How do I implement basic "Long Polling"?


I can find lots of information on how Long Polling works (For example, this, and this), but no simple examples of how to implement this in code.

All I can find is cometd, which relies on the Dojo JS framework, and a fairly complex server system..

Basically, how would I use Apache to serve the requests, and how would I write a simple script (say, in PHP) which would "long-poll" the server for new messages?

The example doesn't have to be scaleable, secure or complete, it just needs to work!

1/25/2016 9:33:58 AM

Accepted Answer

It's simpler than I initially thought.. Basically you have a page that does nothing, until the data you want to send is available (say, a new message arrives).

Here is a really basic example, which sends a simple string after 2-10 seconds. 1 in 3 chance of returning an error 404 (to show error handling in the coming Javascript example)


if(rand(1,3) == 1){
    /* Fake an error */
    header("HTTP/1.0 404 Not Found");

/* Send a string after a random number of seconds (2-10) */
echo("Hi! Have a random number: " . rand(1,10));

Note: With a real site, running this on a regular web-server like Apache will quickly tie up all the "worker threads" and leave it unable to respond to other requests.. There are ways around this, but it is recommended to write a "long-poll server" in something like Python's twisted, which does not rely on one thread per request. cometD is an popular one (which is available in several languages), and Tornado is a new framework made specifically for such tasks (it was built for FriendFeed's long-polling code)... but as a simple example, Apache is more than adequate! This script could easily be written in any language (I chose Apache/PHP as they are very common, and I happened to be running them locally)

Then, in Javascript, you request the above file (msg_srv.php), and wait for a response. When you get one, you act upon the data. Then you request the file and wait again, act upon the data (and repeat)

What follows is an example of such a page.. When the page is loaded, it sends the initial request for the msgsrv.php file.. If it succeeds, we append the message to the #messages div, then after 1 second we call the waitForMsg function again, which triggers the wait.

The 1 second setTimeout() is a really basic rate-limiter, it works fine without this, but if msgsrv.php always returns instantly (with a syntax error, for example) - you flood the browser and it can quickly freeze up. This would better be done checking if the file contains a valid JSON response, and/or keeping a running total of requests-per-minute/second, and pausing appropriately.

If the page errors, it appends the error to the #messages div, waits 15 seconds and then tries again (identical to how we wait 1 second after each message)

The nice thing about this approach is it is very resilient. If the clients internet connection dies, it will timeout, then try and reconnect - this is inherent in how long polling works, no complicated error-handling is required

Anyway, the long_poller.htm code, using the jQuery framework:

    <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script>

    <style type="text/css" media="screen">
      body{ background:#000;color:#fff;font-size:.9em; }
      .msg{ background:#aaa;padding:.2em; border-bottom:1px #000 solid}
      .old{ background-color:#246499;}
      .new{ background-color:#3B9957;}
    .error{ background-color:#992E36;}

    <script type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8">
    function addmsg(type, msg){
        /* Simple helper to add a div.
        type is the name of a CSS class (old/new/error).
        msg is the contents of the div */
            "<div class='msg "+ type +"'>"+ msg +"</div>"

    function waitForMsg(){
        /* This requests the url "msgsrv.php"
        When it complete (or errors)*/
            type: "GET",
            url: "msgsrv.php",

            async: true, /* If set to non-async, browser shows page as "Loading.."*/
            cache: false,
            timeout:50000, /* Timeout in ms */

            success: function(data){ /* called when request to barge.php completes */
                addmsg("new", data); /* Add response to a .msg div (with the "new" class)*/
                    waitForMsg, /* Request next message */
                    1000 /* ..after 1 seconds */
            error: function(XMLHttpRequest, textStatus, errorThrown){
                addmsg("error", textStatus + " (" + errorThrown + ")");
                    waitForMsg, /* Try again after.. */
                    15000); /* milliseconds (15seconds) */

        waitForMsg(); /* Start the inital request */
    <div id="messages">
        <div class="msg old">
            BargePoll message requester!
10/1/2012 11:24:47 AM

I've got a really simple chat example as part of slosh.

Edit: (since everyone's pasting their code in here)

This is the complete JSON-based multi-user chat using long-polling and slosh. This is a demo of how to do the calls, so please ignore the XSS problems. Nobody should deploy this without sanitizing it first.

Notice that the client always has a connection to the server, and as soon as anyone sends a message, everyone should see it roughly instantly.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN"
<!-- Copyright (c) 2008 Dustin Sallings <> -->
<html lang="en">
    <title>slosh chat</title>
    <script type="text/javascript"
    <link title="Default" rel="stylesheet" media="screen" href="style.css" />

    <h1>Welcome to Slosh Chat</h1>

    <div id="messages">
        <span class="from">First!:</span>
        <span class="msg">Welcome to chat. Please don't hurt each other.</span>

    <form method="post" action="#">
      <div>Nick: <input id='from' type="text" name="from"/></div>
      <div><textarea id='msg' name="msg"></textarea></div>
      <div><input type="submit" value="Say it" id="submit"/></div>

    <script type="text/javascript">
      function gotData(json, st) {
        var msgs=$('#messages');
        $.each(json.res, function(idx, p) {
          var from = p.from[0]
          var msg = p.msg[0]
          msgs.append("<div><span class='from'>" + from + ":</span>" +
            " <span class='msg'>" + msg + "</span></div>");
        // The jQuery wrapped msgs above does not work here.
        var msgs=document.getElementById("messages");
        msgs.scrollTop = msgs.scrollHeight;

      function getNewComments() {
        $.getJSON('/topics/chat.json', gotData);

      $(document).ready(function() {
        $("form").submit(function() {
          $.post('/topics/chat', $('form').serialize());
          return false;

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