Building a Go template playground with Wasm

Creating an interactive live parser to experiment with the Go templating language, built using WebAssembly and running the Go standard library directly in your browser.

April 30, 2022

This post walks through how I created the [Go Templates Playground][playground]. It pulls Go template rendering capabilities directly into your browser with WebAssembly (Wasm). I was motivated to this after recently seeing the utility of other similar environments out there for different programming languages1. The Go template language has relatively wide adoption in projects like Helm and Hugo, which this tool can be used to prototype and experiment for. I’ve also been interested in incorporating Wasm into a deployed project, and this was a great opportunity for it, as well as chance to play with alternate approaches to help bring what are traditionally backend languages to the browser. It is built into my personal site to simplify development and deployment.

If you just want to jump over to the playground, check it out here.

As context for the approach I’ll be walking through here, I decided to make the Go side of this application as lightweight as possible, pairing it with a single-page Javascript application built with Preact that handles the rendering layer, rather than trying to make rendering happen from within Go as well. The result is a fully static page with no server-side logic. I’ll mention some alternatives near the end of the post.

Turning Go into Wasm

As a first step, we setup a Go module for the functionality we want to expose through Wasm. I did this as a separate Go module within the same repository as the site itself, under exp/go-templates. Within that file, we utilize the standard library (but experimental) syscall/js package to expose basic functionality that will compile a template and render it with the input data.

As the Wasm support provided by Go is somewhat experimental and does not seem not all that well documented, I found this webpage to be a helpful guide, walking through the fundamental steps needed to get things working.

In the below snippet we define a variable called render which is a function wrapped with the syscall/js.FuncOf function. In the last line of the snippet, that variable is then set on the global object, making it available globally on the page that this code is loaded into. You can click through at the bottom of the snippet to see the full file.

The function itself is relatively straightforward, performing the following steps:

  1. Parse the template
  2. Decode input data
  3. Execute the template

For executing the template, we also optionally pull in the sprig template function library, which is commonly used in projects that make use of Go template to add a large suite of functions for common tasks. It is optional to provide a toggle for whether or not it should be disabled/enabled.

Error handling is a bit “fast and loose” here. I opted to keep things simple by returning a single string that will be rendered into the output in order to display error messages directly to the user. That could be split out for a more customized UI by returning a structured object for the result.

With that code in place, we need to build it into the .wasm file that will be executed within the browser environment. There are two pieces to that puzzle, captured in these Makefile rules. First, the Wasm produced by Go is not be directly interpretable by the browser. There is an intermediate layer in a file called wasm_exec.js which provides several utilities for initialization. We’ll see how that’s used in a moment, but for now we are just copying it into our TARGET directory for inclusion with the site.

The next section here is for compiling the Wasm itself. That is achieved with the standard go build command, merely by adding in GOOS=js GOARCH=wasm as environment variables. The $@ Makefile syntax reverences the name of the current rule, producing a file called go-templates.wasm for us. The latter portion of that rule which specifies $(wildcard *.go **/*.go) indicates that this rule should re-run whenever those files change.

Bringing Wasm into the UI

Now that we have our wasm_exec.js and .wasm files in hand, we need to pull them into our webpage. We’ll do this for both files using Hugo templating logic, upon which this site is built. In the below snippet, we can actually pull the reference to the Wasm file into a Go template variable within a comment (so that JS syntax highlighting/linting is undisturbed) using Hugo Pipes, and then pass that link into our Preact component for use at initialization time. By using Hugo Pipes, we can add a hash to the filename, allowing for longer duration caching in the browser, which is particularly useful here since these the Wasm files are somewhat sizable (multiple MBs).

We then pull in Go’s wasm_exec.js wrapper in similar fashion, using Hugo Pipes, but in this case as it’s a standard .js file we can put it directly within a script tag, SRI hash and all.

With those two pieces in place, we are now ready to initialize the Wasm-based functionality. The following Javascript function is called from within our main Preact class for rendering the application, which is why there are various function calls for updating application state.

There are two pieces of the WebAssembly puzzle here that are worth taking note of. First is the call to new Go(), which activates the logic we brought in with wasm_exec.js earlier. Second is the call to WebAssembly.instantiateStreaming, which takes in a stream from fetching the Wasm file that we got earlier via Hugo Pipes, and instantiating it, as it is streaming in from the server. This is generally the most efficient way to pull in Wasm code. We pass in go.importObject as the importObject parameter to this function, which maps the Wasm assembly into our running application in a useful way.

Once this is complete, we either mark it as successful in the promise, which causes the application to perform it’s first template rendering, or we mark the error accordingly and display it to the user. The error display is useful here in particular because Wasm is not well-supported on older browser environments.

The rest of the app is a relatively straightforward Preact (React-style) application. It is somewhat monolithic as it is a relatively simple use case, but gets the job done. You can see the file in it’s entirety here:


One interesting piece of that code is where the Wasm code is invoked. The newState method shown here is a helper to produce the next version of the Preact “state” that is used to render the application. This method is called at various locations to add the newly rendered template state, using the ExpRenderGoTemplate global function exposed from the Go Wasm, to the overall Preact state.

To tie things off, I added a basic end to end test to ensure that the basic functionality keeps working moving forward. These tests are written in puppeteer and because I already had the puppeteer logic up and running for other areas of the website, it was as simple as adding the test case we see here.

Odds and ends

It is definitely worth noting that there are other technologies out there that could be used for this sort of thing, most notably GopherJS. Rather than compiling to Wasm, GopherJS takes the approach of compiling into Javascript code that can then run directly in the browser. This results in a standard Javascript file that you can use like any other, avoiding the complexities of instantiating WebAssembly and browser compatibility concerns. It also results in a smaller file that the browser needs to load, as the entire Go runtime doesn’t need to be brought along. For these reasons, it’s a solid option and all things considered, may be the better choice here. However, Wasm is a really exciting technology on the very near horizon2, so I was biased towards it going in.

If you are interested in GopherJS, one opportunity to be aware of is that you can pair GopherJS itself with libraries like gopherjs/jquery that control the UI rendering layer directly, allowing you to put as much of your rendering logic into the Go code as you might like. I experimented with these options but ultimately decided that it would be more efficient and seem to have a better end result to build the rendering layer directly with web-oriented technologies, which is how I landed on the Preact-based approach.

One thorn in the side of this project was that I did need to modify my site’s Content-Security-Policy to get the WebAssembly to load in all browsers. I use Firefox as my daily driver, where this all works just fine, but in order for it to work in all of Safari, Chrome, and Edge I needed to add unsafe-eval to the script-src directive, allowing the WebAssembly to be brought in directly. I soon hope to swap this out for wasm-unsafe-eval which is a recent replacement3. Going beyond that however, Wasm needs a mechanism to be loaded in that is not termed “unsafe”4.

Another note for someone wading into these waters is that your editor by default may not have its tooling setup to work with the GOOS=js GOARCH=wasm targets, and is likely to have some errors in trying to perform normal operations on files referencing syscall/js. To get around that, you can hopefully do some sort of directory-specific customization, which is what I did here for my setup of Vim with gopls.

If you made it this far I hope that you enjoyed this post, and that you will get some utility out of the templating playground itself! If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out. If you want to experiment with the code locally, check out the README for the repository to install, and you can play around with the files above. Contributions or suggestions would be very welcome!

  1. One inspiration for this project was which provides similar functionality for the jinja templating language. I used their overall visual UI layout as a starting point for this project. ↩︎

  2. There is a rather fun tweet from one of the creators of Docker: “If Wasm+WASI existed in 2008, we wouldn’t have needed to created Docker”: ↩︎

  3. More details on this are captured here: ↩︎

  4. This GitHub repository seems to be the most recent proposal along these lines: with discussion happening in the issues: ↩︎

April 30, 2022
9 min - 1728 words

Go  Wasm  Templates