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Building multiplayer HTML5 games – Part 2: WebSockets

March 7, 2012 1 comment

Flynn also failed to write good network support in his architecture.

In the last post we discussed how digital multiplayer games have evolved, various strategies for getting different game clients to keep their games in sync, and why the core HTTP request/response architecture of the web was fundamentally flawed when it came to multiplayer games.  In this post, we’ll dig into the HTML5 solution to this problem and how to use it in desktop or mobile web applications.

WebSockets are a new technology that was written in response to JavaScript developers using AJAX calls to keep checking back with the server to see if anything new had come in.  It was clear that the current design was not meeting the needs of modern Web 2.0 applications, which wanted to leave a connection with the server open for as long as the web page was up so that any new information from the server could instantly be read by the JavaScript running on the client and displayed.

At the lowest levels, WebSockets do piggyback on top of the World Wide Web infrastructure (hence the name). They follow a URL scheme, similar to the ubiquitous HTTP definition.  Since the underlying protocol is different from HTTP, however, the URL scheme begins instead with a new label: ‘ws‘ (for unencrypted streams) and ‘wss‘ (for encrypted streams). For example:

ws://yourserver.com/yourwebsocketresource

If you’re running your own web servers, you’ll need to have a program running on the backend to handle WebSocket requests such as these.  Apache’s ActiveMQ project is one example of WebSocket-aware server software. A full discussion of the pros and cons of various server configurations and software packages to handle WebSockets is beyond the scope of this post.

WebSocket technology is new enough that browser support when running your client HTML5 application should not be assumed.  To assist in this, there are several JavaScript libraries that wrap the WebSocket calls in their own API and thus can downgrade the connection to an HTTP polling connection if the client application is running on a browser that does not support WebSockets, and we’ll dig into one of those wrappers momentarily.  In the HTML5 mobile space, WebSockets were added to Mobile Safari in iOS 4.2 (though the WebSocket spec supported is an out-of-date specification, so make sure your servers are compatible with the old spec if you want to support iOS devices), but as of this writing are not supported on the default Android browser. WebSockets are supported in the newly-announced Chrome for Android beta, which only runs on Android 4.0.

If you are running in an environment that supports WebSockets, interacting with one on the client side is delightfully simple. Read more…

Breaking news

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Surprise!

Yes, Universe, you’re absolutely right. We should consider Android devices as well.

The world works in mysterious ways.  Literally as I was in the middle of writing up that last post, my Google+ feed exploded with the news that Google has released a version of Chrome for Android.  This is supergreat news for HTML5 development on Android and I’m thrilled.  Really.  I’m not at all upset that I probably need to go get myself an Android phone now, and neither is my wallet.  More to come, this is a pretty major development for HTML5 mobile apps, seriously.

[UPDATE] Mashable is pointing out that only about 1% of Android devices have Android 4.0 on them and thus can support (this release of) Chrome.  At least that makes the device testing simpler, doesn’t it?

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