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Runtime implementation

DeviceScript compiler takes TypeScript files and generates bytecode files, which are then executed by the DeviceScript runtime. The bytecode files are designed to be small (about half the size of source code) and executable directly from storage (typically flash memory), with minimal overhead in RAM.

For technical specification of bytecode files see Bytecode format page and the example below.

Memory requirements

A DeviceScript build for Raspberry Pi Pico (not W) takes about 200kB of flash. Of that, 134kB is taken by DeviceScript (and Jacdac) library and the rest by system libraries. A build for STM32L4+ takes 153kB of flash, of which 115kB if taken by DeviceScript (this likely due to different compiler settings). Builds for ESP32 are around 1.2MB due to various libraries, mostly related to networking and TLS.

These numbers do not include bytecode size for user program.

RAM usage can be configured via JD_GC_KB. This defaults to 64kB but it's often possible to run with 32kB or less when not doing web requests. Additionally, the following subsystems take some RAM:

  • DeviceScript context - 2kB
  • DeviceScript logging (DMESG()) - 4kB
  • Jacdac packet queues - 5kB

Note that networking typically takes significant amounts of RAM, especially when using TLS.

Why not Web Assembly (Wasm)?

While the DeviceScript runtime itself can be compiled to Wasm, the bytecode format that the TypeScript is compiled to is quite different.

Wasm files have a tree structure of unlimited depth, designed for fast JIT compilation, not in-place interpreters. Thus, executing Wasm from a read-only memory incurs significant overhead in working memory, even with state of the art approaches. Typically, on an embedded system you have ~5x-20x the flash memory (which is quite slow to write) compared to RAM.

Additionally, Wasm is a low-level bytecode, for example i32.add takes two 32-bit integers and adds them up. For JavaScript semantics, you want the + operator to work on doubles, strings, and integers (if represented differently than doubles).


The DeviceScript runtime uses NaN-boxing on both 64- and 32-bit architectures. That is all JavaScript values are represented as 64-bit doubles, but various NaN and subnormal encodings have special meaning:

  • all 32-bit signed integers are represented in low word (mantissa), when the high word (sign, exponent, and high bits of mantissa) is set to 0xffff_ffff (this is a subset of NaNs)
  • various special values (undefined, null, NaN, true, false, Infinity, -Infinity) are represented as subnormals
  • pointers to heap objects are also represented as subnormals; on 64-bit machines pointers are assumed to live within GC heap, which is assumed to be under 4GB
  • references to bytecode objects (strings, buffers, service specifcations, functions, ...) are subnormal too
  • finally, functions (which are 16 bit indices) can be bound to other objects and still fit in a subnormal; that is, where .foo is a function is represented as heap reference to x and index of .foo function in bytecode, all packed into a 64-bit value

String representation

All strings are represented as valid UTF8 (which is a slight departure from JavaScript semantics). This makes it easy to send them over wire and also saves memory when strings only use ASCII characters (which is often the case even in international code-bases due to field/function names). There are two representations:

  • short ASCII strings are represented simply as NUL-terminated byte sequences in bytecode - when .length is requested - it's recomputed
  • longer and non-ASCII strings are represented as structures with byte size, character length and jump list to speed up indexing; the jump list has byte index of every 16-th character index


Garbage collector in DeviceScript is quite simple, yet efficient. Collection can happen on any allocation, and is forced after a fixed size of allocations has been reached since last collection, or when the allocation cannot be performed. Allocation always prefers returning smaller addresses, which tends to reduce fragmentation (this is also the reason why we force collection more often than necessary).

The collection is quick, since the heap size compared to CPU speed is very small. Typical embedded system is 10x-100x slower than a desktop CPU, but has 100,000x-1,000,000x less RAM, thus scanning the whole heap takes on the order of a single millisecond.

Bytecode example

Let's take a look at how a simple example is compiled:

function add(x: any, y: any) {
return x + y
function assertEq(x: any, y: any) {
if (x !== y) throw new Error(`Not eq: ${x} != ${y}!`)
assertEq(add(2, 2.1), 4.1)
assertEq(add("2", 2), "22")

We compile it with devs build and then can disassemble it with devs disasm (or devs disasm --detailed; you can also pass a .devs or -dbg.json file to disasm). The disassembly results in the following output:

proc main_F0(): @176

The first procedure in bytecode file is an entry point. Here, it sits at byte offset 176 in the bytecode file.

   0:     CALL prototype_F1{F1}() // 270102

The three bytes 0x27, 0x01, 0x02 encode state "function reference", "function number 1", "call 0-arguments".

   3:     CALL add_F3{F3}(2, 2.1{D0}) // 270392290004

Here the opcodes say "function reference", "function 3", "constant 0x92 - 0x90 == 2", "double reference", "double number 0", "call 2-arguments". The number 3: in front refers to byte offset within a function.

   9:     CALL assertEq_F2{F2}(ret_val(), 4.1{D1}) // 27022c290104

Here, we have ret_val() opcode refering to the result of previous call - calls are statements so they cannot be nested.

  15:     CALL add_F3{F3}("2"{A3}, 2) // 270325039204

The new thing here is ASCII string reference (see table of strings and doubles at the bottom of the file).

  21:     CALL assertEq_F2{F2}(ret_val(), "22"{A4}) // 27022c250404
27: CALL ds."restart"{I57}() // 1e3902
30: RETURN 0 // 900c

The compiler adds call to ds.restart() in test-mode compilation. Note that there is special opcode for members of @devicescript/core module that are referenced by built-in strings ("internal string 57"); thus ds.restart() is only 3 bytes. The final RETURN is superfluous.

proc prototype_F1(): @208
0: RETURN undefined // 2e0c

The prototype_Fx() function would have assignment of methods to prototypes if there were any. Also undefined has it's own opcode.

proc assertEq_F2(par0, par1): @212
0: JMP 25 IF NOT (par0{L0} !== par1{L1}) // 15001501470ef90014

Here we jump to offset 25 if the condition is not true. The condition refers to "local variable 0" and "1" (which happen to be parameters).

   9:     CALL ds."format"{I76}("Not eq: {0} != {1}!"{A1}, par0{L0}, par1{L1}) // 1e4c25011500150105

The template literals are compiled to ds.format() calls.

  18:     CALL (new Error{O27})(ret_val()) // 011b582c03

Here, the new opcode takes a reference to "built-in object 27" (Error).

  23:     THROW ret_val() // 2c54
25: RETURN undefined // 2e0c

proc add_F3(par0, par1): @240
0: RETURN (par0{L0} + par1{L1}) // 150015013a0c

Note how the + opcode can be used on both strings and numbers.

Strings ASCII:
0: "assertEq"
1: "Not eq: {0} != {1}!"
2: "add"
3: "2"
4: "22"
5: "assertEq"

Strings UTF8:

Strings buffer:

0: 2.1
1: 4.1

The file finishes with tables of various literals. The short ASCII literals are separate from UTF8 literals, which have a more complex representation.