The delta channel option enables delta compression. It is applied on the channel you are subscribing to, enabling delta mode.

Delta mode is a way for a client to subscribe to a channel so that message payloads sent contain only the difference between the present message and the previous message sent on the channel.

As delta only applies to channel subscriptions, it is only available when using the realtime interface of an Ably SDK, or when using SSE or MQTT.

delta is useful for channels that carry messages representing a series of updates to a particular object or document with a significant degree of similarity between successive messages. A client can apply the delta to the previous message to obtain the full payload.

Using delta mode can significantly reduce the encoded size of each message when the difference between successive message payload sizes are small, relative to the overall size. The reduction can reduce bandwidth costs and transit latencies, and enable greater message throughput on a connection.

Deltas explanation

Deltas apply to the data property of a Message payload published via Ably. Other properties, such as clientId, name, and extras remain unchanged and are not compressed when using deltas.

Messages retrieved via history, and messages delivered to integrations are not compressed.

The delta channel option implementation supports a single representation of a delta, VCDIFF.

Delta compression via vcdiff is supported for all payloads, whether string, binary, or JSON-encoded. The delta algorithm processes message payloads as opaque binaries and has no dependency on the structure of the payload, for example, it does not process line-oriented diffs.

As delta compression is specified by a subscriber, the publisher has no control over whether or not deltas are generated for any given message. Delta processing is performed for all messages if there is at least one subscriber on a channel that has subscribed with the delta option.

There is no constraint on how many publishers or subscribers there are. If there are multiple publishers, then deltas can still be generated, and they will be determined based on the order of messages. Deltas are calculated strictly based on the message ordering in that channel, with the effectiveness being dependent on the level of similarity between successive payloads.

If a delta is generated and it results in a difference that is not appreciably smaller than the original message, or is larger than the original message, for example if successive messages are completely different, then the delta will not be sent. Clients will receive the original, unprocessed message.

Set the delta property of params to vcdiff in order to enable deltas when subscribing to a channel.

This will cause delta messages to be generated by the server and sent to the client, and the library reconstitutes the original message payload. Messages on the channel are delivered to the subscriber’s listener in the same way as with a normal subscription.

Note that in some SDKs, the vcdiff delta decoding library is excluded from the default distribution in order to avoid increasing the size. In these cases, it is also necessary to supply the delta decoder plugin when instantiating Ably.

/* Make sure to include <script src="//"></script> in your head */ const realtime = new Ably.Realtime({ key: '<loading API key, please wait>', plugins: { vcdiff: vcdiffDecoder } }); const channel = realtime.channels.get('fur-new-wet', { params: { delta: 'vcdiff' } }); await channel.subscribe((message) => { console.log('Received message: ', msg); });
Demo Only

In principle, vcdiff deltas can be applied to encrypted message payloads, but in practice this provides no benefit because there is no similarity between successive encrypted payloads even for identical or near-identical plaintext message payloads.

If a subscriber has a delta subscription and the channel in question experiences a discontinuity, then a non-delta message will be delivered to the client as the first message after the discontinuity. This ensures that lost messages do not prevent the client from reconstituting messages from deltas.

Note that a channel subscriber can experience a discontinuity in the sequence of messages it receives on a given channel for the following reasons:

  • The connection can drop, and there will be a discontinuity if the client is unable to reconnect within a two-minute window that preserves connection continuity.
  • The outbound connection may become rate limited, which causes some messages to be dropped.
  • There may have been an internal error in the Ably system leading to the server being unable to preserve continuity on the channel.

In these cases, the service indicates the discontinuity to the client, together with the reason, and this is usually visible to the subscriber in a channel UPDATE event.

Delta processing