React/ReactJS: Chat w/ Node.js & WebSocket

For implementing real-time applications like chat, live video streaming, online games, stock trading, etc, the traditional browser/server request/response methodology over HTTP protocol proves to be inefficient. You need a full-duplex client-server connection system.

For such purposes, we have the WebSocket API which gives persistent bi-directional TCP connection between a client (browser) and a server in real-time.

reactjs chat

In this tutorial, we will create a simple chat application in React and Node.js using WebSocket.

Install ws, a WebSocket library in Node.js.

					
						npm i ws
					
				

We now create a WebSocket server in Node.js as shown below. Include ws, the above installed WebSocket library. The port number we assign is 8080 (you can pick any other number which does not conflict with your React application port). We name this file Server.js.

					
					const WebSocket = require('ws');

					const wss = new WebSocket.Server({ port: 8080 });

					wss.on('connection', function connection(ws) {
					  ws.on('message', function incoming(data) {
					    wss.clients.forEach(function each(client) {
					      if (client !== ws && client.readyState === WebSocket.OPEN) {
					        client.send(data);
					        // console.log('data', data);
					      }
					    });
					  });
					});
					
				

The client !== ws condition inside the if statement is for the WebSocket on the client side which broadcasts to every other connected WebSocket clients, but excludes itself. You can uncomment the // console.log('data', data); statement in the above code to view the transmitted messages in real-time logged into the console.

The client side code (React) goes inside a function component.

Just after the import statement(s), we first define const URL and assign it the 'localhost' ip value where the protocol is ws:// (and not the usual http:// or https://) and the port number is 8080, which is the very number assigned to the server.

					
					const URL = 'ws://127.0.0.1:8080';
					
				

We next create four states using the useState hook:

					
					const [user, setUser] = useState('John');
					const [message, setMessage] = useState([]);
					const [messages, setMessages] = useState([]);
					const [ws, setWs] = useState(new WebSocket(URL));
					
				

Also, in our simplistic design of chat UI, a message (text) input box and a submit button alongside it is generated via JSX, on press of which a stringified message (along with the sender's name) is sent to the server and at the same time appended to the messages state array.

					
				  	const submitMessage = (usr, msg) => {
				  		const message = { user: usr, message: msg };
				  		ws.send(JSON.stringify(message));
				  		setMessages([message, ...messages]);
				  	}
					
				

All event handlers associated with the WebSocket goes inside the useEffect() hook. The returned function serves the purpose of componentWillUnmount() in the function component.

					
				  	useEffect(() => {
				  		ws.onopen = () => {
				  			console.log('WebSocket Connected');
				  		}

				  		ws.onmessage = (e) => {
				  		  const message = JSON.parse(e.data);
				  		  setMessages([message, ...messages]);
				  		}

				  		return () => {
				  			ws.onclose = () => {
				  				console.log('WebSocket Disconnected');
				  				setWs(new WebSocket(URL));
				  			}
				  		}
				  	}, [ws.onmessage, ws.onopen, ws.onclose, messages]);
					
				

We put it all together inside a function component as shown below.

					
					import React, { useState, useEffect } from "react";

					const URL = 'ws://127.0.0.1:8080';

					const Chat =() => {
						const [user, setUser] = useState('Tarzan');
					  	const [message, setMessage] = useState([]);
					  	const [messages, setMessages] = useState([]);
					  	const [ws, setWs] = useState(new WebSocket(URL));

					  	const submitMessage = (usr, msg) => {
					  		const message = { user: usr, message: msg };
					  		ws.send(JSON.stringify(message));
					  		setMessages([message, ...messages]);
					  	}

					  	useEffect(() => {
						    ws.onopen = () => {
						      console.log('WebSocket Connected');
						    }

						    ws.onmessage = (e) => {
						      const message = JSON.parse(e.data);
						      setMessages([message, ...messages]);
						    }

						    return () => {
						      ws.onclose = () => {
						        console.log('WebSocket Disconnected');
						        setWs(new WebSocket(URL));
						      }
						    }
					  	}, [ws.onmessage, ws.onopen, ws.onclose, messages]);

					  	return (
						    <div>
						        <label htmlFor="user">
						          Name :
						          <input
						            type="text"
						            id="user"
						            placeholder="User"
						            value={user}
						            onChange={e => setUser(e.target.value)}
						          />
						        </label>

						        <ul>
						          {messages.reverse().map((message, index) =>
						            <li key={index}>
						              <b>{message.user}</b>: <em>{message.message}</em>
						            </li>
						          )}
						        </ul>

						        <form
						          action=""
						          onSubmit={e => {
						            e.preventDefault();
						            submitMessage(user, message);
						            setMessage([]);
						          }}
						        >
						          <input
						            type="text"
						            placeholder={'Type a message ...'}
						            value={message}
						            onChange={e => setMessage(e.target.value)}
						          />
						          <input type="submit" value={'Send'} />
						        </form>
						    </div>
					  	)
					}

					export default Chat;
					
				

We add minimal CSS to align the <ul/>'s' and the <li/>'s and designate some height to the messages area.

					
					ul {
						height: 150px;
						padding-inline-start: 0px;
					}

					ul > li {
						list-style-type: none;
					}
					
				

and import it into the React file.

					
					import './Chat.css';
					
				

Now, navigate to the location of the WebSocket server file Server.js and start the chat.

					
					node Server.js
					
				

Start the React application.

					
					npm start
					
				

You can open two browser windows, fill the User fields with two different names (Tarzan and Jane here) and start the chat.

reactjs nodejs websocket chat

You can proceed on your own from here: improve the UI, add timestamps to messages, display profile pictures, create databases for chat history, etc.

Notes

  • The WebSocket implemented on the client side is the WebSocket API, not the installed ws.