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As we've seen in the previous data-channels tutorial establishing a WebRTC connection between two peers is simple enough when using a high level library. But often you'll want to chat with multiple users in the same room, join a video conference or share a file with a number of people.

The only trouble is: WebRTC does not have any pre-build concepts to handle many-to-many communication. This leaves you with the following options:

Creating a Full Mesh

For smaller groups you can establish a connection from every peer to every other one. This is known as a "full mesh network topology".

Full Mesh

The benefits of full mesh networks are their decentralised state and their relative simplicity. The huge downside however is their lack of scalability - with every additional client the total number of connections grows by n - 1. Likewise, every message has to be send to every client individually causing substantial bandwith overheads.

Other Network topologies

Full-Mesh networks are not the only way to create decentralized peer-to-peer topologies. Other approaches, e.g. Small World Networks or Hierarchical/Tree Networks can provide a better compromise between scalability and latency by turnign some nodes into relays that forward data to others.

Using a relaying server

For a lot of usecases however it will be best to avoid peer-to-peer communication altogether and instead connect to a server-side process. For numerous large scale WebRTC users such as Google Hangouts or Twilio, the peer is always a server that gathers, aggregates, processes and forwards the data. You can learn more about this in the final part of this tutorial where we talk about selective forwarding units, bridges, multicasting and other bits and bobs that are required to make WebRTC work in the real world.

Getting down to code

For this tutorial, we'll look into creating a Full Mesh between connected clients. To do this we'll perform the following steps:

  • We generate a random user-id for every client
  • We store this user-id centrally in a deepstreamHub List
  • Whenever a client joins it, establish a connection to every user in that list
  • To broadcast a message, we iterate trough all connections and send it to each
  • Whenever a connection is cut, the other clients remove it from the room

Here's how this works: (as always you can find the full code for this example on Github and a live demo at the end of this article)

We start by connecting to deepstreamHub and creating a random user id:

const ds = deepstream( '<your-api-key>' ).login();
const localUserName = ds.getUid();

To keep track of the userIds in our room we create a deepstreamHub List - an observable array of strings whose state will be shared with all connected clients. As our own user is also a member of this chatroom, we'll add our username to the list straight away.

const users = ds.record.getList( 'users' );
users.addEntry( localUserName );

Now whenever a user is added to the list, we want to establish a peer to peer connection to them. To do this we subscribe to changes to the list.

// Create an empty map with username to connection
const connections = {};

// Notify whenever the list of users changes
users.subscribe( userNames => {
    userNames.forEach( userName => {
        // If we already have a connection for this username return
        if( connections[ userName ] ) return;
        // That's us - no need to connect to ourselves
        if( userName === localUserName ) return;
        // Create a new connection
        connections[ userName ] = new Connection( userName );
    })

    // Here we do the reverse - iterate through our existing connections
    // and check if they are all still in the room
    for( var userName in connections ) {
        if( userNames.indexOf( userName ) === -1 ) {
            //this one's gone - let's remove it
            connections[ userName ].destroy();
        }
    }
});

The connections themselves are similar to the ones used in the data-channels tutorial, wrapped into a class. There are only two differences:

Signals are handled centrally

Each peer has to send SDP signals back and forth to establish the connection - but as we are managing multiple connections now we'll also receive multiple signals. To handle these we register a central listener for messages. Incoming messages are routed to the relevant recipient:

ds.event.subscribe( `rtc-signal/${localUserName}`, msg => {
    if( connections[ msg.user ] ) {
        connections[ msg.user ].processSignal( msg.signal );
    }
});

Removing connections on close

Whenever a connection is closed we need to remove the associated user from our list of users in this room. To do this we use the list's removeEntry() method.

// subscribe to the p2pConnection's close event
this._p2pConnection.on( 'close', this._onClose.bind( this ) );

// and remove the connection upon close
_onClose() {
    delete connections[ this._remoteUserName ];
    users.removeEntry( this._remoteUserName );
}

To put everything into perspective please have a look at the full code or try the editable live example below.

Feel free to open this page in a few more windows and have a chat with yourself.

Now that we've got connections covered it is time to look into sending audio and video streams through them in the next tutorial