Site Ready WebSockets

September 15th, 2011

The Web gets richer and developers are more creative when sites and services can communicate and send notifications in real-time. WebSockets technology has made significant progress over the last nine months. The standards around WebSockets have converged substantially, to the point that developers and consumers can now take advantage of them across different implementations, including IE10 in Windows 8. You can try out a WebSockets test drive that shows real time, multiuser drawing that works across multiple browsers.

What is WebSockets and what does it do?

WebSockets enable Web applications to deliver real-time notifications and updates in the browser. Developers have faced problems in working around the limitations in the browser’s original HTTP request-response model, which was not designed for real-time scenarios. WebSockets enable browsers to open a bidirectional, full-duplex communication channel with services. Each side can then use this channel to immediately send data to the other. Now, sites from social networking and games to financial sites can deliver better real-time scenarios, ideally using same markup across different browsers.

What has changed with WebSockets?

WebSockets have come a long way since we wrote about them in December 2010. At that time, there were a lot of ongoing changes in the basic technology, and developers trying to build on it faced a lot of challenges both around efficiency and just getting their sites to work. The standard is now much more stable as a result of strong collaboration across different companies and standards bodies (like the W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force).

The W3C WebSocket API specification has stabilized, with no substantive issues blocking last call. The specification has new support for binary message types. There are still issues under discussion, like improving the validation of subprotocols. The protocol is also sufficiently stabilized that it’s now on the agenda of the Internet Engineering Steering Group for final review and approval.

Site-ready technologies

The Web moves forward when developers and consumers can rely on technologies to work well. When WebSockets technology was shifting and “under construction,” we used HTML5 Labs as a venue for experimentation and feedback from the community. With a prototype we gain implementation experience that leads to stronger engagement in the working group and the opportunity to collect feedback from the community, both of which ultimately lead to a better, and more stable, design for developers and consumers. We’re excited and encouraged by how HTML5 Labs helped us work with the community to bring WebSockets to where it is today.

— Brian Raymor, Program Manager for WebSockets