Websockets with HTTP Kit

June 11, 2015

In this post we'll look at working with websocks using Reagent and HTTP Kit. We'll see how to create a multi-user chat server that allows multiple clients to communicate with one another.

First thing to mention is that there are a couple of Clojure/Script libraries for working with websockets, such as Sente and Chord. However, what I'd like to illustrate is that using websockets directly from ClojureScript is extremely straight forward. Let's start by creating a new Luminus project that we'll use as the base for our example. We'll create the project using the +http-kit profile:

lein new luminus multi-client-ws +http-kit +cljs

Once the application is created we'll need to startup the server and Figwheel. To do that, we'll need to run the following commands in separate terminals.

lein run
lein figwheel

The Server

Let's create a new namespace called multi-client-ws.routes.websockets and add the following references there:

(ns multi-client-ws.routes.websockets
 (:require [compojure.core :refer [GET defroutes]]
            :refer [send! with-channel on-close on-receive]]
           [cognitect.transit :as t]
           [taoensso.timbre :as timbre]))

Next, we'll create a Compojure route for our websocket handler:

(defroutes websocket-routes
 (GET "/ws" request (ws-handler request)))

Where the ws-handler function will look as follows:

(defn ws-handler [request]
 (with-channel request channel
               (connect! channel)
               (on-close channel (partial disconnect! channel))
               (on-receive channel #(notify-clients %))))

The function accepts the request and passes it to the org.httpkit.server/with-channel macro provided by the HTTP Kit API. The macro creates accepts the request as its argument and binds the value of the :async-channel key to the second paramets representing the name of the channel. The statement following the channel name will be called once when the channel is created. In our case we'll call the connect! function defined below any time a new client connects:

(defonce channels (atom #{}))

(defn connect! [channel]
 (timbre/info "channel open")
 (swap! channels conj channel))

The function will log that a new channel was opened and add the channel to the set of open channels defined above.

When the client disconnects the on-close function will be called. This function accepts the channel along with a handler. The handler should accept the channel and the disconnect status. Our handler will log that the channel disconnected and remove it from the set of open channels.

(defn disconnect! [channel status]
 (timbre/info "channel closed:" status)
 (swap! channels #(remove #{channel} %)))

Finally, we have the on-receive function that's called any time a client message is received. We'll pass it the notify-clients function as the handler. This function will broadcast the message to all the connected clients.

(defn notify-clients [msg]
 (doseq [channel @channels]
     (send! channel msg)))

That's all we need to do to manage the lifecycle of the websocket connections and to handle client communication.

Next, We'll need to add the routes in our multi-client-ws.handler namespace:

(def app
 (-> (routes
       (wrap-routes home-routes middleware/wrap-csrf)

We will also have to update our multi-client-ws.middleware/wrap-base middleware wrapper to remove the wrap-formats middleware as it conflicts with handling websocket requests.

The Client

We'll start by creating a multi-client-ws.websockets in the src-cljs/multi_client_ws folder. The namespace will require the transit library:

(ns multi-client-ws.websockets
 (:require [cognitect.transit :as t]))

Next, we'll define an atom to hold our websocket channel and a couple of helpers for reading and writing the JSON encoded transit messages.

(defonce ws-chan (atom nil))
(def json-reader (t/reader :json))
(def json-writer (t/writer :json))

We'll now create a function to handle received messages. The function will accept the callback handler and return a function that decodes the transit message and passes it to the handler:

(defn receive-transit-msg!
 (fn [msg]
     (->> msg .-data (t/read json-reader)))))

We'll also create a function that sends messages to the socket if it's open:

(defn send-transit-msg!
 (if @ws-chan
   (.send @ws-chan (t/write json-writer msg))
   (throw (js/Error. "Websocket is not available!"))))

Finally, we'll add a function to create a new websocket given the URL and the received message handler:

(defn make-websocket! [url receive-handler]
 (println "attempting to connect websocket")
 (if-let [chan (js/WebSocket. url)]
     (set! (.-onmessage chan) (receive-transit-msg! receive-handler))
     (reset! ws-chan chan)
     (println "Websocket connection established with: " url))
   (throw (js/Error. "Websocket connection failed!"))))

The UI

We'll now navigate to the multi-client-ws.core namespace and remove the code that's already there. We'll set the ns definition to the following:

(ns multi-client-ws.core
 (:require [reagent.core :as reagent :refer [atom]]
           [multi-client-ws.websockets :as ws]))

Next, we'll create an atom to keep a list of messages and a Reagent component that renders it:

(defonce messages (atom []))

(defn message-list []
  (for [[i message] (map-indexed vector @messages)]
    ^{:key i}
    [:li message])])

We'll now create a message-input component that will allow us to type in a message and send it to the server. This component creates a local atom to keep track of the message being typed in and sends the message to the server when the enter key is pressed.

(defn message-input []
 (let [value (atom nil)]
   (fn []
      {:type :text
       :placeholder "type in a message and press enter"
       :value @value
       :on-change #(reset! value (-> % .-target .-value))
       #(when (= (.-keyCode %) 13)
           {:message @value})
          (reset! value nil))}])))

We can now create the home-page component that looks as follows:

(defn home-page []
    [:h2 "Welcome to chat"]]]

We'll also create an update-messages! function that will be used as the handler for the received messages. This function will append the new message and keep a buffer of 10 last received messages.

All that's left to do is mount the home-page component and create the websocket in the init! function:

(defn mount-components []
 (reagent/render-component [#'home-page] (.getElementById js/document "app")))

(defn init! []
 (ws/make-websocket! (str "ws://" (.-host js/location) "/ws") update-messages!)

We should now be able to open multiple browser windows and any messages typed in one window should show up in all the open windows.


As you can see, it's very easy to setup basic client-server communication between HTTP Kit and ClojureScript. While you may wish to use one of the libraries mentioned earlier for more sophisticated apps, it's certainly not necessary in many cases. The complete source for the example can be found on GitHub.

Copyright © Dmitri Sotnikov

Powered by Cryogen