HTTP vs WebSocket: Real-Time Web Communication Guide

9 min read
March 27, 2024

In the ever-evolving world of web development, choosing the proper communication protocol can make or break your application's performance and user experience. 

WebSockets and HTTP are two fundamental protocols for client-server communication, each with unique strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we’ll explore the main aspects of WebSockets and HTTP, exploring their advantages, drawbacks, and when to use them.

Table of Contents

  1. What is HTTP?
  2. How does HTTP work?
  3. Advantages and drawbacks of HTTP connection
  4. What are WebSockets?
  5. How do WebSockets work?
  6. Advantages and drawbacks of Websockets
  7. Comparing HTTP vs WebSockets
  8. FAQs
  9. Seamlessly blending technologies: Digital Samba's integration of WebRTC, HTTP and WebSocket for superior video conferencing

What is HTTP?

HTTP, or HyperText Transfer Protocol in full, plays a crucial role in web communication by enabling seamless data exchange on the Internet. It is a protocol for transmitting hypermedia documents, such as HTML, and defining the rules and standards for these transactions to ensure web applications are interconnected and accessible. 

At its core, HTTP operates through a request-response model, where a client (typically a web browser) sends a request to a server, which then responds with the requested resources.

This protocol is stateless, meaning each request is independent and has no memory of previous interactions. This enhances simplicity and efficiency in web communications. Despite its stateless nature, mechanisms such as cookies and sessions have been developed to allow for stateful interactions, which allows developers to create complex web applications and services. 

How does HTTP work?

HTTP functions through a request-response cycle, where a client (such as a web browser) sends a request to a server, which then responds with the necessary resources or information. 

This cycle is the foundation of data exchange on the web and allows for fetching various resources such as HTML documents, images, videos, and more. HTTP messages facilitate the exchange between the client and server. They are composed of a start line, headers, an optional body, and a concluding blank line to indicate the end of the meta-information. These messages can be either requests initiated by the client or responses provided by the server.

Real-time updates with HTTP

Real-time updates with HTTP can be achieved through techniques such as HTTP streaming and long polling. 

HTTP streaming continuously sends data from the server to the client over a single connection. This allows for the real-time delivery of content, such as multimedia streams. This method is beneficial for applications requiring low latency and high concurrency. 

On the other hand, HTTP protocols such as HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) and DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) are used for media content delivery. These protocols use standard HTTP ports to enhance scalability through load balancing and CDNs (Content Delivery Networks).

For setting up an HTTP streaming server, you need to select a suitable streaming protocol (HLS, DASH, etc.), install and configure a web server (Apache, Nginx, IIS), prepare the media content by encoding and segmenting it, and, optionally, use a CDN for efficient content delivery. Testing and monitoring the server's performance are also crucial steps to ensure a smooth streaming experience, along with implementing security measures to protect the streaming content.

Advantages and drawbacks of HTTP connection

Advantages of an HTTP connection

Incorporating HLS into your streaming solution can significantly improve the user experience, offering a seamless, high-quality, and secure way to deliver content to a global audience.

  1. Simplicity

HTTP's design is straightforward, making it easy for developers to understand and implement. Its request-response model is a crucial part of the web, making it one of the most widely used protocols. 

This simplicity ensures that developers, regardless of their experience level, can quickly become proficient in using it. This allows them to develop and deploy web applications across various platforms and devices.

  1. Stateless nature and caching support

HTTP is a stateless protocol, which means that every request from a client to a server is treated as a separate transaction, independent of any previous interactions. This design simplifies server design and improves scalability by reducing server memory requirements. 

Additionally, HTTP supports caching, which temporarily stores frequently accessed resources in a cache closer to the client. This reduces the need to repeatedly fetch the same resources from the server, speeding up web page loading times and reducing bandwidth consumption.

  1. Robust security mechanisms

HTTPS allows SSL/TLS to secure HTTP protocol connections, providing a secure channel for data transmission. This encryption safeguards data exchange between the client and server against eavesdropping and tampering. 

Furthermore, HTTP includes support for authentication mechanisms, allowing servers to verify the identity of clients and vice versa.

Drawbacks of an HTTP connection

  1. High latency in some applications

Due to its request-response nature, HTTP can introduce significant latency, especially in applications that require real-time data transmission, such as online gaming or live video streaming. Each request requires a round trip to the server, which can delay the client's content delivery.

  1. Connection overhead

Each HTTP request involves a significant amount of header data and requires a new connection setup (in HTTP/1.x), leading to increased latency and bandwidth usage. This overhead is particularly noticeable in applications that require numerous small requests, such as loading a web page with many small resources.

  1. Unidirectional communication limitation

Traditional HTTP is inherently unidirectional, where the client initiates requests and the server responds. This model is inefficient for real-time applications that require constant data flow in both directions, such as chat applications, video chat or live updates. 

Although techniques such as long polling and WebSockets have been developed to address this, they are workarounds rather than inherent features of HTTP itself.

What are WebSockets?

WebSockets are a protocol for real-time, bidirectional communication between clients and servers. 

WebSockets were developed to address HTTP's limitations, particularly in real-time applications that require frequent, bidirectional communication between clients and servers. Unlike HTTP, a request-response protocol, WebSockets establish a persistent connection between clients and servers, allowing for efficient, real-time communication.

The WebSocket protocol is built on top of TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). It uses a handshake mechanism to upgrade an HTTP connection to a WebSocket connection. Once established, the WebSocket connection remains open, allowing for continuous communication without needing new connections.

WebSockets have gained popularity in applications that require real-time updates, such as chat applications, multiplayer games, and collaborative tools. Their ability to facilitate low-latency, bidirectional communication has made them an essential tool for developers looking to create engaging, interactive web applications.

A Comparison of WebSocket VS WebRTC - Digital Samba
A Comparison of WebSocket VS WebRTC

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How do WebSockets work?

WebSockets facilitate real-time, two-way communication between clients and servers over a single, long-lasting connection. 

This process starts with an HTTP request-response exchange, during which the client requests to upgrade the connection to a WebSocket. If the server supports WebSockets and agrees to the upgrade, it responds with an HTTP 101 Switching Protocols status code, transitioning the connection from HTTP to WebSocket. 

This upgrade mechanism is signalled through specific HTTP headers such as Connection: Upgrade and Upgrade: websocket, establishing a full-duplex communication channel over the existing TCP connection. Unlike HTTP, WebSockets use ws:// or wss:// (for secure connections) URI schemes.

Once the WebSocket connection is established, data can be sent in both directions without opening new connections for each transfer, significantly reducing latency and overhead. 

The connection remains open until explicitly closed by either the client or server, allowing for real-time data exchange and updates. This makes WebSockets particularly well-suited for applications that require constant data flow, such as live chat applications, gaming platforms and financial trading platforms.

WebSockets operate over a framed protocol, dividing data into discrete frames that can be easily managed and transmitted efficiently across the network. The protocol supports both text and binary data, making it versatile for various use cases. 

However, it's important to note that if a WebSocket connection is lost, there are no inherent load balancing or reconnecting mechanisms. As such, you will need fallback options such as HTTP streaming or long polling in environments where WebSockets might not be supported.

Let’s look at a practical example

For a practical example of WebSockets in action with JavaScript, developers can initiate a WebSocket connection using the WebSocket API provided in modern browsers. This involves creating a new WebSocket object and specifying the server's URL. 

The API allows your application to handle various events, such as onopen, onmessage, onerror and onclose. This enables developers to send and receive data efficiently over the WebSocket connection.

This operational model of WebSockets, combined with their support across various platforms and the availability of numerous implementation libraries, presents a robust solution for developing real-time web applications that demand high-performance communication channels.

Advantages and drawbacks of Websockets

Advantages of a WebSocket connection 

  1. Bidirectional communication

WebSocket technology revolutionises web communication by enabling open, two-way exchanges between the client and server. This bidirectional capability allows servers to send data to clients without a request, facilitating real-time applications such as live chat, gaming and financial tickers.

  1. Lower latency

WebSockets significantly reduce latency compared to traditional HTTP connections. By establishing a persistent, full-duplex communication channel, data can be transferred instantly between client and server. This immediate data exchange is crucial for applications that require quick response times, ensuring users receive the most current information without delay.

  1. Persistent connections

The persistent nature of WebSocket connections eliminates the need for repeated handshakes after the initial connection is established. This continuous connection reduces overhead and improves performance, making WebSockets ideal for scenarios where clients and servers exchange a substantial amount of data over time.

Drawbacks of WebSocket connection

  1. Compatibility and firewall issues

While modern browsers widely support WebSockets, compatibility issues can arise with older browsers and network infrastructures. Some firewalls and proxies not fully compatible with WebSockets may block WebSocket traffic, hinder communication and require additional configuration or fallback mechanisms.

  1. Complexity in implementation

Implementing WebSocket technology can be complex, especially when ensuring fallback options for environments where WebSockets are not supported. Developers must handle various scenarios, including connection loss, reconnection strategies, and securing connections, which adds to the development and maintenance effort.

  1. Resource consumption on the server side

WebSocket connections, being persistent, consume more server resources than stateless HTTP connections. Each active WebSocket connection requires a dedicated socket and memory on the server, which can lead to scalability challenges as the number of concurrent connections grows. Managing these resources efficiently is critical for maintaining performance and server responsiveness.

Comparing HTTP vs WebSockets

Here is a comparison table for WebSocket vs HTTP.





Unidirectional (client to server)

Bidirectional (both ways)


Stateless, new connection for each request

Persistent, single connection for multiple messages


Higher due to handshake for each request

Lower as the connection remains open

Data format

Primarily text (HTML, JSON, XML)

Both text and binary data

Real-time capability

Limited, requires techniques such as polling for real-time updates

Inherent, ideal for real-time applications

Use cases

Web page loading, RESTful APIs, form submissions

Real-time chats, live sports updates, online gaming, financial trading


Each request/response includes HTTP headers

Minimal overhead after an initial handshake


Universal support across all web platforms and browsers

Broad support in modern browsers, but may face issues with proxies/firewalls


HTTPS for encrypted communication

WSS for secure, encrypted communication


Stateless, request/response

Stateful, continuous connection



When should WebSockets be used over HTTP?

WebSockets are ideal for applications requiring real-time, bidirectional communication between the client and server, such as chat applications, live streaming, online gaming, and collaborative tools. Being request-response oriented, HTTP is better suited for retrieving static resources or for updates that are not time-sensitive.

Are WebSockets faster than HTTP?

Yes, WebSockets provide lower latency than HTTP due to their persistent connection. This eliminates the overhead of repeatedly establishing connections, a characteristic of the HTTP request-response model. This makes WebSockets more efficient for real-time interactions where speed is critical.

Can WebSockets replace HTTP?

No, WebSockets do not replace HTTP. They serve different purposes; HTTP is primarily used for initial page loading and transmitting data in scenarios where a persistent connection is not required. WebSockets complement HTTP by providing a mechanism for real-time, continuous communication after the initial page load.

Is WebSocket secure?

WebSockets can be secured using WebSocket Secure (WSS), which encrypts the data transmitted over the WebSocket connection, similar to HTTPS for HTTP connections. Proper security measures are essential, such as using WSS, validating all input, and considering authentication mechanisms to protect WebSocket communications.

What are the performance considerations when using WebSockets?
While WebSockets reduce latency and allow for real-time communication, they maintain a persistent connection, which could consume more server resources, especially with multiple concurrent connections. Efficient management and scaling strategies are necessary to handle resource consumption and ensure high performance.


Seamlessly blending technologies: Digital Samba's integration of WebRTC, HTTP and WebSocket for superior video conferencing

In this article, we've explored the key differences between these two critical web communication protocols, each with its own unique advantages and suitable use cases. WebSockets excel in applications requiring real-time, bidirectional communication, providing lower latency and maintaining persistent connections, making them perfect for chat apps, online gaming, and live updates. 

On the other hand, HTTP's stateless, request-response model excels in traditional web applications, efficiently handling static resource retrieval with widespread compatibility and ease of implementation.

Choosing the right protocol primarily depends on the specific needs of your application. Understanding both technologies will enable you to make informed decisions, optimise performance and enhance user experience based on your application's unique requirements.

Digital Samba combines HTTP, WebSocket and WebRTC technologies to provide a comprehensive video conferencing solution. HTTP is employed for initial connections and content delivery, ensuring compatibility and reliability across web platforms. WebRTC enables seamless video and audio delivery in the browser without using plugins or external software.

On the other hand, WebSocket is integrated for live room updates such as chat functionality, hand raising, and other interactive features. This triple approach ensures that our platform offers robustness, real-time capabilities and high-quality audio/video delivery, providing users with a reliable and efficient online communication experience.

Upgrade your platform with Digital Samba’s video conferencing API and enjoy the benefits of HTTP, WebSockets and WebRTC today.

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