Introduction to WebSocket
Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 8
The Java EE Tutorial

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Introduction to WebSocket

In the traditional request-response model used in HTTP, the client requests resources, and the server provides responses. The exchange is always initiated by the client; the server cannot send any data without the client requesting it first. This model worked well for the World Wide Web when clients made occasional requests for documents that changed infrequently, but the limitations of this approach are increasingly relevant as content changes quickly and users expect a more interactive experience on the Web. The WebSocket protocol addresses these limitations by providing a full-duplex communication channel between the client and the server. Combined with other client technologies, such as JavaScript and HTML5, WebSocket enables web applications to deliver a richer user experience.

In a WebSocket application, the server publishes a WebSocket endpoint, and the client uses the endpoint’s URI to connect to the server. The WebSocket protocol is symmetrical after the connection has been established; the client and the server can send messages to each other at any time while the connection is open, and they can close the connection at any time. Clients usually connect only to one server, and servers accept connections from multiple clients.

The WebSocket protocol has two parts: handshake and data transfer. The client initiates the handshake by sending a request to a WebSocket endpoint using its URI. The handshake is compatible with existing HTTP-based infrastructure: web servers interpret it as an HTTP connection upgrade request. An example handshake from a client looks like this:

GET /path/to/websocket/endpoint HTTP/1.1
Host: localhost
Upgrade: websocket
Connection: Upgrade
Sec-WebSocket-Key: xqBt3ImNzJbYqRINxEFlkg==
Origin: http://localhost
Sec-WebSocket-Version: 13

An example handshake from the server in response to the client looks like this:

HTTP/1.1 101 Switching Protocols
Upgrade: websocket
Connection: Upgrade
Sec-WebSocket-Accept: K7DJLdLooIwIG/MOpvWFB3y3FE8=

The server applies a known operation to the value of the Sec-WebSocket-Key header to generate the value of the Sec-WebSocket-Accept header. The client applies the same operation to the value of the Sec-WebSocket-Key header, and the connection is established successfully if the result matches the value received from the server. The client and the server can send messages to each other after a successful handshake.

WebSocket supports text messages (encoded as UTF-8) and binary messages. The control frames in WebSocket are close, ping, and pong (a response to a ping frame). Ping and pong frames may also contain application data.

WebSocket endpoints are represented by URIs that have the following form:

ws://host:port/path?query
wss://host:port/path?query

The ws scheme represents an unencrypted WebSocket connection, and the wss scheme represents an encrypted connection. The port component is optional; the default port number is 80 for unencrypted connections and 443 for encrypted connections. The path component indicates the location of an endpoint within a server. The query component is optional.

Modern web browsers implement the WebSocket protocol and provide a JavaScript API to connect to endpoints, send messages, and assign callback methods for WebSocket events (such as opened connections, received messages, and closed connections).


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