Compiling InChI to WebAssembly Part 2: From Molfile to InChI

InChI is a software package that generates unique chemical identifiers. Although InChI's C source yields executables for many platforms, there are exceptions. For a long time, the Web browser was one of them. A few years ago, I showed how to compile InChI to JavaScript. That solution works, but recent developments, both in browsers and InChI itself, suggest a better approach is possible.

More recently, I described a procedure for compiling the InChI main function to WebAssembly (aka Wasm). The result wasn't very useful because it just printed command line options and immediately exited. What's needed is a robust method for compiling useful InChI libraries to WebAssembly, which can then be exposed through thin JavaScript wrappers.

This article takes the next step by describing how to compile the InChI C source to Wasm, and then link the result through a concise, manually generated JavaScript wrapper. Only an LLVM toolchain is required. Unlike the previous article in this series, Emscripten is neither needed nor used. Beyond solving the specific problem of using InChI, what follows could be considered a blueprint for deploying any C code base to a Web browser.


Before describing the solution at a technical level, those who are only interested in testing the InChI-Wasm functionality can do so on the InChI-Wasm page. GitHub hosts a source code repository.


Compilation to Wasm follows the previously-described system. To recap:

  1. Install LLVM on your platform. On macOS, that probably means installing through Homebrew.
  2. Activate LLVM, if necessary. macOS users will need to append the LLVM bin path to the PATH environment variable. Something like export PATH=/usr/local/opt/llvm/bin:$PATH should work.
  3. Verify that LLVM is working with llc --version. The output should include wasm32 and wasm64.
  4. Clone, compile, and install wasi-libc.
  5. Copy the file libclang_rt.builtins-wasm32.a to your local LLVM bin/wasi directory.

With these prerequisites out of the way, InChI-Wasm can be compiled. Clone the source, change into the repo directory, then initialize the inchi submodule.

git clone
cd inchi-wasm
git submodule init
git submodule update

Next, export the location of your wasi-libc installation:

export WASI_LIBC_HOME=/path/to/wasi-libc

Finally, compile InChI-Wasm with:


Running this script places the compiled .wasm file into the build directory.

Technical Overview

The main advantage of the approach described here over others is simplicity. A stock LLVM 9.0 installation and some libraries are all that's needed. In this respect, the method closely resembles that for compilation of a native binary. Recent updates to LLVM made this new approach feasible.

The structure of the inchi-wasm repository will likely reflect the structure of any project whose aim is to compile C source to Wasm:

  1. lib/wasi.js A static JavaScript support file borrowed from wasmer-js project.
  2. lib/molfile-to-inchi.js A custom JavaScript bootstrap file that loads the .wasm file and defines a wrapper function.
  3. src/molfile_to_inchi.c A hand-coded wrapper function that converts a molfile string into an InChI string.
  4. web/index.html Invokes molfile-to-inchi.js and builds a test harness.
  5. bin/ A build script that compiles and links molfile_to_inchi.c using LLVM.
  6. inchi git submodule. The unaltered InChI C source files hosted on GitHub.


At the core of InChI-Wasm sits sits the function molfile_to_inchi, which is contained in the file molfile_to_inchi.c. Thanks to the addition of the MakeINCHIFromMolfileText function to the latest InChI revision, the requirements for the wrapper function were minimal:

#include <string.h>
#include <time.h>
#include "inchi_api.h"

size_t molfile_to_inchi(char *molfile, char *options, char *result)
    inchi_Output output;
    int status = MakeINCHIFromMolfileText(molfile, options, &output);

    if (status == 0 || status == 1) {
      strcpy(result, output.szInChI);
    } else {
      strcpy(result, output.szMessage); // this should work but doesn't


    return status;

// see:
clock_t __wrap_clock()
    return 0;

The molfile_to_inchi function accepts three parameters representing buffers for the input molfile, InChI options, and the InChI result. Invocation of the MakeINCHIFromMolfileText is followed by strcpy to set the output buffer with the result. After freeing a temporary data structure, an integer status code is returned.

The InChI documentation implies that MakeINCHIFromMolfileText places error messages into the szMessage field of the inchi_Output struct. This technique was previously used to compile InChI to Javascript. However, I have not been able to get such error reporting to work in the current iteration.

I'll have more to say about the second function, __wrap_clock, later.


The C function has a counterpart written in JavaScript and hosted at lib/molfile-to-inchi.js.

import WASI from './wasi.esm.js';

const wasmPath = '../build/molfile_to_inchi.wasm';
const memory = new WebAssembly.Memory({ initial: 10 });

(async () => {
  const response = await fetch(wasmPath);
  const bytes = await response.arrayBuffer();
  const wasi = new WASI();
  const { instance } = await WebAssembly.instantiate(bytes, {
    env: { memory }, wasi_snapshot_preview1: wasi.wasiImport
  const pMolfile = instance.exports.malloc(1024);
  const pOptions = instance.exports.malloc(1024);
  const pOutput = instance.exports.malloc(20480);

  window.molfileToInChI = (molfile) => {
    const inputView = new Uint8Array(memory.buffer);
    const encoder = new TextEncoder();

    inputView.set(encoder.encode(molfile), pMolfile);

    const result = instance.exports.molfile_to_inchi(
      pMolfile, pOptions, pOutput

    const outputView = new Uint8Array(memory.buffer);
    const decoder = new TextDecoder();
    const output = decoder.decode(
      outputView.subarray(pOutput, outputView.indexOf(0, pOutput))

    if (result < 0 || result > 1) {
      throw Error("inchi error: " + output);

    return output;

  window.dispatchEvent(new Event('InChIReady'));

The file begins by importing WASI from the wasi.esm.js file. Doing so enables the instantiation of an object with the wasiImport property. This property is used to create the WebAssembly instance.

The main block uses the asynchronous IIFE pattern discussed previously. Briefly, async/await functionality must be wrapped in a function using the async keyword. The asynchronous IIFE pattern is a convenient way to take advantage of async/await operations.

Three memory allocations are made using the Wasm instance's malloc function. Each call returns a pointer into linear memory. The pointers are passed into the instance's molfile_to_inchi function. The result is an integer response code that can be used for reporting.

If no error codes are returned, the string representation of the buffer holding the InChI is returned.

The penultimate line dispatches a custom InChIReady event signaling that the global molfileToInChI function can be used. Attempts to access the function before the event is fired will result in an error.


The script located at bin/ orchestrates the compilation of molfile_from_inchi.c and the InChI source files. Two checks take place before compilation. First, the build script requires that the environment variable WASI_LIBC_HOME be set, or an error will result. Second, the operating system is checked. If macOS is detected, the InChI-specific flag __APPLE__, is set as previously described. After making these checks, a build directory is created if necessary.


if [ -n "$WASI_LIBC_HOME" ]; then
  echo "Reading libc from $WASI_LIBC_HOME"
  echo "Set the libc location with 'export WASI_LIBC_HOME=path/to/wasi-libc'."
  exit 1

if [[ "$OSTYPE" =~ ^darwin ]]; then

mkdir -p build

clang \
  --target=wasm32-unknown-wasi \
  --sysroot ${WASI_LIBC_HOME} \
  -Oz \
  -v \
  -Wl,-import-memory \
  -Wl,-wrap,clock \
  -Wl,-export,malloc \
  -Wl,-export,molfile_to_inchi \
  -Wl,-no-entry \
  -Iinchi/INCHI_BASE/src \
  inchi/INCHI_BASE/src/*.c \
  inchi/INCHI_API/libinchi/src/*.c \
  src/molfile_to_inchi.c \
  -o build/molfile_to_inchi.wasm

With all checks performed and a build directory in place, the build script invokes clang. Options are explained as follows:

  • --target=wasm32-unknown-wasi. Directs compilation using the WebAssembly System Interface.
  • --sysroot ${WASI_LIBC_HOME}. Replaces the standard library with wasi-libc.
  • -Oz. Aggressive optimization.
  • -v Verbose output.
  • -Wl,-import-memory. Require that the Wasm instance be supplied with WebAssembly.Memory instance.
  • -Wl,-wrap,clock. Wraps the clock standard library function, for reasons described below. Note the single dash (-).
  • -Wl,-export,malloc. Make malloc available to the Wasm instance.
  • -Wl,-export,molfile_to_inchi. Make molfile_to_inchi available to the Wasm instance.
  • -Wl,-no-entry. Don't check for a main function.
  • -DTARGET_API_LIB. One of four settings required by InChI.
  • ${PLATFORM}. Optionally includes the -D__APPLE__ InChI flag.
  • -Iinchi/INCHI_BASE/src. Path to search for InChI headers.
  • inchi/INCHI_BASE/src/*.c. One path to InChI source files.
  • inchi/INCHI_API/libinchi/src/*.c. Another path to InChI source files.
  • src/molfile_to_inchi.c. Path to the file containing the wrapper function.
  • -o build/molfile_to_inchi.wasm. The path to the compiled wasm file.

Deleting the -Wl,-wrap,clock option will result in a JavaScript runtime error. Depending on your browser, you may see:

  • Safari. TypeError: i64 not allowed as return type or argument to an imported function
  • Firefox. TypeError: cannot pass i64 to or from JS
  • Chrome. Uncaught TypeError: wasm function signature contains illegal type

These errors appear to trace back to the current lack of support for 64-bit types in browser-based Wasm implementations. The situation will eventually be corrected, but for now calls dealing with 64-bit types such as clock and times will require workarounds.

The wrap option lets us override the clock function - without touching the InChI code base. The tradeoff is that all of the code relying on time will be rendered inoperable. This doesn't affect InChI, at least not the way it's accessed in this article. However, other applications of InChI or other code bases may require more or less work to get past the 64-bit issue on browsers.


The HTML file located at web/index.html invokes the molfile-to-inchi.js script and sets up the test harness. Note the presence of the type="module" attribute on the <script> tag, which is required.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <title>InChI WASM Test</title>
    <script type="module" src="../lib/molfile-to-inchi.js"></script>
      label {
        font-size: 120%;
        font-weight: bold;
        padding-bottom: 1em;

      #molfile {
        width: 100%;
        height: 400px;
        font-size: 120%;
        font-family: monospace;
        margin-bottom: 1em;

      #inchi {
        width: 100%;
        height: 1.5em;
        font-size: 120%;
        font-family: monospace;
    <label for="molfile">Molfile:</label>
    <textarea id="molfile">

Created with ChemWriter -
  6  6  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0999 V2000
   75.8435  -39.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
   84.5038  -44.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
   93.1640  -39.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
   93.1640  -29.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
   84.5038  -24.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
   75.8435  -29.8212    0.0000 C   0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
  1  2  2  0  0  0  0
  2  3  1  0  0  0  0
  3  4  2  0  0  0  0
  4  5  1  0  0  0  0
  5  6  2  0  0  0  0
  6  1  1  0  0  0  0
M  END</textarea>
    <label for="inchi">InChI:</label>
    <textarea id="inchi"></textarea>
      const update = (molfile) => {
        let result;

        try {
          result = molfileToInChI(molfile);
        } catch (e) {
          document.querySelector('#inchi').value = 'ERROR';


        document.querySelector('#inchi').value = result;

      window.addEventListener('InChIReady', () => {
        const molfile = document.querySelector('#molfile');


        molfile.addEventListener('input', (e) => {

After setting up some styles and script invocations in the <head> element, the HTML file defines two text areas - one for molfile input and the other for InChI output. a <script> coordinates the interaction between the two, invoking the molfileToInChI function as needed.


The file at lib/wasi.esm.js was copied verbatim from the wasmer-js project. This file never needs to be changed and so can be used in any Wasm build. Projects not using the Standard C library do not need this file, but should make adjustments to the instantiation of the Wasm instance.

inchi submodule

The InChI source code is installed as a Git submodule from an unofficial InChI GitHub repository.

This method ensures that InChI-Wasm can continue to be compiled as updates to the InChI C source package are made.


This article describes the first successful compilation of a molfile to InChI function from C to WebAssembly. The underlying library is a non-trivial code base written in C, none of whose files files were modified. This was accomplished using a stock LLVM installation and some support libraries. Emscripten was not used. Supporting files used in this project are compact and follow up-to-date practices.

The same approach outlined here could be applied to any cheminformatics or computational chemistry package written in C or C++. The recent arrival of the LLVM-based F18 compiler may even enable the compilation of older computational chemistry packages written in Fortran to WebAssembly.