Understanding Server-Sent Events (SSE) with Nodejs

Introduction to Server-Sent Events (SSE)

Server-Sent Events (SSE) is a standard allowing servers to push real-time updates to clients over a single, long-lived HTTP connection. This protocol is part of HTML5 and provides a simpler alternative to more complex solutions like WebSockets for unidirectional communication from the server to the client.

How SSE Differs from Other Protocols

  1. WebSockets:

    • Direction: WebSockets support bidirectional communication, allowing both the server and the client to send and receive messages independently.

    • Complexity: Setting up and managing WebSocket connections involves more complexity and overhead.

    • Use Case: Best for applications requiring real-time, two-way interaction, such as online gaming or chat applications.

  2. Polling:

    • Efficiency: Polling involves the client repeatedly requesting updates from the server at regular intervals. This method can be inefficient due to constant HTTP requests.

    • Latency: Higher latency compared to SSE, as updates are only received during polling intervals.

  3. Long Polling:

    • Mechanism: Long polling maintains an open connection until the server has new information to send. Once the information is sent, the client immediately reopens the connection.

    • Complexity: Although it reduces the number of requests compared to regular polling, it still involves more overhead than SSE.

  4. SSE:

    • Direction: Unidirectional, where the server can push updates to the client, but the client cannot send messages back to the server over the same connection.

    • Efficiency: More efficient for scenarios requiring real-time updates from the server to the client without the need for client-to-server communication.

    • Simplicity: Easier to implement and manage compared to WebSockets and long polling.

How SSE Works

  1. Establishing Connection:

    • The client initiates a connection by sending an HTTP request to the server endpoint designed to handle SSE.

    • The server responds with a Content-Type: text/event-stream header, indicating that it will be sending event data.

  2. Data Format:

    • The server sends updates in a specific format: a stream of text messages separated by two newline characters.

    • Each message can contain multiple fields like event, data, and id.

  3. Reconnecting:

    • If the connection is lost, the client automatically attempts to reconnect, ensuring persistent updates.

Simple SSE Setup with Node.js

To demonstrate how SSE works, let’s set up a simple server using Node.js.

Step 1: Set Up a Node.js Project

mkdir sse-demo
cd sse-demo
npm init -y
npm install express

Step 2: Create the Server

Create a file named server.js and add the following code:

const express = require('express');
const app = express();
const PORT = 3000;


app.get('/events', (req, res) => {
    res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/event-stream');
    res.setHeader('Cache-Control', 'no-cache');
    res.setHeader('Connection', 'keep-alive');

    const sendEvent = (data) => {
        res.write(`data: ${JSON.stringify(data)}\n\n`);

    // Send an initial event
    sendEvent({ message: 'Connected to SSE' });

    // Send updates every 5 seconds
    const intervalId = setInterval(() => {
        sendEvent({ message: `Current time: ${new Date().toLocaleTimeString()}` });
    }, 5000);

    // Clean up on client disconnect
    req.on('close', () => {

app.listen(PORT, () => {
    console.log(`Server is running on http://localhost:${PORT}`);

Step 3: Create the Client

Create a directory named public and inside it, create an index.html file:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <title>SSE Demo</title>
    <h1>Server-Sent Events Demo</h1>
    <div id="messages"></div>
        const eventSource = new EventSource('/events');
        eventSource.onmessage = function(event) {
            const data = JSON.parse(event.data);
            const messagesDiv = document.getElementById('messages');
            const messageElement = document.createElement('div');
            messageElement.textContent = data.message;

Running the Example

  1. Start the Node.js server:

     node server.js
  2. Open your browser and navigate to http://localhost:3000.

  3. You should see real-time updates displayed on the page, pushed from the server every 5 seconds.


Server-Sent Events (SSE) provide a simple and efficient way to push real-time updates from the server to the client over a single HTTP connection. It is particularly well-suited for applications where real-time updates are needed, but bidirectional communication is not required. By using SSE, developers can avoid the complexity of WebSockets and the inefficiency of polling methods. With the example provided, you can easily implement SSE in your own Node.js applications.