Arbitrum Developer Courts Coders Who Already Know WebAssembly-Compatible Languages

The new feature "Arbitrum Stylus" will make it easy to write smart contracts using computer languages compatible with the WebAssembly or WASM standard – seen as far more common than the Ethereum Virtual Machine or EVM standard that many blockchain developers currently use.

AccessTimeIconAug 31, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Aug 31, 2023 at 1:45 p.m. UTC

A lot of executives in crypto have set their business plans based on the expected arrival, at some future point in time, of a horde of mainstream investors who will bring billions of dollars of assets, and eventually trillions, over to the digital rails, as it were.

Behind the scenes, though, a perhaps more urgent pitch is playing out among leaders of blockchain development teams: how to recruit and encourage more computer programmers to ape into the nascent and still technically daunting crypto industry, or to cast their lots with specific projects.

That’s the gist of a new push by Offchain Labs, the company behind the Arbitrum blockchain, to draw in a wider swath of coders.

On Thursday, Offchain released Arbitrum Stylus, a new technical implementation that allows developers to build smart contracts using programming languages that are compatible with the WebAssembly industry standard format, also known as WASM.

The offering, now available for use on a test network, means developers can program with popular coding languages like Rust, C and C++ alongside languages that are compatible with the Ethereum Virtual Machine, or EVM standard, which is far more common among today’s crypto developers.

WebAssembly, developed in the mid-2010s to write programs for browsers including Google Chrome and Firefox, has been adopted by several blockchains, including Cosmos and Polkadot, and it’s sometimes positioned as an alternative to the EVM.

According to Arbitrum, there are about 20,000 developers working in Solidity – the primary front-end programming language for Ethereum coders, but roughly 3 million that code with Rust, and 12 million writing in C and C++, according to Offchain.

Adding these languages is Arbitrum’s way of targeting new developers to bring over their projects and build on Arbitrum’s Nitro stack, while also maintaining compatibility with the wider Ethereum ecosystem.

“That's like orders of magnitude more developers using these more traditional programming languages that teams and companies are much more familiar with,” said Rachel Bousfield, tech lead at Offchain.

“If you're outside of this space, and you're thinking about, ‘How do I bring my video game that's written in C++ to the blockchain?’” Bousfield said, “being able to use the tooling you already know, and have processes for, and have all this talent already hired at your company for, it's a huge decrease in friction.”

Even though Offchain is putting out this technical feature, it will be up to the Arbitrum DAO members to vote on whether to deploy the tool to the main Arbitrum network.

“I think certainly by the end of the year, we expect it to be in a position where the DAO could vote on it and likely will vote on it,” Offchain CEO Steven Goldfeder told CoinDesk. “But ultimately, it's in the hands of the community.”

Edited by Bradley Keoun.


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Margaux Nijkerk

Margaux Nijkerk reports on the Ethereum protocol and L2s. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Emory universities, she has a masters in International Affairs & Economics. She holds a small amount of ETH and other altcoins.

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