Web Sockets vs. XMPP: Which Is Better For Chat Application?

Thinkwik
Thinkwik
Oct 2, 2017 · 6 min read

The need for greater efficiency when relaying messages is one of the reasons that informed the invention of the internet. With the history of the communication pointing to a huge challenge to humanity, progressive development yielded to social networking that comes with instant messaging as the most crucial component. Both social media networks and special messaging programs utilize differing messaging protocols to effect the instant communication between users.

These protocols are the core of instant messaging by providing the key features. Two of the main protocols used for instant messaging in the market today are WebSocket and XMPP. This post is an XMPP vs. WebSocket post to help you decide which is better for your situation.

What exactly are XMPP and WebSockets?

  • The XMPP protocol: Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (abbreviated as XMPP) is an open source and extensible protocol that was originally referred as Jabber. XMPP protocol supports the transmission of current information such as data. As a messaging protocol, it can only be applied effectively by moving through an appropriate transport binding such as TCP/IP, HTTP, or WebSocket. Some of the XMPP applications include Gtalk and Whatsapp.
  • Websockets: WebSocket is a protocol that was developed for full-duplex web server-browser communication in real time. The protocol is capable of sending and receiving data simultaneously over TCP connection. Though WebSockets protocol was crafted for implementation across browsers and servers, it can also be used in crafting messaging apps. WebSockets works in three stages;
  • A client establishes an appropriate WebSockets connection using a WebSockets handshake. The request informs the server of the user’s intent to make a WebSockets connection.
  • If the respective server supports the protocol, it responds via the header to complete the handshake.
  • Then, a WebSockets connection replaces the handshake with the same TCP connection. At this point, both parties can start sending data.

The operational architecture

XMPP utilizes a decentralized architecture. The protocol uses a client-server model which means that clients do not talk directly to each other. By design, there is no central server like the way Windows Live Messenger operates.

Every user on the XMPP network is allocated an XMPP address (JabberID) that works like an email address with an IP address/domain name and a username for the resident server. One example of such address is username@example.com. You can even target a specific person by adding his phone number so that the address looks like this username@example.com/mobile.

Unlike the XMPP, WebSockets rely on a centralized architecture. It is an API that establishes socket connections between a server and a web browser. This means there is a persistent connection between client and server (both parties can send data anytime). The protocol uses proxy servers that help to mediate HTTP connections in many company’s networks. To run efficiently, the WebSockets protocol utilizes the HTTP upgrade system (conventionally used for HTTP/SSL) for upgrading an HTTP connection to WebSockets connection.

At this point, XMPP is considered better because users can run their servers. However, it is relatively slow compared to WebSockets.

Connection to other protocols

The core goal of initial Jabber was to help users connect to many instant messaging protocols particularly non-XMPP systems. Now, XMPP provides for this connectivity at the server level through special gateway services that run alongside the XMPP server. Any user is allowed to register with these additional gateways. You can also use a server-to-server gateway that allows non-XMPP deployment for connection to native XMPP servers via inter-domain federation features.

WebSockets, as a modern protocol, has cross-origin inbuilt in its architecture. It is the closest API that you can imagine to raw network socket in the browser. However, this is more than a network because all the complexities of a simple API are removed. You can layer and deliver arbitrary application protocols between the client and the server in a streaming version. Besides, the protocol’s wire format, as well as semantics, allow for extensions with new opcodes and data fields.

Though WebSockets misses in some crucial management considerations such as caching and compression, the cross-protocol connection is better compared to XMPP. Remember that the WebSockets is not intended to replace SSE, XHR or HTTP. Rather, it is important to leverage the strengths of each for better performance.

Sending and receiving binary data

The WebSockets communication consists of application code and messages so that users do not need to worry about parsing, buffering, and reconstructing the received data. For example, if the server sends a 0.5 MB payload, the app onmessage callback only calls when the whole message is available to the client. Notably, the protocol does not put constraints or assumptions on application payload (both binary and text can be sent). Once a message is received by the browser, it is immediately converted to a DOMstring object (data based messages) or Blob Object (for binary data).

The XMPP system for sending binary data is very thin. You have to structure the data in an XMPP stanza to send across the protocol. Sending binary data using XMPP has been a major limiting factor for XMPP because users want to be able to send diverse messages in and across the protocol. If you are targeting an audience that has a lot of focus on binary data, WebSockets delivers a better experience.

Protocols’ security

XMPP provides multiple levels of security that inbuilt into the protocol. Personal identity in XMPP is stronger compared to WebSockets. Users are required to authenticate both host servers and messages to avoid the risk of spoofing. This helps to eliminate the danger of spam. Users can add more layers of security by requiring clients to install a valid security certificates for identity confirmation.

The XMPP has two types of encryption. The first encryption takes place at the establishment and authentication using SASL. After a connection has been established, all client-server transmissions are encrypted using TLS. This means that the risk or getting attacked is very small.

WebSockets is a very young technology. In web app development, professionals have learnt to adopt the best practices around HTTP. However, the security best practices around WebSockets are still evolving. The common security levels used in WebSockets include WSS (WebSockets over SSL/TLS). Like the HTTPS, WSS is fully encrypted to help protect intrusion.

When it comes to security, XMPP is far ahead of WebSockets. Even if the technology is still evolving, WebSockets users need to develop more secure and checked protocol to reduce risks of XSS, SQL injection, and other attacks.

Which is better between XMPP and WebSockets?

Pros of using XMPP

  • XMPP utilizes a decentralized architecture (open to all users)
  • It has a very effective support
  • It has top-notch security
  • Provides extra flexibility

Pros of using WebSockets

  • Support by big companies such as Google and browsers like Google Chrome
  • High-speed data exchange capacity
  • Persistent channels of communication
  • No restrictions on the number of sessions one can run at any time
  • Users are allowed to create cross-domain servers

While the XMPP vs. WebSockets performance review places WebSockets right ahead in many parameters, its low security has made many developers rethink its use. If the amount of data transmitted is the core factor in the app development, then, it is advisable to go for WebSockets because data redundancy is very low. Besides, less work required in WebSockets because only a few servers service the clients.

Conclusion

To pick the best protocol for chat application, you need to understand what exactly your business targets. If a lot of data will be involved and users are likely to open multiple sessions per server, the WebSockets is a better option. However, if you are greatly concerned about security and anticipate using a lot of plugins, consider going for the XMPP. To come up with the best messaging app, it is important to contract a web application development company for expert Node JS Development services. You could also hire a web developer for advice and assistance in crafting the best messaging apps to guarantee better user experience.

Thinkwik

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