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WebSockets Introduction

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The topic of WebSockets came up today, and it seems a good idea to qualify WebSockets in the blog beyond simply pointing folks to Kaazing. HTML5’s WebSockets are a great fix for the half-duplex world of AJAX. They certainly have the potential to be more scalable than current Comet solutions, and present a real-time communication alternative. The latest draft of The WebSocket API was published earlier this month.

If you’re new to WebSockets, you may want to review Peter Lubbers’ PowerPoint presentation from the International Conference on Java Technology, 2010 (or the updated version he provided via a comment to this post). That is probably shorter than watching the multiple parts posted in 10-minute segments on YouTube.

More or less the PDF file of the presentation covers how HTTP is half-duplex not full duplex, and why it doesn’t support real-time data in a browser. It points to AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) as a programming nightmare – or more precisely a workaround to a limitation of HTTP/HTTPS. It also covers the idea of COMET programming or frameworks as complex and incomplete attempts to simulate full duplex or bi-directional communication on the web.

As Peter Lubbers qualifies, AJAX and COMET solutions don’t scale against high transaction volumes or concurrency because their header traffic overwhelms the actual data transfers. This reality occurs more or less because browsers only implement unidirectional communication through a request and acknowledgement model and send large header sequences compared to small data footprints.

Peter Lubbers presents three types of HTTP solutions in the presentation:

  • Polling involves periodic requests to the server for updated information, and it is the backbone of many Ajax applications that simulate real-time communication. The HTTP message headers involved in polling are frequently larger than the transmitted data; and while polling works well in low-message rate situations it doesn’t scale well. It also involves opening and closing many connections to the server and hence database needlessly in some cases.
  • Long Polling or asynchronous-polling requests the server to keep the connection open for a set period of time. It doesn’t solve problems with high-message rates situations of polling in general because it creates a continuous loop of immediate polls and each poll, like ordinary polling messages, sends mostly HTTP headers not data.
  • Streaming architecture opens a socket but can cause problems with proxy and firewall servers, create cross-domain issues due to browser connection limits, and periodically pose overhead to flush streams that have built up in the communication channel. Streaming solutions reduce HTTP header traffic but at a cost in overhead to the server.

Websockets are designed to fix these issues. The most interesting thing about polling, long polling, streaming, or Websockets is they require the same careful attention to how databases validate user access and serve up content. When the HTML5 standard nears completion, they’ll be a great need for database connection solutions, like Oracle’s Data Resident Connection Pooling.

By the way, here are some great video links for learning HTML5.

Written by maclochlainn

May 31st, 2012 at 11:59 pm