WebSockets vs Long Polling: Real-Time Communication Methods

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How does one choose between WebSockets and Long Polling for real-time communication? What are the main differences between the two? Are there particular scenarios where one might be more suitable over the other? These are important considerations developers confront when determining the most effective approach for real-time data exchange in their application.

Choosing the best method for real-time communication is a common problem in the design and development of interactive applications. According to Mozilla Development Network (MDN), WebSockets offer full duplex communication, but it requires maintaining an open connection and sufficient server resources to handle this. On the other hand, Stack Overflow community discussions indicate that Long Polling could be less resource-intensive, but it may suffer from latency issues. These trade-offs underscore the importance of finding a solution that balances efficiency, responsiveness, and resource usage.

In this article you will learn about the key aspects of WebSockets and Long Polling in depth. You will understand their working mechanisms, advantages, and drawbacks compared to each other. We will delve into various real-world scenarios where one may be preferred over the other. Furthermore, we’ll analyze and discuss the pros and cons of these two technologies and provide guidelines to help decide which method of real-time communication to choose depending on the specific needs of your application.

Ultimately, this comprehensive guide about WebSockets versus Long Polling will empower you to make an informed decision on the most suitable real-time communication method for your application, considering both technical feasibility and user experience.

WebSockets vs Long Polling: Real-Time Communication Methods

Definitions and Understanding of WebSockets and Long Polling

WebSockets is a technology that allows two-way communication between a client and a server in real-time. It works like a continuous open connection where messages can be sent and received at any time.

Long Polling on the other hand, is a method where the client requests information from the server. The server either responds with the information or waits until there’s new information to share before it responds.

While both these technologies are used to facilitate real-time communication over the internet, they work in fundamentally different ways. Understanding these definitions is key to understanding how real-time communication works on the web.

Unmasking Real-Time Communication: The Struggle between WebSockets and Long Polling

Understanding WebSockets

WebSockets is a protocol responsible for creating a two-way communication line between the server and the client over a single, long-held TCP connection. It operates via handshakes; the client requests an upgrade from HTTP (or HTTPS) in the initial handshake process, and if the server supports this protocol, it accepts this upgrade request, thereby establishing a WebSocket connection. This protocol enables the server to send real-time updates, and since the connection remains open, there’s no need for the client to check for updates frequently.

WebSockets stand out for delivering low-latency real-time interaction. Once the connection thread is open, data can flow freely between the client and server, reducing network traffic and overhead. However, it’s important to note that this continuously open connection could present issues with firewalls and proxy servers, which can perceive them as non-standard HTTP traffic and hence block them.

Functionality of Long Polling

Long polling takes a different approach to real-time communication. Instead of creating a continuous open connection, the client sends a request to the server. If the server has new data, it responds, delivering the update. If there’s no new information, it retains the request and waits until there are updates or until a timeout occurs before sending the response. This mechanism, making repeated requests to the server for data, is what earned long polling its name.

The benefits of long polling are that it offers the illusion of a real-time connection and its compatibility with all servers, browsers, and firewalls. However, long polling has its drawbacks including high latency compared to WebSockets and more potential for server overloads as multiple connections need to remain open.

WebSockets vs Long Polling: Key Differences

  • Communication protocol: WebSockets uses a two-way communication line, while long polling involves repeated one-way requests.
  • Latency: WebSockets offer low-latency real-time interaction, which is not the case with long polling.
  • Compatibility: Long polling is compatible with any server, browser, and firewall, while WebSockets might face issues with some firewall settings.
  • Server load: Long polling could potentially overload a server if there are many open connections, while WebSockets requires only a single connection.

Despite their differences, both WebSockets and long polling play significant roles in implementing real-time communication and should be decided based on the specific needs and constraints of your project.

Is Long Polling the Ghost of Real-Time Communication Past? The Rise of WebSockets

Scratching Beneath the Surface: Understanding Real-Time Communication

Isn’t it fascinating how the digital world we live in allows us to send and receive information across vast distances in an instant? The backbone of this achievement are protocols such as WebSockets and Long Polling. However, the popular discourse often leads to misconceptions about both. Simply put, WebSockets and Long Polling aren’t competitors, but allies.

WebSockets facilitates a full-duplex communication channel that operates through a single socket over the web. This allows a two-way, real-time interaction between the client and the server, providing a constant communication link between the two, without the client having to send frequent requests. On the other hand, Long Polling keeps a connection open until the server has new information to send to the client. While similar in broad functionality, each carries its own nuances including connection establishment, data transfer efficiency and infrastructure setup.

Unlocking the Puzzle: Why Choose One Over the Other?

The key dilemma for users often lies in picking between the two. This decision is often clouded by misapprehensions about supposed trade-offs between speed, reliability, and complexity. It’s essential to understand that it’s not a matter of superiority, but rather assessing project requirements, resources and complexities, and evaluating how each protocol aligns with those needs.

The usage of WebSockets might seem complex as it requires a complete protocol handshake and a dedicated communication channel. However, it provides a faster data exchange with low latency, making it an excellent choice for applications that require continuous data flow and real-time reactions, such as multiplayer games or live chats. In contrast, Long polling might seem inefficient due to its repetitive nature however, it is quite useful for applications where data is sporadically updated and immediacy is not crucial.

Case in Point: Successful Utilization of WebSockets and Long Polling

Real-time communication technologies such as WebSockets and Long Polling have been instrumental in shaping diverse industries and business sectors. Facebook, for instance, significantly improved user experience by using Long Polling for delivering notifications in the early days. This means that users were kept abreast of the latest messages and activity without hitting the refresh button, all while keeping the server load at a manageable level.

In contrast, for the Stock Trading platform, WebSockets was a game-changer. The continuous two-way communication facilitated by WebSockets allows for the instant transmission of stock price changes, promoting transaction efficiency and resulting in a significant competitive advantage in a world where milliseconds matter. Thus, the key is not in picking the ‘better’ protocol, but by understanding each one’s unique advantages and applying them where suitable, the best results can be achieved.

WebSockets or Long Polling: The Clash for the Future of Real-Time Communication

Considerations of Real-Time Communication Protocols

Have you ever wondered how real-time communication functions seamlessly behind the scenes of your favorite applications? Two key players are WebSockets and long polling methods. Both are crucial in enabling real-time communication, which allows messages to move instantly between clients and servers, whether in a social media app, collaborative tool, or live updates on a news site.

However, there’s a difference in how both these technologies work. WebSockets provide a full-duplex communication channel, meaning information can travel both ways simultaneously. On the other hand, long polling works by the client repeatedly sending requests to the server asking for new information. When new data is available, the server responds, leading the client to immediately send another request for more information. This constant request-answer cycle forms an illusion of real-time activity.

The Dilemma Between WebSockets and Long-Polling

The main challenge lies in deciding which method to use when developing an application. WebSockets, providing simultaneous and real-time communication, outshine long polling in terms of efficiency and bandwidth usage. However, they come with drawbacks. WebSockets require intricate coding and sometimes demand browser compatibility considerations. They also leave connections open indefinitely, which can potentially tax a server if there’s a large volume of concurrent users.

On the other hand, long polling, with its request-answer cycle, is relatively simpler to implement and compatible with virtually all browsers. But it’s not without its share of issues, including high latency and a higher load on the server due to repeated opening and closing of connections.

While both methods have their respective pros and cons, the choice between them will depend entirely on the requirements of the specific application and its expected traffic volume.

Best Practices in Real-Time Communication

Many successful applications have efficiently used these technologies to enhance their real-time interaction capabilities. Slack, for instance, incorporates WebSockets for message delivery between users, ensuring seamless and instant communication, attributable to the synchronous nature of WebSockets.

On the other hand, Facebook leverages long polling for its notification system. In this case, the instantaneity associated with WebSockets is not required, and long polling proves more suitable as it allows Facebook to efficiently control the rate at which server connections are maintained and severed.

These examples illustrate how the choice between WebSockets and long polling can greatly influence an application’s performance. Still, with careful consideration of an application’s specific requirements, both technologies can be powerfully utilized to deliver efficient real-time communication.


Have you ever considered the implications of your choice between WebSockets and Long Polling on the speed and efficiency of real-time communication in your web applications? The debate between WebSockets and Long Polling isn’t only about choosing a technique; it’s also about understanding the implications each method has on server load, speed of data transfer, and overall user experience. While Long Polling remains a relevant technique due to its simplicity and universality, WebSockets provides a future-proof option offering full-duplex communication, lower latency and reduced server load. The choice depends heavily on the specific needs of your project and the infrastructure in place.

Engaging with our blog affords you the chance to delve into this intricate world of holding up-to-the-minute data using real-time communication methods. We continually strive to provide informative, relevant, and timely articles around these topics and many more. Stay tuned for our upcoming releases, where we will discuss in-depth information about trends in communication protocols, real-time application performance, and server load balancing.

To conclude, no one-size-fits-all solution exists when it comes to real-time web communication. Each project demands a unique solution based on its requirements, infrastructure, and future growth. Both WebSockets and Long Polling have their individual strengths and drawbacks, and the decision between these two should be influenced by the project’s specific needs. We hope you’ll follow us on this journey to continuously navigate the exciting world of real-time communication methods. The upcoming articles promise to be greatly informative, engaging, and worth your time.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are Real-Time Communication Methods?
Real-time communication methods, like WebSockets and Long Polling, enable real-time, bi-directional interaction between a server and a client. These methods are crucial in applications like online games, social networks, and live tracking where instant data transfer is required.

2. How does WebSocket work for real-time communication?
WebSocket provides full-duplex communication channels over a single TCP connection. It enables the server and the client to send messages at any time, allowing an interactive exchange of data.

3. What is Long Polling and how does it function?
Long Polling is a web application development pattern used to emulate pushing data from the server to the client. When the client sends a request to the server, the server holds onto the request and responds only when there is new data available.

4. How do WebSockets differ from Long Polling?
WebSockets allow continuous connection between a client and a server which facilitates immediate data exchange. Conversely, Long Polling uses HTTP request-response paradigm which can have latency as it emulates real-time communication.

5. Which one should I choose: WebSockets or Long Polling?
The choice between WebSockets and Long Polling depends largely on the specific requirements of your project. While WebSockets provide a more efficient real-time connection, Long Polling could be a viable choice for applications where the browser does not support WebSockets.