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Build a chat application in Dart (Part 3)

graphicbeacon profile image Jermaine Oppong Originally published at creativebracket.com ・6 min read

In Part 2 we refactored our solution by splitting the Sign in and Chat room logic into View classes, building a Router object to transition between the screens. We will complete the full flow here by implementing our WebSocket connection and managing each of the chatters in our Chat room. At the end of this tutorial we will have a functioning chat application.

1. Create a WebSocket object

In order for messages to be relayed from one user and broadcasted to the others, we need to establish a persistent, bi-directional connection to our server. This will allow messages to be sent back and forth between the server and client using an event-based architecture. This is made possible via the WebSocket protocol, which the dart:io and dart:html library provides classes for. So no external packages needed!

Let's begin on the client by writing a class to be responsible for instantiating a WebSocket object and implementing various event listeners on them. This class will represent a user's connection to our Chat room server.

Build a Chat room subject

Create a chat_room_subject.dart file inside the directory lib/src and implement the class for our ChatRoomSubject:

// lib/src/chat_room_subject.dart

import 'dart:html';

class ChatRoomSubject {
  ChatRoomSubject(String username) {}

  final WebSocket socket;

Because we've marked our socket instance variable as final, it requires that we assign a value to it in the initialize phase, that is, before the {} part of our constructor is run. Let's therefore create our WebSocket instance and pass the URL to our server:

ChatRoomSubject(String username)
  : socket = WebSocket('ws://localhost:9780/ws?username=$username') {}

When our WebSocket class is instantiated, a connection will be established to the URL passed in as it's String argument. We've also passed in the username value as part of the query string of the WebSocket URL.

We are now able to listen for several events on our WebSocket namely open, message, error and close.

// ..
class ChatRoomSubject {
  // ..
  // ..
  _initListeners() {
    socket.onOpen.listen((evt) {
      print('Socket is open');

    // Please note: "message" event will be implemented elsewhere

    socket.onError.listen((evt) {
      print('Problems with socket. ${evt}');

    socket.onClose.listen((evt) {
      print('Socket is closed');

And we need to invoke the _initListeners() method:

ChatRoomSubject(String username)
  : socket = WebSocket('ws://localhost:9780/ws?username=$username') {
  _initListeners(); // <-- Added this line

We need to be able to send messages to our Chat room server and close a WebSocket connection, effectively leaving the Chat room. Add these methods to our ChatRoomSubject class before _initListeners():

send(String data) => socket.send(data);
close() => socket.close();

Integrate ChatRoomSubject into the ChatRoomView class

Import the dart file we've just created from web/views/chat_room.dart directly after our // Absolute imports (dart_bulma_chat_app is a reference to the name value field inside your pubspec.yaml file, which points to the lib/ directory):

// web/views/chat_room.dart

// Absolute imports
import 'dart:html';
import 'dart:convert';

// Package imports
import 'package:dart_bulma_chat_app/src/chat_room_subject.dart'; // <-- Added this line

And then we will instantiate this class as follows:

// ..
// ..
class ChatRoomView implements View {
      : _contents = DocumentFragment(),
        _subject = ChatRoomSubject(params['username']) // <-- Added this line

  /// Properties
  final ChatRoomSubject _subject;
  // ..
  // ..

If you look at the _initListeners() method in ChatRoomSubject you should notice that we didn't implement the listener for the WebSocket "message" event. We will do that in ChatRoomView since we have access to the WebSocket instance:

// ..
// ..
class ChatRoomView implements View {
  // ..
  // ..
  void _addEventListeners() {
    // ..
    // ..

  void _subjectMessageHandler(evt) {
    chatRoomLog.appendHtml(evt.data + '<br />');

Lastly, let's amend _sendBtnClickHandler(e) to send messages from the input field to the Chat server, empty the message input field value and reset it's focus:

void _sendBtnClickHandler(e) {

  // Resets value and re-focuses on input field
    ..value = ''

2. Upgrade incoming requests to WebSocket connections

To get a basic example working, let's write some server-side logic to maintain our chat room session.

Create lib/src/chat_room_session.dart and implement the class for our ChatRoomSession:

import 'dart:io';
import 'dart:convert';

class Chatter {
  Chatter({this.session, this.socket, this.name});
  HttpSession session;
  WebSocket socket;
  String name;

class ChatRoomSession {
  final List<Chatter> _chatters = [];

  // TODO: Implement addChatter method
  // TODO: Implement removeChatter method
  // TODO: Implement notifyChatters method

Here we have two different classes. The Chatter class represents each participant. This participant contains its current session, WebSocket connection and name. The ChatRoomSession class manages our list of participants, including facilitating communication between them.

Here's the implementation of the addChatter() method. This upgrades the incoming request to a WebSocket connection, builds a Chatter object, creates event listeners and adds it to the _chatters list:

class ChatRoomSession {
  final List<Chatter> _chatters = [];

  addChatter(HttpRequest request, String username) async {
    // Upgrade request to `WebSocket` connection and add to `Chatter` object
    WebSocket ws = await WebSocketTransformer.upgrade(request);
    Chatter chatter = Chatter(
      session: request.session,
      socket: ws,
      name: username,

    // Listen for incoming messages, handle errors and close events
      (data) => _handleMessage(chatter, data),
      onError: (err) => print('Error with socket ${err.message}'),
      onDone: () => _removeChatter(chatter),


    print('[ADDED CHATTER]: ${chatter.name}');

  // TODO: Implement _handleMessage method
  _handleMessage(Chatter chatter, String data) {}

When messages are sent to the server via the connection, we handle this by invoking _handleMessage() while passing it the Chatter object and data as arguments.

Let's cross out that // TODO: by implementing _handleMessage():

_handleMessage(Chatter chatter, String data) {
  chatter.socket.add('You said: $data');
  _notifyChatters(chatter, data);

And let's implement _notifyChatters():

_notifyChatters(Chatter exclude, [String message]) {
    .where((chatter) => chatter.name != exclude.name)
    .forEach((chatter) => chatter.socket.add(message));

And also removing the Chatter object when a participant leaves:

_removeChatter(Chatter chatter) {
  print('[REMOVING CHATTER]: ${chatter.name}');
  _chatters.removeWhere((c) => c.name == chatter.name);
  _notifyChatters(chatter, '${chatter.name} has left the chat.');

Instantiate our ChatRoomSession class

Go to bin/server.dart and create our instance:

import 'dart:io';
import 'dart:convert';

import 'package:dart_bulma_chat_app/src/chat_room_session.dart'; // <-- Added this line

main() async {
  // TODO: Get port from environment variable
  var port = 9780;
  var server = await HttpServer.bind(InternetAddress.loopbackIPv4, port);
  var chatRoomSession = ChatRoomSession(); // <-- Added this line
  // ..
  // ..

Scroll down to the case '/ws': section and call the addChatter() method, passing it the request and username:

// ..
// .. 
  case '/ws':
    String username = request.uri.queryParameters['username'];
    chatRoomSession.addChatter(request, username);
// ..
// ..

So we retrieve the username from the query parameters when we passed ?username=$username into the URL we defined for our WebSocket instance inside ChatRoomSubject.

Let us test what we have now. Open a terminal session and instantiate the server:

dart bin/server.dart

And run the web app on another terminal session:

webdev serve --live-reload

Following this fully should give you the image result below:

Chat app working demo

If you’ve got this far then great job!!!

3. Implement some helper functions

We need a way of categorising the types of messages sent to our Chat server and respond to it accordingly. When a participant joins the chat, it would be great to send a notification welcoming this new participant and notifying the other participants on the new chatter. We will create an enum type which will contain the particular types of messages this Chat app will have.

Follow the full tutorial which includes tidying up the look and feel of the chat messages and implementing the logout functionality.

→ Read the full tutorial on my blog

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Jermaine Oppong


Web Developer | Google Dart enthusiast | Egghead.io instructor | YouTuber 📹 | Read my blog ✍🏾 https://www.creativebracket.com


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