A Weird Imagination

Long Polling in Django Channels

The problem

In a web app where the display should be constantly up-to-date, the client needs some way to get up-to-date information from the server. One of the simplest ways to do so is to regularly (every few seconds) query the server asking if there is new information. This involves making a lot of requests and is wasteful of bandwidth and processor time on both the client and server (the latter can be improved with caching).

If updates are rare, it makes much more sense for the server to notify the client when they occur, but HTTP is designed around the client making requests to the server, not the other way around. And, furthermore, the Django web framework (like many web frameworks) is built around that model.

The solution

Of course, this is a well-understood problem and there are a wide variety of APIs and libraries to solve it discussed on the Wikipedia page for Comet. The main workarounds are WebSockets which is a very flexible technology for two-way communication in a web browser and long polling which is a simpler technique which involves merely having the server not answer a request immediately and instead wait until it actually has an update to reply with.

In the rest of this blog post, I discuss the changes I made to convert a Django-based web app that I originally wrote to use a basic polling pattern and hosted using uWSGI to instead use long polling and be hosted using Gunicorn/Uvicorn. I also cover nginx configuration including hosting the app in a subdirectory.

The details

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