Realtime web – Orbited vs Tornado


My latest task and one that I have been researching and playing with for some time is to integrate real time feedback in to our web application. The main goal is to be able to provide real time feedback of jobs and updates to users without Ajax style polling.

This is a simple requirement to write, but one that had many deeper issues. Firstly it needs to be able to handle many users concurrently and secondly it should do so without blocking execution of code. Our application framework was not designed for this and this is no problem, it has been designed to do certain thing well and other I am really not going to force upon it.

The main application framework will handle the standard page requests, user authentication and the rest of the standard stack, so I have been looking at technologies to complement its capabilities. This has led me to look at Comet applications and very fast non-block frameworks.

Of these I would prefer to keep the language in Python, there seem to be good alternatives in Java and .Net but I would rather keep an upgrade path by having a language that can be migrated across to these (thanks Jython and IronPython) and keep data in a backend store that is language agnostic.

Orbited and Tornado are really good candidates. I am going to stay away from more raw implementations of non-blocking event based frameworks such as Twisted because efforts are often better at this stage in building to serve a business purpose where possible. Orbited does actually use twisted, and I am hoping that I will have little need to dig that deep except for understanding its implementation.

Tornado I initially didn’t think of, but came around after reading “Building the Realtime User Experience” in which the author, Ted Roden, seems rather partial to it. In fact it can work quite well in fronting our application, but I am starting to reconsider based upon two factors. Firstly, even though it itself was built for a largish scale operation (FriendFeed – now owned by FaceBook), it has little other commercial users behind it and I haven’t found many examples of usage with integrating with Django, Pylons, Turbogears or Zope in a production environment. Secondly what really turns me off is the immaturity of its tests. Looking on GitHub even the README shows that little effort has been put into its testing environment, let alone their sporadic coverage.

Twisted on the other hand is extremely mature in both terms of numbers of deployments and its test environment, and this makes Orbited a much better candidate.

I have yet to look at certain other alternatives, such as Diesel, but I have a feeling that I will again come around to start using Orbited.

The other huge plus for me in using Orbited is that it can use the STOMP protocol, and use RabbitMQ or ActiveMQ. Other parts of our technology stack are starting to use STOMP and I wish to move more operations on to an event queue, which will open up much in terms of flexibility in the future.

Its a pity that “Building the Realtime User Experience” was so limited in terms of covering alternatives to Tornado.

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