Stream updates with server-sent events

Server-sent events (SSEs) send automatic updates to a client from a server, with an HTTP connection. Once the connection is established, servers can initiate data transmission.

You may want to use SSEs to send push notifications from your web app. SSEs send information in one direction, thus you won't receive updates from the client.

The concept of SSEs may be familiar. A web app "subscribes" to a stream of updates generated by a server and, whenever a new event occurs, a notification is sent to the client. But to really understand server-sent events, we need to understand the limitations of its AJAX predecessors. This includes:

  • Polling: The application repeatedly polls a server for data. This technique is used by a majority of AJAX applications. With the HTTP protocol, fetching data revolves around a request and response format. The client makes a request and waits for the server to respond with data. If none is available, an empty response is returned. Extra polling creates greater HTTP overhead.

  • Long polling (Hanging GET / COMET): If the server does not have data available, the server holds the request open until new data is made available. Hence, this technique is often referred to as a "Hanging GET". When information becomes available, the server responds, closes the connection, and the process is repeated. Thus, the server is constantly responding with new data. To set this up, developers typically use hacks such as appending script tags to an 'infinite' iframe.

Server-sent events, have been designed from the ground up to be efficient. When communicating with SSEs, a server can push data to your app whenever it wants, without the need to make an initial request. In other words, updates can be streamed from server to client as they happen. SSEs open a single unidirectional channel between server and client.

The main difference between server-sent events and long-polling is that SSEs are handled directly by the browser and the user just has to listen for messages.

Server-sent events versus WebSockets

Why would you choose server-sent events over WebSockets? Good question.

WebSockets has a rich protocol with bi-directional, full-duplex communication. A two-way channel is better for games, messaging apps, and any use case where you need near real-time updates in both directions.

However, sometimes you only need one-way communication from a server. For example, when a friend updates their status, stock tickers, news feeds, or other automated data push mechanisms. In other words, an update to a client-side Web SQL Database or IndexedDB object store. If you need to send data to a server, XMLHttpRequest is always a friend.

SSEs are sent over HTTP. There's no special protocol or server implementation to get working. WebSockets require full-duplex connections and new WebSocket servers to handle the protocol.

In addition, server-sent events have a variety of features that WebSockets lack by design, including automatic reconnection, event IDs, and an ability to send arbitrary events.

Create an EventSource with JavaScript

To subscribe to an event stream, create an EventSource object and pass it the URL of your stream:

const source = new EventSource('stream.php');

Next, set up a handler for the message event. You can optionally listen for open and error:

source.addEventListener('message', (e) => {

source.addEventListener('open', (e) => {
  // Connection was opened.

source.addEventListener('error', (e) => {
  if (e.readyState == EventSource.CLOSED) {
    // Connection was closed.

When updates are pushed from the server, the onmessage handler fires and new data is be available in its property. The magical part is that whenever the connection is closed, the browser automatically reconnects to the source after ~3 seconds. Your server implementation can even have control over this reconnection timeout.

That's it. Your client can now process events from stream.php.

Event stream format

Sending an event stream from the source is a matter of constructing a plain text response, served with a text/event-stream Content-Type, that follows the SSE format. In its basic form, the response should contain a data: line, followed by your message, followed by two "\n" characters to end the stream:

data: My message\n\n

Multi-line data

If your message is longer, you can break it up by using multiple data: lines. Two or more consecutive lines beginning with data: are treated as a single piece of data, meaning only one message event is fired.

Each line should end in a single "\n" (except for the last, which should end with two). The result passed to your message handler is a single string concatenated by newline characters. For example:

data: first line\n
data: second line\n\n</pre>

This produces "first line\nsecond line" in One could then use'\n').join('') to reconstruct the message sans "\n" characters.

Send JSON data

Using multiple lines helps you send JSON without breaking syntax:

data: {\n
data: "msg": "hello world",\n
data: "id": 12345\n
data: }\n\n

And possible client-side code to handle that stream:

source.addEventListener('message', (e) => {
  const data = JSON.parse(;
  console.log(, data.msg);

Associate an ID with an event

You can send a unique ID with an stream event by including a line starting with id::

id: 12345\n
data: GOOG\n
data: 556\n\n

Setting an ID lets the browser keep track of the last event fired so that if, the connection to the server is dropped, a special HTTP header (Last-Event-ID) is set with the new request. This lets the browser determine which event is appropriate to fire. The message event contains a e.lastEventId property.

Control the reconnection-timeout

The browser attempts to reconnect to the source roughly 3 seconds after each connection is closed. You can change that timeout by including a line beginning with retry:, followed by the number of milliseconds to wait before trying to reconnect.

The following example attempts a reconnect after 10 seconds:

retry: 10000\n
data: hello world\n\n

Specify an event name

A single event source can generate different types events by including an event name. If a line beginning with event: is present, followed by a unique name for the event, the event is associated with that name. On the client, an event listener can be setup to listen to that particular event.

For example, the following server output sends three types of events, a generic 'message' event, 'userlogon', and 'update' event:

data: {"msg": "First message"}\n\n
event: userlogon\n
data: {"username": "John123"}\n\n
event: update\n
data: {"username": "John123", "emotion": "happy"}\n\n

With event listeners setup on the client:

source.addEventListener('message', (e) => {
  const data = JSON.parse(;

source.addEventListener('userlogon', (e) => {
  const data = JSON.parse(;
  console.log(`User login: ${data.username}`);

source.addEventListener('update', (e) => {
  const data = JSON.parse(;
  console.log(`${data.username} is now ${data.emotion}`);

Server examples

Here's a basic server implementation in PHP:

header('Content-Type: text/event-stream');
header('Cache-Control: no-cache'); // recommended to prevent caching of event data.

* Constructs the SSE data format and flushes that data to the client.
* @param string $id Timestamp/id of this connection.
* @param string $msg Line of text that should be transmitted.

function sendMsg($id, $msg) {
  echo "id: $id" . PHP_EOL;
  echo "data: $msg" . PHP_EOL;
  echo PHP_EOL;

$serverTime = time();

sendMsg($serverTime, 'server time: ' . date("h:i:s", time()));

Here's a similar implementation on Node JS using an Express handler:

app.get('/events', (req, res) => {
    // Send the SSE header.
    res.writeHead(200, {
        'Content-Type': 'text/event-stream',
        'Cache-Control': 'no-cache',
        'Connection': 'keep-alive'

    // Sends an event to the client where the data is the current date,
    // then schedules the event to happen again after 5 seconds.
    const sendEvent = () => {
        const data = (new Date()).toLocaleTimeString();
        res.write("data: " + data + '\n\n');
        setTimeout(sendEvent, 5000);

    // Send the initial event immediately.


<!DOCTYPE html>
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    const source = new EventSource('/events');
    source.onmessage = (e) => {
        const content = document.createElement('div');
        content.textContent =;

Cancel an event stream

Normally, the browser auto-reconnects to the event source when the connection is closed, but that behavior can be canceled from either the client or server.

To cancel a stream from the client, call:


To cancel a stream from the server, respond with a non text/event-stream Content-Type or return an HTTP status other than 200 OK (such as 404 Not Found).

Both methods prevent the browser from re-establishing the connection.

A word on security

Requests generated by EventSource are subject to the same-origin policies as other network APIs like fetch. If you need the SSE endpoint on your server to be accessible from different origins, read how to enable with Cross Origin Resource Sharing (CORS).