Saturday, June 7, 2014

Using WebSockets when your Reverse Proxy doesn't allow it

As developers we don't always get to choose where our software runs. We often face economic or other restrictions based on infrastructure that already exists.

I recently moved a Node.js application from Linux server to a Windows Server 2008R2. Crazy right? It's working surprisingly well in the Windows environment. IIS 7.5 already owned port 80 so I had to setup a site on IIS, bind the domain to that site and use it as a reverse proxy to the Node app which was running on an arbitrary port.

In this case it happened to be IIS in any other case it might be Ngnix, Apache or any other server or reverse proxy that is between your Node.js application and the web. The problem that I faced is that this version of IIS does not support WebSockets so it looked like I couldn't use that and had to allow to fall back to long polling for this application.

There is, however, a solution, and it's rather simple.

Your site's facade, let's call it, is running on port 80 on IIS which is configured to run as a reverse proxy passing all traffic through to port (say) 4444 where your Node application is running.

When a client (a browser) connects to your site you provide it with the usual payload of HTML, CSS and JavaScript and in that you also provide it with the port number or sufficient information for the WebSocket part of the client to make a direct connection to your Node.js server and bypass the reverse proxy completely.

Using this little trick our site can remain on the default port going through the reverse proxy and all our WebSocket traffic can run over the application specific port.

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