Using Web Workers with WebSharper

Web Workers are a browser feature that allows running client-side code in parallel. Every worker runs on a separate thread, and they communicate by posting messages to one another.

In WebSharper 4.4 and later, creating a Web Worker is very simple; much simpler, in fact, than in plain JavaScript.

Creating a Worker

You can call the WebSharper.JavaScript.Worker constructor and pass it a function, which will be the entry point for the worker.

open WebSharper.JavaScript

let myWorker = new Worker(fun self ->
    Console.Log "This was written from the worker!"
    self.PostMessage("This worker's job is done, it can be terminated.")
myWorker.Onmessage <- fun event ->
    Console.Log event.Data

The above code will:

  • create and start a new Web Worker.

  • print the following from the created worker thread:

    This was written from the worker!
  • send the following from the worker thread to the main thread, which then prints it:

    This worker's job is done, it can be terminated.
  • terminate the worker thread.

What's happening behind the scenes

A lot of things are happening behind the scenes with this simple call. The WebSharper compiler:

  • recognizes that you are calling the Worker constructor with a function argument, and sets this function (which we will call the entry point) aside.

  • creates a separate compiled JavaScript file called MyProject.worker.js that only contains the entry point and any other functions, classes, etc that it requires. It passes as argument to the entry point the global scope of the worker.

  • compiles the Worker constructor call into JavaScript as:

    var myWorker = new Worker("MyProject.worker.js")

If you have several such Worker calls in the same project, subsequent ones will be compiled to JavaScript files called MyProject.worker0.js, MyProject.worker1.js, and so on.

Message passing

Communication between a Worker and the main thread is done by message passing. The worker can listen for incoming messages from the main thread using self.Onmessage <- f or self.AddEventListener("message", f, false), and send messages to the main thread using self.PostMessage(msg). Conversely, the main thread can listen for incoming messages from the worker using worker.Onmessage <- f or self.AddEventListener("message", f, false), and send messages to the worker using worker.PostMessage(msg).

let echoWorker = new Worker(fun self ->
    // This is the code of the worker

    // Listen to messages from the main thread
    self.Onmessage <- fun event ->

        // Here we're assuming we'll only ever receive strings
        let msg = event.Data :?> string

        // Send a message to the main thread
        self.PostMessage("The worker said: " + msg)

// This code is on the main thread

// Listen to messages from the worker
echoWorker.Onmessage <- fun event ->

    // Again we're assuming we'll only ever receive strings
    let msg = event.Data :?> string

    // Print the received message to the console

// This will send the string to the worker, receive it back,
// and print to the console: "The worker said: Hello world!"
echoWorker.PostMessage("Hello world!")

// The worker is still running, we can send more messages
// and they will be sent back and forth and printed.
echoWorker.PostMessage("Hi again!")

Using external dependencies

It is possible to use external script dependencies in a Worker. These will be compiled to calls to importScripts() in the worker script. For example, here is a worker that uses math.js and the binding WebSharper.MathJS to perform mathematical operations:

open WebSharper.MathJS

let myWorker = new Worker(fun self ->
    self.Onmessage <- fun event ->
        let msg = event.Data :?> string
        let res = Math.Derivative(msg, "x").ToString()
// This will print "4 * x + 3":
myWorker.PostMessage("2x^2 + 3x + 4")

Customizing the worker script

There are a few options to customize the generated script for a worker.

  • You can customize the filename of the script by passing a string as first argument to the Worker constructor:

    // This script will be called "MyLibrary.worker.js":
    let simpleWorker = new Worker(fun self ->
        Console.Log("I'm a worker")
    // This script will be called "MyLibrary.say-hello.js":
    let helloWorker = new Worker("say-hello", fun self ->
        Console.Log("I'm called 'say-hello'!")
  • You can decide to include the values, modules and types marked [<JavaScriptExport>] in the generated script by passing an additional true argument to the Worker constructor. This can be useful for example if you intend to also call the generated script manually from JavaScript.

    let MyExportedFunction() =
        Console.Log("I'm not called directly from the worker entry point")
    let CreateWorker() =
        new Worker("worker", true, fun self ->
            Console.Log("This doesn't call MyExportedFunction, but it will be defined anyway")

Note that in both cases, you must use a literal string or boolean, rather than a more complex expression, because it must be recognized at compile time.

Customizing the script location

The behind-the-scenes section states that the worker constructor call is translated into the following JavaScript:

var myWorker = new Worker("MyProject.worker.js")

That is actually a simplification. In practice, WebSharper needs to figure out the path to the script: the file name is not sufficient. The full path is computed and depends on the type of final project that the code is used in:

  • In a client-server website project, the default path is /Scripts/WebSharper/<assemblyname>/<filename>.
  • In a single-page application (aka bundle or bundleOnly project), the default path is /Content/<assemblyname>/<filename>.
  • In a generated static HTML site (aka html project), the default path is /Scripts/<assemblyname>/<filename>.

These correspond to the location where the compiler extracts the files, so in a standard setup, everything just works and there is nothing to do. But if you need it, this is customizable using the scriptBaseUrl configuration setting. It changes the base URL for the script, ie. the paths mentioned aboved minus the <assemblyname>/<filename> suffix. Note that this URL must end with a slash, and almost always needs to start with a slash too.

Here is an example wsconfig.json that deviates from the standard: the output directory into which the files are extracted is customized using outputDir, so we need to customize scriptBaseUrl too.

    "project": "bundleOnly",
    "outputDir": "wwwroot/js",
    "scriptBaseUrl": "/js/"