[whatwg] WhatWG and event-source design

S. Mike Dierken mdierken at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 19 21:15:29 PDT 2005

I had posted some comments about the event-source design back in June, but
apparently they didn't actually make it to the list. I noticed this from a
post on Hixie's blog: "I found several posts giving suggestions and feedback
on the WHATWG specs. But as far as I can tell, none of those messages were
sent to the list."

My post about the event-source design is here:

And I've included it in this email (sorry for the length):

There are several technical issues and design approaches that are
interesting, but I can't find much background or discussion of these
alternatives, so I may be covering old ground with this post.

The different areas I am interested in are:
- connecting elements, event streams and event handlers
- format and definition of event streams

1) connecting elements, event streams and event handlers
>From the section "9.1.1. The event-source element" the approach is to
introduce a new element. I'd like to consider whether more than one
event-source element is allowed, and also consider whether simply
introducing new attributes on existing elements is easier and feasible.
If a document is allowed to have more than one event-source element then the
client app will have to deal with either multiple connections or combining
multiple event-sources on one connection while delivering events to the
corresponding event-source element event handler. If multiple connections
are supported, then the client application could saturate the capability of
the client machine and could even be considered a 'poorly behaved' client on
the shared network.

An alternative to a new element would be to add new attributes, for example:
<p event-src="/my/stocks/amzn/" onMessage="handleQuotes()" />

I suggest using onMessage rather than onEvent to distinguish between network
based messages and application based events (e.g. connection-opened,
connection-closed-by-client, connection-closed-by-server, etc). I realize
that some people feel web developers would want these to look identical, but
many years of experience across the software industry has shown that they
are simply different beasts and making that explicit actually helps the
developer. The onEvent handler could be used for connection events on the
event-source outside the actual messages within that stream.

2) format and definition of event streams
Section "9.1.3 Processing model" defines how connections should be handled,
and it's great to see this detail, especially arounds failure modes, closed
connections, etc.

This section indicates that client should re-open connections after a small
delay if they were closed in a successful situation. This section should
consider persistent connections (i.e. keep-alive) and distinguish
reply-level response codes from connection-level operations. For example,
rather than saying "HTTP 200 OK responses with the right MIME type, however,
should, when closed, be reopened after a small delay.", it may be better to
say something like "The retrieval of an event-source that completes
successfully (it has the correct content-type and an HTTP 200 OK response
status code) should be tried again after a short delay." In addition, the
client should continue to obey the appropriate cache-control response
headers - this allows the server to dynamically influence the interval that
the client retrieves future events (beyond a static value placed in other
attributes on the event-source element). This would be useful in the HTTP
204 No Content situation described in this section as well.

Section "9.1.4. The event stream format" defines a new MIME type and new
syntax for the browser to process. This section also has the most detail of
the interaction between events and the application logic. I don't want to
sound too negative, but this is the section that needs the most help.
Several years ago, when I was at KnowNow, I spent a lot of time implementing
browser based libraries and applications in JavaScript to do almost exactly
what this definition of event-source describes. Since then, I've spent a lot
of engineering time designing and building servers for large scale
subscriptions and notifications at various companies. Doing that work taught
me a lot about the balance between flexibility, ease of coding and

There are three aspects of this event stream that I'm concerned about - the
meaning of the event stream resource itself, the framing of individual
messages within that event stream and how to handle re-processing the event
stream in different situations (errors, page refresh by the user, etc).

The proposal I have is to consider the src= attribute on the event-source
element as referencing a 'collection of messages'. As to the framing of
individual messages, when retrieving this collection of messages via HTTP, I
suggest using the multipart/mixed or multipart/digest MIME type. Individual
parts can then have their own content-type and developers can decide which
suits their needs - a simple name/value pair approach like form data (not my
favorite), javascript object definitions like JSON, etc. See RFC 1341 for

I realize that one use-case or scenario is for mobile devices and message
size is a concern. I think it may be possible to follow the pattern of
multipart/mixed but create a terse syntax that follows the same capabilities
of multipart/mixed with respect to compression (transfer-encoding, gzip,
etc), formats (content-type) and localization (character-encoding).

For each message, the WhatWG event-source definition introduces specific
names used for controlling routing to event handlers but it seems trivially
easy to define an approach that isn't specific to this new syntax.
Specifically, the Event and Target names could be replaced.

My proposal is to define the each message in the event streams to be similar
to a request, except that no possibility of a response from the client
exists. This provides for each message to have a URI that indicates it's
target and a method that indicates the event type (post/put/delete).

For example, rather than an HTTP response of:

200 OK
Content-type: application/x-dom-event-stream
Content-length: NNNN
Event: stock change\n
data: YHOO\n
data: -2\n
data: 10\n

Use a more generic event stream like

200 OK
Content-type: multipart/mixed; boundary=msg_boundary
POST /event-handler/stocks HTTP/1.0

Content-type: text/javascript-object
Content-length: NNNN
{symbol: "YHOO", delta: -2, value: 10}
PUT /event-handler/stocks/YHOO HTTP/1.0
Content-type: text/javascript-object
Content-length: NNNN
{delta: -2, value: 10}

There may be 'issues' with adding the request-line in a multipart/mixed
response, but defining a 'multipart/message' might work for that. And if
people don't like HTTP/1.0 in the request-line, we could define a 'simple
notification protocol' as SNP/1.0

That last thing I'll mention has to do with re-processing the event stream.
Re-processing an HTML page from start to end generally works. However,
re-processing an event stream from start to end is generally not going to
work well. The situations to consider are when the user manually refreshes
the page and when the retrieval of the event stream completes successfully.
When the user manually refreshes the page, the src= attribute will be the
same as when the page was previously retrieved, but should the events be the
same as previously retrieved, or should they be messages from that moment
forward? And when the the retrieval of messages succeeds and the client
waits a few moments before retrieving the next set from the very same URI,
should that next set be the same messages again?

This is a tricky area and I'm sure there are several ways to approach this.
I'll write more later...

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