nodejs: Ajax vs Socket.IO, pros and cons


I thought about getting rid of all client-side Ajax calls (jQuery) and instead use a permanent socket connection (Socket.IO).

Therefore I would use event listeners/emitters client-side and server-side.

Ex. a click event is triggered by user in the browser, client-side emitter pushes the event through socket connection to server. Server-side listener reacts on incoming event, and pushes "done" event back to client. Client's listener reacts on incoming event by fading in DIV element.

Does that make sense at all? Pros & cons?

8/25/2011 5:17:21 PM

Accepted Answer

Sending one way messages and invoking callbacks to them can get very messy.

$.get('/api', sendData, returnFunction); is cleaner than socket.emit('sendApi', sendData); socket.on('receiveApi', returnFunction);

Which is why dnode and nowjs were built on top of to make things manageable. Still event driven but without giving up callbacks.

4/16/2017 3:09:18 AM

There is a lot of common misinformation in this thread that is very inaccurate.

TL/DR; WebSocket replaces HTTP for applications! It was designed by Google with the help of Microsoft and many other leading companies. All browsers support it. There are no cons.

SocketIO is built on top of the WebSocket protocol (RFC 6455). It was designed to replace AJAX entirely. It does not have scalability issues what-so-ever. It works faster than AJAX while consuming an order of magnitude fewer resources.

AJAX is 10 years old and is built on top of a single JavaScript XMLHTTPRequest function that was added to allow callbacks to servers without reloading the entire page.

In other words, AJAX is a document protocol (HTTP) with a single JavaScript function.

In contrast, WebSocket is a application protocol that was designed to replace HTTP entirely. When you upgrade an HTTP connection (by requesting WebSocket protocol), you enable two-way full duplex communication with the server and no protocol handshaking is involved what so ever. With AJAX, you either must enable keep-alive (which is the same as SocketIO, only older protocol) or, force new HTTP handshakes, which bog down the server, every time you make an AJAX request.

A SocketIO server running on top of Node can handle 100,000 concurrent connections in keep-alive mode using only 4gb of ram and a single CPU, and this limit is caused by the V8 garbage collection engine, not the protocol. You will never, ever achieve this with AJAX, even in your wildest dreams.

Why SocketIO so much faster and consumes so much fewer resources

The main reasons for this is again, WebSocket was designed for applications, and AJAX is a work-around to enable applications on top of a document protocol.

If you dive into the HTTP protocol, and use MVC frameworks, you'll see a single AJAX request will actually transmit 700-900 bytes of protocol load just to AJAX to a URL (without any of your own payload). In striking contrast, WebSocket uses about 10 bytes, or about 70x less data to talk with the server.

Since SocketIO maintains an open connection, there's no handshake, and server response time is limited to round-trip or ping time to the server itself.

There is misinformation that a socket connection is a port connection; it is not. A socket connection is just an entry in a table. Very few resources are consumed, and a single server can provide 1,000,000+ WebSocket connections. An AWS XXL server can and does host 1,000,000+ SocketIO connections.

An AJAX connection will gzip/deflate the entire HTTP headers, decode the headers, encode the headers, and spin up a HTTP server thread to process the request, again, because this is a document protocol; the server was designed to spit out documents a single time.

In contrast, WebSocket simply stores an entry in a table for a connection, approximately 40-80 bytes. That's literally it. No polling occurs, at all.

WebSocket was designed to scale.

As far as SocketIO being messy... This is not the case at all. AJAX is messy, you need promise/response.

With SocketIO, you simply have emitters and receivers; they don't even need to know about each-other; no promise system is needed:

To request a list of users you simply send the server a message...


When the server is ready, it will send you back another message. Tada, you're done. So, to process a list of users you simply say what to do when you get a response you're looking for...

socket.on("HereAreTheUsers", showUsers(data) );

That's it. Where is the mess? Well, there is none :) Separation of concerns? Done for you. Locking the client so they know they have to wait? They don't have to wait :) You could get a new list of users whenever... The server could even play back any UI command this way... Clients can connect to each other without even using a server with WebRTC...

Chat system in SocketIO? 10 lines of code. Real-time video conferencing? 80 lines of code Yes... Luke... Join me. use the right protocol for the job... If you're writing an app... use an app protocol.

I think the problem and confusion here is coming from people that are used to using AJAX and thinking they need all the extra promise protocol on the client and a REST API on the back end... Well you don't. :) It's not needed anymore :)

yes, you read that right... a REST API is not needed anymore when you decide to switch to WebSocket. REST is actually outdated. if you write a desktop app, do you communicate with the dialog with REST? No :) That's pretty dumb.

SocketIO, utilizing WebSocket does the same thing for you... you can start to think of the client-side as simple the dialog for your app. You no longer need REST, at all.

In fact, if you try to use REST while using WebSocket, it's just as silly as using REST as the communication protocol for a desktop dialog... there is absolutely no point, at all.

What's that you say Timmy? What about other apps that want to use your app? You should give them access to REST? Timmy... WebSocket has been out for 4 years... Just have them connect to your app using WebSocket, and let them request the messages using that protocol... it will consume 50x fewer resources, be much faster, and 10x easier to develop... Why support the past when you're creating the future?

Sure, there are use cases for REST, but they are all for older and outdated systems... Most people just don't know it yet.


A LOT of people have been asking me recently how can they start writing an app in 2018 (and now soon 2019) using WebSockets, that the barrier seems really high, that once they play with Socket.IO they don't know where else to turn or what to learn.

Fortunately the last 3 years have been very kind to WebSockets...

There are now 3 major frameworks that support BOTH REST and WebSocket, and even IoT protocols or other minimal/speedy protocols like ZeroMQ, and you don't have to worry about any of it; you just get support for it out of the box.

Note: Although Meteor is by far the most popular, I am leaving it out because although they are a very, very well-funded WebSocket framework, anyone who has coded with Meteor for a few years will tell you, it's an internal mess and a nightmare to scale. Sort of like WordPress is to PHP, it is there, it is popular, but it is not very well made. It's not well-thought out, and it will soon die. Sorry Meteor folks, but check out these 3 other projects compared to Meteor, and you will throw Meteor away the same day :)

With all of the below frameworks, you write your service once, and you get both REST and WebSocket support. What's more, it's a single line of config code to swap between almost any backend database.

Feathers Easiest to use, works the same on the front and backend, and supports most features, Feathers is a collection of light-weight wrappers for existing tools like express. Using awesome tools like feathers-vuex, you can create immutable services that are fully mockable, support REST, WebSocket and other protocols (using Primus), and get free full CRUD operations, including search and pagination, without a single line of code (just some config). Also works really great with generated data like json-schema-faker so you can not only fully mock things, you can mock it with random yet valid data. You can wire up an app to support type-ahead search, create, delete and edit, with no code (just config). As some of you may know, proper code-through-config is the biggest barrier to self-modifying code. Feathers does it right, and will push you towards the front of the pack in the future of app design.

Moleculer Moleculer is unfortunately an order of magnitude better at the backend than Feathers. While feathers will work, and let you scale to infinity, feathers simply doesn't even begin to think about things like production clustering, live server consoles, fault tolerance, piping logs out of the box, or API Gateways (while I've built a production API gateway out of Feathers, Moleculer does it way, way better). Moleculer is also the fastest growing, both in popularity and new features, than any WebSocket framework.

The winning strike with Moleculer is you can use a Feathers or ActionHero front-end with a Moleculer backend, and although you lose some generators, you gain a lot of production quality.

Because of this I recommend learning Feathers on the front and backend, and once you make your first app, try switching your backend to Moleculer. Moleculer is harder to get started with, but only because it solves all the scaling problems for you, and this information can confuse newer users.

ActionHero Listed here as a viable alternative, but Feathers and Moleculer are better implementations. If anything about ActionHero doesn't Jive with you, don't use it; there are two better ways above that give you more, faster.

NOTE: API Gateways are the future, and all 3 of the above support them, but Moleculer literally gives you it out of the box. An API gateway lets you massage your client interaction, allowing caching, memoization, client-to-client messaging, blacklisting, registration, fault tolerance and all other scaling issues to be handled by a single platform component. Coupling your API Gateway with Kubernetes will let you scale to infinity with the least amount of problems possible. It is the best design method available for scalable apps.

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