What Is WebRTC & How Does It Compare With WebSocket?

TL;DR: While WebRTC excels in real-time audio and video communication, WebSocket shines as a reliable choice for bidirectional data transfer. Understanding the unique strengths of each technology is essential for crafting exceptional customer experiences.

By Jerry Wallis
12 min read

WebRTC, the brainchild of an open-source initiative, has ushered in a new era of seamless real-time voice, text, and video interactions. Bridging the gap between web browsers and devices, this intuitive technology equips software developers with JavaScript APIs, paving the way for peer-to-peer (P2P) communication across internet browsers and mobile apps. Gone are the worries of compatibility and support for diverse audio, video, or text formats.

No more custom interfaces, no additional plugins, and no special software—WebRTC handles real-time data transfer with remarkable ease. The magic unfolds just by opening a webpage.

In this article, we delve into the world of WebRTC and WebSocket, exploring their distinct functionalities, use cases, and comparative advantages. By understanding how these technologies work and differ, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions that enhance your customer experiences. So, let’s embark on a journey to unravel the capabilities of WebRTC and WebSocket, and discover how they can help you propel your business forward in the digital era.

What is WebRTC? 🕸️

WebRTC is a nifty framework that enables you to add real-time communication capabilities to your web and mobile apps. 

We’re talking about seamless transmission of all sorts of data—whether it’s video, voice, or just plain generic data—straight from one peer to another. It’s like having a direct line connecting your devices, no fuss, no hassle. In essence, WebRTC is a cutting-edge technology that allows real-time audio, video, and data transmission directly between web browsers. 

It employs peer-to-peer communication, enabling users to connect with each other without the need for intermediaries. WebRTC leverages a range of protocols, including ICE (Interactive Connectivity Establishment), STUN (Session Traversal Utilities for NAT), and TURN (Traversal Using Relays around NAT), to establish secure connections even in the presence of firewalls or network address translation (NAT) devices.

WebRTC: How Does It Work? ⚙️

Powered by JavaScript, APIs, and Hypertext Markup Language, WebRTC effortlessly integrates communication technologies into web browsers. Designed for simplicity, it simplifies audio, video, and data exchanges between browsers, with widespread compatibility across major web browsers.

One of the best things about WebRTC is that it plays well with almost every modern browser out there. So, if you’re using the latest and greatest, you’re good to go! No need to worry about compatibility issues—WebRTC has got your back.

Not just that, if you’re a developer looking to work with WebRTC on specific platforms, you’ll be delighted to know that there are WebRTC Software Development Kits (SDKs) tailored for different platforms, be it iOS or Android. These SDKs make developers’ lives easier, enabling them to integrate WebRTC into your apps with a breeze.

Working With The  WebRTC API 🛜

WebRTC APIs boast an array of functions. They capture and record video, audio, and text data from devices, orchestrate P2P connections, and facilitate bidirectional data transfer through multiple channels. This ingenious system connects users by seamlessly shuttling real-time audio, video, and data between devices.

Now, hold onto your hats. WebRTC is not just a one-trick pony; it comes with a bunch of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that make the magic happen. Let’s dive into some of the key ones:

RTCPeerConnection 🤝

The RTCPeerConnection API is like the master conductor of a symphony orchestra. It lets you connect to a remote peer—your friend on the other side of the world, for instance. And the best part? 

It helps you maintain and monitor that connection, making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. When you’re done with the connection and the virtual high-fives, you can gracefully close it too. Talk about being a good host, right?

 RTCDataChannel 🎚️

If you’re a fan of two-way communication—and who isn’t?—then you’ll love the RTCDataChannel API. It’s like your personal communication highway, allowing peers to transfer all sorts of data back and forth. If we’re being a bit more technical, it’s a network channel that can be used for the two-way transfer of arbitrary data.

Whether it’s crucial files for a work project or just some fun gifs to brighten up someone’s day, this bi-directional network communication channel has got you covered!

MediaStream 📼

Do you want to tap into the power of your device’s media input devices, like cameras and microphones? Well, the MediaStream API is your go-to solution. 

It grants you access to streams of media, making it a breeze to work with video and audio. You can record, send, resize, and display media content—all the cool actions you’d expect from a top-notch API for this type of purpose!

Overcoming Hurdles with STUN and TURN Servers 🦘

WebRTC’s prowess shines even in the face of restrictive networks. While Network Address Translation (NAT) firewalls and differing Internet Protocol (IP) networks might pose challenges, WebRTC adapts. With the aid of STUN servers, IP addresses metamorphose into public internet addresses, fostering peer connections. For the most stringent cases, WebRTC teams up with TURN servers, expertly relaying traffic between users, and ensuring a reliable connection.

A Glimpse into WebRTC’s Utility 👀

WebRTC’s potential knows no bounds, manifesting in various domains:

  • Elevating video chats on platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Meet.
  • Empowering healthcare, surveillance, and IoT with real-time data.
  • Revolutionising telehealth, enabling virtual doctor-patient consultations.
  • Enhancing home and business security through seamless browser-camera connections.
  • Pioneering real-time media experiences.
  • Bridging the gap between educators and learners in online education.

Important Features and Advantages of WebRTC 👍

WebRTC offers several key features and advantages, such as:

Peer-to-Peer Communication: WebRTC’s peer-to-peer nature eliminates the need for servers to relay data, reducing latency and enhancing efficiency in real-time communications.

High-Quality Audio and Video: It enables high-definition audio and video streaming, making it ideal for video conferencing, online gaming, and multimedia applications.

Data Channel: In addition to audio and video, WebRTC provides a data channel for transferring arbitrary data between peers, opening up possibilities for file sharing and other data-intensive applications.

Secure Connections: WebRTC incorporates strong encryption standards, ensuring secure communication channels, which is crucial for protecting user privacy

Biggest Disadvantages of WebRTC 👎

  • P2P connections strain bandwidth, particularly for multiple users.
  • Maintenance expenses escalate due to server requirements.
  • Amidst uncertainty, IT departments must enforce security and privacy standards.
  • Variable quality of video and audio over the internet.

WebRTC’s Security Landscape – What’s The Consensus? 🔐

While WebRTC encrypts all its components and demands secure origins via HTTPS or local hosts, security concerns persist. The intricacies of signalling processing methods remain undisclosed, leaving developers to select and maintain suitable security protocols.

What are WebSockets? 🔌

Now, let’s dive headfirst into the realm of WebSockets – those nifty little things that make your browser interact seamlessly with the server. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what the fuss is all about, fear not!

WebSockets are a protocol that facilitates full-duplex communication over a single TCP connection. Picture this – you’re surfing the web, checking out cool websites, and the latest trends in pop culture. But have you ever wondered how all this information travels back and forth between your browser and the server? Well, that all boils down to two main channels – HTTP and WebSockets.

WebSockets vs HTTP 🥅

Well, now that we know what WebSockets are, let’s understand how they are different from HTTP, another common communication protocol.

HTTP – or HyperText Transfer Protocol – is like the postal service of the internet. It’s what your browser uses to fetch web pages, images, stylesheets, and all that jazz. In a nutshell, HTTP is like a client-server chit-chat: your browser raises its hand (by sending a request), the web server responds with a wave (a.k.a. a response), and the transaction is complete. Easy peasy, right?

But here’s the twist: when you want the server to speak up out of the blue and start a conversation, things get a bit trickier. You see, with HTTP, the server can’t just send a message to your browser unless your browser initiates the conversation. Think of it like trying to have a chat with your friend without texting them first – a bit awkward, isn’t it?

Unlike traditional HTTP requests, WebSockets allow real-time, bidirectional communication between clients and servers, enabling instant updates and notifications. And that’s where the two mainly differ from one another.

How WebSockets Work

Cue the dramatic entrance! WebSockets swoop in to save the day. Imagine your browser and the server doing a high-five and exchanging messages like old pals. That’s what WebSockets bring to the table – a direct, bidirectional line of communication.

So, how does it work? Well, instead of waiting for your browser, the server and the browser establish a WebSocket connection. This connection facilitates communication and transfer of data between the two channels.

Put simply, WebSockets are purpose-built, not just some fancy workaround. 

Understanding The WebSocket API 🔗

Picture this: you’re a developer, and you’ve got this shiny new toy called the WebSocket API. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for crafting communication between the browser and the server.

You’ve got some slick calls in your arsenal, like sending and closing messages, and callbacks that sound like a band lineup: onopen, onerror, onclose, and onmessage. Sure, there’s more to it than meets the eye, but that’s the heartbeat of WebSockets right there.

Now that we’ve got the basics under our belts, let’s dive into what WebSockets are all about – no fancy jargon, just plain English.

What Makes Websockets Great? 💪

Two-Way Communication with WebSockets 📲

Imagine this: you’re chatting with your buddy over the phone. You talk, and they listen. They talk, and you listen. It’s a beautiful, balanced flow of communication. WebSockets take that idea and turn it into a digital symphony.

With WebSockets, data flows both ways like a well-choreographed tango. The browser and the server engage in a lively exchange, sending messages back and forth without missing a beat. It’s like having a heart-to-heart conversation without awkward pauses.

A guy video conferencing in a platform developed using webrtc

Real-Time Communication with WebSockets 🤙

Buckle up, because WebSockets offer a one-way ticket to Real-Time Town. When you’re dealing with data that needs to be up-to-the-millisecond, WebSockets are your trusty special. No more waiting around – your updates will arrive on time every single time.

Super Fast & Low Latency 🚀

Here’s a scenario: you’re hosting a virtual party, and your friends are spread out across the globe. You shout, “Pizza’s here!” and they respond almost instantly. That’s the kind of magic WebSockets bring to the table – low latency, lightning-fast responses that’ll make your head spin.

Superior Interactivity 🔥

Ever wished your website could respond to your visitors in real time? WebSockets make that dream come true. They transform your website from a static monologue into an interactive dialogue. Buttons click, forms submit, and content updates – all without hitting that pesky refresh button.

Powerhouse Performance 🏋️‍♂️

You know that feeling when a conversation just clicks, and you can chat for hours without missing a beat? WebSockets have that charm. They power high-performance chats and two-way conversations that’ll leave you wondering how you ever lived without them.

WebSockets Features and Advantages 🆙

Real-time Bidirectional Communication: WebSockets enable real-time data exchange in both directions, making them ideal for applications that require constant updates and low latency, such as chat applications and live dashboards.

Lightweight and Efficient: Compared to HTTP, WebSockets reduce overhead by eliminating the need to establish a new connection for each request, leading to reduced network latency and improved performance.

Persistent Connection: WebSockets maintain a persistent connection, allowing data to be sent and received instantly without the need for repeated handshakes, reducing the overall network traffic.

Choosing the Right Technology – WebRTC vs WebSocket ⚔️

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) and WebSockets are two essential technologies that enable seamless real-time data transfer between clients and servers. 

Although they share the common goal of facilitating real-time communication, they are distinct in their mechanisms and use cases.

The choice between WebRTC and WebSockets depends on the specific requirements of your application. Let’s explore some common use cases for each technology:

WebRTC Use Cases 📹

Video Conferencing: WebRTC’s support for high-quality video and audio streaming makes it an excellent choice for building video conferencing platforms.

Real-Time Gaming: Online multiplayer games benefit from WebRTC’s low latency and peer-to-peer communication, enhancing the gaming experience.

File Sharing: WebRTC’s data channel can be utilised for efficient file sharing between users in a secure manner.

WebSockets Use Cases 💬

Chat Applications: WebSockets are ideal for developing real-time chat applications where instant message delivery is crucial.

Live Dashboards: WebSockets allow seamless data updates on live dashboards, providing users with real-time insights and analytics.

Collaborative Editing: Applications that require multiple users to collaborate on the same document simultaneously can benefit from the bidirectional communication offered by WebSockets.

Conclusion – WebRTC or WebSockets? 😎

In summary, both WebRTC and WebSockets serve as essential tools for enabling real-time communication on the web. WebRTC excels in scenarios where high-quality audio, video, and data transfer are necessary, while WebSockets shine in applications that demand bidirectional, low-latency communication. 

By understanding the distinctions and use cases of these technologies, developers can make informed decisions to create immersive and engaging real-time applications.

Remember, the success of your application ultimately depends on choosing the right technology that aligns with your specific use case and requirements. Implementing either WebRTC or WebSockets thoughtfully will undoubtedly enhance the real-time communication experience for your users, helping you secure a competitive edge in the dynamic world of web applications. Book a discovery call with us today, and let’s embark on a journey to revolutionize your customer experiences through cutting-edge technology.

Published on August 11, 2023

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