So I haven't posted a good rant on my blog in quite some time - I had chilled out a lot in my older years, but I just have to tell this story about Safari and my struggles in getting it to work with my chat room I had built recently.
My chat room is a fairly basic app - it's open source and written "from scratch" using WebSockets to handle the client/server communication and they pass basic JSON messages around. All fairly standard stuff and shouldn't be a big ask for any modern web browser that supports modern web standards. It works flawlessly in Google Chrome as well as all other Chromium derivatives (including Edge, Brave, etc.), and it works flawlessly on Firefox, and when you run either browser on your Windows, Linux or Mac OS computer. It even works great on all Androids, too - using Chromium or Firefox browser engines.
But then there's Safari. Safari "supports" WebSockets but it doesn't do so very well and I've been fighting this for weeks now trying to chip away at this problem. Both when you run Safari on your Mac OS Ventura desktop or on your iPhone or iPad, Safari is very easy to overwhelm and it will disconnect from the chat room at the slightest hiccup of an issue.
My rant here actually is about three different problems that have made my life difficult trying to get Safari to work:
I don't own a Macbook or an iOS device and so would have no way to even debug or look into this problem, but at least there is an option to run Mac OS inside of a virtual machine (using something like OSX-KVM) so at least I can look into the desktop Safari browser and see what its deal is.
First - here is how my chat basically works: you connect, send your username to log in, the chat tells everyone you joined, sends everyone the new Who's Online roster, and sends some "welcome messages" to the one who joined where I can send my rules or new feature announcements to you.
What I would see when a Safari user logged in was: they'd connect, log in, receive all those welcome messages and then they would immediately hangup the connection and log off. On their side, the web browser gives a very unhelpful error message regarding the WebSocket:
That's it - it doesn't say what the error was. Even when I have a Safari browser in front of me, they give me no help at all to find out what's wrong!
Through trial and error, I found out:
...and that kind of thoroughly sucks. I can remove all the welcome messages so as to allow Safari to at least log on, but then just one user posting a paragraph of text will kick all the Safari users out of the chat room!
Chrome and Firefox don't experience this issue. A while ago I added picture sharing in chat - you send your picture over WebSocket and it echoes it as a
data: URL to all the chatters, passing those bytes directly back out; Firefox and Chrome can cope with this perfectly, but that would for sure kick Safari users off for too long of a message!
So, when it comes to Mac OS users I can tell them: Chrome and Firefox work better. But this advice does not fly on iPads or iPhones because, per Apple's rules, web browsers on iOS are not allowed to bring their own browser engines - they all are just custom wrappers around Mobile Safari.
And you guessed it: Mobile Safari doesn't like my WebSockets either!
I am hoping that with EU pressure placed on Apple to where they will allow competing browser engines to join their platform, that at least some of my iOS users will have a way to use my chat room. But how it stands currently is: iPads and iPhones simply can't use my chat room at all, or if they can get on (maybe it's the "too long of message" issue with them as well), they will be fragile and easy to boot offline just by writing too long of a message.
Apple will not innovate on Safari and make it support modern web standards, and they've made sure that nobody else can innovate either. The Blink engine from Chromium and Gecko from Firefox both work great with WebSockets and if only they were allowed to exist in their true forms on Apple mobiles, I wouldn't be ranting about this right now, I could just say "don't use Safari."
And side rant: the reason Apple won't allow Chrome or Firefox to compete with them is because they are scared shitless about Progressive Web Apps, which could compete with their native app store. They won't innovate on Safari at all until their feet are held to the fire (thanks for that as well, EU!), their web browser sucks (as this WebSockets thing illustrates), they're holding everybody back - the new Internet Explorer 6.0!
Even if I owned an iPad, it wouldn't help - you can't get to the browser logs on an iPad browser to even see what kind of error message it's throwing. Though I imagine the error message would be just as helpful as desktop Safari, anyway: "Protocol error."
In order to get logs off an iOS web browser, you need to pair it with a Macbook computer -- the only kind of device that is allowed to run the iOS development kits and is the only way to debug anything that happens on your iPad.
With Mac OS, at least there is a way I can spin up a virtual machine and get my hands on Safari. There is no way to do this for iOS. There's no virtual machine where I can run the genuine Mobile Safari app and have a look at this issue myself. I wish Apple weren't so closed in their ecosystem - comparing it to Android for example, you can debug an Android app using any kind of computer: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, even another Android, even on-device on the same Android.
I am not an iOS developer, I don't care to be an iOS developer, and I don't own any Apple hardware, and it really sucks when I run into a web app issue that should have nothing to do with Apple specific software, and I simply can not even get in and look at the error messages.
I'd been chipping away at this for weeks, basically blindly trying things and throwing shit at the walls and hoping one of my Apple using friends tries my chat room once in a while to see if any of my efforts have worked (spoiler: they haven't worked).
I've also tried reaching out to developers on Mastodon and other social media: my chat room is open source, could somebody with Apple hardware help me debug and see if they can find out what I can do better to get Safari to like my chat room. Maybe I didn't reach the right ears because I've gotten only crickets in response. Meanwhile about a third of my users still can not get onto my chat room at all.
Where I've landed so far is: it seems Safari can connect, but that < 500 character limit issue seems horribly broken and I don't want Safari users getting kicked off left and right by surprise, it's a bad user experience.
If I wait it out long enough (and if the EU is successful), Apple may permit actually good web browser engines on their platform and then my chat will work perfectly on them. It may just take a couple of years though - first Apple would have to be successfully sued into submission, and then Google/Mozilla would have to port their browser engines over which could be its own long tail of development work.
Maybe as a consequence of that regulation, Apple will actually put some new work into Safari instead of just neglecting it and they'll fix their shit. Currently it seems like my WebSocket messages need to be smaller than a tweet on Twitter, and it honestly won't be worth all the effort it would take me to reimagine my whole chat room and come up with a clever protocol to break messages apart into tiny bite sized chunks when it's only one, non-standards compliant web browser, which drags its stick thru the mud as badly as Internet Explorer ever did, that has the issue here.
So are they the new Internet Explorer, or somehow even worse?
I have sometimes had people visit my blog because they were Googling around in general about Apple and they like to fight me in the comments because I dissed their favorite brand. If this is you, at least say something constructive in the comments: have you ever built a WebSockets app and do you have experience to share in how to get Safari to behave? If you're simply an end user fanboy and never installed Xcode in your life, save your comments, please.
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