A live demo of this app can be found here (loads slowly first time)

What You Will Learn

In this tutorial we will create a simple real-time chat application. It will feature a chat-panel that stores messages received after you join, a list of currently connected users, and an input field to send messages from. We will be using WebSockets for this, as WebSockets provides us with full-duplex communication channels over a single TCP connection, meaning we won’t have to make additional HTTP requests to send and receive messages. A WebSocket connection stays open, greatly reducing latency (and complexity).

Dependencies

First, we need to create a Maven project with some dependencies: (→ Tutorial)

<dependencies>
    <dependency>
        <groupId>io.javalin</groupId>
        <artifactId>javalin-bundle</artifactId>
        <version>5.3.2</version>
    </dependency>
    <dependency>
        <groupId>com.j2html</groupId>
        <artifactId>j2html</artifactId>
        <version>1.6.0</version>
    </dependency>
</dependencies>

The Javalin application

The Javalin application is pretty straightforward. We need:

  • a map to keep track of session/username pairs.
  • a counter for number of users (nicknames are auto-incremented)
  • websocket handlers for connect/message/close
  • a method for broadcasting a message to all users
  • a method for creating the message in HTML (or JSON if you prefer)
  • Java
  • Kotlin
import io.javalin.Javalin;
import io.javalin.http.staticfiles.Location;
import io.javalin.websocket.WsContext;
import java.text.SimpleDateFormat;
import java.util.Date;
import java.util.Map;
import java.util.concurrent.ConcurrentHashMap;
import static j2html.TagCreator.article;
import static j2html.TagCreator.attrs;
import static j2html.TagCreator.b;
import static j2html.TagCreator.p;
import static j2html.TagCreator.span;

public class JavalinWebsocketExampleApp {

    private static final Map<WsContext, String> userUsernameMap = new ConcurrentHashMap<>();
    private static int nextUserNumber = 1; // Assign to username for next connecting user

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Javalin app = Javalin.create(config -> {
            config.staticFiles.add("/public", Location.CLASSPATH);
        }).start(7070);

        app.ws("/chat", ws -> {
            ws.onConnect(ctx -> {
                String username = "User" + nextUserNumber++;
                userUsernameMap.put(ctx, username);
                broadcastMessage("Server", (username + " joined the chat"));
            });
            ws.onClose(ctx -> {
                String username = userUsernameMap.get(ctx);
                userUsernameMap.remove(ctx);
                broadcastMessage("Server", (username + " left the chat"));
            });
            ws.onMessage(ctx -> {
                broadcastMessage(userUsernameMap.get(ctx), ctx.message());
            });
        });
    }

    // Sends a message from one user to all users, along with a list of current usernames
    private static void broadcastMessage(String sender, String message) {
        userUsernameMap.keySet().stream().filter(ctx -> ctx.session.isOpen()).forEach(session -> {
            session.send(
                Map.of(
                    "userMessage", createHtmlMessageFromSender(sender, message),
                    "userlist", userUsernameMap.values()
                )
            );
        });
    }

    // Builds a HTML element with a sender-name, a message, and a timestamp
    private static String createHtmlMessageFromSender(String sender, String message) {
        return article(
            b(sender + " says:"),
            span(attrs(".timestamp"), new SimpleDateFormat("HH:mm:ss").format(new Date())),
            p(message)
        ).render();
    }

}
import io.javalin.Javalin
import io.javalin.http.staticfiles.Location
import io.javalin.websocket.WsContext
import j2html.TagCreator.*
import java.text.SimpleDateFormat
import java.util.*
import java.util.concurrent.ConcurrentHashMap

private val userUsernameMap = ConcurrentHashMap<WsContext, String>()
private var nextUserNumber = 1 // Assign to username for next connecting user

fun main() {
    Javalin.create {
        it.staticFiles.add("/public", Location.CLASSPATH)
    }.apply {
        ws("/chat") { ws ->
            ws.onConnect { ctx ->
                val username = "User" + nextUserNumber++
                userUsernameMap.put(ctx, username)
                broadcastMessage("Server", "$username joined the chat")
            }
            ws.onClose { ctx ->
                val username = userUsernameMap[ctx]
                userUsernameMap.remove(ctx)
                broadcastMessage("Server", "$username left the chat")
            }
            ws.onMessage { ctx ->
                broadcastMessage(userUsernameMap[ctx]!!, ctx.message())
            }
        }
    }.start(7070)
}

// Sends a message from one user to all users, along with a list of current usernames
fun broadcastMessage(sender: String, message: String) {
    userUsernameMap.keys.filter { it.session.isOpen }.forEach { session ->
        session.send(
            mapOf(
                "userMessage" to createHtmlMessageFromSender(sender, message),
                "userlist" to userUsernameMap.values
            )
        )
    }
}

// Builds a HTML element with a sender-name, a message, and a timestamp,
private fun createHtmlMessageFromSender(sender: String, message: String): String {
    return article(
        b("$sender says:"),
        span(attrs(".timestamp"), SimpleDateFormat("HH:mm:ss").format(Date())),
        p(message)
    ).render()
}

Building a JavaScript Client

In order to demonstrate that our application works, we can build a JavaScript client. First we create our index.html:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
    <title>WebsSockets</title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css">
</head>
<body>
    <div id="chatControls">
        <input id="message" placeholder="Type your message">
        <button id="send">Send</button>
    </div>
    <ul id="userlist"> <!-- Built by JS --> </ul>
    <div id="chat">    <!-- Built by JS --> </div>
    <script src="websocketDemo.js"></script>
</body>
</html>

The final step needed for completing our chat application is creating websocketDemo.js:

// small helper function for selecting element by id
let id = id => document.getElementById(id);

//Establish the WebSocket connection and set up event handlers
let ws = new WebSocket("ws://" + location.hostname + ":" + location.port + "/chat");
ws.onmessage = msg => updateChat(msg);
ws.onclose = () => alert("WebSocket connection closed");

// Add event listeners to button and input field
id("send").addEventListener("click", () => sendAndClear(id("message").value));
id("message").addEventListener("keypress", function (e) {
    if (e.keyCode === 13) { // Send message if enter is pressed in input field
        sendAndClear(e.target.value);
    }
});

function sendAndClear(message) {
    if (message !== "") {
        ws.send(message);
        id("message").value = "";
    }
}

function updateChat(msg) { // Update chat-panel and list of connected users
    let data = JSON.parse(msg.data);
    id("chat").insertAdjacentHTML("afterbegin", data.userMessage);
    id("userlist").innerHTML = data.userlist.map(user => "<li>" + user + "</li>").join("");
}

And that’s it! Now try opening localhost:7070 in a couple of different browser windows (that you can see simultaneously) and talk to yourself.

Conclusion

Well, that was easy! We have a working real-time chat application implemented without polling, written in less than 100 lines of server and client code. The implementation is very basic though, and we should at least split up the sending of the userlist and the messages (so that we don’t rebuild the user list every time anyone sends a message), but since the focus of this tutorial was supposed to be on WebSockets, I chose to do the implementation as minimal as I could be comfortable with.