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Building a gRPC Server and Client in Dart

caelinsutch profile image caelinsutch ・6 min read

Integrating Dart or Flutter with GRPC

gRPC is a modern, open source, and high performance RPC framework that is language agnostic, meaning it can work with a variety of platforms for a variety of use cases. gRPC stands for general-purpose Remote Procedure Calls, which is exactly what it does, provide an easy-to use framework to communicate across platforms or devices using HTTP2 as a transport. gRPC uses protocol buffers, Google's system to serialize structured data. This means that you define your data structures and data accessors in .proto files.

The Project

By the end of this article you'll have a basic todos api built in Dart using gRPC. The API will have three separate service calls, createTodos to create a todo item, readTodos to get all of the current todos, and readTodosStream which will return a stream, think like a socket, of todos which gets constantly updated .

GRPC with Flutter

If you're using gRPC for your Flutter application you're in luck, as gRPC has a supported library for Dart! That means you can make both client and server side code using the gRPC protocol and generate buffers in the Dart language. In this article we'll be building a server and client using gRPC in Dart, but will hold off on integrating with Flutter (though it should be pretty clear how to do so).

Building a gRPC Server in Dart

First thing you're going to want to do is install the Dart SDK. This is seperate from the Flutter SDK and can be installed by following this guide).

Setup your Dart Workspace

Once you Dart installed, you'll want to create a basic Dart workspace.

mkdir dart-grpc-tutorial
cd dart-grpc-tutorial && mkdir lib
touch pubspec.yaml
touch lib/server.dart

Lets update that pubspec.yaml with the correct information:

name: grpc_tutorial
version: 0.0.1
environment:
    sdk: ">=2.1.0 <3.0.0"
dependencies:
    grpc: 2.1.3
    protobuf: 1.0.1

and run pub get to install both dependencies.

Now remember what I said about protobuff files? We're going to make a custom protobuff file
and compile it for Dart on our own! This proto file is going to hold the definitions for our API.

Installing the Proto Compiler

You'll have to install the proto compiler and the dart protocol buffer plugin to use gRPC.

  1. If you haven't installed the compiler, download the package and follow the instructions in the README.
  2. Install the Dart Protocol Buffer plugin as described in its README. The executable bin/protoc-gen-dart must be in your PATH for the protocol buffer protoc to find it.

Now lets create a folder to hold our protobuff files and the generated dart code, and make our todo.proto file

mkdir protos && touch protos/todo.proto
mkdir lib/src && mkdir lib/src/generated

Making your Proto File

Open up the todo.proto file and lets update it with our message type.

syntax = "proto3";

package todoPackage;

service Todo {
    rpc createTodo(TodoItem) returns (TodoItem);
    rpc readTodos(voidNoParam) returns (TodoItems);
    rpc readTodosStream(voidNoParam) returns (stream TodoItem);
}

message voidNoParam {}

message TodoItem {
    int32 id = 1;
    string text = 2;
}

message TodoItems {
    repeated TodoItem items = 1;
}

Wow that was a lot of code. Lets go through line by line and see what this stuff does.

First we want to declare our proto syntax, which is proto3

syntax = "proto3";

Next, we declare our package

package todoPackage;

This is where it gets fun. We declare our actual TodoService here. You can think of the service like an API specification, it lays out the different "endpoints" of the API.

service Todo {
    rpc createTodo(TodoItem) returns (TodoItem);                    // Add a todo
    rpc readTodos(voidNoParam) returns (TodoItems);                 // Get all todos
    rpc readTodosStream(voidNoParam) returns (stream TodoItem);     // Get all todos as a stream
}

You'll notice that we there are types here, lets break these down

rpc createTodo(TodoItem) returns (TodoItem)

The RPC in front declares it as a rpc endpoint. The name of the endpoint, createTodo is declared, as well as the input parameter, which is a TodoItem. TodoItem is declared as a message type on the bottom of this block of code, we'll go over it soon. Finally returns (TodoItem) tells us the return type of the function, which is a TodoItem as well.

rpc readTodos(voidNoParam) returns (TodoItems);

This one is interesting because you'll see we pass in a type called voidNoParam. In gRPC, you can't have an empty parameter input, so we pass this in, which is just an empty object, to prevent errors.

rpc readTodosStream(voidNoParam) returns (stream TodoItem);

Finally, this one returns a stream of TodoItems. Coming from a Dart background, you should already know how a stream behaves, as a constantly updating set of information.

The message types are then declared below. Notice that each parameter of each message type is declared with a type:

message TodoItem {
    int32 id = 1;
    string text = 2;
}

The number afterward tell gRPC what order to expect these parameters in. The repeated type that you see in the TodoItems just means an Array (or List) or TodoItems.

Compile Your Proto File

Now we'll compile the proto file into usable Dart code by running

protoc -I protos/ protos/todo.proto --dart_out=grpc:lib/src/generated

If everything went correctly, you should see your generated folder fill up with some code files.

Write A Simple Server

I've commented what each part of this code does, but essentially we're using the generated code from the proto file to create the TodoService. We create a class TodoServer to handle the creation and implementation of the gRPC server using TodoService. This is one of the advantages of having the proto files, they offer easily expandable abstract classes to implement the methods.

import 'package:grpc/grpc.dart';  // Import GRPC
import 'package:grpc/src/server/call.dart';   // Import GRPC Server
import 'package:grpc_tutorial/src/generated/todo.pbgrpc.dart';  // Import the protofbuff files

class TodoService extends TodoServiceBase { 
     TodoItems todos = new TodoItems(); // TodoItems is what's generated by Proto

     /**
     * Createa  new Todo
     * @param call - meta information on the request
     * @param request - information that's sent
     * @returns todoItem - The item that was added
     **/
     @override  
    Future<TodoItem> createTodo(ServiceCall call, TodoItem request) async {
        // Create a new TodoObject with the data  
        TodoItem todoItem = new TodoItem();  
        todoItem.text = request.text;  
        todoItem.id = todos.$_getList(1).length +1;
        // Add a new todo Item to our list  
        todos.items.add(todoItem);  
        // Return a todoItem in accordance with function return typ[e
        return todoItem;  
    }  
    /**
    * Read the todos as a Future
    **/
    @override  
    Future<TodoItems> readTodos(ServiceCall call, voidNoParam request) async {  
         return todos;  
    }  

     /**
     * Get all of the todos as a stream
     **/
    @override  
    Stream<TodoItem> readTodosStream(ServiceCall call, voidNoParam request) async* {  
        // Iterate through all of the todos and 'yield' each todo (returns it to the stream)
        for (var todo in todos.items) {  
            yield todo;  
        }
    }
}  

/**
* gRPC Server
**/
class TodoServer {  
    Future<void> main(List<String> args) async {  
        final server = Server([TodoService()]);  // Create a new server from the TodoService
        await server.serve(port: 9000); // Start the server on port 9000
        print('Server listening on port ${server.port}...');  
 }}  


main() {  
  TodoServer todoServer = new TodoServer();  
  todoServer.main([]);  
}

Write a Simple Client

Now that you have a server, lets write a client. I'll use inline comments to explain what this code is doing.

import 'package:grpc/grpc.dart';  
import 'package:grpc_tutorial/src/generated/todo.pbgrpc.dart'; // Import GRPC  

// Helper class to handle client methods. In the real world, you'd probably have wrappers aroudn each gRPC method call
class Client { 
  ClientChannel channel;  
  TodoClient stub;  

  Future<void> main(List<String> args) async {
      // Create a new channel with localhost and the server port 
      channel = ClientChannel('localhost',  
          port: 8001,  
          options:  // No credentials in this example
              const ChannelOptions(credentials: ChannelCredentials.insecure()));
      // Create the stub, which is the client that you interact with to get gRPC methods  
      stub = TodoClient(channel,  
          options: CallOptions(timeout: Duration(seconds: 30)));  
      try {
          // Create a new todo    
          final TodoItem todoItem = new TodoItem();  
          todoItem.text = "Test 1"; 
          // Send a request to the server to make the new item 
          var res = await stub.createTodo(todoItem);  
          // Prints the recieved item
          print(res);  

          // Create the void message
          final v = new voidNoParam();
          // Get a list of todos as a future  
          var todos = await stub.readTodos(v);  
          print(todos.items);  

          // Get the todos as a stream, listen to it, and print the values. If you run another client and create new todos, you'll see this stream get updated
          stub.readTodosStream(v).listen((value) {print(value); });  
     } catch (e) {  
          print(e);  
     }  
     // Cleanup with shutdown
     await channel.shutdown();  
 }}  

main() {  
  var client = Client();  
  client.main([]);  
}

Bam! That's it, you just created your first gRPC server and client exclusively in Dart. To integrate this in Flutter, you'd simply write more methods in the Client class, and then use it in widgets to add and get data (StreamBuilder is your friend).

Crossposted from Comet Code

Posted on by:

caelinsutch profile

caelinsutch

@caelinsutch

Cofounder of Bytes Robotics. Passionate about creating products that improve quality of life and integrate seamlessly into everyday environments.

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