animesh kumar

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Posts Tagged ‘HTTP

WebSocket and node.js: why shud’ya care?

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Traditional HTTP messages are heavy. Every message is sent with HTTP headers. Now, let’s say you have an application that has a real-time component, like chat or some twitter client or may be some traffic analysis stuff. And let’s say you have around 100,000 users connected to your app. To make your app real-time, you need to have a mechanism which will enable server to push data almost as soon as this data becomes available. You could do it in two ways: Write a script which will connect to server every few seconds to check if there is any data. With each attempt, full set of HTTP headers moves back and forth between client and server. That’s not very efficient. To save yourself with all these bandwidth hassles, you could use a popular trick known as long-polling, where your browser connects to server and server holds the connection open until there is some data available to be pushed.

Now, let’s assume that there are 100,000 users connected to your app and every 10 seconds some data is sent from server to clients. Following HTTP specs, every time some data is sent, full set of headers are shared between client and server. This is how they look,

Request header

GET / HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: ...some long user agent string...
Accept: */*

Response header

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2011 17:32:19 GMT
Server: Apache
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.3
Connection: close
Transfer-Encoding: chunked
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8

That’s approximately 350 bytes of data, per user every 10 seconds. That’s roughly 28,400,000 bits per second of network throughput for 100,000 users. Roughly 26.7 Mbps for only HTTP headers. Gosh!


WebSocket comes to resue. With web sockets, once a handshake is done between client and server, messages can be sent back and forth with a minimal overhead. That’s awesome. You do a handshake while establishing the connection, and of course handshaking needs all those HTTP headers, but after that, you only need to send the data… no headers. This greatly reduces the bandwidth usage and thus improves the performance. Let’s see how. This is how handshake headers look like,

Handshake Request header

GET /demo HTTP/1.1
Upgrade: WebSocket
Connection: Upgrade
WebSocket-Protocol: sample

Handshake Response header

HTTP/1.1 101 Web Socket Protocol Handshake
Upgrade: WebSocket
Connection: Upgrade
WebSocket-Location: ws://
WebSocket-Protocol: sample

And now, the connection has been established and data can freely flow between server and client without having to exchange any HTTP headers until this connection is closed or broken and you do another handshake. Imagine how much bandwidth you are saving! Whoa!


Let’s write a simple application to see and learn how this thing actually works. This application will have a server all the clients will connect to, and whenever one client writes something to the server, all clients will be notified.

Here is our server, written in Node.js. Let’s name it server.js

Note: Though you can very well write a web socket server using Node’s native APIs, however I chose to use Micheil Smith‘s node-websocket-server library. This library is simple, elegant and very easy to work with. It works by wrapping and extending Node’s server object.

var sys = require("sys");
// Library
var	websocket = require('./lib/node-websocket-server/lib/ws/server');

// create web socket server
var server = websocket.createServer();
// listen on port 8078

// when the server is ready
server.addListener("listening", function() {
  sys.log("Listening for connections on localhost:8078");

// when a traditional HTTP request comes
server.addListener("request", function(req, res) {
	res.writeHead(200, {
		"Content-Type" : "text/plain"
	res.write("This is an example WebSocket server.");

// when a client websocket connects
server.addListener("connection", function(conn) {

	// when client writes something
	conn.addListener("message", function(message) {

		// iterate thorough all connected clients, and push this message
		server.manager.forEach(function(connected_client) {
			connected_client.write(JSON.stringify( + ": " + message));

Now, let’s write a simple client. We will create one HTML file and run it in Google Chrome. Let’s name is client.html

<!DOCTYPE html>
    <title>WebSocket - Simple Client</title>
    <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
    <script type="text/javascript">

	$(function() {
		// bind form
		$('#payload-form').submit(function() {
			var payload = ($("input#payload").val());
			socket.send(payload);  // write to server
			return false;

		// open websocket
		var socket = new WebSocket('ws://localhost:8078');

		socket.onopen = function() {
	    	// Web Socket is connected. send an initial random message.
	    	socket.send(Math.floor(Math.random()*11) + ' >> Hi, I am Mr. so-and-so!');
		// append to '#log' whatever server pushes.
		socket.onmessage = function(ev){
			msg = JSON.parse(;
			$('#log').append(JSON.stringify(msg) + '</br>');
	<div id='payload-container'>
		<form id='payload-form'>
			<input type='text' name='payload' id='payload' value='Hello World' style="width:500px;"/>
			<input type='submit' value='push'/>

	<div id='log' style='display:block; border:1px solid lightgray;'></div>

Now, run your server, and open your client in multiple Chrome windows/tabs.

// run server
$ node server.js

That’s it! Was is fun? I will write more on how to establish WebSocket connections from a Java client in the next blog.


Written by Animesh

January 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm