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Chat & Messaging Protocols: How to Choose the Best One?


Ever stopped to think about the complex systems working behind the scenes of your favorite chat apps?

How do texts, emojis, or gifs get from one device to another almost instantly?

It's all thanks to chat and messaging protocols.

In essence, messaging protocols are like the communication rulebook for your app. They outline how data is structured, transmitted, received, and interpreted.

However, it's crucial to remember this - not all protocols are created equal. Each one comes with its own set of benefits and potential drawbacks, which depend on your specific needs and app.

Selecting the right messaging protocol for your app can't be overstated. It will impact your chat feature's speed, efficiency, scalability, and security. And picking the wrong one can seriously impact your in-app chat performance.

That's why we're here to guide you through the world of messaging protocols. We'll provide insights to help you choose the one that aligns best with your app's requirements. So, without further ado, let's dive in and untangle the intricacies of messaging protocols once and for all.

Understanding Messaging Protocols

Messaging protocols are a bit like Air Traffic Control at a busy airport. Just as air traffic controllers know where each plane is heading to and landing, and make sure they all stay clear of each other, messaging protocols do the same. They control the exchange of chat data by setting all the rules and procedures and managing the way it is transferred.

Think of it this way – without a defined set of rules outlined by the messaging protocol, your chat feature would be like a city in peak hour traffic with no traffic signals. Chaos, right?

The choice of a messaging protocol directly influences your chat feature's overall quality. It affects:

  • speed (we want our messages to be as snappy as possible, don't we?)
  • efficiency (no one likes their app to be a battery guzzler)
  • scalability (your app should be able to handle just two or even two million users chatting away happily)

The choice of messaging protocol also affects data integrity and security. You wouldn't want your private chats ending up in the wrong hands, would you? That's where a robust messaging protocol comes into play.

Don't forget – it's not just about delivering the message. It's also about acknowledging the receipt, confirming the message was read, and sometimes even recalling a message you didn't mean to send. In these ways, using the correct messaging protocol for your app helps to enhance user experience even further.

Key Messaging Protocols in Use Today

Each protocol is a powerhouse in its own right, bringing a unique set of features to the table. But which one is right for you? Let's take a closer look.

  • MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport): A binary messaging protocol known for its simplicity and lightweight nature, MQTT was designed with the Internet of Things (IoT) in mind, making it a great fit for scenarios where network bandwidth is at a premium. Its efficiency and lightweight design make it an excellent candidate for IoT applications and any situation where resources are minimal.MQTT uses a minimal, compact header, with as little as 2 bytes for small payloads, thereby ensuring that messages are transmitted efficiently, even over constrained networks. The protocol supports both binary and text-encoded data (UTF-8 strings), offering flexibility based on application requirements.

An example of an MQTT message, expressed in hexadecimal form, would be a Connect packet:

<10 16 00 04 4D 51 54 54 04 02 00 0A 00 06 4D 79 49 44

Here, the message type (10) indicates a CONNECT command, followed by the remaining length of the message (16). The protocol name ("MQTT") and level (04), connect flags (02), and keep-alive duration (00 0A) are also specified. The Client Identifier ("MyID") completes the message. This binary representation of an MQTT message demonstrates the protocol's compact and efficient design.

Here are some well-known apps and services that use MQTT:

  1. Facebook Messenger: One of the world's most popular instant messaging platforms, Facebook Messenger utilizes MQTT for its real-time chat capabilities, benefiting from the protocol's minimal bandwidth usage and reliable message delivery.
  2. Amazon Web Services (AWS): Many of AWS's IoT solutions employ MQTT for device-to-cloud and cloud-to-device messaging. AWS IoT Core, for instance, uses MQTT as one of its primary communication protocols.
  3. IBM: MQTT was originally developed by IBM, and the technology giant continues to use the protocol extensively in its various IoT solutions.
  • XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol): The old stalwart of the messaging protocol world. If MQTT is the minimalist, XMPP is the jack-of-all-trades text-based protocol. It's been around since the early days of Internet messaging and offers a solid list of features: contact list maintenance, presence information, one-on-one and multi-party messaging, and more. Applications that require real-time collaboration and communication often lean on XMPP for its reliability and broad feature set.

The protocol operates based on XML stanzas, where messages, presence updates, and IQ (information query) requests are encapsulated. Here's an example of a simple XMPP message:

    <body>Wherefore art thou, Romeo?</body>

Although XMPP is used in a broad range of applications, it is incapable of natively sending binary data, which makes it outdated for modern use cases that demand more efficient data transfer. This is particularly relevant in the context of Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile applications where bandwidth and power are at a premium.

Here are some well-known apps and services that use XMPP:

  1. WhatsApp: Before switching to their own custom protocol, WhatsApp used XMPP for its messaging infrastructure. Its initial success helped highlight XMPP's capabilities in handling large-scale, real-time communication systems.
  2. Google: For a long time, Google used XMPP as the backbone of its Google Talk application, demonstrating XMPP's reliability and robustness.
  3. Jabber: An open-source instant messaging system based entirely on XMPP.
  • AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol): This protocol is a workhorse, known for its robustness and reliability. It's all about message orientation, queuing, routing, and security - the fundamental building blocks for a reliable messaging system. When you're working with complex business applications where message delivery must be assured, AMQP is your go-to protocol.AMQP presents a clear set of standardization for message format, delivery, security, and transactions, ensuring high-quality service in terms of message orientation, queuing, routing, and security - the essential components for a reliable messaging system. As such, when intricate business applications need a fail-safe assurance of message delivery, AMQP fits the bill.

Here's an example of a basic AMQP message:

import pika
connection = pika.BlockingConnection(
channel =


body='Hello World!')
print(" [x] Sent 'Hello World!'")

In this Python example, we're creating a connection to a server, declaring a queue, then sending a "Hello World!" message to that queue.

AMQP is a binary protocol, which means it can handle the demands of modern applications requiring efficient data transfer. Its versatility in different use cases, from lightweight cloud applications to robust enterprise systems, continues to maintain its relevance in the current messaging landscape.

Here are some well-known apps and services that use AMQP:

  1. RabbitMQ: One of the most popular open-source AMQP brokers, RabbitMQ is used worldwide by large-scale businesses for its robust messaging capabilities.
  2. OpenStack: An open-source software platform for cloud computing, OpenStack uses AMQP for communication between its various services.
  3. JP Morgan: One of the original creators of AMQP, JP Morgan uses this protocol heavily in its operations for reliable, secure message delivery.
  • BMP(Binary Messaging Protocol):Developed by Sceyt, BMP is a proprietary messaging protocol designed for efficient, low-latency message delivery even under challenging network conditions, such as poor network connectivity. BMP is a binary protocol, rather than a text-based one, that leverages Protocol Buffers (Protobuf) for its data transfer format. Protobuf, created by Google, is a compact binary format that provides efficient serialization of structured data. With a specific compiler, Protobuf translates data into binary code, ensuring a fast, lightweight interchange of data. The additional layer of stream control in BMP ensures that even in poor network connectivity scenarios, BMP retains its efficiency and low-latency capabilities. It relies on raw TCP sockets and additionally supports WebSockets, which make it possible for real-time and bidirectional message transmission in browsers. This makes BMP a powerful choice for applications where speed, efficiency, and reliability of data exchange are paramount, even in environments with limited connectivity.
  • RCS (Rich Communication Services):A communication protocol aimed at enhancing traditional SMS and MMS messaging, providing more advanced features like read receipts, typing indicators, and the ability to share high-resolution photos and videos. This protocol is backed by major telecom operators with the intention of making it the standard messaging service on mobile devices. It's also actively supported by Android, offering an enriched messaging experience on this platform. However, compatibility issues can arise between Android and Apple devices as Apple has not implemented this protocol in their iMessage app.
  • WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications):An open-source protocol that equips web browsers and mobile applications with real-time communication (RTC) capabilities through simple APIs. WebRTC enables direct peer-to-peer communication, which bypasses intermediary servers and thereby minimizes latency – an essential feature for seamless video conferencing or voice calling. Its capabilities extend beyond audio and video streaming, thanks to its Data Channels. These channels allow for bidirectional data transfer directly between peers, supporting any form of data, including text.
  • WebSockets:Though Websockets is not strictly speaking a messaging protocol designed for chat, many apps rely on WebSocket as a bidirectional and real-time messaging protocol. It's used to build messaging protocols like SocketIO as well as custom and proprietary ones like BMP. It's also the only bidirectional protocol supported by web browsers. Websocket is an advanced technology providing a two-way, full-duplex communication channel between a client and a server over a single long-lived connection. In contrast to traditional HTTP connections, WebSockets offer real-time data transfer, making them highly effective for use cases demanding instant data updates like live streaming, online gaming, and real-time trading. Once a WebSocket connection is established, it stays open until the client or server decides to close it, reducing the amount of overhead compared to continuous polling. The protocol is designed to work over the same ports as HTTP (80) and HTTPS (443), making it compatible with existing network infrastructure. WebSockets represent a step forward in the evolution of Internet communication, enabling more interactive and responsive web applications, including chat messaging solutions.
  • SocketIO:A real-time, bidirectional, and event-based communication library for client and server sides. One of its key features is its ability to automatically upgrade from long-polling to WebSockets, providing low-latency communication between clients and servers across all platforms. Socket.IO also supports broadcasting to multiple sockets at once and allows for the organization of sockets into 'rooms' for more efficient message distribution. Moreover, it has built-in mechanisms for automatic reconnection, ensuring resilient communication even under unstable network conditions.
  • IRC (Internet Relay Chat):A veteran messaging protocol, IRC has been around since the late 1980s and was one of the original protocols used for real-time chat over the internet. IRC is text-based and allows for group communication via channels, but also supports one-on-one messaging. IRC is not widely used in modern applications.
  • SIP/SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol):This is an adaptable signaling protocol employed for the control of real-time communication sessions. SIP's versatility allows it to manage and modify various forms of communication, including voice, video, and messaging, across multiple endpoints within IP networks. It is the cornerstone for initiating, maintaining, modifying, and terminating these dynamic sessions. Complementing SIP is SIMPLE, an acronym for SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions. As an extension of SIP, SIMPLE provides instant messaging (IM) and presence capabilities, thereby broadening SIP's application to include IM services and user presence information. The pair's widespread use in Voice Over IP (VOIP) applications underscores their utility in modern communication landscapes.

Related Data Formats

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation): JSON is often used in conjunction with other protocols like HTTP or WebSockets to structure the data being transmitted. JSON's strength lies in its simplicity, readability, and widespread support across different programming languages. It's a lightweight data-interchange format that is easy for humans to read and write and easy for machines to parse and generate. JSON is a text format that is language independent but uses similar conventions to the C-family of languages, including C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, Python, and many others. Its simplicity and versatility have led to widespread adoption in web services and APIs, where it serves as a format for data exchange between client and server.

Protobuf: Protobuf is short for Protocol Buffers, and it's an open-source and platform-independent data format, used for serializing structured data. It's often used to create apps that interact with each other over a network. It's also useful for apps that require data storage. Protobuf operates through an interface description language, which outlines the structure of the data to be processed. Additionally, it includes a program that transforms this description into source code. This generated code is responsible for producing or decoding a sequence of bytes symbolizing the pre-defined structured data. Compared to JSON, Protobuf messages are much smaller and more efficient, leading to faster transmission of data and lower bandwidth usage. This makes Protobuf particularly beneficial in low latency and high throughput scenarios.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Messaging Protocol

Knowing what each protocol brings to the table is great. But how do you apply that knowledge to make a choice that best fits your app? It's time to talk about the factors you need to consider when choosing a messaging protocol.

  • Speed: First and foremost, your messaging needs to be quick. In the world of chat, speed is king. We're all familiar with that feeling of impatience when we press send, and the message seems to take forever to deliver. If speed is crucial for your app, then you don't need to look any further than binary messaging protocols, as they are more lightweight. This means that they send less data, making them faster to transmit over networks.
  • Reliability:Your protocol should also be reliable. Can it guarantee that a message sent is a message received? Will it leave your users hanging, or can it be trusted to deliver each time, every time? Protocols like AMQP score high on reliability, given their focus on message orientation and queuing.
  • Features:Does the protocol provide all the modern messaging functionalities you would expect, such as DM and group chats, typing indicators, delivery receipts, etc.?
  • Device Battery Life:If your app is destined for mobile devices, considering the impact on battery life is a must. Lightweight protocols like MQTT are perfect for such scenarios as they minimize data transmission, preserving battery life.
  • Security:Protecting user data is not an option - it's a necessity. Ensuring the security of messages as they're sent and received is a crucial factor to consider. Look for protocols that offer robust security mechanisms. AMQP, for example, is known for its focus on secure message delivery.
  • Interoperability:Finally, how well does the protocol play with others? If your app needs to connect with diverse systems, whether it's other applications, different operating systems, or various types of hardware, the chosen protocol should be able to facilitate that communication smoothly. Protocols like XMPP and MQTT are renowned for their high degree of interoperability due to their wide adoption across different platforms and systems having server-side and client-side implementations, of which many are open source.

The aim here isn't to find a one-size-fits-all solution. It's about finding the right fit for your specific needs. What works brilliantly for one application might be a disaster for another.

So, as you make your choice, consider your app's unique characteristics and requirements. Weigh up the pros and cons of each protocol. And always remember - a protocol's worth is measured by how well it serves your application and enhances your user experience.

Let's now dive deeper and see how these protocols stack up against each other in real-world applications.

Comparing Common Messaging Protocols and data formats

Now that we have familiarized ourselves with the core aspects of each messaging protocol, it's time to pit them against each other in a comparative analysis, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in different scenarios.

  • MQTT vs. XMPP: These two protocols serve distinct use cases. If your application revolves around IoT devices or requires high efficiency in low-bandwidth scenarios, MQTT is your champion. It's lightweight, easy on battery life, and excellent at handling unstable connections. On the other hand, XMPP shines when your application requires a feature-rich, real-time collaborative communication. Its presence information and one-on-one and multi-party messaging make it a favorite for apps where real-time chat, contact list management, and presence information are vital.
  • AMQP vs. SocketIO: AMQP is characterized by message orientation, queuing, routing, and its focus on reliability and security, often used in complex business applications. It excels in scenarios where message delivery guarantees such as at-most-once, at-least-once, and exactly-once are required. On the other hand, Socket.IO is a JavaScript library that enables real-time, bidirectional communication between web clients and servers, primarily using the WebSocket protocol with polling as a fallback. It is especially suited to building real-time web applications such as chats, collaboration tools, live dashboards, and multiplayer games.
  • MQTT vs. AMQP:MQTT is designed for high-efficiency, making it excellent for IoT and scenarios with minimal resources. MQTT focuses on low overhead and bandwidth-efficient communication, and supports various Quality of Service (QoS) levels, although its security features are less robust than AMQP's, often requiring additional measures like TLS for secure data transmission.
  • Protobuf vs. JSON:Protobuf and JSON are both data formats used for storing and exchanging data. JSON, a human-readable text-based format, is easy to use and interpret, with wide support across programming languages and platforms. It is self-describing, meaning the structure of the data is embedded within the data itself, aiding in understanding and troubleshooting. Protobuf is a binary format that requires a schema (or .proto file) for data interpretation. Protobuf is typically more efficient in terms of size and speed compared to JSON, but its binary nature makes it less human-readable and slightly more complex to use.

These comparisons underscore the fact that each protocol has its unique strengths and potential weaknesses. It's about identifying what your application truly needs, understanding which protocol can deliver those requirements most effectively, and making an informed decision based on that understanding.

In the world of messaging protocols, there is no one "best" protocol – only the best one for your specific use case.

Messaging Protocol Comparison Table

Messaging ProtocolProsCons
MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport)Lightweight and efficient, perfect for IoT applications and situations with low network bandwidthLimited features compared to other protocols, less suitable for complex or large-scale applications
XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol)Broad feature set including contact list maintenance, presence information, and one-on-one and multi-party messaging, reliableMore complex and heavier than other protocols, not ideal for bandwidth-limited scenarios
AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol)Robust and reliable, excellent for complex business applications that need assured message delivery, focus on securityHeavier protocol, which may not be suitable for IoT or bandwidth-limited scenarios
Binary Messaging Protocol (BMP)Efficient, low-latency messaging even under challenging network conditions due to Protobuf data format, ideal for environments with limited connectivityProprietary protocol that is only available to users of Sceyt Chat API
RCS (Rich Communication Services)Enhances traditional SMS and MMS, provides advanced features like read receipts and high-resolution media sharingAdoption is still not universal and lacks interoperability between different phone vendors
WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications)Allows for peer-to-peer communication, reduces latency, open-sourceVarying browser compatibility, potential firewall restrictions, no guaranteed message delivery, and scaling challenges
WebSocketsHigh-speed, full-duplex communication allowing real-time interactions, widely supportedIntroduce overhead, require initial handshake, data packet framing, and client-to-server data masking
SocketIOEnables real-time, bidirectional, event-based communication, handles disconnects and retries automaticallyRequires Node.js server side, less efficient than binary protocols, possible scaling issues
IRC (Internet Relay Chat)Simple, low overhead, allows for both group and direct communicationLacks modern features, text-based only
SIP/SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol)Wide use in VOIP applications, robust for initiating and maintaining real-time sessionsComplexity, not designed for non-real-time applications, not adopted by VOIP industry

The Role of Messaging Protocols in Sceyt

At Sceyt, we understand the pivotal role of messaging protocols in creating a seamless, user-friendly platform.

After carefully examining all well-known protocols, we made the strategic decision to implement our own - the Binary Messaging Protocol (BMP). It's a binary, lightweight protocol that includes an additional layer of stream control, ensuring low-latency message transmission even in challenging network conditions.

This enables Sceyt to handle an unlimited number of users per channel at any given moment, whilst maintaining fast and efficient data processing. Such judicious application of a custom messaging protocol significantly enhances user experience and platform performance, guaranteeing users can communicate smoothly and effectively, irrespective of the scale of their interaction.

Choosing Your Messaging Protocol

Navigating the world of messaging protocols is about recognizing your unique needs and finding the protocol that best meets those requirements. It's a journey of evaluation, understanding, and careful decision-making.

Here are some tips to help you decide:

Consider development capabilities – When considering a messaging protocol, one important aspect to evaluate is whether you will implement it from scratch or leverage existing libraries and open-source servers. Implementing a protocol from scratch requires significant time, expertise, and resources, while utilizing libraries and existing servers can provide a faster development cycle and access to pre-built functionality.

Server and client support – It is crucial to ensure that the chosen servers and clients support the necessary chat/messaging functionality. Compatibility with standard messaging features such as message queuing, publish-subscribe patterns, and request-response models can significantly impact the suitability of the protocol for your application.

Scalability – As your application grows, you'll want a protocol that can handle increased message traffic efficiently. Look for protocols and supporting infrastructure that offer scalability options, such as distributed messaging systems or load balancing capabilities.

Security – Evaluate whether the protocol supports encryption, authentication mechanisms, and secure data transmission to protect your messages from unauthorized access.

Remember, the best messaging protocol isn't the one with the most features or the fastest speed – it's the one that serves your application the best. With careful consideration, you'll find the perfect match for your messaging needs.

To see the fast, powerful performance of Sceyt in action, check out a demo here.