Vaadin 8 Communication Explained

Vaadin’s synchronization protocol is based on UIDL (UI Diffing Language?). Basically it’s a JSON file, listing what have been changed since the last UIDL update. For example, if you set a new caption to a TextField with connector ID 42, you will be able to observe this information in the UIDL sent from the server to the client.

Essentially, Vaadin sends diffs (called UIDLs) of what has been changed from the server-side.

UIDL Example

For example, clicking on a Vaadin button will make the client-side VButton send the click event to the server-side (possibly along with any outstanding value change events since those are able to be configured as non-immediate). The example request JSON follows:


From the above you can see that a component with ID 7 called the ButtonServerRpc class, the click() function. The Vaadin server then calls the appropriate method, which calls Button’s listeners. Vaadin server will then monitor all components for all changes (label changes, value changes, layout children changes), gathers them into one big response and sends it back to the client, so that the changes can be applied to the client-side components.

Example response JSON:

  {"syncId": 2, "clientId": 2, "changes" : [], "state":{
    "8":{"text":"Thanks , it works!"}
  "rpc" : [], "meta" : {}, "resources" : {}, "typeMappings" : { "com.vaadin.ui.Label" : 14 }, "typeInheritanceMap" : { "14" : 7 , "3" : 10 , "4" : 7 , "10" : 12 , "12" : 4 , "7" : 9 }, "timings":[229, 0]}

From that we can see that the component with ID 8 needs to apply a new text. We can also see from types that the component 8 is mapped to type 14; from typeMappings we can see that it’s the type com.vaadin.ui.Label. That means that the Label with ID 8 will change its text to Thanks , it works!.

Message Ordering

Since missing out just one of those diffs could lead to undefined client-side state, Vaadin must keep strict track of which UIDLs has been received from the server by the client-side Vaadin code. The UIDL numbering scheme starts from 0 and continues in a strictly increasing monotonic order.

The first request is a POST to / containing various browser information such as time zone, theme, location etc. The server responds by sending the first UIDL containing the initial screen layout and all initially visible components. The client creates and draws all components, then awaits for the user activity.

Any user activity will now cause a message #0 to be sent to the server, to which the server replies with message #1. Any follow-up activity will cause a message #1 to be sent to the server, to which the server replies with message #2. And so on.

The message number is stored in the syncId UIDL JSON field and also in the clientId UIDL JSON field.

A difference between syncId and clientId

The syncId number is for server -> client messsages, the clientId is for client -> server messages.

When not using push, those numbers will stay exactly the same, since for every client request there is exactly one server response. However, when using push, the server may push a new UIDL message at any time, without being provoked by a message from the client first. In such case, the syncId number is increased but the clientId number is kept the same.

The reasons for having two oddly-named values is historical:

First, there was only syncId which was supposed to cover both directions. Then later on, it was realized that we need separate numbers for each direction. At that point, clientId was introduced without renaming the existing syncId to e.g. serverId.

Both numbers are used to check for missing/out-of-order messages: the client-side code checks the value of syncId, while the server checks the value of the clientId.

Both values are increased on the server: any request from the client will be responded to with having both syncId and clientId increased. The next request from the client will then reuse the last values sent from the server-side, without increasing them client-side.

Corrective Measures

If certain conditions lead to UIDL messages dropped or reordered, corrective measures are taken. If it is the client who detects a missing message, he will delay the processing and will wait for 5 seconds until any missing messages are possibly retrieved. If this fails, the client asks for a full resync.

Whenever server receives a request for resync, it will gather all state from all components and sends the entire information to the client-side. The client will then completely redraw all components from scratch, to make the client-side up-to-date and establish lost sync.

The server can also detect missing messages, in such case it can simply respond with a full resync message. The client will then drop everything and redraw the components from scratch.

See the Vaadin 8 Push issues for more details on how the out-of-order comms could occur.


No Push

When not using Push, the whole communication uses a very simple HTTP request-response pattern.

The first request is a HTTP POST to http://localhost:8080/?v-1607331961570=; any follow-up requests go as HTTP POSTs to http://localhost:8080/UIDL/?v-uiId=1.

Vaadin client will also send infrequent heartbeats via HTTP POST to http://localhost:8080/HEARTBEAT/?v-uiId=1, to let the server know that the UI is still alive. The default heartbeat interval is 5 minutes but this can be reconfigured.

Push transport modes

Vaadin supports three transport modes:

  • LONG_POLLING - Vaadin client/atmosphere creates a long-running HTTP GET request which blocks on the server side until server has something asynchronous to send back. Nothing else is sent through this pipe - both heartbeats and regular requests open a new separate TCP/IP connections. Heartbeats are sent as a new HTTP POST request to /HEARTBEAT/?v-uiId=xyz with no UIDL response; regular requests are sent as a new HTTP POST request to /UIDL/?v-uiId=xyz and the server responds with the UIDL message (which is sent through this new request instead of through the long-running HTTP GET request). The GET request URL looks like this: PUSH?v-uiId=1&v-pushId=9d11a92e-4757-4929-b27e-dcd88d4ebbc3&X-Atmosphere-tracking-id=42cffc7f-746a-42e1-a411-ba50e7a0d6bf&X-Atmosphere-Framework=2.3.2.vaadin1-javascript&X-Atmosphere-Transport=long-polling&X-Atmosphere-TrackMessageSize=true&Content-Type=application/json; charset=UTF-8&X-atmo-protocol=true&_=1605779039425.
  • WEBSOCKET_XHR - Vaadin client/atmosphere creates a long-running websocket bi-directional pipe. The server writes to the pipe when there’s something asynchronous to send back. Nothing else is sent through this pipe - both heartbeats and regular requests open a new separate TCP/IP connections, exactly as with LONG_POLLING. The reasoning is that if the websocket connection became broken, it doesn’t prevent from requests still reaching the server. The websocket URL will also look like this: PUSH?v-uiId=1&v-pushId=2560ed30-365e-45e9-8cbd-699189c065f8&X-Atmosphere-tracking-id=0&X-Atmosphere-Framework=2.3.2.vaadin1-javascript&X-Atmosphere-Transport=websocket&X-Atmosphere-TrackMessageSize=true&Content-Type=application/json; charset=UTF-8&X-atmo-protocol=true, the important difference is that the status will be 101 and the ‘type’ will be either ‘plain’ (Firefox) or ‘websocket’ (Chrome).
  • WEBSOCKET - Vaadin client/atmosphere creates a long-running websocket bi-directional pipe. The server writes to the pipe when there’s something asynchronous to send back. The heartbeats are still sent via separate requests, however the regular requests (including poll-activated requests) are now transmitted via the websocket pipe. Therefore, using poll interval of, say, 30 seconds will cause activity on the pipe, preventing load-balancers/proxies/firewalls from killing the connection. However, a broken pipe will instantly kill any kind of comms between the client and the server. The websocket request URL will look the same as with WEBSOCKET_XHR.

Chrome rant

Chrome decides to simply drop parts of the URL and will simply only show the ?v-uiId=xyz instead of /UIDL/?v-uiId=xyz part in the Network tab. You will thus be unable to tell between UIDL requests and Heartbeat requests. I have no idea in which fucking universe this makes sense, just be aware of this shit when dealing with screenshots from Chrome.

Written on November 9, 2020