Minnow Server (Embedded HTTPS & WebSocket Server)

Embedded HTTPS & WebSocket Server

Minnow Server, a super small and fast embedded HTTPS (secure) WebSocket server, lets small microcontrollers with no external memory act as real-time web servers. The super small and secure Minnow Server is ideal for devices that are too small for standard web applications or our Barracuda Embedded Web Server.

How does it work?

Minnow Server incorporates the HTML5 WebSocket specification, letting JavaScript applications open a persistent, bidirectional, full-duplex and asynchronous communication channel with the embedded device. The Minnow Server is specifically designed to facilitate the use of modern Single Page Applications (SPA) for device management and can be used with modern frameworks such as AngularJS, ReactJS, and Vue.js. See the video below for details.

Real-Time Web Server for Tiny Microcontrollers

Embedded WebSocket Server

The Minnow Server is ideal for most modern microcontroller-based systems, enabling you to web-enable even the tiniest device.

Web applications for Minnow Server are designed in JavaScript and can load on demand from any of the following:

  • the device
  • the browser's local file system
  • directly from a browser, such as a Chrome browser app
  • a cloud server

You decide where to store the web presentation logic by selecting one or all of the above options. Of course, the benefit of storing the web presentation logic off device is that it saves considerable space on the device and lets you easily modify the application without upgrading the firmware.

The following video shows how to use the Minnow Server for secure realtime device management.

Availability:

The Minnow Server is included in the SharkSSL package. The ZIP file plugin is available at an additional cost.

Application Areas:

The Minnow Server is primarily designed for small micro controllers such as the Cortex-M3/M4 family, where internal memory is limited and using a full application server, such as the Barracuda Application Server, is not an option. Minnow Server is not recommended for larger embedded systems, where a full application server can fit into the memory.

Please send us an email if you have any questions on which applications best fit Minnow Server and when to use it.

Optional ZIP File System Plugin

In addition to being a WebSocket server, Minnow Server includes an embedded HTTP server, which makes it possible for the browser to load the web presentation logic on demand from the device. Web presentation logic, including JavaScript, has a tendency to be large, so the data may be too big for your microcontroller's flash memory. Real Time Logic provides an optional ZIP file-system plugin for the Minnow Server.

Compressed web applications are typically only one-third of the original size and are loaded on demand by the browser without needing to be uncompressed on the device. The web pages are extracted from within the ZIP file and sent "as is" to the browser which then uncompresses the data received from the server.

How the WebSocket Protocol Works

WebSocket Upgrade

The WebSocket protocol defined in RFC 6455 specifies how a standard HTTPS request/response pair can be upgraded to a secure and persistent full-duplex connection. HTML5 WebSocket-based applications enable real-time communication while placing less burden on the servers.

WebSockets vs HTTP/AJAX/REST

WebSockets is a relatively new standard that brings real-time communication to the web. WebSockets is supported by all modern browsers and is designed to provide a persistent full-duplex asynchronous communication channel over a single TCP connection.

HTTPWebSockets
Persistent
PartlyYes
Duplex
HalfFull
Message Pattern
Request-ResponseBi-Directional
Service Push
Not supportedCore feature
Overhead
Moderate to large for embedded systemsMinimal overhead per WebSocket message

Most embedded web device management applications currently operate by simply responding to user interactions. You click a button and this causes the browser to submit the data to the server. The server performs the command and responds with a new HTML page. This old technology works, but it is a very limiting model. You may have moved beyond the simple GET/POST submit button web design concept and embraced AJAX/REST. However, the fact remains that AJAX is still a one way asynchronous message sent from the browser to the server and any real-time updates you want to display in the browser require polling of server resources. You may still think AJAX and REST are the way to go; however, the entire AJAX protocol could be built using Websockets technology. This makes Websockets literally a superset of AJAX so it makes sense that we might abandon a limiting technology for a broader technology.

The fact that Websockets provide a bi-directional communication channel between the browser and server immediately opens up some very interesting opportunities for web based device management applications. Because the connection is persistent, the embedded web server can now initiate communication with the browser. The embedded web server can send alerts, updates, notifications, etc.. This adds a whole new dimension to the types of web based device management applications that can be constructed.

For a deeper understanding of how WebSockets can be used for device management, see our Barracuda App Server tutorial:
A Modern Approach to Embedding a Web Server in a Device. Note that the Minnow Server and the Barracuda App Server are two different products.


WebSocket LED Demo Program

You may download and compile the WebSocket LED example program as seen in the above video.

Download