InstaBoot - Fast Application Startup with Snapshots

Cold start times can be a significant issue for serverless cloud platforms, especially when apps are spawned on demand all over the globe.

Wasmer Edge provides a special feature called InstaBoot, which can significantly reduce cold start times of Edge applications.

What is InstaBoot?

InstaBoot allows fast startup by creating a snapshot of your app that is fully initialized and ready to serve requests.

Snapshots are created by starting a new application instance and warming it up with a series of warm-up requests to the application. These warm-up requests have to be specified in your app configuration.

Once a snapshot is created, Edge can use the snapshot to start apps almost instantly!

How impactful InstaBoot is depends on the programming language and how much startup logic your application has.

How to use Edge InstaBoot

Here is a quick guide on how to make your applications start faster. Modify your app.yaml configuration to include the following:

kind: wasmer.io/App.v0
source: ...
# ...
  # Enable InstaBoot:
    # We provide a list of HTTP requests that will be used to pre-warm the
    # application.
    # These endpoints should make sure that the most important and expensive
    # parts of the application are loaded, caches are pre-populated, ...
    # NOTE: all warm-up requests will also contain the "x-edge-instaboot" request
    # header, allowing you to detect warm-up requests without using a custom
    # endpoint.
      # Load the homepage
      - path: /
      # Hit a special endpoint that makes sure caches are populated ...
      - path: /_bootstrap
        # Optionally specify the request method, headers and body.
        method: POST
	body: "{\"warm-up\": true}"
	  - name: X-My-Header
	    value: my-value

That's it!

Once you deploy your application again with wasmer deploy, Edge will automatically prepare a snapshot of your application.


Specifying specific requests is optional. You can also just specify instaboot: {}. Edge will then only send a single warm-up request to /. You should usually specify specific requests though.

Debugging Bootstrap Failures

You might find yourself in a situation where your app is slower than expected. This may be because of failures during the bootstrap process, for example when some of your warm-up requests fail.

You will not notice these failures directly, because Edge uses a fresh, non-snapshot instance of your app to serve requests if no snapshot is available, and builds the snapshot in the background.

To identify issues, you can easily enable the debug mode for your app adding this line to your app.yaml and re-deploying:

debug: true

In debug mode the InstaBoot snapshot will not be built in the background, but directly during regular request processing. If a warm-up request fails, the request will fail and you will get an informative error message.

In debug mode responses will also contain a X-Edge-Instance-Journal-Status response header.

If your app was started from a snapshot, the header will read:

  • X-Edge-Instance-Journal-Status: bootsrap=journal+memory

Just remember to disable debug mode again before going to production!

Limiting the Snapshot Lifetime

By default, Edge will keep snapshots for your app version indefinitely. You can always enforce a new snapshot by re-deploying your app, but there is also a way to limit the lifetime of snapshots.

This can be useful if your warmup logic does things like populate caches through API requests, or has some logic that depends on external state (like current time).

To limit the lifetime of snapshots, you can add the following to your app.yaml:

    # Also valid: 30m, 7d, ...
    max_age: 12h

Once the maximum age is reached, snapshots will be discarded and new ones are created automatically.

Resetting InstaBoot Snapshots

You might find yourself in a situation where you want to reset the InstaBoot snapshots for your application. This can be useful if some external state has changed, and the warm-up requests are no longer valid.

You have different options available:

  • Deploy a new version of your app Each version of your application will have its own snapshot, so deploying a new version will automatically reset all generated snapshots as well. Just run wasmer deploy again to deploy a new version.

  • Manual reset with the CLI: You can also manually reset the snapshots for your application with the CLI. Run the following command:

    wasmer app purge-cache [<app>]

    Replace <app> with the name or ID of your application, or leave it empty to use the app.yaml in your current directory. (See wasmer app purge-cache --help for more information)

  • Resetting snapshots in the UI You can also reset snapshots in the Edge UI. Go to the application details page, go to settings, and click the "Reset caches" button.

When to use InstaBoot

The effectiveness of InstaBoot depends on the programming language of the app, and if the app has expensive startup logic.

For a basic Rust web server that just opens a socket and has no other startup logic, InstaBoot will not make any notable difference.

For some languages like PHP or Python, which need to load and prepare code at runtime, it can have a significant impact.

You might also have more expensive startup code, like loading translations from a database, or populating caches. InstaBoot can help here as well.

In general, InstaBoot is likely beneficial for most interpreted languages (PHP, Python, JavaScript, ...), and for applications that need to do expensive pre-fetching of state.

Good use cases:

  • Any PHP application PHP uses OpCache to cache pre-compiled PHP code. This makes a very big difference for performance. For PHP you will always want to enable InstaBoot, and make sure the warm-up requests cover most important endpoints.
  • Python Like PHP, Python will also have to load code at runtime and prepare it for execution. While the difference is not quite as stark as with PHP, the speedup can still be very significant.
  • WinterJS (Javascript): While WinterJS startup times are generally fast, InstaBoot can still often cut cold start times in half.
  • Expensive cache warm-up
  • Loading translations or other shared state from a database
  • ...

How it works

As a user, you do not have to worry about the details of how InstaBoot works. It will just magically speed up your application cold start times.

If you are curious, here is a brief overview:

  • When Edge receives a request, it will check if there is a snapshot available for the application.
  • If no snapshot is available, a new instance of the application will be started and the initialization requests are sent to the instance.
  • After the warm-up requests succeed, a snapshot of the application will be created.
  • The snapshot is stored in a cache, and can be distributed across the whole Edge cluster to prevent redundant re-initialization on each separate server.
  • For subsequent requests, the snapshot will be used to restore the application to the state it was in after the warm-up requests succeeded.

To avoid impacting cold start times if no snapshot is available yet, the application will be started normally to serve the request immediately. Snapshot will be created in a separate, dedicated instance in a background task.