Chatting on Twitter (1/2)

Can we embed a chat widget on Twitter? Yes, with few tricks and Pusher we can create a widget and chat with our Twitter friends.

qop chat

Overview: qop qop qop

This is a short description of qop, a simple and unpretentious chat widget written in Ruby and Coffeescript. It uses Pusher to send chat messages to our Twitter friends, and it can be embedded on a Twitter page.

Source code can be found here: qop source

The technical part: Web services are provided with Sinatra. Authentication is done via Omniauth. Data models are written in Datamapper, and Handlebars is used for templates. Finally a custom Sprockets process will glue everything together. As easy as that!

qop chat

The bookmarklet

The bookmarklet loads the widget from our server, and this is the code:

    link = document.createElement('link');
    link.href = '';
    link.type = 'text/css';
    link.rel = 'stylesheet';

    var script = document.createElement('script');
    script.type = 'text/javascript';
    script.async = true;
    script.src = '';

Note that it will be easy to create a Chrome Extension, just add a manifest.json and Chrome will do the rest. The file application.js contains the entire javascript code for the widget.

Loading, please wait

We load jQuery and wait until is ready to be used. We also need to load Pusher library, and finally load qop.

      # Load jQuery
      done = false
      script = document.createElement('script')
      script.src = ''

      script.onload = script.onreadystatechange = ->
        if (!done and (!@readyState or @readyState =='loaded' or @readyState =='complete'))
          done = true
          # Assign jQuery to a local namespace
          window.qop$ = jQuery.noConflict();
          window.qop$.support.cors = true
          # Load Pusher library
            .done (script) ->
              console.log 'loading app...'
              app = new QoP.App()
            .fail (jqxhr, settings, exception) ->
              console.log 'failed'


The App class doesn’t do much, just initialise Pusher with the right credentials, and creates the contact list.

      class QoP.App
        constructor: ->
          # Attach the widget to the page
          qop$('<div id="qop"></div>').appendTo 'body'
          # Setup Pusher
          Pusher.channel_auth_endpoint = ''
          Pusher.channel_auth_transport = 'jsonp'
          QoP.pusher = new Pusher 'APPKEY'
          #Load the contact list
          contacts = new QoP.Contacts('contact_list', 'Contact List')

You’re a bit too Pushy

Pusher provides a great websockets service and API, and we use websockets to send chat messages to our twitter friends.

qop chat

The browser sends AJAX requests to our server. Since the chat widget is loaded from, we are doing cross domain requests. CORS stands for Cross-Origin Resource Sharing, and it does what it says. Modern browsers support CORS, and we only care about modern browsers. We could use JSONP, but that is really old school (and CORS is more elegant).

The browser makes CORS requests to our server using jQuery:

      class QoP.Server
        @sendRequest: (service_name, data = null, callback = null) ->
          qop$.support.cors = true
          response = qop$.ajax "{service_name}",
            type: "POST"
            data: data
            contentType: "application/json; charset=utf-8"
            dataType: 'json'
            beforeSend: ( xhr ) ->
                xhr.setRequestHeader('Content-Type', 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded')
                xhr.withCredentials = true
            success: (data) ->
              callback(data) if callback
            error: (XMLHttpRequest, textStatus, errorThrown) ->
              console.log "Error => #{textStatus}"
              console.log errorThrown
               withCredentials: true
            crossDomain: true

We force jQuery to use cors, by setting a flag to true, we also need to pass xhrFields and set withCredentials to true. It shouldn’t be needed, but just in case we also set crossDomain to true. It is a bit redundant, but there have been cases it won’t work otherwise. If you know any better way of doing this, please let me know.

The server needs to know we want to accept requests from Since the server is a Sinatra application we use the rack-cors gem. (You want to include localhost for testing).

    # This goes in the Gemfile
    gem 'rack-cors', :require => 'rack/cors'

    # This goes in the sinatra app.rb file
    require 'rack/cors'

    use Rack::Cors do
      allow do
        origins 'http://localhost:5000', ''
        # /messages is used to send messages to a channel
        resource '/messages',
            :methods => [:post, :options], :headers => :any, :credentials => true

        # /messages_all is used to send messages to a public channel
        resource '/messages_all',
            :methods => [:post, :options], :headers => :any, :credentials => true

        # /chat_session gives informations about the connect user
        resource '/chat_session',
            :methods => [:post, :options], :headers => :any, :credentials => true

        # /chat_request ask the server a private channel to connect two users
        resource '/chat_request',
            :methods => [:post, :options], :headers => :any, :credentials => true

        # pusher/auth is used to authenticate pusher presence channels
        resource '/pusher/auth',
            :methods => [:get, :options],  :headers => :any, :credentials => true

Each url corresponds to a service we provide to the chat widget.

My Friends are your Friends

Let’s see how to populate the contact list

    class QoP.Contacts extends QoP.Box
      constructor: (id, name) ->
        @presenceChannel = null
        @friends = null   # List of online friends
        @uid = null       # twitter uid
        @online = null    # if the user is online/offline
        @nickname = null  # the user nickname

        @bind 'qop:init_presence', @initPresenceChannel

        QoP.Server.sendRequest 'chat_session', null, (data) =>
          @friends = data.friends
          @uid = data.uid
          @online = == "true"
          @nickname = data.nickname
          content = qop$(JST['content'](id: "content_#{id}"))
          @box.append content
          @trigger 'qop:init_presence'

The chat_session method returns a JSON object with user’s online @friends, @uid (unique identifier provided by Twitter) and @nickname. Note, online means the user has been authenticated with our server. (The JST variable is generated by Sprockets and it holds our handlebars templates).

The initPresenceChannel function is called (via a trigger) if chat_session request is succesful.

    initPresenceChannel: ->
      if @online
        @presenceChannel = QoP.pusher.subscribe("presence-#{@uid}")
        @presenceChannel.bind 'pusher:subscription_succeeded', @presenceSucceeded
        @presenceChannel.bind 'friend_status', @updateFriendStatus
        @presenceChannel.bind 'create_chat', @createChat
        @box.find('.contactlist').append qop$(JST['signup']({redirect: redirectUrl}))
        @trigger 'box:raise'

If the user is online (authenticated) we subscribe the user to his own presence channel. If the user is not online, we will show a signup link inside the widget, asking the user to authenticate. Authentication is done via the omniauth-twitter gem.

Presence Channels with Pusher

Each user has got a personal presence channel. We use this channel to communicate events to the user. For example, we use the presence channel to let a user when a friend joins or leaves the chat. Pusher makes it really easy to know about these events via webhooks. Here’s the server code:

    post '/webhooks' do
      webhook =
      if webhook.valid? do |event|
          uid = event["channel"].split('-').last
          user = User.first(:uid=>uid)
          if user
            case event["name"]
              when 'channel_occupied'
              when 'channel_vacated'
            user.online_friends.each do |friend|
                  :uid => user.uid,
                  :nickname => user.nickname,
                  :online =>
        status 401

When the user occupies the channel, the user status will be set to online, otherwise the user is offline. We use “cowboy” notifications to send these status changes, for each online friend we send a friend_status notification. Having said that, the code is highly inefficient, since we shouldn’t do that, It would be better to send notifications outside the http request cycle… Anyway…

Look Ma, I have a friend

At this point the user is authenticated and his presence channel is working. It’s time to show/hide friends and to open a chat box when we click on their nickname.

    presenceSucceeded: =>
      @trigger 'box:raise'
      for user in @friends
        console.log "Render user: #{user.nickname}"

    updateFriendStatus: (user) =>
      if then @addFriend(user) else @removeFriend(user)

    addFriend: (user) ->
      check = @box.find("#contact_#{user.uid}").length == 0
      if check
        friend = qop$(JST['friend'](user: user))
        @box.find('.friends_list').append friend
        friend.bind 'click', {user: user}, (event) =>
          QoP.Server.sendRequest('chat_request', {uid:})

    removeFriend: (user) ->
      @box.find(".friends_list p#contact_#{user.uid}").remove()

Adding an online friend is easy, we check if the friend isn’t already shown, then we fill a template with the relevant data, and we append this template to the contact list. To remove an offline friend is even easier.

Now we need to create a chat box. Pusher is here to help us again. We bind the click event so that when we click on the nickname the browser does an AJAX chat_request to our server.

    post '/chat_request' do
      someone = User.first(:uid=> params[:uid])
      if someone and and current_user.friend?(someone)
        cuid = current_user.uid
        suid = someone.uid

        # A chat between two user is created using their twitter uids
        if cuid < suid
          chat_channel = "chat-channel-#{cuid}-#{suid}"
          chat_channel = "chat-channel-#{suid}-#{cuid}"

        Pusher["presence-#{current_user.uid}"].trigger_async('create_chat', {
          :uid =>someone.uid,
          :channel_name => chat_channel

          :uid => current_user.uid,
          :nickname =>current_user.nickname,
          :channel_name => chat_channel

      content_type :json
      {:request => 'sent'}.to_json

If our friend is online we create a new channel. This channel holds the chat between the two users. We use Pusher to trigger a create_chat event in the browsers.

    createChat: (data) =>
      channel_name = data.channel_name
      friend =  uid: data.uid, nickname: data.nickname
      user = uid: @uid, nickname: @nickname
      panel =  new QoP.Panel(channel_name, friend, user)

The createChat creates a new Panel, and it allows us to chat with our friend.

Panel Discussions

The Panel is where we type our messages and chat with our friend. Each Panel has a pusher channel associated with it, and this channel is used to send chat messages.

    class QoP.Panel extends QoP.Box
      constructor: (channel_name,friend = {}, user = {}) ->
        @channel = null
        @channel_name = channel_name
        @name = null
        @user = user
        @friend = friend

To create the Panel, we render the template and append a text area.

    createBox: ->
      panel = qop$(JST['panel'](id: "panel_#{@friend.uid}"))
      @box.append panel
      textarea = qop$(JST['textarea'](uid: @friend.uid))
      @box.append textarea

We also need to subscribe the users to the new channel.

    createChannel: ->
      if not @channel?
        @channel = QoP.pusher.subscribe(@channel_name)
        @channel.bind 'pusher:subscription_succeeded', console.log("User subscribed")
        @channel.bind 'pusher:subscription_error', console.log('User already subscribed')
        @channel.bind 'new_message', @messageReceived

Twitter has keyboard shortcuts, we need to disable them when the user is typing. After the user hits enter we send the message to our server:

    enableTextBox: ->
      textBox = @box.find('.chatboxtextarea')
      textBox.keypress (e) =>
      textBox.keydown (e) =>
        code = if e.keyCode then e.keyCode else e.which
        if code == 13
          text = textBox.val()
          textBox.val ""
          if text != ""
            data = uid: @friend.uid , text: text, channel_name: @channel_name

Eventually, we’ll also receive a message. Again, we render the message using handlebars template and append the message to the Panel. We also need to scroll the content all the way up to the top, so that we can read the message when it arrives.

    messageReceived: (data) =>
      nickname = data.nickname
      message = JST['message'](text: data.text, nickname: nickname)
      @box.find('.chatboxcontent').scrollTop 10000000


There’s a lot more to say, we still have to see how to use Omniauth to authenticate the user, how to use DelayedJob to fetch friends data in background, how to setup a custom Sprockets without Rails, and the database relations and models used.

But that will be the subject of the next post!