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[[ws_protocol]]
== The Websocket protocol

This chapter explains what Websocket is and why it is
a vital component of soft realtime Web applications.

=== Description

Websocket is an extension to HTTP that emulates plain TCP
connections between the client, typically a Web browser,
and the server. It uses the HTTP Upgrade mechanism to
establish the connection.

Websocket connections are fully asynchronous, unlike
HTTP/1.1 (synchronous) and HTTP/2 (asynchronous, but the
server can only initiate streams in response to requests).
With Websocket, the client and the server can both send
frames at any time without any restriction. It is closer
to TCP than any of the HTTP protocols.

Websocket is an IETF standard. Cowboy supports the standard
and all drafts that were previously implemented by browsers,
excluding the initial flawed draft sometimes known as
"version 0".

=== Websocket vs HTTP/2

For a few years Websocket was the only way to have a
bidirectional asynchronous connection with the server.
This changed when HTTP/2 was introduced. While HTTP/2
requires the client to first perform a request before
the server can push data, this is only a minor restriction
as the client can do so just as it connects.

Websocket was designed as a kind-of-TCP channel to a
server. It only defines the framing and connection
management and lets the developer implement a protocol
on top of it. For example you could implement IRC over
Websocket and use a Javascript IRC client to speak to
the server.

HTTP/2 on the other hand is just an improvement over
the HTTP/1.1 connection and request/response mechanism.
It has the same semantics as HTTP/1.1.

If all you need is to access an HTTP API, then HTTP/2
should be your first choice. On the other hand, if what
you need is a different protocol, then you can use
Websocket to implement it.

=== Implementation

Cowboy implements Websocket as a protocol upgrade. Once the
upgrade is performed from the `init/2` callback, Cowboy
switches to Websocket. Please consult the next chapter for
more information on initiating and handling Websocket
connections.

The implementation of Websocket in Cowboy is validated using
the Autobahn test suite, which is an extensive suite of tests
covering all aspects of the protocol. Cowboy passes the
suite with 100% success, including all optional tests.

Cowboy's Websocket implementation also includes the
permessage-deflate and x-webkit-deflate-frame compression
extensions.

Cowboy will automatically use compression when the
`compress` option is returned from the `init/2` function.