WebRTC vs. WebSocket: Which one to choose?

Network threads
30 March 2022

Most web applications focused on communication, from resource-intensive audio/video communicators to plain text chat apps, rely on robust P2P (peer-to-peer) signaling and seamless media transmitting. As a developer, you can use either WebRTC or WebSocket protocols to implement those capabilities in your project - but which one should you choose?

Table of Contents

In our previous blog post, we have explained the basic principles of the WebRTC protocol. Long story short, WebRTC is an open-source protocol enabling real-time media exchange, providing robust communication possibilities to browsers and apps natively. It uses a simple process to establish a connection directly between peers with the help of a signaling server. The signaling server, sometimes called a signaling device, negotiates an optimal route and helps with protecting all the data exchanged.

WebRTC vs. WebSocket – which one to use

WebRTC is a very diverse protocol, allowing developers to choose the method of virtual transport for data needed in signaling –one of them is WebSocket. While WebSocket and WebRTC are both communication protocols that can be used independently, a few differences set them apart.

The WebSocket protocol shares many similarities with WebRTC. Both protocols can even be used together to maximize efficiency in some instances – WebSocket can assist WebRTC in ensuring high-level real-time connectivity with fully covered software dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s important to note the differences between the two while choosing an optimal solution for your development project.

What is WebSocket

WebSocket is a technology that specifically enables stable connectivity between the user – mostly through their browser or a dedicated app – to the server. Messages and data transmitted with WebSocket mostly use JSON as a container to minimize the need for bandwidth. It allows for asynchronous communication, meaning it is not constrained to a feedback loop between devices, or a full-duplex communication stream, letting both sides send data continuously without interruptions over one TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) connection.

Connectivity routes in WebRTC vs. WebSocket

While WebRTC uses a peer-to-peer communication method, WebSocket utilizes a server per session method of communicating. WebRTC signaling server can facilitate a direct connection between peers and doesn’t have to participate in the communication loop. Meanwhile, WebSocket communication is always routed through the server between clients, increasing the resources needed to ensure connectivity.

The need for resources associated with WebSocket usage is not necessarily a bad thing. WebRTC–based apps still require an active media server for conferencing or any connection between more than two clients.

Software

Also, WebRTC has a very high adoption rate, being natively supported but virtually all popular internet browsers, with its environment available in Java and HTML, facilitating a possibility for unlimited control interface based on JavaScript or HTML5. Being an open-source standard, WebRTC solutions can be embedded and applied directly on webpages and browser-based services.

The WebSocket environment, with a standardized API and protocol, also uses Java, as well as JMS and C++, but its adoption rate can lag in some areas of widely used software. However, WebSocket apps can connect with each other through its cross-origin communication capabilities. Still, WebRTC-based apps cannot – a connection can be only established between two clients using the same solution. Apps working with a server can enjoy a stable connection through WebSocket from the front- to the backend.

Security and stability

When it comes to securing your connection, both WebRTC and WebSocket can be utilized for different purposes. As a product of its time, WebSocket has less robust safety features, and small events like a network change on the client side can result in a full-scale data leak – the data encryption used in WebRTC is much stronger. While some legacy browsers can still result in WebRTC leaks, especially when using VPN, most current applications have plugged their weak points.

However, connections made with WebRTC require constant communication between peers. A short-term connectivity loss or network change will break the loop and require restarting the connecting process. On the other hand, WebSocket allows for short-term gaps in connection without breaking the connectivity loop, enhancing usage on low-quality networks and in dire situations.

In conclusion

The choice of a protocol for your communication solution will require specifying your priorities and use cases, as both WebRTC and WebSocket have pros and cons in many areas. When creating a communication tool, make sure to clearly establish a goal – it’s a difficult market to step into, and having a clear vision combined with proper expertise will allow you to hit your mark just right. With that goal in mind, explore the possibilities of both protocols and use them to your advantage.

Main Take-Aways

Whichever protocol you choose for your app, enhance your communication routes and bandwidth by using our dedicated network solutions. With optimal signaling and routing and connected to our ultra-low latency network, it’s no wonder the vast majority of traffic on such popular apps like Discord goes through our servers.