Building using emscripten for WebAssembly#


This page describes how to build and install VTK using emscripten on any platform. These steps can be followed inside a docker container that comes with preinstalled emsdk such as dockcross/web-wasm. In fact, the VTK CI stage webassembly-build uses that container to configure and build VTK wasm.


Guide created using

  • VTK v9.2.6-2535-gc8cebe56fb

  • dockcross/web-wasm:20230222-162287d


For this guide, you will need the following:

  1. CMake: CMake version 3.12 or higher and a working compiler. CMake is a tool that makes cross-platform building simple. On several systems it will probably be already installed. If it is not, please use the following instructions to install it. There are several precompiled binaries available at the CMake download page. Add CMake to your PATH environment variable if you downloaded an archive and not an installer.

  2. Emscripten SDK: emsdk and any dependencies needed by emsdk. Emscripten is a complete compiler toolchain to WebAssembly, using LLVM, with a special focus on speed, size, and the Web platform. Please download the SDK from Then,

    • Install latest toolchain with ./emsdk install latest

    • Activate the toolchain ./emsdk activate latest

    • Run emsdk_env.bat or emsdk_env.ps1 (Windows) or source ./ (Linux and OS X) to set up the environment for the calling terminal.

    For more detailed instructions see emsdk/

  3. VTK source-code: If you have these then you can skip the rest of this section and proceed to Build project. Download VTK source for the version you want from (zip or tar.gz (Do NOT download the exe - this is not the VTK library.) ) You will probably want the latest one (highest version number) unless you have a specific reason to use an older one.

    Alternatively the source-code can be obtained from the repository as well. This is recommended only if you intent to make changes and contribute to VTK. Please refer to git/ for help with git.

Build project#

These instructions use a specific convention for the source, build and install directories that is appropriate when building VTK for wasm inside a docker container. Please replace these root-directory paths if VTK is being built outside a docker container.

Install emscripten ports (IMPORTANT!)#

Emscripten relies on SDL2 to link user input events from the browser’s event subsystem to native C/C++ code. If this is your initial download of the EMSDK, you’ll need to build the SDL2 port. The “embuilder” script will be accessible on the path if you’ve successfully installed and activated the EMSDK, as outlined in the prerequisites.

$ embuilder build sdl2

Build VTK#

  1. Configure the project with CMake. emcmake tells CMake to use the emscripten toolchain for cross compilation.

$ emcmake cmake \
-S /work/src \
-B /work/build-vtk-wasm \
-GNinja \
  1. Compile.

$ cd /work/build-vtk-wasm
$ ninja
  1. Install the project.

$ cd /work/build-vtk-wasm
$ ninja install

The binaries are now installed and you may use -DVTK_DIR=/work/install/lib/cmake/vtk-9.2 to configure VTK wasm applications with CMake.

Verify installation#

If everything went well then it should now be possible to compile and run the one of the C++ examples. Head over to Examples/Emscripten/Cxx/Cone/ and test the simple Cone example.