Ovie Okeh Programming enthusiast, lover of all things that go beep.

Implement a WebAssembly WebGL viewer using Rust

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Implementing a WebAssembly WebGL viewer using Rust

If you’ve ever wondered about implementing 2D or 3D graphics on the web, this tutorial is for you. As the title says, we’ll be implementing a WebAssembly WebGL viewer.

We’ll write a small Rust program that uses WebGL to render a triangle, compile it down to WebAssembly, and then run the program in the browser using JavaScript. By the end of this tutorial, you should understand how to:

  • Write a WebGL program in Rust
  • Compile a Rust program to WebAssembly
  • Run a WebAssembly program in the browser using JavaScript

You can find the source code for this entire post on my GitHub. Let’s get started!

Jump ahead:


To get the most out of this tutorial, you should already be familiar with the concepts below. However, beginners can also follow along as we’ll be explaining all the concepts as we go along:

  • Rust and Cargo because we’ll be building the program using Rust
  • WebGL and computer graphics
  • WebAssembly because we’ll be compiling our program into a .wasm file
  • JavaScript because we’ll be running our program in the browser through the JavaScript/WASM bindings from wasm-pack

Introduction to WebAssembly with Rust

Before we dive deep, it’s essential to understand that Rust is capable of compiling directly into WebAssembly via the LLVM compiler infrastructure. This process gives Rust the advantages of efficiency and memory safety and is why a lot of developers prefer Rust for graphically or computationally heavy operations like 3D graphics.

An invaluable tool in this process is wasm-bindgen. It’s both a library and a tool that makes the interaction between Rust and JavaScript a breeze. You’ll find wasm-bindgen is indispensable for facilitating high-level interactions between these two languages.

Compiling a simple Rust function to WebAssembly

Now, let’s get our hands dirty. We’ll start by writing a simple function in Rust. This can be as straightforward as a function that adds two numbers. Once we have our function ready, we’ll use wasm-pack — another vital tool for rusting to WebAssembly — to compile this function into a .wasm file.

Rename src/main.rs to src/lib.rs, as this is required for libraries. Replace the content with the following:

use wasm_bindgen::prelude::*;

pub fn add(a: i32, b: i32) -> i32 {
    a + b

We can compile this function to WebAssembly with the following command:

wasm-pack build --target web

The result is a /pkg folder that contains a bunch of files including a .wasm file that contains our Rust function, compiled and ready for use in the web environment.

You can explore the contents of the other files, especially the .js one, to see how your Rust functions and variables are converted to JavaScript. But how do we actually use this .js file?

The beauty of WebAssembly is that we can load and execute this file directly like a regular JavaScript file. We’ll explore how to do this in detail in the following sections, so stick around.

Setup environment

First things first, we need to set up our development environment. To do this, follow these steps:

Open the cargo.toml file in the project and add the following lines:

...rest of cargo.toml

crate-type = ["cdylib"]

wasm-bindgen = "0.2.86"
js-sys = "0.3"
version = "0.3"
features = [
  'HtmlCanvasElement' ,

Let’s break down the above:

  • The [lib] section with crate-type = ["cdylib"] specifies that the output of the crate will be a dynamic system library (compatible with C)
  • The [dependencies] section includes the wasm-bindgen and web-sys crates. The wasm-bindgen crate is a library that facilitates high-level interactions between Rust and JavaScript, and the web-sys crate provides bindings for all Web APIs including WebGL
  • The features field under web-sys enables specific Web API functionalities needed for your project. In this case, we’re enabling all the features that will let us render a 2D triangle in an HTML canvas

Basics of WebGL

Before we run the generated .js file we created in the above section, let’s dive into the world of graphics and WebGL for a bit.

Imagine an artist’s canvas: the artist uses this canvas to create beautiful images. Similarly, in the world of WebGL, we have a “canvas,” and this canvas is what we call a “rendering context.” This context gives us a drawable region where we can start to create our 2D and 3D graphics.

WebGL, at its core, relies heavily on something called shaders. In the graphics world, shaders are small but powerful programs that run on a graphics processing unit (GPU). These shaders are tasked with calculating rendering effects, which influence the final visuals you see on the screen.

You can think of shaders like the directors of a play: they’re in charge of telling everyone (in this case, each pixel on your screen) what to do.

Types of WebGL shaders

In WebGL, there are two main types of shaders:

  1. Vertex shaders: These shaders deal with points that define shapes. Let’s say you’re drawing a triangle; it is made up of three points, or vertices, and the vertex shader is like the stage director who tells these points where to stand on the stage (which is your screen, in this case). So, the vertex shader’s main job is to set the position of these points:
    A before and after image of the effects of the vertex shader
  2. Fragment shaders: The fragment shader colors in the shape; it determines the color of each pixel within the shape:
    A before and after image of the effects of the fragment shader

Together, these shaders work in tandem to draw and color both 2D and 3D objects on your screen.

Integrating WebGL with Rust and WebAssembly

Now that we understand the two critical concepts of WebGL, rendering context and shaders, it’s time for some action! We’re going to dive into writing our very first WebGL program.

Let’s start by tweaking our Rust function in src/lib.rs to accept and use a WebGL rendering context. With Rust’s type safety and the wasm-bindgen library, we can ensure that our operations are both safe and efficient.

Replace the content in src/lib.rs with the following:

use wasm_bindgen::prelude::*;
use wasm_bindgen::JsCast;
use web_sys::{WebGlRenderingContext, WebGlShader, WebGlProgram};
extern crate js_sys;

pub fn init_webgl_context(canvas_id: &str) -> Result<WebGlRenderingContext, JsValue> {
    let document = web_sys::window().unwrap().document().unwrap();
    let canvas = document.get_element_by_id(canvas_id).unwrap();
    let canvas: web_sys::HtmlCanvasElement = canvas.dyn_into::<web_sys::HtmlCanvasElement>()?;
    let gl: WebGlRenderingContext = canvas



Take some time to go through each line of code here to really understand what we’re doing. Let’s go through it line by line:

  1. At the top, we have three use statements to tell Rust which packages, methods, and types we’ll be using in the rest of the file
  2. Next, we created an init_webgl_context function that accepts a canvas_id argument. This function uses this argument as well as the web_sys library to create an HTML document context and canvas to setup a gl WebGL instance
  3. We set the WebGL’s instance viewport to the size of the provided canvas
  4. We return this WebGL instance from the function

Creating and manipulating 3D objects with WebGL in Rust

Now that we have our WebGL context set up, it’s time to bring our canvas to life by creating and manipulating 3D objects.

Setting up the shaders

Firstly, let’s set up our shaders. We’ll need both a vertex shader and a fragment shader. As we discussed above, the vertex shader will handle our object’s vertices, while the fragment shader will manage the color of the pixels between the vertices.

For simplicity, let’s say our vertex shader just passes through the position and our fragment shader uses a uniform variable for color.

In the src/lib.rs file, create the below function after the init_webgl_context function:

pub fn create_shader(
    gl: &WebGlRenderingContext,
    shader_type: u32,
    source: &str,
) -> Result<WebGlShader, JsValue> {
    let shader = gl
        .ok_or_else(|| JsValue::from_str("Unable to create shader object"))?;

    gl.shader_source(&shader, source);

    if gl
        .get_shader_parameter(&shader, WebGlRenderingContext::COMPILE_STATUS)
    } else {
                .unwrap_or_else(|| "Unknown error creating shader".into()),

Take some time to go through the code and/or read the breakdown below:

  1. Function setup: The function create_shader takes three parameters:
    1. gl: the WebGL context
    2. shader_type: the type of shader we want to create
    3. source: the source code of the shader
  2. Creating the shader: We start by creating a new shader object using gl.create_shader. If the creation fails (returns None), we return an error message using JsValue::from_str
  3. Setting the shader source and compiling: We set the source code of the shader using gl.shader_source and compile it using gl.compile_shader
  4. Checking compilation status: We check if the shader compilation was successful by retrieving the compilation status using get_shader_parameter and WebGlRenderingContext::COMPILE_STATUS. If it is true, the shader compiled successfully, so we return the shader object
  5. Error handling: If there was an error during compilation, we retrieve the shader info log using gl.get_shader_info_log; if the log is empty, we return a generic error message. Otherwise, we return the shader info log as an error message using JsValue::from_str

We will use this create_shader function to set up the shaders in the next section. Next, create a new function that takes in a WebGL rendering context as the only argument and paste in the following like so:

pub fn setup_shaders(gl: &WebGlRenderingContext) -> Result<WebGlProgram, JsValue> {
    let vertex_shader_source = "
        attribute vec3 coordinates;
        void main(void) {
            gl_Position = vec4(coordinates, 1.0);

    let fragment_shader_source = "
        precision mediump float;
        uniform vec4 fragColor;
        void main(void) {
            gl_FragColor = fragColor;

    let vertex_shader = create_shader(
    let fragment_shader = create_shader(

    let shader_program = gl.create_program().unwrap();
    gl.attach_shader(&shader_program, &vertex_shader);
    gl.attach_shader(&shader_program, &fragment_shader);

    if gl
        .get_program_parameter(&shader_program, WebGlRenderingContext::LINK_STATUS)
    } else {
        return Err(JsValue::from_str(
                .unwrap_or_else(|| "Unknown error linking program".into()),

Again, take some time to go through the code and/or read the breakdown below. Or, if you’d prefer, skip to the next section:

  1. Function definition: The function setup_shaders is defined and accepts a reference to a WebGlRenderingContext (representing the WebGL context we are drawing onto) and returns a Result type with either a WebGlProgram or a JsValue (used for error handling)
  2. Shader sources: Two multi-line strings (vertex_shader_source and fragment_shader_source) are defined. These contain the GLSL (OpenGL Shading Language) source code for the vertex and fragment shaders, respectively
  3. Vertex shader code: The vertex shader is very simple and does not perform any transformations. It takes in a single attribute, coordinates, and sets the position (gl_Position) of the vertex to be these coordinates with a w component of 1.0
  4. Fragment shader code: The fragment shader also is simple; it sets the color of each pixel (gl_FragColor) to be the value of the uniform fragColor
  5. Creating shaders: The create_shader function is called twice to create the vertex and fragment shaders, passing in the WebGlRenderingContext, the shader type, and the source code
  6. Creating shader program: A new WebGL program is created, and the two shaders are attached to it. The program is then linked using gl.link_program
  7. Error handling: If the program links successfully (as determined by get_program_parameter), it is set as the active program for the WebGL context using gl.use_program, and the function returns Ok(shader_program). If there’s an error, a JsValue containing the error message is returned

So, essentially, this function creates a WebGL program, attaches the vertex and fragment shader to it, checks for any errors, and then returns the created program (or an error message).

Setting up the triangle vertices

Now that we have a function to set up our shaders, we need to set up the vertices for the triangles. These are basically mappings in 3D space that correspond to where we want the triangle to appear.

Add a new function and paste in the following below:

pub fn setup_vertices(gl: &WebGlRenderingContext, vertices: &[f32], shader_program: &WebGlProgram) {
    let vertices_array = unsafe { js_sys::Float32Array::view(&vertices) };
    let vertex_buffer = gl.create_buffer().unwrap();

    gl.bind_buffer(WebGlRenderingContext::ARRAY_BUFFER, Some(&vertex_buffer));

    let coordinates_location = gl.get_attrib_location(&shader_program, "coordinates");

    gl.bind_buffer(WebGlRenderingContext::ARRAY_BUFFER, Some(&vertex_buffer));
        coordinates_location as u32,
    gl.enable_vertex_attrib_array(coordinates_location as u32);

Again, take some time to go through the code and/or read the breakdown below:

  • Function setup: The function setup_vertices is given two things to work with:
    • The WebGL context gl, which is like the toolbox for doing anything with WebGL
    • A list of vertices, and a shader program, which is like a recipe that tells WebGL how to draw things
  • Vertices array: The vertices_array is created from the vertices list. This is a kind of format WebGL likes for the data it’s going to use — the unsafe part just means we’re doing some stuff that’s a bit risky because it messes with computer memory directly
  • Creating and using a buffer: We then create a vertex_buffer, which is like a temporary storage space to put data that WebGL will use.
  • Binding the buffer: We tell WebGL, “Hey, we’re going to work with this buffer now,” by binding it. Then we put our vertices data into this buffer
  • Setting up coordinates: Then we find the location of the coordinates attribute in our shader program, which tells WebGL how to interpret the vertices data (like knowing whether a number represents an x, y, or z coordinate)
  • Telling WebGL how to read the data: Next, we tell WebGL exactly how to read the data for each coordinate from the buffer. We say, “Each vertex is made up of three values (x, y, and z), they are floating point numbers, and they’re tightly packed together (i.e., no space in between them)” and enable this setup by calling gl.enable_vertex_attrib_array

In simple terms, this function takes a list of points that form a shape, puts them in a format and place that WebGL can use, and then sets up WebGL to read and use that data when it’s drawing the shape.

Drawing our triangle

In our case, we’ll use this to draw a triangle in our next and final function. Create a new function draw_triangle and paste in the following:

pub fn draw_triangle(
    canvas_id: &str,
    selected_color: Option<Vec<f32>>,
) -> Result<WebGlRenderingContext, JsValue> {
    let gl: WebGlRenderingContext = init_webgl_context(canvas_id).unwrap();
    let shader_program: WebGlProgram = setup_shaders(&gl).unwrap();
    let vertices: [f32; 9] = [
        0.0, 1.0, 0.0, // top
        -1.0, -1.0, 0.0, // bottom left
        1.0, -1.0, 0.0, // bottom right

    setup_vertices(&gl, &vertices, &shader_program);

    let color = selected_color.unwrap_or(vec![1.0, 0.0, 0.0, 1.0]);
    let color_location = gl
        .get_uniform_location(&shader_program, "fragColor")
    gl.uniform4fv_with_f32_array(Some(&color_location), &color);

        (vertices.len() / 3) as i32,


Like before, take some time to go through the code and/or go through the breakdown below:

  1. Function setup: The function draw_triangle has two parameters:
    1. canvas_id: The ID of the HTML canvas where we want to draw
    2. selected_color: An optional list of numbers representing the color we want to draw the triangle
  2. WebGL and shaders setup: We start by getting our WebGL toolbox ready by calling init_webgl_context using the given canvas ID and call setup_shaders to set up our shader program
  3. Defining the triangle’s points: The vertices array defines three points, each of which has three values: x, y, z, for our triangle. The coordinates are defined as a triangle with the top point centered on the y-axis and the base sitting on the x-axis
  4. Setting up the vertices: We use setup_vertices function to prepare our vertices in the way WebGL likes it
  5. Setting the color: We either take the color the user provided, or red as a default. We find the location of the fragColor uniform in our shader program, which defines the color of our shape in the fragment shader. We then tell WebGL to use our chosen color when drawing
  6. Drawing the triangle: Now we get to the fun part, actually drawing the triangle with the draw_arrays function! We tell WebGL we’re drawing triangles, to start at the first vertex, and divide the total length by three because each vertex is defined by three values
  7. Finishing up: If everything went well, we’re done! We give back the WebGL context so that other functions could continue drawing if needed

In simpler terms, this function grabs our drawing tools, decides on the points and color of a triangle, sets those up for WebGL, then tells WebGL to draw the triangle on our canvas.

Notice that this function has the comment #[wasm_bindgen] above it. This is to tell wasm-bindgen that we would like this function exposed in the generated JavaScript bindings so we can call this function in the browser.

We now have everything ready. Compile the program, and then we can move on to working in the browser. Run the following command to build your project:

wasm-pack build --target web

Rendering our triangle in the browser

It’s finally time to render the triangle in the browser. We will do this by using the generated JavaScript bindings from wasm-pack. However, we need some scaffolding first so let’s go ahead and create one.

Creating our web scaffolding

Create a web folder in the root of the project by running:

mkdir web

Then, create an index.html, a style.css, and a main.js file by running:

touch web/index.html web/style.css web/main.js

Open the index.html file and paste in the contents from the HTML file linked here. Note that the file already has a canvas setup, form included, and scripts linked. Optionally, you can open the style.css file and paste in the contents from the CSS file linked here.

Then, open the main.js file. With our scaffolding setup, we can go ahead and paste in the following in the main.js file:

import init, { draw_triangle } from "../pkg/webassembly_webgl_viewer.js";

const CANVAS_ID = "triangle";

async function run() {
  await init();
  const color = [1.0, 0.0, 0.0, 1.0];
  draw_triangle(CANVAS_ID, color);


const colorChangerForm = document.getElementById("color-changer");
colorChangerForm.addEventListener("submit", (e) => {

  const color = [

  draw_triangle(CANVAS_ID, color);

function clampRGBValue(value) {
  return parseFloat((parseFloat(value) / 255 || 0).toFixed(2));

As before, let’s go through the code above:

  • Imports: We’re importing an init helper function to help us set up WebGL and a draw_triangle function to actually draw the triangle on the canvas. These are coming from the generated wasm-pack bindings
  • We create a CANVAS_ID variable to hold the ID of the HTML canvas (check the index.html to see where we set it)
  • Run function: This initializes WebGL with init and calls our draw_triangle function with a default red color. We call this run function in the very next line
  • Color changer form: We target an HTML form that allows the user to change the color of the rendered triangle. Then we add an event listener to the form that prevents the default submit behavior and calls the draw_triangle function with the submitted color values

Now, you can open the index.html file in the browser and see the triangle. Try changing the color!

Our final rendered triangle

You can view the source code for the completed version on my GitHub.


Congratulations if you made it to the end of this tutorial! It was a long one, but hopefully you were able to follow along and learn something new.

We’ve barely scratched what we can do with WebGL and Rust, though. Here are some ways you can think about how to take this even further:

  • Try rendering a different shape: The principles we discussed can be applied to a variety of different shapes. An interesting challenge could be to attempt rendering a cube, an octagon, or even more complex shapes
  • Render a 3D object with textures and lighting: This is a much more advanced topic, and involves giving your shapes a more realistic look by adding textures and lighting. Textures are images wrapped around your 3D shapes, and lighting involves calculating how light would hit your objects to give it a more 3D feel
  • Experiment with integrating user input: How about letting the user manipulate the shape in real time? You could capture mouse or keyboard input and use it to translate, rotate, or scale the object in the WebGL canvas to make your application more interactive and give you a deeper understanding of WebGL’s transformation capabilities
  • Implement a basic physics simulation: Physics simulations can make graphics seem much more realistic. Try adding a gravity effect to your shape as simply as making your shape “fall” to the bottom of the canvas — as you learn more, you could even consider adding collisions or other physics-based interactions

If you’d like to spend more time with this code, take a look at the full project on my GitHub.

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Ovie Okeh Programming enthusiast, lover of all things that go beep.

2 Replies to “Implement a WebAssembly WebGL viewer using Rust”

  1. hello! thx for the tutorial, just want to notify two minor bugs found in my buildup:

    (1) seems that ‘WebGlProgram’ is also needed in the line of ‘use web_sys::{WebGlRenderingContext, WebGlShader};’

    (2) lacks ‘pkg’ dependency in the final ‘webassembly-webgl-viewer-tutorial-final-version’ on your GitHub page.

    hope that might help & hav a nice day!

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