Emscripten ships with its own implementation of the OpenAL 1.1 API, using the Web Audio API as a backend.

You can reasonably expect ported OpenAL applications to “just work” with no additional effort. Just link with the -lopenal linker flag.

There are some implementation-specific aspects which are worth considering and are documented here.


There used to be no additional flag to pass to the compiler in order to use OpenAL. However, specifying -lopenal as mentioned above should be considered mandatory (at some point in the future, it will be)!

Supported OpenAL extensions

The following extensions are supported by Emscripten’s OpenAL implementation.

  • ALC_SOFT_pause_device;


  • AL_EXT_float32;

  • AL_SOFT_loop_points;

  • AL_SOFT_source_length;

  • AL_EXT_source_distance_model;

  • AL_SOFT_source_spatialize;


This doesn’t mean you should just assume their presence ! For correctness, you should always check if an extension is supported before using it, like a good application would do.

Guidelines for Audio on Emscripten

Know that your application needs to yield to the Javascript main loop for audio processing to take place (See Browser main loop). Put simply, this kind of code will block indefinitely:

    alcGetIntegerv(device, ALC_CAPTURE_SAMPLES, 1, &nframes);

The above snippet usually works in native applications because most OpenAL implementations own and manage one or more separate threads. This is not the case in Emscripten. What you must do instead is perform each such query only once per “main loop iteration” (i.e the callback you provide via emscripten_set_main_loop() or emscripten_set_main_loop_arg()).

Another issue you may experience is that browsers will not allow audio to play before user input. This prevents pages from auto-playing media, which can be annoying if you didn’t want that. Emscripten’s OpenAL implementation (and also SDL1) will automatically listen for a user click or keypress on the document and the canvas, and resume audio for you. That means that audio should start to play once the user does something on the page. (See autoResumeAudioContext() for how this is done internally.)

Emscripten-specific capture behavior

Attempting to open an input stream to the user’s audio capture device results in the asynchronous appearance of a small browser-specific dialog asking for the user’s permission, and on some browsers, the capture device to choose.

With this in mind, when alcCaptureOpenDevice() is called with valid and supported parameters, a “proxy” device is returned, which successfully captures no sample until the user clicks “Allow” on said dialog.

That means, when calling alcGetIntegerv(device, ALC_CAPTURE_SAMPLES, 1, &nframes), nframes remains set to zero until the user clicks “Allow”. You might want to make your app handle this specific behavior.

If the user clicks “Deny”, the device is invalidated (because this is somewhat similar to unplugging the physical device) and calls to alcCapture* functions on that device then consistently fail with ALC_INVALID_DEVICE. Your application should be prepared to handle this properly.


Some browsers “remember” this choice and apply it automatically every time it would be asked again instead. There’s no way for the implementation to detect this behavior.

Useful implementation details of OpenAL capture

Internally, Web Audio’s capture data is always backed by a Javascript Float32Array. Thus, AL_FORMAT_MONO_FLOAT32 and AL_FORMAT_STEREO_FLOAT32 are the only formats which do not require converting acquired samples from their initial type to another.

Also, the actual sample rate at which samples are acquired from the device is currently dictated by the browser and hardware, instead of user code. If this sample rate does not match the one your app requests, the implementation is required to perform resampling on your behalf.

That sample rate is given by audioCtx.sampleRate, where audioCtx is the AudioContext object used internally by the relevant capture ALCdevice. Currently, Emscripten provides no direct way for applications to access this value, but this might be provided through an Emscripten-specific OpenAL extension (which is not here yet because it requires registration).

Right now though there’s a quick and de facto reliable way to do this (C example):

#ifdef __EMSCRIPTEN__

#include <emscripten.h>

// Avoid calling this more than once! Caching the value is up to you.
unsigned query_sample_rate_of_audiocontexts() {
    return EM_ASM_INT({
        var AudioContext = window.AudioContext || window.webkitAudioContext;
        var ctx = new AudioContext();
        var sr = ctx.sampleRate;
        return sr;

It is reasonable to expect this sample rate to be either 44100Hz or 48000Hz. You can test it right now by copying the javascript part into your browser’s console if you’re curious.

Improving and extending the implementation

Currently, the OpenAL capture implementation performs naïve linear resampling because it is simple and the small loss of quality was deemed acceptable.

However, you’re welcome to improve this by contributing if you so wish! See this issue , for instance.

Likewise, if you’d like to see a particular extension implemented (whether it is registered or not), then your best bet is to either file an issue (provided no related prior issue existed for this), or contribute! See Contributing for guidelines.