Nearing Real-Time

“It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry.”

The Medical Record – 1884 from XKCD

Some things never change. But, it’s safe to say that since 1884 the pace of business has quantifiably increased; we would know, cause we measure everything. Advances in personal technology, such as social media, have particularly raised the definition of “fast” when it comes to delivering data. As technologists, we are tasked with staying up-to-date on emerging technologies. As I’ve found, this can be a daunting task. Let’s skim the surface on one of the most recent web technologies that’s changing the way you get data to your web browser. It’s an invisible hero slaving away in your browser and on the server.

Enter Websockets

I hope I haven’t scared any non-techies away. Let’s attempt to explore this new technology without too much jargon. Websockets is a new web communication feature that changes the way web browsers can talk to servers. Simply put, websockets do two main things:

  • Make data move much faster
  • Allow the server to send messages to the client without the client explicitly asking for it

Traditional

First let’s examine what a typical web page request looks like:

The key to remember in this scenario is that the server does not have the ability to talk to the web browser unless the web browser asks for something. “Do not speak unless spoken to,” one might say.

With Websockets

Using websockets, the server breaks out of this mold and finds a faster, more open method of communication with the web browser that functions more like a “phone call.”

As you can see, once this “phone call” is established, it allows the server to send messages to the web browser without being asked for anything; this is a big win when you need to push data to a client. Another good thing about websockets is that they mostly “just work” through firewalls.

But WHY?

Websockets will dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of browser based stuff like real-time dashboards, chat clients, multi-player games, and much more. Websockets are already implemented on all major browsers. Visit this demo to see if your browser can connect using websockets.

As always folks, let’s make sure we’re leaving those old versions of Internet Explorer (<10) behind so the web can start using awesome features like websockets.

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