields: staticsSymbolMap maps static data symbols to linear memory absolute addresses, and functionSymbolMap maps function symbols to WebAssembly function table indices. In this case, we can use i.staticsSymbolMap.Main_fact_closure as the pointer value of Main_fact_closure. For a Haskell top-level function, there're also pointers to the info table/entry function, but we don't need those two in this example.

Since we'd like to call fact, we need to apply it to an argument, build a thunk representing the result, then evaluate the thunk to WHNF and retrieve the result. Assuming we're passing --asterius-instance-callback=i=>{ ... } to ahc-link, in the callback body, we can use RTS API like this:

const argument = i.exports.rts_mkInt(5);
const thunk = i.exports.rts_apply(i.staticsSymbolMap.Main_fact_closure, argument);
const tid = i.exports.rts_eval(thunk);

A line-by-line explanation follows:

  • Assuming we'd like to calculate fact 5, we need to build an Int object which value is 5. We can't directly pass the JavaScript 5, instead we should call rts_mkInt, which properly allocates a heap object and sets up the info pointer of an Int value. When we need to pass a value of basic type (e.g. Int, StablePtr, etc), we should always call rts_mk* and use the returned pointers to the allocated heap object.

  • Then we can apply fact to 5 by using rts_apply. It builds a thunk without triggering evaluation. If we are dealing with a curried multiple-arguments function, we should chain rts_apply repeatedly until we get a thunk representing the final result.

  • Finally, we call rts_eval, which enters the runtime and perform all the evaluation for us. There are different types of evaluation functions:

    • rts_eval evaluates a thunk of type a to WHNF.
    • rts_evalIO evaluates the result of IO a to WHNF.
    • rts_evalLazyIO evaluates IO a, without forcing the result to WHNF. It is also the default evaluator used by the runtime to run Main.main.
  • All rts_eval* functions initiate a new Haskell thread for evaluation, and they return a thread ID. The thread ID is useful for inspecting whether or not evaluation succeeded and what the result is.

  • If we need to retrieve the result back to JavaScript, we must pick an evaluator function which forces the result to WHNF. The rts_get* functions assume the objects are evaluated and won't trigger evaluation.

  • Assuming we stored the thread ID to tid, we can use getTSOret(tid) to retrieve the result. The result is always a pointer to the Haskell heap, so additionally we need to use rts_getInt to retrieve the unboxed Int content to JavaScript.

Most users probably don't need to use RTS API manually, since the foreign import/export syntactic sugar and the makeHaskellCallback interface should be sufficient for typical use cases of Haskell/JavaScript interaction. Though it won't hurt to know what is hidden beneath the syntactic sugar, foreign import/export is implemented by automatically generating stub WebAssembly functions which calls RTS API for you.