Can WordPress be made to support websockets?

Websockets are a cool, cutting-edge technology wrapped into HTML5. Basically, you can open a websocket to enable persistent, 2-way communication with a web server. The client (user interface) can spontaneously send messages, and the server can send messages too.

Existing technology (JavaScript) requires everything to be started by the client – the server can’t send anything to the client that the client hasn’t requests. So scripts need to be constantly refreshing and re-requesting data that might not have changed. Websockets work more on a “push” basis and let new data come down the pipe whenever.

Unfortunately, most (all I can find, anyway) websocket implementations require a specific server application to work. People will run Apache on ports 80 and 443 (http and https) and run another system (typically Node.js) on another port (i.e. 8000 or 8080) to handle websocket requests.

This works, obviously, but it’s got some drawbacks.

I have a plugin I want to build that would greatly benefit from using websockets within WordPress. But if a user needs to install a second web server (usually impossible for people with shared hosting), then it won’t work as a plugin.

So, for any of you who have experience, how would you make WordPress compatible with websockets? Would you make WordPress handle the communication itself, or bundle another mini-server script into the plugin? If you’ve done this already, how did you accomplish it without breaking WordPress itself?

Possible resources?

  • Extendible Web Socket Server
  • PHP Websocket
  • PHP and Websockets

9/21/11 Update

With all the talk of how Apache (the most commonly installed server for running WP on a shared host) can’t really handle websockets natively, I’m wondering about an alternative. Several plugins (JetPack, for example) talk to an external service or API to generate content.

Stats requests content from Automattic. Akismet sends data back and forth from an external server. After the Deadline submits content at publish time. A few SEO tools pass things back-and-forth through external systems.

So as an alternative to housing the websocket code within a WordPress plugin, would it be feasible to host a websocket service in a central location and have a WordPress frontend interact with that instead?


WebSockets use the websockets protocol: WS:/ and open a synchronous connection – meaning the connection is held open and dedicated to the browser.

httpd servers, like apache2 (used by most shared hosting providers) use the http protocol: and open an asynchronous connection – meaning that no connection is held open between the server and the browser. (You can prolong open connections, modestly, by setting certain configuration parameters – but generally speaking, it’s asynchronous.)

As you can imagine, maintaining open connections between the browser and the server dedicates more server resources to each browser connection, and is therefore more taxing of server resources than dropping connections after each request. Shared hosting providers are understandably disinclined to support WS on shared hosting.

While certain shared hosts may have mod_python installed, thereby allowing your plugin users to run pywebsocket, pywebsocket’s own documentation clearly state that “pywebsocket is intended for testing or experimental purposes.”

So, while one may imagine a plugin bundling python code to create a pywebsocket server, given an apache server that supports it, I don’t believe it would ever be a reasonable to distribute a plugin that did so.

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