|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2012)|
Push technology, or server push, is a style of Internet-based communication where the request for a given transaction is initiated by the publisher or central server. It is contrasted with pull/get, where the request for the transmission of information is initiated by the receiver or client.
Push services are often based on information preferences expressed in advance. This is called a publish/subscribe model. A client "subscribes" to various information "channels" provided by a server; whenever new content is available on one of those channels, the server pushes that information out to the client.
Push is sometimes emulated with a polling technique, particularly under circumstances where a real push is not possible, such as sites with security policies that require rejection of incoming HTTP/S requests.
Synchronous conferencing and instant messaging are typical examples of push services. Chat messages and sometimes files are pushed to the user as soon as they are received by the messaging service. Both decentralised peer-to-peer programs (such as WASTE) and centralised programs (such as IRC or XMPP) allow pushing files, which means the sender initiates the data transfer rather than the recipient.
Email may also be a push system: The SMTP protocol is a push protocol (see Push e-mail). However, the last step--from mail server to desktop computer--typically uses a pull protocol like POP3 or IMAP. Modern e-mail clients make this step seem instantaneous by repeatedly polling the mail server, frequently checking it for new mail. The IMAP protocol includes the IDLE command, which allows the server to tell the client when new messages arrive. The original BlackBerry was the first popular example of push-email in a wireless context.
Another example is the PointCast Network, which was widely adopted in the 1990s. It delivered news and stock market data as a screensaver. Both Netscape and Microsoft integrated push technology through the Channel Definition Format (CDF) into their software at the height of the browser wars, but it was never very popular. CDF faded away and was removed from the browsers of the time, replaced in the 2000s with RSS (a pull system.)
Other uses of push-enabled web applications include market data distribution (stock tickers), online chat/messaging systems (webchat), auctions, online betting and gaming, sport results, monitoring consoles, and sensor network monitoring.
The Webpush proposal of the Internet Engineering Task Force is a simple protocol using HTTP version 2 to deliver realtime events, such as incoming calls or messages, which can be delivered (or "pushed") in a timely fashion. The protocol consolidates all real-time events into a single session which ensures more efficient use of network and radio resources. A single service consolidates all events, distributing those events to applications as they arrive. This requires just one session, avoiding duplicated overhead costs.
HTTP server push (also known as HTTP streaming) is a mechanism for sending unsolicited (asynchronous) data from a web server to a web browser. HTTP server push can be achieved through any of several mechanisms.
Generally the web server does not terminate a connection after response data has been served to a client. The web server leaves the connection open so that if an event occurs (for example, a change in internal data which needs to be reported to one or multiple clients), it can be sent out immediately; otherwise, the event would have to be queued until the client's next request is received. Most web servers offer this functionality via CGI (e.g., Non-Parsed Headers scripts on Apache HTTP Server). The underlying mechanism for this approach is chunked transfer encoding.
Another mechanism is related to a special MIME type called
multipart/x-mixed-replace, which was introduced by Netscape in 1995. Web browsers interpret this as a document changing whenever the server feels like pushing a new version to the client. It is still supported by Firefox, Opera, and Safari today, but it is ignored by Internet Explorer. It can be applied to HTML documents, and also for streaming images in webcam applications.
The WHATWG Web Applications 1.0 proposal includes a mechanism to push content to the client. On September 1, 2006, the Opera web browser implemented this new experimental system in a feature called "Server-Sent Events". It is now being standardized as part of HTML5.
Long polling is itself not a true push; long polling is a variation of the traditional polling technique, but it allows emulating a push mechanism under circumstances where a real push is not possible, such as sites with security policies that require rejection of incoming HTTP/S Requests.
With long polling, the client requests information from the server exactly as in normal polling, but with the expectation the server may not respond immediately. If the server has no new information for the client when the poll is received, instead of sending an empty response, the server holds the request open and waits for response information to become available. Once it does have new information, the server immediately sends an HTTP/S response to the client, completing the open HTTP/S Request. Upon receipt of the server response, the client often immediately issues another server request. In this way the usual response latency (the time between when the information first becomes available and the next client request) otherwise associated with polling clients is eliminated.
For example, BOSH is a popular, long-lived HTTP technique used as a long-polling alternative to a continuous TCP connection when such a connection is difficult or impossible to employ directly (e.g., in a web browser); it is also an underlying technology in the XMPP, which Apple uses for its iCloud push support.
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