Bringing Elm’s architecture to Rust and Webassembly

tl;dr: See

I really like Elm. It is a delightful language with an amazing ecosystem. It has an interesting architecture called TEA, The Elm Architecture. TEA and Elm are not separable, you can’t have one thing without the other. And that makes Elm a pleasure to use. TEA has also been an inspiration for how Redux is used to handle state in the React ecosystem.

Another language I like is Rust. On paper, Rust is completely different from Elm, but in using them both, I have seen some resemblance. They both have great type systems that make it easier to refactor and gives few1 runtime exceptions. They have similar support for tagged unions and pattern matching. They both handle errors using the sum-type Result. It’s easy to see how they are inspired by a similar set of languages.

The big difference is that Elm compiles to JS and Rust compiles to machine code. The main goal for Elm is writing frontend to be run in the browser, while Rust can only be run natively and is primarily meant to be used for servers and other native code.

Until recently.

There is something brewing, called WebAssembly, or wasm for short. It is a compile target that makes it possible to run Rust (and C and C++ and lots of more languages) in the browser. Rust has had support for compiling to wasm for a while, but in the last few months the support has become really great, the Rust team has created some amazing tools that make using Rust with wasm a breeze.

The idea

Having used both Elm and Rust I had something I wanted to try. Would it be possible to create The Elm Architecture in Rust?

This is a basic Elm app (excluding the imports):

type Msg
    = Increment
    | Decrement

type alias Model =
    { counter : Int

update : Msg -> Model -> Model
update msg model =
    case msg of
        Increment ->
            { model | counter = model.counter + 1 }

        Decrement ->
            { model | counter = model.counter - 1 }

view : Model -> Html Msg
view model =
    div []
        [ button [ onClick Increment ] [ text "+" ]
        , div [] [ text (String.fromInt model.counter) ]
        , button [ onClick Decrement ] [ text "-" ]

main: Program () Model Msg
main =
    Browser.sandbox { init = Model 0, update = update, view = view }

We have a Msg which is the action type in Elm. Each event in Elm creates one such Message. Then we have the update function which takes in a message and a model and returns the new model. We have a view function which takes a model and returns the HTML to render. And at last, we have a main-function that connects everything.

If we try to translate this to Rust, it will become something like:

#[derive(Debug, Clone, PartialEq, Eq)]
pub enum Msg {

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
pub struct Model {
    counter: i32,

fn update(msg: &Msg, model: &mut Model) {
    match msg {
        Msg::Increment => model.counter += 1,
        Msg::Decrement => model.counter -= 1,

fn view(model: &Model) -> Html<Msg> {
            button(&[on_click(Msg::Increment)], &[text("+")]),
            div(&[], &[text(&model.counter.to_string())]),
            button(&[on_click(Msg::Decrement)], &[text("-")]),

pub fn main() -> Program<Model, Msg> {
    Program::new(view, update, init: Model { counter: 0 }}

This is compilable Rust code, and using this project it will render and run exactly the same as the Elm code. You can try it here2

Note how much the rust code resembles the Elm code. The Msg is translated from an Elm type to a Rust enum, but apart from having different names and syntax, it is exactly the same. The Model is becoming a Rust struct. The largest change is in the update function. Rust has no built-in support for immutable structures, so instead we mutate the model.

Rust’s powerful borrow system means that we can control where the model is mutable, meaning that we can only change it here in the update-function, and not for example in the view-function. Therefore I think using mutations here will not mean that we are less safe than in Elm code.

Last we have the main function, which returns a Program<Model, Msg>. Closely resembling the same as the Program () Model Msg returned from the main function in the Elm app. It’s interesting to what degree the types work out to look the same.


After having formulated the idea and written up some code, I started on the implementation. The first iteration just rendered the HTML in the DOM. I then added events and messages and needed to update the DOM. The first “virtual diffing” just deleted the whole DOM and recreated it with the new HTML, but I later added a “real” dom-diffing algorithm.

Writing this is possible without writing any javascript-code, thanks to the web-sys and js-sys crates, which builds on wasm-bindgen.

All this is enough to render the TodoMVC application, but doing anything more than that will probably mean you will miss something. For example a function Html<A> => Html<B> like Elm’s


All in all, this is just an experiment to see how far Rust has come in doing web development. I think the above shows it has come really far. I hope it will inspire someone to create the next awesome web-framework using Rust, and that I one day can use Rust to write webapps in my day-job.

I have written two examples of using willow, counter (the code above) and todomvc. TodoMVC is manually converted from Evan’s elm-todomvc.

If you found a spelling mistake, feel free to correct it here

When a colleague proofread this, he argued that in elm case it should be "practically zero".
NoRedInk, with 200 000 lines of elm-code in production has had exactly
[one runtime exception]( In Rust's
case, you can create "Runtime Exceptions" using `panic!`, however, a panic should be a rarity.
The difference in philosophy on how to handle errors is interesting when comparing these two
languages. They are very similar, and at the same time very different.
The only changes in the actual implementation of this is that the update function returns a Cmd.
If Willow had a `sandbox` constructor the counter code using that would be exactly as this code.
The various derives are needed for the Virtual Dom diffing and just for debugging.