Building a real-time messaging server in Go

Often, I need a simple real-time server and web interface that shows real-time events. Although there are many options available like socket.io for Node.js or services like Azure SignalR and PubNub, I decided to create a real-time server in Go with a simple web front-end:

The impressive UI of the real-time web front-end

For a real-time server in Go, there are several options. You could use Gorilla WebSocket of which there is an excellent tutorial, and use native WebSockets in the browser. There’s also Glue. However, if you want to use the socket.io client, you can use https://github.com/googollee/go-socket.io. It is an implementation, although not a complete one, of socket.io. For production scenarios, I recommend using socket.io with Node.js because it is heavily used, has more features, better documentation, etc…

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the code. Some things to note in advance:

  • the code uses the concept of rooms (as in a chat room); clients can join a room and only see messages for that room; you can use that concept to create a “room” for a device and only subscribe to messages for that device
  • the code use the excellent https://github.com/mholt/certmagic to enable https via a Let’s Encrypt certificate (DNS-01 verification)
  • the code uses Redis as the back-end; applications send messages to Redis via a PubSub channel; the real-time Go server checks for messages via a subscription to one or more Redis channels

The code is over at https://github.com/gbaeke/realtime-go.

Server

Let’s start with the imports. Naturally we need Redis support, the actual go-socket.io packages and certmagic. The cloudflare package is needed because my domain baeke.info is managed by CloudFlare. The package gives certmagic the ability to create the verification record that Let’s Encrypt will check before issuing the certificate:

import (
"log"
"net/http"
"os"

"github.com/go-redis/redis"
socketio "github.com/googollee/go-socket.io"
"github.com/mholt/certmagic"
"github.com/xenolf/lego/providers/dns/cloudflare"
)

Next, the code checks if the RTHOST environment variable is set. RTHOST should contain the hostname you request the certificate for (e.g. rt.baeke.info).

Let’s check the block of code that sets up the Redis connection.

// redis connection
client := redis.NewClient(&redis.Options{
Addr: getEnv("REDISHOST", "localhost:6379"),
})

// subscribe to all channels
pubsub := client.PSubscribe("*")
_, err := pubsub.Receive()
if err != nil {
panic(err)
}

// messages received on a Go channel
ch := pubsub.Channel()

First, we create a new Redis client. We either use the address in the REDISHOST environment variable or default to localhost:6379. I will later run this server on Azure Container Instances (ACI) in a multi-container setup that also includes Redis.

With the call to PSubscribe, a pattern subscribe is used to subscribe to all PubSub channels (*). If the subscribe succeeds, a Go channel is setup to actually receive messages on.

Now that the Redis connection is configured, let’s turn to socket.io:

server, err := socketio.NewServer(nil)
if err != nil {
log.Fatal(err)
}

server.On("connection", func(so socketio.Socket) {
log.Printf("New connection from %s ", so.Id())

so.On("channel", func(channel string) {
log.Printf("%s joins channel %s\n", so.Id(), channel)
so.Join(channel)
})

so.On("disconnection", func() {
log.Printf("disconnect from %s\n", so.Id())
})
})

The above code is pretty simple. We create a new socket.io server and subsequently setup event handlers for the following events:

  • connection: code that runs when a web client connects; gives us the socket the client connects on which is further used by the channel and disconnection handler
  • channel: this handler runs when a client sends a message of the chosen type channel; the channel contains the name of the socket.io room to join; this is used by the client to indicate what messages to show (e.g. just for device01); in the browser, the client sends a channel message that contains the text “device01”
  • disconnection: code to run when the client disconnects from the socket

Naturally, something crucial is missing. We need to check Redis for messages in Redis channels and broadcast them to matching socket.io “channels”. This is done in a Go routine that runs concurrently with the main code:

 go func(srv *socketio.Server) {
   for msg := range ch {
      log.Println(msg.Channel, msg.Payload)
      srv.BroadcastTo(msg.Channel, "message", msg.Payload)
   }
 }(server)

The anonymous function accepts a parameter of type socketio.Server. We use the BroadcastTo method of socketio.Server to broadcast messages arriving on the Redis PubSub channels to matching socket.io channels. Note that we send a message of type “message” so the client will have to check for “message” coming in as well. Below is a snippet of client-side code that does that. It adds messages to the messages array defined on the Vue.js app:

socket.on('message', function(msg){
app.messages.push(msg)
}

The rest of the server code basically configures certmagic to request the Let’s Encrypt certificate and sets up the http handlers for the static web client and the socket.io server:

// certificate magic
certmagic.Agreed = true
certmagic.CA = certmagic.LetsEncryptStagingCA

cloudflare, err := cloudflare.NewDNSProvider()
if err != nil {
log.Fatal(err)
}

certmagic.DNSProvider = cloudflare

mux := http.NewServeMux()
mux.Handle("/socket.io/", server)
mux.Handle("/", http.FileServer(http.Dir("./assets")))

certmagic.HTTPS([]string{rthost}, mux)

Let’s try it out! The GitHub repository contains a file called multi.yaml, which deploys both the socket.io server and Redis to Azure Container Instances. The following images are used:

  • gbaeke/realtime-go-le: built with this Dockerfile; the image has a size of merely 14MB
  • redis: the official Redis image

To make it work, you will need to update the environment variables in multi.yaml with the domain name and your CloudFlare credentials. If you do not use CloudFlare, you can use one of the other providers. If you want to use the Let’s Encrypt production CA, you will have to change the code, rebuild the container, store it in your registry and modify multi.yaml accordingly.

In Azure Container Instances, the following is shown:

socket.io and Redis container in ACI

To test the setup, I can send a message with redis-cli, from a console to the realtime-redis container:

Testing with redis-cli in the Redis container

You should be aware that using CertMagic with ephemeral storage is NOT a good idea due to potential Let’s Encrypt rate limiting. You should store the requested certificates in persistent storage like an Azure File Share and mount it at /.local/share/certmagic!

Client

The client is a Vue.js app. It was not created with the Vue cli so it just grabs the Vue.js library from the content delivery network (CDN) and has all logic in a single page. The socket.io library (v1.3.7) is also pulled from the CDN. The socket.io client code is kept at a minimum for demonstration purposes:

 var socket = io();
socket.emit('channel','device01');
socket.on('message', function(msg){
app.messages.push(msg)
})

When the page loads, the client emits a channel message to the server with a payload of device01. As you have seen in the server section, the server reacts to this message by joining this client to a socket.io room, in this case with name device01.

Whenever the client receives a message from the server, it adds the message to the messages array which is bound to a list item (li) with a v-for directive.

Surprisingly easy no? With a few lines of code you have a fully functional real-time messaging solution!

Azure API Management Consumption Tier

In the previous post, I talked about a personal application I use to deploy Azure resources to my lab subscription. The architecture is pretty straightforward:

After obtaining an id token from Azure Active directory (v1 endpoint), API calls go to API Management with the token in the authorization HTTP header.

API Management is available in several tiers:

API Management tiers

The consumption tier, with its 1.000.000 free calls per month per Azure subscription naturally is the best fit for this application. I do not need virtual network support or multi-region support or even Active Directory support. And I don’t want the invoice either! 😉 Note that the lack of Active Directory support has nothing to do with the ability to verify the validity of a JWT (JSON Web Token).

I created an instance in West Europe but it gave me errors while adding operations (like POSTs or GETs). It complained about reaching the 1000 operations limit. Later, I created an instance in North Europe which had no issues.

Define a product

A product contains one or more APIs and has some configuration such as quotas. You can read up on API products here. You can also add policies at the product level. One example of a policy is a JWT check, which is exactly what I needed. Another example is adding basic authentication to the outgoing call:

Policies at the product level

The first policy, authentication, configures basic authentication and gets the password from the BasicAuthPassword named value:

Named values in API Management

The second policy is the JWT check. Here it is in full:

JWT Policy

The policy checks the validity of the JWT and returns a 401 error if invalid. The openid-config url points to a document that contains useful information to validate the JWT, including a pointer to the public keys that can be used to verify the JWT’s signature (https://login.microsoftonline.com/common/discovery/keys). Note that I also check for the name claim to match mine.

Note that Active Directory is also configured to only issue a token to me. This is done via Enterprise Applications in https://aad.portal.azure.com.

Creating the API

With this out of the way, let’s take a look at the API itself:

Azure Deploy API and its defined operations

The operations are not very RESTful but they do the trick since they are an exact match with the webhookd server’s endpoints.

To not end up with CORS errors, All Operations has a CORS policy defined:

CORS policy at the All operations level

Great! The front-end can now authenticate to Azure AD and call the API exposed by API management. Each call has the Azure AD token (a JWT) in the authorization header so API Management van verify the token’s validity and pass along the request to webhookd.

With the addition of the consumption tier, it makes sense to use API Management in many more cases. And not just for smaller apps like this one!

Simple Azure AD Authentication in a single page application (SPA)

Adding Azure AD integration to a website is often confusing if you are just getting started. Let’s face it, not everybody has the opportunity to dig deep into such topics. For https://deploy.baeke.info, I wanted to enable Azure AD authentication so that only a select group of users in our AD tenant can call the back-end webhooks exposed by webhookd. The architecture of the application looks like this:

Client to webhook

The process is as follows:

  • Load the client from https://deploy.baeke.info
  • Client obtains a token from Azure Active Directory; the user will have to authenticate; in our case that means that a second factor needs to be provided as well
  • When the user performs an action that invokes a webhook, the call is sent to API Management
  • API Management verifies the token and passes the request to webhookd over https with basic authentication
  • The response is received by API Management which passes it unmodified to the client

I know you are an observing reader that is probably thinking: “why not present the token to webhookd?”. That’s possible but then I did not have a reason to use API Management! 😉

Before we begin you might want to get some background information about what we are going to do. Take a look at this excellent Youtube video that explains topics such a OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect in an easy to understand format:

Create an application in Azure AD

The first step is to create a new application registration. You can do this from https://aad.portal.azure.com. In Azure Active Directory, select App registrations or use the new App registrations (Preview) experience.

For single page applications (SPAs), the application type should be Web app / API. As the App ID URI and Home page URL, I used https://deploy.baeke.info.

In my app, a user will authenticate to Azure AD with a Login button. Clicking that button brings the user to a Microsoft hosted page that asks for credentials:

Providing user credentials

Naturally, this implies that the authentication process, when finished, needs to find its way back to the application. In that process, it will also bring along the obtained authentication token. To configure this, specify the Reply URLs. If you also develop on your local machine, include the local URL of the app as well:

Reply URLs of the registered app

For a SPA, you need to set an additional option in the application manifest (via the Manifest button):

"oauth2AllowImplicitFlow": true

This implicit flow is well explained in the above video and also here.

This is basically all you have to do for this specific application. In other cases, you might want to grant access from this application to other applications such as an API. Take a look at this post for more information about calling the Graph API or your own API.

We will just present the token obtained by the client to API Management. In turn, API Management will verify the token. If it does not pass the verification steps, a 401 error will be returned. We will look at API Management in a later post.

A bit of client code

Just browse to https://deploy.baeke.info and view the source. Authentication is performed with ADAL for Javascript. ADAL stands for the Active Directory Authentication Library. The library is loaded with from the CDN.

This is a simple Vue application so we have a Vue instance for data and methods. In that Vue instance data, authContext is setup via a call to new AuthenticationContext. The clientId is the Application ID of the registered app we created above:

authContext: new AuthenticationContext({ 
clientId: '1fc9093e-8a95-44f8-b524-45c5d460b0d8',
postLogoutRedirectUri: window.location
})

To authenticate, the Login button’s click handler calls authContext.login(). The login method uses a redirect. It is also possible to use a pop-up window by setting popUp: true in the object passed to new AuthenticationContext() above. Personally, I do not like that approach though.

In the created lifecycle hook of the Vue instance, there is some code that handles the callback. When not in the callback, getCachedUser() is used to check if the user is logged in. If she is, the token is obtained via acquireToken() and stored in the token variable of the Vue instance. The acquireToken() method allows the application to obtain tokens silently without prompting the user again. The first parameter of acquireToken is the same application ID of the registered app.

Note that the token (an ID token) is not encrypted. You can paste the token in https://jwt.ms and look inside. Here’s an example (click to navigate):

Calling the back-end API

In this application, the calls go to API Management. Here is an example of a call with axios:

axios.post('https://geba.azure-api.net/rg/create?rg='                             + this.createrg.rg , null, this.getAxiosConfig(this.token)) 
.then(function(result) {
console.log("Got response...")
self.response = result.data;
})
.catch(function(error) {
console.log("Error calling webhook: " + error)
})
...

The third parameter is a call to getAxiosConfig that passes the token. getAxiosConfig uses the token to create the Authorization header:

getAxiosConfig: function(token) { 
const config = {
headers: {
"authorization": "bearer " + token
}
}
return config
}

As discussed earlier, the call goes to API Management which will verify the token before allowing a call to webhookd.

Conclusion

With the source of https://deploy.baeke.info and this post, it should be fairly straightforward to enable Azure AD Authentication in a simple single page web application. Note that the code is kept as simple as possible and does not cover any edge cases. In a next post, we will take a look at API Management.

Azure Front Door in front of a static website

In the previous post, I wrote about hosting a simple static website on an Azure Storage Account. To enable a custom URL such as https://blog.baeke.info, you can add Azure CDN. If you use the Verizon Premium tier, you can configure rules such as a http to https redirect rule. This is similar to hosting static sites in an Amazon S3 bucket with Amazon CloudFront although it needs to be said that the http to https redirect is way simpler to configure there.

On Twitter, Karim Vaes reminded me of the Azure Front Door service, which is currently in preview. The tagline of the Azure Front Door service is clear: “scalable and secure entry point for fast delivery of your global applications”.

Azure Front Door Service Preview

The Front Door service is quite advanced and has features like global HTTP load balancing with instant failover, SSL offload, application acceleration and even application firewalling and DDoS protection. The price is lower that the Verizon Premium tier of Azure CDN. Please note that preview pricing is in effect at this moment.

Configuring a Front Door with the portal is very easy with the Front Door Designer. The screenshot below shows the designer for the same website as the previous post but for a different URL:

Front Door Designer

During deployment, you create a name that ends in azurefd.net (here geba.azurefd.net). Afterwards you can add a custom name like deploy.baeke.info in the above example. Similar to the Azure CDN, Front Door will give you a Digicert issued certificate if you enable HTTPS and choose Front Door managed:

Front Door managed SSL certificate

Naturally, the backend pool will refer to the https endpoint of the static website of your Azure Storage Account. I only have one such endpoint, but I could easily add another copy and start load balancing between the two.

In the routing rule, be sure you select the frontend host that matches the custom domain name you set up in the frontend hosts section:

Routing rule

It is still not as easy as in CloudFront to redirect http to https. For my needs, I can allow both http and https to Front Door and redirect in the browser:

if(window.location.href.substr(0,5) !== 'https'){
window.location.href = window.location.href.replace('http', 'https');
}

Not as clean as I would like it but it does the job for now. I can now access https://deploy.baeke.info via Front Door!

Static site hosting on Azure Storage with a custom domain and TLS

A while ago, I blogged about webhookd. It is an application, written in Go, that can easily convert a folder structure with shell scripts into webhooks. With the help of CertMagic, I modified the application to support Let’s Encrypt certificates. The application is hosted on an Azure Linux VM that uses a managed identity to easily allow scripts that use the Azure CLI to access my Azure subscription.

I also wrote a very simple Vue.js front-end application that can call these webhooks. It’s just an index.html, a 404.html and some CSS. The web page uses Azure AD authentication to an intermediary Azure Function that acts as some sort of proxy to the webhookd server.

Since a few weeks, Azure supports hosting static sites in an Azure Storage Account. Let’s take a look at how simple it is to host your files there and attach a custom DNS name and certificate via Azure CDN.

Enable static content on Storage Account

In your Azure Storage General Purpose v2 account, simply navigate to Static website, enable the feature and type the name of your index and error document:

When you click Save, the endpoint is shown. You will also notice the $web link to the identically named container. You will need to upload your files to that container using the portal, Storage Explorer or even the Azure CLI. With the Azure CLI, you can use this command:

az storage blob upload \
--container-name mystoragecontainer \
--name blobName \
--file ~/path/to/local/file

Custom domain and certificate

It’s great that I can access my site right away, but I want to use https://azdeploy.baeke.info instead of that name. To do that, create a CDN endpoint. In the storage account settings, find the Azure CDN option and create a new CDN profile and endpoint.

Important: in the settings, set the origin hostname to the primary endpoint you were given when you enabled the static website on the storage account

When the profile and endpoint is created, you can open it in the Azure Portal:

In your case, the custom domains list will still be empty at this point. You will have an new endpoint hostname (ending in azureedge.net) that gets its content from the origin hostname. You can browse to the endpoint hostname now as well.

Although the endpoint hostname is a bit better, I want to browse to this website with a custom domain name. Before we enable that, create a CNAME record in your DNS zone that maps to the endpoint hostname. In my case, in my CloudFlare DNS settings, I added a CNAME that maps azdeploy.baeke.info to gebastatic.azureedge.net. When that is finished, click + Custom Domain to add, well, your custom domain.

The only thing left to do is to add a certificate for your custom domain. Although you can add your own certificate, Azure CDN can also provide a certificate and completely automate the certificate management. Just make sure that your created the CNAME correctly and you should be good to go:

Custom certificate via Azure CDN

Above, I enabled the custom domain HTTPS feature and chose CDN Managed. Although it took a while for the certificate to be issued and copied to all points of presence (POPs), the process was flawless. The certificate is issued by Digicert:

Azure CDN certificate issued by Digicert

Some loose ends?

Great! I can now browse to https://azdeploy.baeke.info securely. Sadly, when you choose the Standard Microsoft CDN tier as the content delivery network, http to https redirection is not supported. The error when you browse to the http endpoint is definitely not pretty:

Users will probably think there is an error of some sorts. If you switch the CDN to Verizon Premium, you can create a redirection rule with the rules engine:

Premium Verizon Redirect Rule

When you add the above rule to the rules engine, it takes a few hours before it becomes active. Having to wait that long feels awkward in the age of instant gratification!

Conclusion

Being able to host your static website in Azure Storage greatly simplifies hosting both simple static websites as more advanced single page applications or SPAs. The CDN feature, including its automatic certificate management feature, adds additional flexibility.