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It's ironic to me, how self contradictory the title is. NativeClient is not a way to make the web more open, in fact it's a way to make the web more binary/obscured.

Low level memory access, pointers and the likes are the 'horrors' Java/C#/<name your high level language> programmers are running away from. The author fails to point out why would anyone want low level memory access.

> Preemptive response: But NativeClient is x86! Basing the open web on a peculiar, old instruction set is a terrible idea! That’s why I point to LLVM and Portable NativeClient (PNaCl). It’s not a burden to target PNaCl by default, and cross-compile to x86 and ARM if they matter to you.

This seems to imply that the browser should have a compiler that complies the low level bytecode into real machine code. The author should realize that this would be almost identical to running an SWF or a Java plugin, which makes the whole idea pointless.




Hi, original author here,

Responding to your bytecode argument, modern JavaScript JITs are already compiling JavaScript to machine code. That means JavaScript is becoming the de facto bytecode of the web. Then the argument becomes "what's the most appealing bytecode for the web?" I'd argue that SWF isn't (closed), Java isn't (for the same memory layout and language translation issues I discussed), and JavaScript isn't (memory layout and language translation). Sandboxed LLVM makes a much better intermediate format in a world where web applications have the same capabilities as native applications.

"The author fails to point out why would anyone want low level memory access."

Please read Tom Forsyth's postings that I linked at the top of mine. Basically, in the last 30 years, clock speeds have gone through the roof, but memory latencies have only increased a couple orders of magnitude. Thus, memory is a primary concern in any application where low-level performance matters, like the ones I listed (games, simulations, video, DSP).


> JavaScript JITs are already compiling JavaScript to machine code

The details of how the interpreter works and of what it interprets are irrelevant to this discussion. It's JavaScript code that's being transported, not the compiled binary. While I agree tools like Closure somewhat obscure the resulting JavaScript, it's still source code that's being downloaded to my environment and it's my browser's job to decide how it should be executed.

I would have nothing against a site that sends me source code to be compiled within my computer so it could run inside a sandbox, but I won't like when Facebook starts pushing binaries I should trust won't break out of the sandbox they should respect. You can't easily do static analysis on binaries.

And I would love to be able to browse the web on my SPARC, POWER and MIPS boxes.

One good reason for JavaScript being slower than C is its typing. If we could write type-strict JavaScript code, it should not compile to less efficient binaries than corresponding C. BTW, incremental compiling has been around since the 80's - code can be compiled as quickly as it can be transferred through HTTP.


You can't easily do static analysis on binaries.

The binary format in question here is LLVM-BC, which is just a compact representation of LLVM-IR, which is a single-static-assignment representation specifically designed for static analysis. SPARC, POWER and MIPS backends already exist, FWIW.


Well... This solves one problem.


It solves the only problem you brought up in the comment he was responding to, AFAIK. If you meant to point to others, I think you need to be more explicit or people will miss them.


So, you would be happy if a banner served through Facebook could push a obfuscated (good guys may well play by the rules, but bad guys will figure out in no time how to circumvent anything LLVM-BC brings to the table) binary blob to be executed in your browser? How much would you trust the LLVM-based sandbox?

Well... I wouldn't.

In fact, I can't understand why taking more or less the same shortcut to a dead-end Java took a decade-and-half ago is suddenly a good idea and why disagreeing with it means dooming the web to failure.


How much would you trust the JavaScript-based sandbox?

I don't see why you'd be more afraid of the blob because it's binary rather than obfuscated plaintext. I mean, heck, they could compile the LLVM bytecode to the exact same JavaScript bytecode they're currently using. If you're not afraid of JavaScript, I don't understand the objection you're raising here.

That's what I'm getting at here. Executing remotely downloaded code is scary, but we already do that.

And the problem with Java was that it had terrible performance. The idea of NaCL is that it will actually perform better than what we have now.


> And the problem with Java was that it had terrible performance.

It had, indeed, terrible performance in 1996.

> The idea of NaCL is that it will actually perform better than what we have now.

Again, I see no reason why an improved JavaScript language/runtime would not perform as well as this LLVM-based solution, with the added benefit of building upon 15 years of knowledge on how to secure (and not to secure) a JavaScript-based sandbox. This is a whole new can of worms we don't have to open. We have something that mostly works, that has been battle-tested for more than a decade, and instead of improving on it, some (very clever) people are pushing a whole new stack. Convince me this is the sane solution.


Again, I see no reason why an improved JavaScript language/runtime would not perform as well as this LLVM-based solution...

The original article here does an excellent job of explaining why. Did you read it? In particular, his reference to Tom Forsyth's article on Moore's Law versus Duck Typing is very informative. And his reference to the game Supreme Commander makes it pretty clear what level of performance he would like to see web-deployable pieces of code achieve.

with the added benefit of building upon 15 years of knowledge on how to secure (and not to secure) a JavaScript-based sandbox

Those years of experience can be brought to either solution, can't they?

I watched the video that junkbit posted a link to here, and they appear to not trust the llvm-bc. Once the bitcode is translated to a native executable, they run a verifier on the resulting binary, and if the verifier is unable to prove that the only instructions that can execute are those in thi binary, then they have a strict policy of not letting it run. In addition to that, the translator itself runs as a NaCl module so that if a bug is found, it cannot be maliciously used to escalate privileges.

Their approach seems pretty reasonable to me.


While you're right that memory is the bottleneck in many CPU intensive programs, the idea that you need low level access to circumvent it is far from obvious. For example, several well known people have argued that C makes it more difficult to use memory effectively, because pointers make compiler job so difficult (Fortran still beats C for most numerical benchmarks).

I think we are at a point where architectures are so different that even though in theory, controlling memory pattern is potentially more powerful, in practice, it is impossible to do it right except when you can spend insane amount of time on it. The difference between P4 and core duo, for example, is enormous as far as organizing memory accesses. This is exactly like ASM vs C: you can still beat C with ASM, but doing so across all architectures is almost impossible to do it by hand.


> like the ones I listed (games, simulations, video, DSP).

Those should not run in a Browser, they should on a real OS (or Emacs).

What's next VMWare inside your Browser? Then it's OS -> Browser -> VM -> OS -> Browser...

Sorry but just because things are possible, doesn't mean that they should be done...


Games should not run in a browser? That's a funny claim. Try telling that to:

1. Millions of users, who play them happily each day.

2. Sites like Kongregate, Armor Games and Newgrounds, whose business is to publish them.

3. Sites like FlashGameLicense, whose business is to help the business of developing and publishing games that run in browsers.

If something can be done, someone will probably try to make a business out of it. If it catches on, then people who say "just because something is possible, doesn't mean it should be done" are wasting their breath.


but you can't just right-click on a binary executable and "view soure", bro! ~

Seriously, people managed to write successful, cross-platform software without expecting everyone with any kind of gadget or device to run it with one click.


When was this? Atlantis? I don't remember any point in history where this was simple and commonplace.


"Those should not run in a Browser, they should on a real OS (or Emacs)."

Why? It was not so long ago that people would have said the same thing about an email client.


> NativeClient is not a way to make the web more open, in fact it's a way to make the web more binary/obscured.

I'd disagree. Minified JS source is about as "open" as LLVM bytecode - you won't read both with your eyes. And they are both standardized, have FOSS implementations etc.

Openness vs obscurity is almost completely irrelevant to Javascript vs PNaCl. One can obfuscate code in any language. Openness is important, but it's a completely different matter.

> Low level memory access, pointers and the likes are the 'horrors'

It seems that everyone are missing the main point of PNaCl. PNaCl is NOT a tool to give programmers a headache with manual memory management. It IS a tool to give them ability to write in Python, Ruby, Perl, Haskell, Go, C++ and so on - in any language that can be compiled to LLVM bytecode. And mix them to their heart's content.

PNaCl is - as I see it - primarily, an attempt to get one important thing right - to not misuse JavaScript as a weird sort of bytecode. And to give Web-as-platform so much needed language diversity instead of The One Standard Language (JavaScript).

> This seems to imply that the browser should have a compiler that complies the low level bytecode

They already do that for a long time. V8, TraceMonkey and Carakan are the examples. The whole point of PNaCl is to give browsers a proper bytecode, and use JavaScript properly - as a programming language, not as universal assembly code for the web.

There are many obstacles, unsolved problems and distractions (like x86-only NaCl), but the overall direction is right.


> The author fails to point out why would anyone want low level memory access.

To get out of the sandbox and wreak havoc? No really, NativeClient is the __last__ thing the Web needs. In the end people will either port their old, bug ridden and insecure C++ code to that thing or they will write new platform dependent code... or both at the same time. That's completely against the OpenWeb.


> To get out of the sandbox and wreak havoc?

NaCl, on the whole, is sound. There have only been a few attacks against it, and those were largely during the "come own us" phase. I'm sure there will be further attacks against it, but that is the last issue in play here. Cross-platform and existing standards compatibility are by far the more important ones, not to mention the benefits of code you can optimize as you see fit (Javascript, Flash, and other high-level languages).

Worrying about sandbox escapes from NaCl is silly when you consider the insane attack surface that existing browsers expose to the JS engine.


I don't worry about NaCI itself, I worry about someone who's too stupid to implement it correctly. And those people are everywhere, especially in big companies. i.e. Nintendo, broken (self built!) RSA in the Wii or even better Sony, using the same "random" number for all their crypto on the PS3... yes FX and Chrome are Open Source, but MS and Opera are not.

Anyways, I'd rather spent a lot of time improving the JITs instead of writing "optimized" low level code myself these days.


You have two choices: use Google's implementation, which is open source and licensed such that it can be used effectively anywhere, or implement it yourself. Implementing it yourself, as long as you follow the NaCl "spec" (a term I use very loosely here) is pretty simple, although it isn't without pitfalls; you should use the existing implementation unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, though.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of the everything-managed approach (hell, I started a pure-managed OS project for a reason), but I don't think that's a reason to avoid NaCl.


Most standards bodies require at least two independent implementations of a specification before labelling it a standard.


Apparently ISO is not one of them, OOXML required zero implementations


I'm sure there will be further attacks against it, but that is the last issue in play here.

I'm sure this attitude will survive for many years to come, although it really shouldn't.


Forget all this crap... if you need to remote out the UI part of some complicated app, just write a Java front-end and deploy it using JNLP. Let web-browsers remain good at what they're good at, and what they were meant for: Browsing the web. Web browsers make great hypermedia navigation / browsing tools... but they're really not so great at being the universal standard remote client interface for complex applications. :-(


Yeah, that whole applications on the web thing is totally just a fad. I'll right get on rewriting Google Maps using a Java front-end.


I don't think Google Maps does any heavy lifting and number-crunching in javascript in the browser; in fact, all it does in js is "remote out the UI part".


I never said it did, but was responding to:

Let web-browsers remain good at what they're good at, and what they were meant for: Browsing the web. Web browsers make great hypermedia navigation / browsing tools... but they're really not so great at being the universal standard remote client interface for complex applications. :-(


Which is exactly the one thing the grandparent said to use Java for.


For the most complicated apps you are right, but most applications are not that complicated and web technology solves problems that Java has not even recognized as problems. Things like advanced accessibility, semantics, device independence (SVG, CSS Media Queries) true open standards ++. You can do much more with a web browser today than "browsing the web" and browsers has done amazing development the last 5 years and will continue with amazing development the next 5 years as well.




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