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Creating a Real Time Chat Application with Ionic 2 and Socket.io

Have you ever wanted to build a mobile real-time chat application? Previously I demonstrated how to build a real-time chat application using the CEAN web stack using Socket.io. This is essentially part two to that tutorial.

We’re going to take a look at what it takes to create a chat application using Socket.io and the mobile web framework Ionic 2.

If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to read the previous tutorial as we’re going to be recycling many of the code and concepts. For example we’re going to be using Angular because it is what Ionic 2 is built around. Since the previous tutorial was Angular, we have an easier migration from web to mobile.

Here are some prerequisites that must be accounted for:

  • Couchbase Server 4+
  • Node Package Manager (NPM)
  • Ionic 2 and Apache Cordova
  • The Android SDK, iOS SDK, or both

Configure the Socket.io Server

To make our lives easy, we’re going to clone the project I created previously from GitHub. Download this project or execute the following from a Terminal (Mac and Linux) or Command Prompt (Windows):

git clone https://github.com/couchbaselabs/cean-web-chat

The Node.js code is valuable to us for this particular tutorial, not so much the Angular TypeScript code.

Don’t forget to install all the Node.js dependencies after you download the project. They can be installed by executing the following:

npm install

We also need to make one change to the Node.js code. Since I’m going to be running everything from my local computer we’re going to have a few different ports in use. This will create cross origin resource sharing (CORS) issues that we need to correct. In the GitHub project, open the app.js file and add the following above the routes section:

app.use(function(req, res, next) {
    res.header("Access-Control-Allow-Origin", "*");
    res.header("Access-Control-Allow-Headers", "Origin, X-Requested-With, Content-Type, Accept");
    next();
});

Now CORS is accepted in our Node.js locally running server.

You will need Couchbase Server for this application because the Node.js project from GitHub uses it. Instructions for configuring can be found in the previous tutorial.

Build the Ionic 2 Mobile Application

We’re now going to create a fresh Ionic 2 Android and iOS project. From the Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (Mac and Linux), execute the following:

ionic start ionic-web-chat blank --v2
cd ionic-web-chat
ionic platform add ios
ionic platform add android

A few important things to note here. You need to be using the Ionic CLI that supports Ionic 2 applications. You must also be using a Mac if you wish to add and build for the iOS platform.

We’re going to spend most of our time in two particular Ionic project files, however, we first need to download the Socket.io client library and include it in our project. Download the latest client release. I’m using version 1.2.0. Copy the socket.io-1.2.0.js file downloaded to your Ionic project’s www/js directory. Next open the www/index.html file and include this line:

<script src="js/socket.io-1.2.0.js"></script>

It needs to be added before the other scripts. Now we can get to the bulk of our development.

Starting with the UI file, open app/pages/home/home.html and change the code to look like the following:

<ion-navbar *navbar>
    <ion-title>
        Home
    </ion-title>
</ion-navbar>

<ion-content class="home">
    <ion-list>
        <ion-item *ngFor="#message of messages">{{message}}</ion-item>
    </ion-list>
</ion-content>

<ion-footer-bar>
    <ion-input>
        <input type="text" [(ngModel)]="chatBox" placeholder="Message..." />
        <button (click)="send(chatBox)">Send</button>
    </ion-input>
</ion-footer-bar>

There is a lot missing as of right now, but here is the breakdown starting from the bottom.

We add an <ion-footer-bar> because it is the easiest way to create a sticky footer in Ionic Framework. We need a sticky footer because we want our chat input box and send button to always remain at the bottom. The input field is tied to the chatBox model which is passed when the button calls the send() function. Both the send() function and chatBox model will be seen again in the logic file.

Moving up to our <ion-list> we can see we’re looping through a messages array. Each message will represent something received from Socket.io. It too will be defined in our logic file.

Now let’s jump into our logic file. Open your project’s app/pages/home/home.js file and change the code to look like the following:

import {Page} from 'ionic/ionic';
import {Http} from "angular2/http";
import {NgZone} from "angular2/core";

@Page({
    templateUrl: 'build/pages/home/home.html',
})

export class HomePage {
    constructor(http: Http) {
        this.messages = [];
        this.socketHost = "http://192.168.57.1:3000";
        this.zone = new NgZone({enableLongStackTrace: false});
        http.get(this.socketHost + "/fetch").subscribe((success) => {
            var data = success.json();
            for(var i = 0; i < data.length; i++) {
                this.messages.push(data[i].message);
            }
        }, (error) => {
            console.log(JSON.stringify(error));
        });
        this.chatBox = "";
        this.socket = io(this.socketHost);
        this.socket.on("chat_message", (msg) => {
            this.zone.run(() => {
                this.messages.push(msg);
            });
        });
    }

    send(message) {
        if(message && message != "") {
            this.socket.emit("chat_message", message);
        }
        this.chatBox = "";
    }
}

There is a lot going on in the above, but if you read my Socket.io with the CEAN stack tutorial, not much of it is new. Let’s break it down anyways though.

import {Http} from "angular2/http";
import {NgZone} from "angular2/core";

Like with the previous tutorial, we’re going to be storing our chat history in a Couchbase Server. Our Node.js application has a single endpoint for fetching all chat messages. This endpoint is consumed over HTTP. The NgZone was included because it helps with checking for changes. When Angular is out of beta, this may no longer be necessary.

Now let’s jump into the constructor method.

this.socketHost = "http://192.168.57.1:3000";

This is the host of the Node.js Socket.io server. For me, it is running locally, but yours might not be.

http.get(this.socketHost + "/fetch").subscribe((success) => {
    var data = success.json();
    for(var i = 0; i < data.length; i++) {
        this.messages.push(data[i].message);
    }
}, (error) => {
    console.log(JSON.stringify(error));
});

When the page loads, we immediately consume the fetch endpoint to catch us up with the rest of the group. We wouldn’t want to join and miss out on all the conversations.

This is where things become slightly different than the CEAN tutorial:

this.socket = io(this.socketHost);
this.socket.on("chat_message", (msg) => {
    this.zone.run(() => {
        this.messages.push(msg);
    });
});

When messages are received we push them into the array from within the this.zone.run method. Currently, without this, the messages may not update on the screen.

Now let’s see this chat application in action.

Testing Communication Between the Socket.io Client and Server

First we want to start the Node.js and Socket.io server. Using your Command Prompt or Terminal, from within the GitHub project, execute the following:

node app.js

Remember your Couchbase installation must be running and configured as seen in the previous tutorial, otherwise running may fail.

With the server running, you can now build and run for one of the mobile platforms.

For iOS you can do the following, provided you’re on a Mac:

ionic emulate ios

Or for Android you can execute the following:

ionic run android

This of course needs to be run in a separate Terminal or Command Prompt that is within your Ionic 2 project.

Ionic 2 Web Chat

Your application will look like the above.

Conclusion

We just took our real-time chat application to the next level by allowing a mobile version of it to join in on the fun. Previously we used the Couchbase, Express, Angular, and Node.js (CEAN) stack to create a chat application and this time around we added a mobile version that can not only communicate to other mobile apps, but the web version as well.

This project can be downloaded in full on GitHub.

Nic Raboy

Nic Raboy

Nic Raboy is an advocate of modern web and mobile development technologies. He has experience in Java, JavaScript, Golang and a variety of frameworks such as Angular, NativeScript, and Apache Cordova. Nic writes about his development experiences related to making web and mobile development easier to understand.