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Specification for the Socket.IO Protocol (0.9)

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Socket.IO protocol

The present document describes the protocol and encoding a client/server pair must follow to establish a successful Socket.IO connection.

Protocol versions

The present document describes the latest version of the protocol, 1.

Versions are a single integer incremented with each revision of the protocol.

Overview

Socket.IO aims to bring a WebSocket-like API to many browsers and devices, with some specific features to help with the creation of real-world realtime applications and games.

  • Multiple transport support (old user agents, mobile browsers, etc).
  • Multiple sockets under the same connection (namespaces).
  • Disconnection detection through heartbeats.
  • Optional acknowledgments.
  • Reconnection support with buffering (ideal for mobile devices or bad networks)
  • Lightweight protocol that sits on top of HTTP.

Anatomy of a Socket.IO socket

A Socket.IO client first decides on a transport to utilize to connect.

The state of the Socket.IO socket can be disconnected, disconnecting, connected and connecting.

The transport connection can be closed, closing, open, and opening.

A simple HTTP handshake takes place at the beginning of a Socket.IO connection. The handshake, if successful, results in the client receiving:

  • A session id that will be given for the transport to open connections.
  • A number of seconds within which a heartbeat is expected (heartbeat timeout)
  • A number of seconds after the transport connection is closed when the socket is considered disconnected if the transport connection is not reopened (close timeout).

At this point the socket is considered connected, and the transport is signaled to open the connection.

If the transport connection is closed, both ends are to buffer messages and then frame them appropriately for them to be sent as a batch when the connection resumes.

If the connection is not resumed within the negotiated timeout the socket is considered disconnected. At this point the client might decide to reconnect the socket, which implies a new handshake.

Socket.IO HTTP requests

Socket.IO HTTP URIs take the form of:

[scheme] '://' [host] '/' [namespace] '/' [protocol version] '/' [transport id] '/' [session id] '/' ( '?' [query] )

Only the methods GET and POST are utilized (for the sake of compatibility with old user agents), and their usage varies according to each transport.

The main transport connection is always a GET request.

URI scheme

The URI scheme is decided based on whether the client requires a secure connection or not. Defaults to http, but https is the recommended one.

URI host

The host where the Socket.IO server is located. In the browser environment, it defaults to the host that runs the page where the client is loaded (location.host)

Namespace

The connecting client has to provide the namespace where the Socket.IO requests are intercepted.

This defaults to socket.io for all client and server distributions.

Protocol version

Each client should ship with the revision ID it supports, available as a public interface to developers.

For example, the browser client supports io.protocolVersion.

Transport ID

The following transports are supported:

  • xhr-polling
  • xhr-multipart
  • htmlfile
  • websocket
  • flashsocket
  • jsonp-polling

The client first figures out what transport to use. Usually this occurs in the browser, utilizing feature detection.

User-defined transports are allowed.

Query

The query component (eg: ?token=48737481747&) is not present on all URLs. Certain query keys are reserved by Socket.IO:

  • t: Contains a timestamp, only used to bypass caching on certain old UAs.
  • disconnect: Triggers a disconnection.

User-defined query components are allowed. For example, ?t=1238141910&token=mytoken is a valid query).

Handshake

The client will perform an initial HTTP POST request like the following

http://example.com/socket.io/1/

The absence of the transport id and session id segments will signal the server this is a new, non-handshaken connection.

The server can respond in three different ways:

  • 401 Unauthorized

    If the server refuses to authorize the client to connect, based on the supplied information (eg: Cookie header or custom query components).

    No response body is required.

  • 503 Service Unavailable

    If the server refuses the connection for any reason (eg: overload).

    No response body is required.

  • 200 OK

    The handshake was successful.

    The body of the response should contain the session id (sid) given to the client, followed by the heartbeat timeout, the connection closing timeout, and the list of supported transports separated by :

    The absence of a heartbeat timeout ('') is interpreted as the server and client not expecting heartbeats.

    For example 4d4f185e96a7b:15:10:websocket,xhr-polling.

Transport connection

Once the handshake request-response cycle is complete (and it ended with success), a new connection is opened by the transport that was negotiated, with a GET HTTP request.

The transport can modify the URI if the transport requires it, as long as no information is lost. For example, if websocket is accepted as the transport, and the connection was secure, the URI for the transport connection will become:

wss://example.com/socket.io/1/websocket/4d4f185e96a7b

The URI still contains all the information required by Socket.IO to continue the message exchange (protocol security, namespace, protocol version, transport, etc).

Messages can be sent and received by following this convention. How the messages are encoded and framed depends on each transport, but generally boils down to whether the transport has built-in framing (unidirectionally and/or bidirectionally).

Unidirectional transports

Transports that initialize unidirectional connections (where the server can write to the client but not vice-versa), should perform POST requests to send data back to the server to the same endpoint URI.

Messages

Framing

Certain transports, like websocket or flashsocket, have built-in lightweight framing mechanisms for sending and receiving messages.

For xhr-multipart, the built-in MIME framing is used for the sake of consistency.

When no built-in lightweight framing is available, and multiple messages need to be delivered (i.e: buffered messages), the following is used:

`\ufffd` [message lenth] `\ufffd`

Transports where the framing overhead is expensive (ie: when the xhr-polling transport tries to send data to the server).

Encoding

Messages have to be encoded before they're sent. The structure of a message is as follows:

[message type] ':' [message id ('+')] ':' [message endpoint] (':' [message data]) 

The message type is a single digit integer.

The message id is an incremental integer, required for ACKs (can be omitted). If the message id is followed by a +, the ACK is not handled by socket.io, but by the user instead.

Socket.IO has built-in support for multiple channels of communication (which we call "multiple sockets"). Each socket is identified by an endpoint (can be omitted).

(0) Disconnect

Signals disconnection. If no endpoint is specified, disconnects the entire socket.

Examples:

  • Disconnect a socket connected to the /test endpoint.

    0::/test

  • Disconnect the whole socket

    0

(1) Connect

Only used for multiple sockets. Signals a connection to the endpoint. Once the server receives it, it's echoed back to the client.

Example, if the client is trying to connect to the endpoint /test, a message like this will be delivered:

'1::' [path] [query]

Example:

1::/test?my=param

To acknowledge the connection, the server echoes back the message. Otherwise, the server might want to respond with a error packet.

(2) Heartbeat

Sends a heartbeat. Heartbeats must be sent within the interval negotiated with the server. It's up to the client to decide the padding (for example, if the heartbeat timeout negotiated with the server is 20s, the client might want to send a heartbeat evert 15s).

(3) Message

'3:' [message id ('+')] ':' [message endpoint] ':' [data]

A regular message.

3:1::blabla

(4) JSON Message

'4:' [message id ('+')] ':' [message endpoint] ':' [json]

A JSON encoded message.

4:1::{"a":"b"}

(5) Event

'5:' [message id ('+')] ':' [message endpoint] ':' [json encoded event]

An event is like a json message, but has mandatory name and args fields. name is a string and args an array.

The event names

'message'
'connect'
'disconnect'
'open'
'close'
'error'
'retry'
'reconnect'

are reserved, and cannot be used by clients or servers with this message type.

(6) ACK

'6:::' [message id] '+' [data]

An acknowledgment contains the message id as the message data. If a + sign follows the message id, it's treated as an event message packet.

Example 1: simple acknowledgement

6:::4

Example 2: complex acknowledgement

6:::4+["A","B"]

(7) Error

'7::' [endpoint] ':' [reason] '+' [advice]

For example, if a connection to a sub-socket is unauthorized.

(8) Noop

No operation. Used for example to close a poll after the polling duration times out.

Forced socket disconnection

A Socket.IO server must provide an endpoint to force the disconnection of the socket.

While closing the transport connection is enough to trigger a disconnection, it sometimes is desirable to make sure no timeouts are activated and the disconnection events fire immediately.

http://example.com/socket.io/1/xhr-polling/812738127387123?disconnect

The server must respond with 200 OK, or 500 if a problem is detected.

Something went wrong with that request. Please try again.