The marmelab blog

Playing with websockets in Go

Published on 29 January 2015 by Jonathan Petitcolas with tags go tutorial

Network, by Claus Rebler
Network, by Claus Rebler - Source: flickr

We strongly believe in Go language to achieve a lot in asynchronous world. With its system of channels, it is quite straightforward to develop a multi-threaded application. Brice Bernard and I decided to experiment this feature with websockets during one of our hack day. Our objective: build a collaborative editing tool such as CollabEdit in Go. Hence GollabEdit. ;)

We inspired ourselves from several chat application tutorials. Indeed, our application is pretty similar, except instead of storing an array of messages, we store a whole document.

Executing Go in a Docker container

To not pollute our workstation with a wide set of softwares, each in several versions depending of the project, we generally use Docker. So, let’s keep our system clean by creating the following Dockerfile:

FROM ubuntu:14.04

ENV HOME /root

RUN apt-get update && apt-get upgrade --yes

RUN apt-get --yes --quiet install curl
RUN apt-get --yes --quiet install git
RUN apt-get --yes --quiet install mercurial

RUN cd /usr/local/src && \
    curl https://storage.googleapis.com/golang/go1.3.1.linux-amd64.tar.gz | tar xz

ENV GOPATH /srv
ENV GOROOT /usr/local/src/go
ENV PATH ${PATH}:${GOROOT}/bin

WORKDIR /srv/

ENTRYPOINT ["go"]

We base our container on an Ubuntu image on which we install Go dependencies. Then, we follow the official procedure to install Go. Finally, we set some required environment variables:

  • GOPATH: folder containing our application and its dependencies
  • GOROOT: folder containing Go binaries
  • PATH: just for convenience purpose, to be able to call go directly

Finally, we make our container to execute the go command when run thanks to the ENTRYPOINT line.

Our container is now ready to be built:

docker build --tag=marmelab/go .

Thanks to the entrypoint previously configured, all the commands transmitted to our docker run command will be transmitted to the go executable inside our container. To ensure it is fully functional, let’s write a simple “Hello World!” application:

// src/marmelab/gollabedit/main.go
package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    fmt.Println("hello world!")
}

You can now execute:

docker run \
	--rm \
	--volume="`pwd`:/srv" \
	--tty \
	--interactive \
	marmelab/go src/marmelab/gollabedit/main.go 

It should display hello world! on your console. What are all of these arguments?

  • --rm: just remove all container data between executions
  • --volume: we map pwd (present working directory) to the /srv container folder
  • --tty: connect stdin and stdout to our process, allowing to forward interruption signals such as CTRL+C
  • --interactive: required with --tty option

To ease our next commands, we can create a makefile with these commands.

Using websockets in Go

Creating a messages Hub

We used a centralized architecture: a central Hub is going to receive all ingoing messages and to broadcast them to each connected Client.

package main

type hub struct {
	clients map[*client]bool
	broadcast chan string
	register chan *client
	unregister chan *client

	content string
}

var h = hub{
	broadcast:   make(chan string),
	register:    make(chan *client),
	unregister:  make(chan *client),
	clients: 	 make(map[*client]bool),
	content:  	 "",
}

We defined several channels for our Hub. This way, we would be able to deal asynchronously with both register and unregister events, or for broadcasting messages. At the end, we instantiate our hub.

Let’s define its behavior thanks to a run method:

func (h *hub) run() {
	for {
		select {
		case c := <-h.register:
			h.clients[c] = true
			c.send <- []byte(h.content)
			break

		case c := <-h.unregister:
			_, ok := h.clients[c]
			if ok {
				delete(h.clients, c)
				close(c.send)
			}
			break

		case m := <-h.broadcast:
			h.content = m
			h.broadcastMessage()
			break
		}
	}
}

We take advantage here of the Go channels. Channels are like FIFO stacks. A Client will store a request into one of these channels, then go routine will unstack them as soon as possible, by their arrival dates.

Syntax c := <-h.register means attribute (:=) to c value first available value into h.register channel. <- shows we take a value from the channel. As the opposite, you put a value in a channel with ->. So, when a Client wants to register, we add him to our connected clients array, and then send him current content. []byte is just for casting reasons, as we are going to see later in Client code.

If a customer sends an unregister event, we just have to close its channel and remove him from Hub connections.

Finally, if we receive a message from one customer through the broadcast channel, we just update Hub content and broadcast the message to all other clients with following function:

func (h *hub) broadcastMessage() {
	for c := range h.clients {
		select {
		case c.send <- []byte(h.content):
			break

		// We can't reach the client
		default:
			close(c.send)
			delete(h.clients, c)
		}
	}
}

Do not forget the break here. This is the reason why we exceeeded the deadline of our hackday, a missing break. Thus, after broadcasting first message, websocket closed itself unexpectedly, with a very vague Chrome error message. This is the disadvantage of extreme programming: wanting to go still faster cause big time loss on trivial errors.

Client emitter

That’s all for the Hub. Let’s focus on Client code now:

package main

import (
	"time"
)

const (
	writeWait = 10 * time.Second
	pongWait = 60 * time.Second
	pingPeriod = (pongWait * 9) / 10
	maxMessageSize = 1024 * 1024
)

type client struct {
	ws *websocket.Conn
	send chan []byte
}

Note we defined several constants used later:

  • writeWait: minimal delay before writing new message into socket
  • pongWait: if a socket doesn’t answer within this time range, consider Client is disconnected
  • pingPeriod: period on which we test Client connection
  • maxMessageSize: maximum message size, here 1kB.

Our main Client method is:

import (
	"net/http"
	"log"
	"github.com/gorilla/websocket"
)

var upgrader = websocket.Upgrader{
	ReadBufferSize:  maxMessageSize,
	WriteBufferSize: maxMessageSize,
}

func serveWs(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
	if r.Method != "GET" {
		http.Error(w, "Method not allowed", 405)
		return
	}

	ws, err := upgrader.Upgrade(w, r, nil)
	if err != nil {
		log.Println(err)
		return
	}

	c := &client{
		send: make(chan []byte, maxMessageSize),
		ws: ws,
	}

	h.register <- c

	go c.writePump()
	c.readPump()
}

We first define a websocket.Upgrader, taken from the gorilla/webwocket library. Then we retrieve a pointer to the websocket thanks to the Upgrade function. Finally, we register the Client to the Hub, stacking a message in the register channel.

At the end, we can see we started a writePump and a readPump. Let’s dive into the first:

func (c *client) readPump() {
	defer func() {
		h.unregister <- c
		c.ws.Close()
	}()

	c.ws.SetReadLimit(maxMessageSize)
	c.ws.SetReadDeadline(time.Now().Add(pongWait))
	c.ws.SetPongHandler(func(string) error { 
		c.ws.SetReadDeadline(time.Now().Add(pongWait));
		return nil
	})

	for {
		_, message, err := c.ws.ReadMessage()
		if err != nil {
			break
		}

		h.broadcast <- string(message)
	}
}

We defer the execution of Client disconnection. This mean that, either parent function succeeds of fails, this code will be executed.

We set some properties on our websocket to ensure it won’t hang indefinitely. Websocket first waits for a message during maximum pongWait seconds. If socket is still available when pinging it, we increase read limit duration by pongWait seconds. So, if Client is no more connected, websocket is going to throw an error, which will break the for loop below. We should then unregister.

We can read data, but what’s happening under the hood of writePump?

func (c *client) writePump() {
	ticker := time.NewTicker(pingPeriod)

	defer func() {
		ticker.Stop()
		c.ws.Close()
	}()

	for {
		select {
		case message, ok := <-c.send:
			if !ok {
				c.write(websocket.CloseMessage, []byte{})
				return
			}
			if err := c.write(websocket.TextMessage, message); err != nil {
				return
			}
		case <-ticker.C:
			if err := c.write(websocket.PingMessage, []byte{}); err != nil {
				return
			}
		}
	}
}

func (c *client) write(mt int, message []byte) error {
	c.ws.SetWriteDeadline(time.Now().Add(writeWait))
	return c.ws.WriteMessage(mt, message)
}

Code is pretty similar to the readPump. We just introduced a ticker. Regularly, we are going to ping the websocket. If it doesn’t respond, we close the websocket.

Launching websocket server

Let’s assemble all the pieces in main.go:

package main

import (
	"log"
	"net/http"
)

func main() {
	go h.run()
	http.Handle("/", http.FileServer(http.Dir("./public")))
	log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe(":8080", nil))
}

We simply run our Hub as a go-routine (in parallel) and create an HTTP server. The only /ws route launch the data pumps. All static resources should be in the public folder.

To launch our server, you should first retrieve gorilla/websocket dependency:

docker run \
	--rm \
	--volume="`pwd`:/srv" \
	--tty \
	--interactive \
	marmelab/go get github.com/gorilla/websocket

Then, just execute:

docker run \
	--rm \
	--volume="`pwd`:/srv" \
	--tty \
	--interactive \
	--publish="8080:8080" \
	marmelab/go run src/marmelab/gollabedit/*.go 

We added a --publish option here, to map our host 8080 port to our Docker container 8080 port. So, if you connect to http://0.0.0.0:8080 it will connect to your Go webserver.

Collaborative editing front

For our prototype needs, we didn’t use any library. If you need a good support of websockets, have a look on Socket.io.

Our UI is damn simple: a simple textarea. So, let’s rather focus on websocket connection:

$(function() {
    if (!window["WebSocket"]) {
        return;
    }

    var content = $("#content");
    var conn = new WebSocket('ws://' + window.location.host + '/ws');

    // Textarea is editable only when socket is opened.
    conn.onopen = function(e) {
        content.attr("disabled", false);
    };

    conn.onclose = function(e) {
        content.attr("disabled", true);
    };

    // Whenever we receive a message, update textarea
    conn.onmessage = function(e) {
        if (e.data != content.val()) {
            content.val(e.data);
        }
    };

    var timeoutId = null;
    var typingTimeoutId = null;
    var isTyping = false;

    content.on("keydown", function() {
        isTyping = true;
        window.clearTimeout(typingTimeoutId);
    });

    doc.on("keyup", function() {
        typingTimeoutId = window.setTimeout(function() {
            isTyping = false;
        }, 1000);

        window.clearTimeout(timeoutId);
        timeoutId = window.setTimeout(function() {
		if (isTyping) return;
		conn.send(doc.val());
        }, 1100);
    });
});

Code is self-explained. The only particularity is our basic anti-flood protection. If you send a new payload at each keydown, you are going to get a serious bottleneck on your server. So, be smarter using timeouts: we send data only if user hasn’t typed for the last second. This is a good compromise.

Websockets sample

Going further?

If you try it as civilized gentlemen, one after each, everything is going to work fine. But, if you change the document exactly at the same time, here comes some troubles…

1. Initial document is: "Hello world!"
2. User A changes "Hello" to "Good morning"
3. Meanwhile, user B changes "world" to "everybody"
4. Server receives first B request, then A request. 
	a. Hub changes "Hello world" to "Good morning world!"
	b. A and B receives "Good morning world!"
	c. Hub changes "Good morning world!" to "Hello everybody!"
	d. A and B receives "Hello everybody!"

Thus, user A changes have been lost. Furthermore, document should have blink between 4b and 4d. This is the core of concurrent edition issues. Our hackday is now well overran, and problematic is so complex it requires further investigation. By lack of time, we had to stop here.

We thought to a solution, consisting to use Git and its branch system. For instance, initial document is master. User A creates a user_a branch and user B a user_b branch. Hub is in charge of merging each branches into master. If there is a conflict, then UI could show the diff and asks for user which version he would like to keep.

If you want to try it at home, code is available on GitHub.

comments powered by Disqus