Faye 0.8: the refactoring

I’m pleased to finally announce the release of Faye 0.8 after a few months of reorganising the 0.7 codebase to make it more modular, and splitting parts of it out into separate projects. Before I get to what’s changed, I’m going to get the API changes out of the way: this is the stuff you need to know if you’re upgrading.

I hate introducing API changes but I’m afraid these really couldn’t be avoided. They’re really configuration changes so you shouldn’t need to change a lot of code. Please get on the mailing list if you have problems.

First, if you’re running the Ruby server you need to tell it which web server you’re using. Faye now supports the Thin, Rainbows and Goliath web servers, and you need to tell the WebSocket layer which set of adapters to load. For a ‘hello world’ app this looks like this:

# config.ru
require 'faye'
Faye::WebSocket.load_adapter('thin')

app = Faye::RackAdapter.new(:mount => '/faye', :timeout => 25)

run app

Depending on whether you run your application with rackup or thin, the load_adapter call might not be strictly necessary, but better to have it in there just in case. See the Faye Ruby docs and the faye-websocket documentation on how to run your app with different Ruby servers.

Second, if you use the Redis backend, you need to install a new library and change the engine.type setting in your server. Instead of specifying the name of the engine, this field now takes a reference to the engine object. In Ruby that looks like this:

# config.ru
# First run: gem install faye-redis

require 'faye'
require 'faye/redis'

bayeux = Faye::RackAdapter.new(
  :mount   => '/',
  :timeout => 25,
  :engine  => {
    :type  => Faye::Redis,
    :host  => 'redis.example.com',
    # more options
  }
)

And on Node:

// First run: npm install faye-redis

var faye  = require('faye'),
    redis = require('faye-redis');

var bayeux = new faye.NodeAdapter({
  mount:    '/',
  timeout:  25,
  engine: {
    type:   redis,
    host:   'redis.example.com',
    // more options
  }
});

Apart from this, Faye 0.8 should be backward-compatible with previous releases.

Having got the administrivia out of the way, what’s new? Well, the main focus of the 0.8 release is modularity. Two major components of Faye – the WebSocket support and the Redis engine – have been split off into their own packages. I’ve been blogging here already about faye-websocket (rubygem, npm package), and the major work over the last few months has gone into making this a really solid WebSocket and EventSource implementation. Because of its new-found freedom outside the main Faye project, it’s been adopted by other projects, notably SockJS, Cramp and Poltergeist. This adoption, particularly from SockJS, has meant more feedback, bug fixes and performance improvements and resulted in a really solid WebSocket library that improves Faye’s performance.

This new library has had a beneficial impact on Faye’s transport layer. faye-websocket is much faster than Faye’s 0.7 WebSocket code, supports EventSource and new WebSocket features, and runs on more Ruby servers: Faye 0.7 was confined to Thin whereas it now also runs on Rainbows and Goliath. On top of this, Faye 0.8 adds a new EventSource-based transport to support Opera 11 and browsers where proxies block WebSocket, and improves how it uses WebSocket. Previously, Faye’s WebSocket transport used the same polling-based /meta/connect cycle as other transports. It was faster than HTTP, but not optimal. Faye 0.8 now breaks out of this request/response pattern and pushes messages to WebSocket and EventSource connections as soon as they arrive at the server, without returning the /meta/connect poll. This results in lower latency, particular when delivering messages at high volume.

The second major change is that the Redis engine is now a separate library, faye-redis (rubygem, npm package). This has two important benefits. First, the main Faye package no longer depends on Redis clients, and in particular the Node version no longer depends on packages with C extensions, so no compiler is needed to install it. Second, it means Faye’s backend is now totally pluggable and third parties can implement their own engines: the API is thoroughly documented for Ruby and Node. The engine is a small piece of code (for example here’s the Ruby in-memory engine) but it really defines Faye’s behaviour. This layer is not concerned with transport negotiation (HTTP, WebSocket, etc) or even the Bayeux protocol format, it just implements the messaging business logic and stores the state of the system. You can easily implement your own engine to run on top of another messaging/storage stack, or change the messaging semantics if you like. Faye has a complete set of tests you can run to check your engine – see the Ruby and Node projects for examples.

Finally, there have been a couple of changes to the client. We’ve switched from exponential-backoff to fixed-interval for trying to reconnect after the client loses its connection to the server, and this interval is configurable using the retry setting:

// Attempts to reconnect every 5 seconds
var client = new Faye.Client('http://example.com/bayeux', {
  retry: 5
});

You can also set headers for long-polling requests on the client; this is useful for talking to OAuth-protected servers, for example:

client.setHeader('Authorization', 'OAuth ' + accessToken);

And finally, there’s a new server-side setting, ping, that controls how often the server sends keep-alive data over WebSocket and EventSource connections. This data is ignored by the client, but helps keep the connection open through proxies that like to kill idle connections.

// Sends pings every 10 seconds

var bayeux = new faye.NodeAdapter({
  mount: '/bayeux',
  ping:  10
});

And that just about wraps things up for this release. Since 0.7.1, the main Faye codebase has shed over 2,000 lines of code into other projects that we can easily ship incremental updates to without affecting Faye itself. It’s more performant, leaner and more modular and I know there are already projects doing cool things with it. If you’re using Faye for interesting projects, I’d love to hear from you on the mailing list.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you might enjoy my recently published book JavaScript Testing Recipes. It’s full of simple techniques for writing modular, maintainable JavaScript apps in the browser and on the server.