๐Ÿค” Networking Strategy

Traditional websites typically use HTTP as a protocol to communicate between the client and the server. HTTP is a stateless request-response protocol, which means that the only way for the client to receive data from the server is as a response from a request. This might be good enough for a game that can follow similar mechanics to a traditional website, but it is not fast enough for a game that requires real-time communication between the client and the server. If you need the client to be immediately notified when an event happens, you will need a full-duplex solution like WebSockets or WebRTC.

It is worth mentioning that if you can live with having a delay of a few seconds between a server event and the client receiving that event (for instance if you make a turn-based game like a card or chess game), your client can refetch data at an interval, for instance with React QueryTypeScript36k2M/w. While this may seem like a waste of bandwidth, it will keep your infrastructure simple and stateless, which is immensely valuable.

HTTP requests have the advantages over WebSocket of being easier to debug, allowing caching, using standard reponse codes, allowing cookie-based authorization.

HTTP and WebSocket don't have to be mutually exclusive though. You can use HTTP GET and POST requests for everything that is not time-sensitive. For instance, fetching the inventory of the player can be a GET request, and upgrading an item can be a POST. Real-time combat on the other hand, has to be handled with WebSockets.

There is also the option of using Server-Sent Events (SSE) (opens in a new tab) / EventSource (opens in a new tab) which only support downstream communication from the server to the client but use the HTTP protocol.

In order to be exhaustive I will also mention the long polling approach, which keeps a connection open on the server and sends a response when an event happens. This is a very inefficient approach, and should be avoided.

To summarize, from the simplest and least-real-time approach to the most complex and most real-time:

  • HTTP request-response
  • HTTP request-response + refetch interval
  • HTTP request-response + SSE
  • HTTP request-response + WebSocket
  • WebSocket-only
  • WebRTC

Note: There is also the upcoming WebTransport (opens in a new tab) standard (browser support (opens in a new tab)) which relies on HTTP3. HTTP3 (opens in a new tab) (browser support (opens in a new tab)) is based on the QUIC (opens in a new tab) protocol.

In game development, you will encounter the broad term netcode (opens in a new tab), which refers to the implementation of the communication and synchronization between client and server.