Real-time Technology Glossary

An ever-growing repository of technical terms around real-time technology and beyond.

What is Socket.IO?

Socket.IO is a cross-browser JavaScript library that provides bidirectional, event-driven communication capabilities for use in real time applications. It consists of a client-side browser library and a server-side Node.js library, both of which use similar syntax to enable an easily scriptable interface for developers.

The primary function of Socket.IO is to act as an abstraction layer for existing real-time protocols. In particular, Socket.IO is able to connect clients with servers over a WebSocket connection, all the while handling the intricate details of the underlying protocol with a simple, understandable API. It also places focus on connection reliability, with in-built mechanisms for disconnection detection, auto-reconnect, and firewall / proxy bypassing.

Socket.IO opens a connection by using its own transport protocol negotiation method, which automatically attempts to open a WebSocket connection in the browser. If the client does not support WebSocket, a fallback is provided in the form of a long-polling connection. Either way, the Socket.IO interface remains the same. Socket.IO connections may also be multiplexed and broadcast across grouped connection channels from within the same connection.

A Socket.IO scheme can be implemented in any application that relies on event-driven, real-time data streams over WebSocket, Comet-style, or Peer-to-Peer connections. This includes, but is not limited to, instant messaging, multi-user collaboration, real-time analytics, file-sharing, and notifications.

What is Engine.IO?

While Socket.IO is the mainframe delivering real-time, two-way communication between server and clients, Engine.IO acts as the arm and legs for it. By implementing a transport-based, cross-browser/device, bi-directional communication layer, it initiates the capability of Socket.IO as a JavaScript library that is ideal for sending data from the browser to server and vice versa in real-time without the need to send HTTP requests from clients.

It also provides the compatibility required to use all browsers as well as modularizing Socket.IO’s code base. In addition, it enables bi-directional communication in a more technologically advanced manner by upgrading connections between clients and servers according to WebSockets protocol. It also has the capabilities of transparently downgrading connections to the traditional HTTP pooling method.

Engine.IO is very advantageous to those using Socket.IO as it automatically upgrades or downgrades connectivity. Users need not worry about having to switch between one protocol to another.

With Engine.IO, users of Socket.IO will be able to set up connection to HTTP servers where they have access to messaging Topics as well as access to all client listings.

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