In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, the need for efficient and real-time communication between clients and servers has become paramount. While HTTP has served as the backbone of web communication for decades, it comes with its limitations, especially when it comes to real-time data streaming and bidirectional communication. Enter WebSockets, a protocol designed to fill in the gaps left by HTTP and offer a more streamlined approach to real-time communication. In this post, we'll delve into the limitations of HTTP, explore various application layer protocols, and finally, understand the magic of WebSockets.

Limitations of HTTP

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) has been the cornerstone of web communication since its inception. It's a request-response protocol, meaning the client sends a request to the server, and the server responds with the requested data. While HTTP is satisfactory for most web applications, it falls short when it comes to real-time communication.

Polling with HTTP

Imagine you're building a chat application like Twitch's chat feature. With HTTP, you could implement a polling mechanism where the client sends periodic requests to the server to check for new messages. However, this approach has several drawbacks:

  1. Inefficient: Creating a new HTTP connection for every request can be resource-intensive and inefficient.
  2. Latency: Depending on the polling interval, there can be a noticeable delay in receiving new messages.
  3. Server Load: Frequent polling can put unnecessary strain on the server.

Application Layer Protocols

Before diving into WebSockets, let's briefly touch upon some other application layer protocols you might have heard of:

  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol): Used for transferring large files between computers. Default port: 21.
  • SMTP (Secure Mail Transfer Protocol): Optimized for sending emails. Default port: 25.
  • SSH (Secure Shell): Allows remote connections to another machine and running CLI commands.
  • WebRTC: Designed for video and audio streaming. Interestingly, while most of these protocols are built on TCP for reliability, WebRTC is built on UDP to optimize streaming performance.

WebSockets: A Better Alternative

WebSockets offer a more efficient and flexible solution for real-time communication compared to HTTP. Instead of the traditional request-response model of HTTP, WebSockets establish a persistent, bidirectional communication channel between the client and server.

The WebSocket Handshake

The process of establishing a WebSocket connection begins with what's known as the "WebSocket handshake." The client initiates this handshake by sending an HTTP request to the server, indicating its intention to establish a WebSocket connection. Upon receiving this request, the server responds with a status code of 101, signaling the upgrade of the connection to a WebSocket connection.

Bi-directional Communication

One of the key advantages of WebSockets is bi-directional communication. Once the connection is established, data can flow freely in both directions without the need for additional requests from the client. This makes it ideal for real-time applications like chat rooms, live feeds, and online gaming.

WebSockets vs. HTTP/2

It's worth mentioning that HTTP/2 introduced streaming capabilities, which can make WebSockets seem redundant for some use cases. However, WebSockets still hold an edge when it comes to efficiency and simplicity for real-time communication.

Practical Example: Twitch Chat

To illustrate the power of WebSockets, let's consider Twitch's chat feature. By inspecting the network traffic using the browser's developer tools, you'll notice that Twitch uses WebSockets for its chat functionality. This allows users to receive new messages in real-time without the need for constant polling, providing a seamless and interactive chat experience.


WebSockets offer a compelling alternative to traditional HTTP for applications that require real-time communication and bidirectional data flow. While HTTP has served us well for decades, the advent of WebSockets has revolutionized how we think about web communication, paving the way for more interactive and responsive web applications.

Whether you're building a chat application, a live feed feature, or any other real-time data streaming application, WebSockets provide the efficiency, flexibility, and scalability you need to deliver a seamless user experience. So the next time you find yourself in need of real-time communication capabilities, remember that WebSockets are your go-to solution for building responsive and interactive web applications.