gRPC-web: Using gRPC in Your Front-End Application
At StackPulse, we use gRPC as our one and only synchronous communication protocol. Microservices communicate with each other using gRPC, our external API is exposed via gRPC and our frontend application (written using VueJS) uses the gRPC protocol to communicate with our backend services. One of the main strengths of gRPC is the community and the language support. Given some proto files, you can generate a server and a client for most programming languages. In this article, I will explain how to communicate with your gRPC backend using the great gRPC-web OSS project.
A quick reminder about our architecture
After working that way for several months, we realized it doesn’t work as well as we’d imagined. As a result, we decided to adopt the API Gateway/Backend For Frontend approach.
I will publish a different blog post about this change in the future. However, the main pain point was data consolidation across several microservices—the dreaded JOINs over gRPC.
Introducing gRPC Web
Envoy has built in support for this type of proxy.
Here you can also find an example of the grpc-web proxy implementation in Golang. We use a similar implementation at StackPulse.
Building gRPC Web clients
npm install command.
Sample client/server example
Our proto interface
This is a really simple service. You send it
GetCurrentTimeRequest and it returns
GetCurrentTimeResponse containing the text representation of
Generating clients and servers
protoc-gen-grpc-web plugin. You can get it here or use the pre-baked docker image
jfbrandhorst/grpc-web-generators that contains all the tools needed to work with grpc-web.
docker run \ -v `pwd`/api:/api \ -v `pwd`/time/goclient:/goclient \ -v `pwd`/frontend/src/jsclient:/jsclient \ jfbrandhorst/grpc-web-generators \ protoc -I /api \ --go_out=plugins=grpc,paths=source_relative:/goclient \ --js_out=import_style=commonjs:/jsclient \ --grpc-web_out=import_style=commonjs,mode=grpcwebtext:/jsclient \ /api/time/v1/time_service.proto
It will put the Go clients in
It’s worth noting that the client generator is also able to generate TypeScript code, which you can read more about in its documentation.
A really basic Go server which just listens on
0.0.0.0:8080. It implements the
TimeServiceServer interface and returns
time.Now().String() for each request.
Using gRPC-web in the frontend is pretty simple, as shown by the example below.
A small tip - I recommend enabling the gRPC-web chrome extension. It’s a great way to inspect your gRPC traffic coming from and to the browser, just like you would with the Network Activity Inspector that is built into Chrome.
Like I previously mentioned, gRPC-web needs a proxy to translate into gRPC. Envoy has native support for this, and the following configuration example for Envoy does exactly that.
I hope this article will help you easily dive into gRPC-web. It is a great technology, especially if you are already using gRPC everywhere. We’re using it with great success in our frontend application. If you're interested in learning more, you can get started with the source code for this article here.