Building realtime application using Phoenix Channel

We had requirement of building realtime notification system. So whenever a user mentions n number of users we have to broadcast a message to all the users in real time and thereby update the count of each notification and push the message on their respective client. To implement this we need to understand Channels in phoenix.


Phoenix framework has a built-in facility to manage two way communication between web clients and the server. Sender broadcast a message about topics and receiver subscribes the topics so they can get those messages. Also sender can become receiver and receiver can become sender at anytime during communication.

We have to create a channel file web/channels/notificaiton_channel.ex. This channel has main goal is to authorize the client with given topic, in our case topic is notifications. We have to show a notification only to its corresponding user. So for example user with id 21 can only joined channel with notifications:21.

Channel has a join/3 method which takes three arguments topic, payload and socket connection object. This method returns a tuple {:ok, message, socket} when it is authorised other wise return a tuple with {:error, reason}. It has handle_in/3 which takes event name, payload coming from client and socket object. We can pattern match the event name new_notification in our case. This method broadcast the message to other channel instances joined the same topic.

defmodule SampleApp.NotificationChannel do
   use Phoenix.Channel

  def join("notifications:" <> user_id, _payload, socket) do
     {:ok, "Joined Notification:#{user_id}", socket}

  def handle_in("new_notification", %{"body" => body}, socket) do
    broadcast! socket, "new_notification", %{body: body}
   {:noreply, socket}

Channel Client

Phoenix officially provide client library phoenix.js to establish a socket connection. This library establishes a web socket connection to the url ws://localhost:4000/socket or wss://localhost:4000/socket for a secure connection. To establish websocket connection we need to import Socket function from phoenix-js file provided by framework. We have to pass the socket url and params. Create a channel instance by calling method and it takes the topic as first argument. In our case we just want to connect it to channel with user id 123. Everytime a new notification comes it triggers to the new_notification event on the channel and it updates the notification array and inserts a new notification object.

  import { Socket } from "phoenix-js";

  const token = 'randomtoken';
  const socket = new Socket("ws://localhost:4000/socket", { params: { token: token } });

  let channel =`notifications:123`, {}); // notification will be recieved by user with id 123

     .receive("ok",     resp => { console.log("Joined successfully", resp) })
     .receive("error", resp => { console.log("Unable to join", resp) })

  // we will update with new notification as soon as we get it from web socket connection.
  channel.on('new_notification', payload => {

To make the notification channel work we also need to add it to web/channels/user_socket.ex module.Phoenix holds a single connection to the server and multiplexes your channel sockets over that one connection. It authenticate and identify a socket connection. We have added topic as notifications:* because topic notification can be connect to any notification channel user id. You can add all your channels in here:

defmodule SampleApp.UserSocket do
  use Phoenix.Socket

  ## Channels
  channel "notifications:*", SampleApp.NotificationChannel
  channel "user_approval_stats:*", SampleApp.UserApprovalStatsChannel

  ## Transports
  transport :websocket, Phoenix.Transports.WebSocket
  # transport :longpoll, Phoenix.Transports.LongPoll

  # Socket params are passed from the client and can
  # be used to verify and authenticate a user. After
  # verification, you can put default assigns into
  # the socket that will be set for all channels, ie
  #     {:ok, assign(socket, :user_id, verified_user_id)}
  # To deny connection, return `:error`.
  # See `Phoenix.Token` documentation for examples in
  # performing token verification on connect.
  def connect(_params, socket) do
    {:ok, socket}

  # Socket id's are topics that allow you to identify all sockets for a given user:
  #     def id(socket), do: "users_socket:#{socket.assigns.user_id}"
  # Would allow you to broadcast a "disconnect" event and terminate
  # all active sockets and channels for a given user:
  #     SampleApp.Endpoint.broadcast("users_socket:#{}", "disconnect", %{})
  # Returning `nil` makes this socket anonymous.
  def id(_socket), do: nil

** Endpoint **

The endpoint is the boundary where all requests to your web application start. By default a phoenix application has UserSocket already added into it.

defmodule SampleApp.Endpoint do
  use Phoenix.Endpoint, otp_app: :sample_app

  socket "/socket", SampleApp.UserSocket

We want to broadcast notifications to there respective users whenever someone mentioned so for this we use the broadcast method which triggers the new_notification event on the client channel instance. Here is an example

    "notifications:#{notification.user_id}", "new_notification", payload

Here payload is nothing but the data that client would receive on the channel instance with new_notificaiton event.


Punit Jain

Punit Jain

Hey this is Punit Jain.I brought up in Indore, currently in Mumbai having 4.5 years of software development experience.When not messing with the code I would like to enjoy the m...

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