Intro to WebRTC: How Open Source Technologies are Changing the World

The evolution of the Internet and other technologies over the past several years has provided many of us with real world devices that formerly existed only in fantasy. Take the concept of hologram devices: light sabers aside, when you first watched Star Wars and witnessed the 3D image of Princess Leia projected from R2D2’s head – even for non-science fiction fans – the prospect of such technology was nothing less than fascinating. To think in just a couple short years, holograms will be a reality.

A glance around any populated room reveals that devices imagined decades ago are now utilized on a daily basis. Even other technologies, never before imagined, are part of everyday life.

For the most part, it’s the application level or final product of technology that’s fascinating, not so much the underlying foundation. To the average consumer, technology’s framework is boring. However, a somewhat recent development in the web technologies field is enough to excite even the most basic web user.

A quick blurb on open technology

For the masses and the practical, how a new technology comes into play isn’t too important. What matters is application and functionality.

Whether you’re a casual user of technology or heavily rely on modern wonders for business, open source technology is a cause for excitement. If it were not for free license concepts, many of the technologies we enjoy today would be very different, unavailable to many or simply non-existent. For example, Henry Ford is perhaps the most well renowned pioneer in the automobile industry for many reason but in particular, his devotion to open patents for vehicle design.

Arguably, this concept is even more important today. Proprietary anything (sorry Apple) is obnoxious for many reasons but mostly for the sheer fact that it discourages competition. This is why upcoming technologies, such as those that will rely on WebRTC, will be a major game changer for communication and the web.

Open source for communication technology

Until recently, the meat of the technology needed for the application of VoIP was internally developed for proprietary use, with some exceptions. Only those well versed in networking and familiar with platforms such as Asterisk and Cisco technologies know how to actually apply the methodologies into a working service. Now, thanks to WebRTC (Web Real Time Communications), the masses of application developers can utilize real time communication technology for current web-based applications with far greater ease.

Thanks to a collaborative effort between Mozilla and Google, WebRTC was born in 2011.  It’s not an actual application but rather an API that integrates with Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Included are powerful tools for creating communication applications from within these browsers, based on a standard accepted by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).

The framework and background of WebRTC

The “top layer API” is mostly based in JavaScript and relies on several other components that make up the different layers beneath the surface. It is explained in detail on the architecture subpage of the WebRTC site that includes this nice chart, summing up the structure of the technology:

WebRTCpublicdiagramforwebsite (2)

The W3C Working Group (WG) are the people responsible for making the Internet “work” in the sense that they define the characteristics of the code for various web programming languages. Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought – someone has to write the programs that are used to program!

The WebRTC workgroup was formed in 2011. They are dedicated to building the infrastructure for real time communication while working alongside other work groups such as the HTML work group that defines characteristics of the language. Since the standard has been in place with the W3C, the ladies and gentlemen at Mozilla, Google and Opera have been using the C++ API to make each of their respective browsers WebRTC compliant.

The good news for developers.

Anyone who builds a useful product will tell you, the more handy tools at your disposal, the better. Those slaving away over a keyboard, designing websites and applications have been blessed with HTML5 as it changed the way information can be shared over the web. However, most tools are static in nature – very few web technologies are truly real time.

Communication in general had its first major overhaul when VoIP became a common means for conversations. With WebRTC, a whole new level of communication is on the horizon. As with any technology, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword. However, this is subject for another day.

The team at WhichVoIP will be following the development and application of the WebRTC very closely. Next time, we will be taking a closer look at the API and how to get your hands dirty with the technology.

About the author  ⁄ Tony

Tony is one of our senior contributors at He has a vast knowledge of VoIP and produces thought provoking content that our readers enjoy.

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