Qt for WebAssembly

Qt for Webassembly lets you to run Qt applications on the web.

WebAssembly (abbreviated Wasm) is a binary instruction format intended to be executed in a virtual machine, for example in a web browser.

With Qt for WebAssembly, you can distribute your application as a web application that runs in a browser sandbox. This approach is suitable for web distributed applications that do not require full access to host device capabilities.

Note: Qt for WebAssembly is a supported platform, but some modules are not yet supported or are in Tech Preview. See supported modules.

Getting Started with Qt for WebAssembly

Building Qt applications for WebAssembly is similar to building Qt for other platforms. You need to install an SDK (Emscripten), install Qt (or build Qt from source), and finally, build the application. Some differences exist, for example, Qt for WebAssambly supports fewer modules and less features than other Qt builds.

Installing Emscripten

Emscripten is a toolchain for compiling to WebAssembly. It lets you run Qt on the web at near-native speed without browser plugins.

Refer to the Emscripten documentation for more information about installing the Emscripten SDK.

After installation, you should have the Emscripten compiler in your path. Check this with the following command:

em++ --version

Each minor version of Qt targets a specific Emcsripten version, which remains unchanged in patch releases. Qt's binary packages are built using the target Emscripten version. Applications should use the same version since Emscripten does not guarantee ABI compatibility between versions.

The Emcsripten versions are:

  • Qt 6.2: 2.0.14
  • Qt 6.3: 3.0.0
  • Qt 6.4: 3.1.14

Use emsdk to install specific Emscripten versions. For example, to install it for Qt 6.4 enter:

  • ./emsdk install 3.1.14
  • ./emsdk activate 3.1.14

On Windows, Emscripten is in your path after installation. On macOS or Linux you need to add it to your path, like this:

source /path/to/emsdk/emsdk_env.sh

Check this with the following command:

em++ --version

You can build Qt from source if you require more flexibility when selecting the Emcsripten version. In this case the versions above are minimum versions. Later versions are expected to work but may introduce behavior changes which require making changes to Qt.

Installing Qt

Download Qt from the Downloads section of your Qt account. We provide builds for Linux, macOS, and Windows as development platforms.

The binary builds are designed to run on as many browsers as possible, and do not enable features such as threads or SIMD support.

Building Qt from Source

Building from source lets you set Qt configuration options such as thread support, OpenGL ES level, or SIMD support. Download the Qt sources from the Downloads section of your Qt account.

Configure Qt as a cross-compile build for the wasm-emscripten platform. This sets the -static, -no-feature-thread, and -no-make examples configure options. You can enable thread support with the -feature-thread, configure option. Shared library builds are not supported.

You need a host build of the same version of Qt and specify that path in the QT_HOST_PATH CMake variable or by using the -qt-host-path configure argument.

Although it should be detected, you may optionally set the CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE CMake variable to the Emscripten.cmake toolchain file that comes with Emscripten SDK. This can be done by setting the environment variable CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE or by passing CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=/path/to/Emscripten.cmake to configure.

./configure -qt-host-path /path/to/Qt -platform wasm-emscripten -prefix $PWD/qtbase

On Windows, make sure you have MinGW in your PATH and configure with the following:

configure -qt-host-path C:\Path\to\Qt -no-warnings-are-errors -platform wasm-emscripten -prefix %CD%\qtbase

Then build the required modules:

cmake --build . -t qtbase -t qtdeclarative [-t another_module]

Building Applications on the Command Line

Qt for WebAssembly supports building applications using qmake and make, or CMake with ninja or make.

$ /path/to/qt-wasm/qtbase/bin/qt-cmake .
$ cmake --build .

Building the application generates several output files, including a .wasm file that contains the application and Qt code (statically linked), a .html file that can be opened in the browser to run the application.

Note: Emscripten produces relatively large .wasm files at the "-g" debug level. Consider linking with "-g2" for debug builds.

Running Applications

Running the application requires a web server. The build output files are all static content, so any web server will do. Some use cases might require special server configuration, such as providing https certificates or setting http headers required to enable multithreading support.

Emrun

Emscripten provides the emrun utility for test-running applications. Emrun starts a web server, launches a browser, and will also capture and forward stdout/stderr (which will normally go to the JavaScript console).

/path/to/emscripten/emrun --browser=firefox appname.html

Python http.server

Another option is to start a development web server and then launch the web browser separately. One of the simplest options is http.server from Python:

python -m http.server

Note that this is only a simple webserver and does not support SharedArrayBuffer required for threading, as the required COOP and COED headers mentioned below are not sent.

qtwasmserver

Qt provides a developer web server which uses mkcert to generate https certificates. This allows testing web features which require a secure context. Note that delivery over http://localhost is also considered secure, without requiring a certificate.

The web server also sets the COOP and COEP headers to values which enables support for SharedArrayBuffer and multi-threading.

The qtwasmserver script starts one server which binds to localhost by default. You may add additional addresses using the -a command-line argument, or use --all to bind to all available addresses.

python /path/to/qtbase/util/wasm/qtwasmserver/qtwasmserver.py --all

Building Applications using Qt Creator

Setting Up Qt Creator for WebAssembly.

Deploying Applications on the web

Building an application generates several files (substitute "app" with the application name in the following table).

Generated fileBrief Description
app.htmlHTML container
qtloader.jsJavaScript API for loading Qt apps
app.jsJS API for loading Qt apps
app.wasmapp binary

You can deploy app.html as-is, or discard it in favor favor of a custom html file. Smaller adjustments, such as changing the splash screen image from the Qt logo to the app logo, is also possible. In both cases, qtloader.js provides a JavaScript API for loading the application.

We recommend compressing the wasm file using e.g. gzip or brotli before deployment, as this can provide a significant reduction in file size.

Enabling certain features, such as multi-threading and SIMD, produces .wasm binaries that are incompatible with browsers that do not support the enabled feature. It is possible to work around this limitation by building multiple .wasm files and then use JavaScript feature detection to select the correct one, but note that Qt does not provide any functionality for doing this.

Supported Browsers

Desktop

Qt for WebAssembly is developed and tested on the following browsers:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Edge

Qt should run if the browser supports WebAssembly. Qt has a fixed WebGL requirement, even if the application itself does not use hardware accelerated graphics. Browsers that support WebAssembly often support WebGL, though some browsers blacklist older or unsupported GPUs. s/qtloader.js provides APIs to check if WebGL is available.

Qt does not make direct use of operating system features and it makes no difference if, for example, FireFox runs on Windows or macOS. Qt does use some operating system adaptations, for example for ctrl/cmd key handling on macOS.

Mobile

Qt for WebAssembly applications runs on mobile browsers such as mobile Safari and Android Chrome.

Supported Qt Modules

Qt for WebAssembly supports a subset of the Qt modules and features. Tested modules are listed below, other modules may or may not work.

In all cases, module support may not be complete and and there may be additional limitations, either due to the browser sandbox or due to incompleteness of the Qt platform port. See Developing with Qt for WebAssembly for further info.

Qt for WebAssembly Technology Preview modules and features. These features may require to reconfigure and build Qt. They may contain features that are still experimental in the browsers or Emscripten.

Developing with Qt for WebAssembly

OpenGL and WebGL

Qt requires WebGL, also for applications which do not use OpenGL directly. All relevant browsers support WebGL, but note that some browsers blacklist certain older GPUs. The Qt loader will detect this and display an error message.

Qt detects WebGL as OpenGL ES, with the following version mapping:

OpenGLWebGL
OpengL ES 2WebGL 1
OpengL ES 3WebGL 2

OpengL ES 2 is selected by default, OpenGL ES 3 can be enabled by configuring Qt with the -feature-opengles3 option.

Qt for WebAssembly does not support mixing raster and OpenGL content. Supported use cases are pure raster apps using QWigets, and pure OpenGL apps using Qt Quick or QOpenGLWindow. QOpenGLWidget is not supported at this point (QTBUG-66944).

Web and Desktop OpenGL differences are documented in: WebGL and OpenGL Differences There are additional differences between WebGL 1.0 and WebGL 2.0 which are documented in: WebGL 2.0 Specification

A WebGL-friendly subset of ES2 (and ES3) is used by default. If you need to use glDrawArrays and glDrawElements without bound buffers, you can enable full ES2 support by adding target_link_options(<your target> PRIVATE "SHELL:-s FULL_ES2=1") and/or full ES3 emulation by adding target_link_options(<your target> PRIVATE "SHELL:-s FULL_ES3=1") to your projects CMakeFiles.txt

Multithreading

Qt supports multithreading on WebAssembly, however this feature is experimental and is not enabled by default. Thread support can be enabled by building Qt from source and using the "-feature-thread" configure flag.

The Qt for WebAssembly binary packages do not support multithreading.

Emscripten implements support for pthreads using web workers, and this abstraction is not completely leak free. See Pthreads Support for further info.

Multithreading requires browser support for SharedArrayBuffer, see caniuse sharedarraybuffer for current supported status. If supported, SharedArrayBuffer will be enabled provided the web server sets the COOP and and COEP headers:

  • Cross-Origin-Opener-Policy: same-origin
  • Cross-Origin-Embedder-Policy: require-corp

SIMD

The LLVM compiler supports generating WebAssembly SIMD. Pass the -msimd128 flag at compile time to enable. This enables LLVM auto-vectorization, which makes it possible to benefit from SIMD without making source code modifications.

You can target WebAssembly SIMD directly using either GCC/Clang SIMD Vector Extensions or WASM SIMD128 intrinsics. For more information, see the Emscripten SIMD documentation .

In addition, Emscripten supports emulating/translating x86 SSE instructions to Wasm SIMD instructions. Enable by building Qt from source and configure with the "-sse2" option. This adds support for SSE1, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4.2, and 128-bit AVX instructions, and enables Qt's SSE code paths. Use of SSE SIMD instructions that have no native Wasm SIMD equivalent may cause reduced performance.

Note that SIMD-enabled binaries are incompatible with browsers that do not support WebAssembly SIMD, also if the SIMD code paths are not called at run-time. SIMD support may need to be enabled in the browsers advanced configurations, such as 'about:config' or 'chrome:flags'

Networking

Qt provides limited support for networking. In general, network protocols which are already in use on the web can be use also from Qt, while others are not directly available due to the web sandbox.

The following protocols are supported:

  • QNetworkAccessManager http requests to the web page origin server, or to a server which supports CORS. This includes XMLHttpRequest from QML.
  • QWebSocket connections to any host. Note that web pages served over the secure https protocol allows websockets connections over secure wss protocol only.
  • Emulated POSIX TCP Sockets over WebSockets, using functionality provided by Emscripten. Note that this requires running a forwarding server which handles socket translation.

All other network protocols are not supported.

Local File Access

File system access is sandboxed on the web, and this has implications for how the application works with files. The Web platform provides APIs for accessing the local file system in a way which is under user control, as well as APIs for accessing persistent storage. Emscripten and Qt wraps these features and provides APIs which are easier to use from C++ and Qt-based applications.

The web platform provides features for accessing local files and persistent storage:

  • <input type="file"> for showing a native open-file dialog where the user can pick a file.
  • IndexedDB provides persistent local storage (not accessible outside the browser)

Emscripten provides several file systems with a POSIX like API. These include:

  • the MEMFS ephemeral file system which stores files in-memory
  • the IDBFS persistent file system which stores files using IndexedDB

Emscripten mounts a temporary MEMFS filesystem to "/" at app startup. This means that QFile can be used, and will read and write files to memory by default. Qt provides other API as well:

Clipboard Access

Qt supports copying and pasting text to the system clipboard, with some differences due to the web sandbox. In general clipboard access require user permission, which can be obtained by handling an input event (e.g. CTRL+c), or by using the Clipboard API.

Browsers that support the Clipboard API are preferred. Note that a requirement for this API is that the web page is served over a secure connection (e.g. https), and that some browsers my require changing configuration flags.

At the time of writing the following browsers support the Clipboard API, see caniuse for the current support level.

  • Chrome supports the Clipboard API
  • Firefox supports the Clipboard API behind a flag: dom.events.asyncClipboard.dataTransfer

Fonts

The Qt WASM module contains 3 embedded fonts: "Bitstream Vera Sans" (fallback font), "DejaVu Sans", "DejaVu Sans Mono".

These fonts provide a limited character set. Qt provides several options for adding additional fonts:

One is using FontLoader in QML, which can either fetch a font by URL or using Qt Resource System (the same way the usual desktop apps work).

The other way to use font is to add it via QFontDatabase::addApplicationFontFromData.

Application Startup and the Event Loop

Qt for WebAssembly supports the standard Qt startup approach, where the application creates a QApplication object and calls the exec function:

int main(int argc, char **argc)
{
    QApplication app(argc, argv);

    QWindow appWindow;

    return app.exec();
}

The exec() call above normally blocks and processes events until application shutdown. Unfortunately this is not possible on the web platform where blocking the main thread is not allowed. Instead, control must be returned to the browser's event loop after processing each event.

Qt works around this by making exec() return main thread control to the browser, while preserving the stack. From the point of view of application code, the exec() function is entered and event processing happens as usual. However, the exec() call never returns, also not on application exit.

This behavior is usually acceptable since the browser will free up application memory at app shutdown time. It does mean that shutdown code does not run, since the application object is leaked and its destructor does not run.

You can avoid this by rewriting main() to be asynchronous, which is possible since Emscripten does not exit the runtime when main() returns. Application code then omits making the exec() call, and can shut down Qt cleanly by deleting the top-level window and application objects.

QApplication *g_app = nullptr;
AppWindow *g_appWindow = nullptr;

int main(int argc, char **argc)
{
    g_app = new QApplication(argc, argv);
    g_appWindow = new AppWindow();
    return 0;
}

Asyncify

The default build of Qt for WebAssembly does not support reentering the event loop, for example by calling QEventLoop::exec() or QDialog::exec(), due to restrictions of the web platform.

Emscripten's asyncify feature lifts these restrictions by allowing synchronous calls (like QEventLoop::exec() and QDialog::exec()) to yield to the event loop. Nested calls are not supported, and for this reason asyncify is not used for the top-level QApplication::exec() call.

As of Qt 6.4, Asyncify support is enabled in the binary package, but needs to be enabled for applications by adding -sASYNCIFY -Os to linker options:

CMake:

set target_link_options(<target> PUBLIC -sASYNCIFY -Os)

qmake:

QMAKE_LFLAGS += -sASYNCIFY -Os

Enabling asyncify adds overhead in the form of increased binary sizes and increased CPU usage. Build with optimizations enabled to minimize the overhead.

Debugging and Profiling

Wasm debugging is done on browser JavaScript console, debugging applications on Wasm directly within Qt Creator is not possible.

You can add more verbosity to help debug using Emscripten linker arguments:

  • -s LIBRARY_DEBUG=1 (print out library calls)
  • -s SYSCALL_DEBUG=1 (print out sys calls)
  • -s FS_LOG=1 (print out filesystem operations)
  • -s SOCKET_DEBUG (print out socket, network data transfer)

Using cmake:

target_link_options(<your target> PRIVATE "SHELL:-s LIBRARY_DEBUG=1")

Using qmake:

QMAKE_LFLAGS_DEBUG += -s LIBRARY_DEBUG=1

Asyncify

Asyncify is an Emscripten feature which enables synchronous C++ code to interact with asynchronous JavaScript.

Qt uses it to allow calling blocking APIs like one level of nested QEventLoop::exec() and returning normally.

Asyncify's unwinding and rewinding the stack add overhead to executable size as well as performance. To enable asyncify, configure Qt using:

-device-option QT_EMSCRIPTEN_ASYNCIFY=1

Known Issues

  • Nested event loops are not supported. Applications should not call API like QDialog::exec() and QEventLoop::exec(). Experimental feature Asyncify could be used.
  • Printing is not supported
  • QDnsLookup lookups, QTcpSocket, QSsl do not work and are not supported due to the web sandbox
  • Accessibility is not supported: Qt draws application content to a canvas element and does not use (other) native DOM elements.
  • Fonts: Wasm sandbox does not allow access to system fonts. Font files must be distributed with the application, for example in Qt resources or downloading. Qt for WebAssembly itself embeds one such font.
  • There may be artifacts of uninitialized graphics memory on some Qt Quick Controls 2 components, such as checkboxes. This can sometimes be seen on HighDPi displays.
  • Native styles for Windows and macOS are not supported as Wasm as a platform is not providing that capability
  • Link time error such as "wasm-ld: error: initial memory too small", requires adjustment of the initial memory size. Use QT_WASM_INITIAL_MEMORY to set the initial size in kb, which must be a multiple of 64KB (65536). Default is 50 MB. In CMakeFiles.txt: set(QT_WASM_INITIAL_MEMORY, "50MB");
  • add_executable in CMakeLists.txt does not produce <target>.html or copy qtloader.js. Use qt_add_executable instead.

Other Topics

Qt Configure Options Reference

The following configure options are relevant when building Qt for WebAssembly from source.

Configure ArgumentBrief Description
-sse2Enables SIMD support.
-feature-threadMulti-threaded wasm
-device-option QT_WASM_SOURCE_MAP=1Debugging option for creating source maps
-feature-opengles3Use opengles3 in addition to the default opengles2
-device-option QT_EMSCRIPTEN_ASYNCIFY=1Use asyncify

Typical Download Sizes

Expected footprint (download size): Wasm modules as produced by the compiler can be large, but compress well:

Examplegzipbrotli
helloglwindow (QtCore + QtGui)2.8M2.1M
wiggly widget (QtCore + QtGui + QtWidgets)4.3M3.2M
SensorTag (QtCore + QtGui + QtWidgets + QtQuick + QtCharts)8.6M6.3M

Compression is typically handled on the web server side, using standard compression features: the server compresses automatically or picks up pre-compressed versions of the files. There's generally no need to have special handling of wasm files.

Examples

External resources

License

Qt for WebAssembly is available under commercial licenses from The Qt Company. In addition, it is available under the GNU General Public License, version 3. See Qt Licensing for further details.

© 2022 The Qt Company Ltd. Documentation contributions included herein are the copyrights of their respective owners. The documentation provided herein is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.3 as published by the Free Software Foundation. Qt and respective logos are trademarks of The Qt Company Ltd. in Finland and/or other countries worldwide. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.