Browser Terms Explained: WebSockets API

Get SigmaOS Free

It's free and super easy to set up

Browser Terms Explained: WebSockets API

Get SigmaOS Free

It's free and super easy to set up

Browser Terms Explained: WebSockets API

Get SigmaOS Free

It's free and super easy to set up

Browser Terms Explained: WebSockets API

The world wide web has come a long way since its inception in 1989. With the rise of dynamic websites and real-time applications, web developers have had to constantly look for new ways to enhance the user experience. One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the WebSocket API, which enables direct communication between a web browser and a server. In this article, we will explore the WebSockets API and its various features, implementation, use cases and best practices, starting with understanding the basics.

Understanding WebSockets API

What are WebSockets?

WebSockets API is a protocol that enables bi-directional communication between a web browser and a server over a single TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) connection. It offers a real-time alternative to traditional HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) communication, which only allows for unidirectional requests from a client to a server. The WebSocket connection remains open for the duration of the communication session, allowing data to be sent and received instantaneously. This makes WebSockets an ideal choice for building applications that require real-time updates, such as stock market tickers, chat applications, and gaming apps.

WebSockets were first introduced in 2011 as a standardized protocol to provide a full-duplex, low-latency communication channel between a client and a server. Prior to the introduction of WebSockets, developers had to rely on workarounds such as AJAX long polling or Comet to achieve real-time communication between a client and a server.

How WebSockets API Works

The WebSocket protocol operates via a single handshake process, which allows the server to establish a persistent connection with the client's browser. This initial handshake consists of an HTTP request sent by the browser to the server using a special key. After the server receives the request, it responds with its own key, which the client then verifies. Once this process is complete, a bi-directional WebSocket connection is established, which can be used to send and receive data instantly.

WebSockets use the same ports as HTTP and HTTPS (ports 80 and 443 respectively), making it easy to integrate them into existing web infrastructure. They also support sub-protocols, allowing developers to define custom communication protocols on top of the WebSocket protocol.

WebSockets vs. HTTP

WebSocket's bi-directional connection and its ability to send and receive data instantly make it a superior choice to HTTP in many ways. With HTTP, a client has to continually send requests to the server to check for new data or updates, causing delays and adding to the load on the server. In contrast, WebSockets maintain a constantly open connection, reducing server load and providing faster updates to the client. While HTTP offers greater security and compatibility with existing web infrastructure, WebSockets are more suitable for real-time applications and services.

One of the main advantages of HTTP is its ability to cache responses, which can significantly reduce server load and improve performance. However, WebSockets do not support caching, as each message is unique and requires real-time delivery. This can be a disadvantage for applications that require frequent updates but do not need real-time communication.

Another advantage of HTTP is its compatibility with firewalls and other security measures, which can prevent unauthorized access to a server. WebSockets, on the other hand, can be more difficult to secure, as they require a persistent connection between a client and a server. However, WebSockets offer built-in support for SSL/TLS encryption, which can provide an additional layer of security.

Implementing WebSockets API

WebSockets is a powerful communication protocol that enables real-time data transfer between a web browser and a server. It allows developers to create interactive applications that can push data to clients and receive data from them without the need for constant HTTP requests. In this article, we will discuss the basics of implementing the WebSocket API and how to handle errors and disconnections.

Setting Up a WebSocket Connection

Setting up a WebSocket connection between a web browser and a server is a relatively simple process. At the client side, developers can use the WebSocket API's 'WebSocket()' constructor function to initiate the connection. On the server side, there are several WebSocket server implementations available, including Node.js's ws library, Java's Tyrus server, and Python's Autobahn library. Once both sides have established the connection, data can be sent and received via the WebSocket channel.

It is important to note that WebSocket connections require a handshake process that involves an HTTP request and response. This handshake is necessary to establish the WebSocket connection and upgrade the HTTP protocol to the WebSocket protocol. Once the handshake is complete, the WebSocket connection is established, and data can be transferred.

Sending and Receiving Messages

Data can be transferred via a WebSocket connection in two types: binary and text. Developers can send data by simply calling the 'send()' function, which takes in either text or binary data. Similarly, receiving data is performed by attaching an event listener to the WebSocket object's 'onmessage' property. Doing so allows the application to receive messages from the server and act upon them as necessary. When developers receive a message, they can parse the data as binary or text using the 'ArrayBuffer' or 'Blob' APIs, respectively.

WebSocket messages are not limited in size, unlike HTTP requests and responses. This means that developers can send large amounts of data in a single message, reducing the number of requests required to transfer data.

Handling Errors and Disconnections

A WebSocket connection is prone to errors and disconnections due to network issues or server problems. As such, it is crucial for developers to handle such situations by implementing appropriate error-handling code. The 'onerror' event can be used to respond to errors, while the 'onclose' event allows developers to react to a disconnection by either reconnecting or closing the connection entirely. These features add to the reliability and stability of WebSocket applications.

In addition to error handling, developers should also consider implementing security measures to protect WebSocket connections from attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery (CSRF). This can be achieved by using secure WebSocket connections (wss://) and implementing authentication and authorization mechanisms.

In conclusion, WebSocket API is a powerful tool for creating real-time web applications that can push and receive data without the need for constant HTTP requests. By understanding the basics of WebSocket connections and implementing appropriate error-handling and security measures, developers can create reliable and secure WebSocket applications that provide a seamless user experience.

Use Cases for WebSockets API

Real-Time Applications

Real-Time Applications like stock trading apps and financial calculators require fast and up-to-date information to be presented to users. WebSocket provides ultra-fast communication between the server and the client and is perfect for these applications.

Online Gaming

Online multiplayer games require fast and reliable communication between players. WebSockets provide an efficient method for real-time exchange of game data, enabling smooth gameplay.

Live Chat and Messaging

WebSockets enable developers to create chat and messaging apps that are highly responsive and provide instant exchange of data between users. Traditional HTTP-based communication can cause delays, impacting the user experience.

Collaborative Editing Tools

Collaborative editing tools like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 require frequent data updates and real-time collaboration. WebSockets enable users to work together on documents, see changes in real-time, and communicate seamlessly.

Securing WebSocket Connections

WebSocket Security Risks

As with any web technology, security risks exist with WebSockets. The most significant concerns are cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks, which can allow malicious actors to inject code into the connection and redirect users. Encrypted data exchange provides a security layer between the server and client, protecting sensitive data.

Using Secure WebSockets (WSS)

Securing an unencrypted WebSocket connection can be done by using a Secure WebSocket (WSS) connection. WSS uses the regular HTTP port – port 443 – for WebSocket communication, and it uses the same encryption protocol as HTTPS, Transport Layer Security (TLS). The client and server authenticate one another and exchange cryptographic keys before the WebSocket communication begins.

Authentication and Authorization

WebSocket applications should implement authentication and authorization mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access to the server. Authentication ensures that users are who they claim to be, while Authorization specifies what actions a user is authorized to perform on the server. These measures are crucial for securing WebSocket applications.


WebSocket API is a powerful tool that enables fast, efficient, and real-time communication between a web browser and a server. While HTTP has traditionally been the preferred method of web communication, WebSockets provide an alternative that empowers web developers to create dynamic, real-time applications. WebSockets also have some risks, but with proper security measures in place, developers can build secure and stable applications. With WebSocket API, web developers can build high-performance applications that provide users with real-time updates, communication, and collaboration.