Monday, March 25, 2013

Ruminating on Server Side Push Techniques

The ability to push data from the server to the web browser has always been a pipe-dream for many web architects. Jotting down the various techniques that I used in the past and the new technologies on the horizon that would enable server side push.
  • Long Polling (Comet): For the last few years, this technique has been most popular and is used behind the scenes by multiple ajax frameworks, such as DoJo, WebSphere Ajax toolkit, etc. The fundamental concept behind this technique is for the server to hold on to the request and not respond till there is some data. Once the data is ready, push the data to the browser as the HTTP Response. After getting the response, the client would again make a new poll request and wait for the response. Hence the term - "long polling". 
  • Persistent Connections / Incomplete Response: Another technique in which the server never ends the response stream, but always keeps it open. There is a  special MIME type called multipart/x-mixed-replace, that is supported by most browsers expect IE :) This MIME type enables the server to keep the response stream open and send data in deltas to the browser.
  • HTML 5 WebSockets: The new HTML 5 specification brings to us the power of WebSockets that enable full-duplex bidirectional data flow between browsers and servers. Very soon, we would have all browsers/servers supporting this.