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When you send bytes from a buffer with a normal TCP socket, the send function returns the number of bytes of the buffer that were sent. If it is a non-blocking socket or a non-blocking send then the number of bytes sent may be less than the size of the buffer. If it is a blocking socket or blocking send, then the number returned will match the size of the buffer but the call may block. With WebSockets, the data that is passed to the send method is always either sent as a whole "message" or not at all. Also, browser WebSocket implementations do not block on the send call.
But there are more important differences on the receiving side of things. When the receiver does a recv (or read) on a TCP socket, there is no guarantee that the number of bytes returned correspond to a single send (or write) on the sender side. It might be the same, it may be less (or zero) and it might even be more (in which case bytes from multiple send/writes are received). With WebSockets, the receipt of a message is event driven (you generally register a message handler routine), and the data in the event is always the entire message that the other side sent.
Note that you can do message based communication using TCP sockets, but you need some extra layer/encapsulation that is adding framing/message boundary data to the messages so that the original messages can be re-assembled from the pieces. In fact, WebSockets is built on normal TCP sockets and uses frame headers that contains the size of each frame and indicate which frames are part of a message. The WebSocket API re-assembles the TCP chunks of data into frames which are assembled into messages before invoking the message event handler once per message.
WebSocket is basically an application protocol (with reference to the ISO/OSI network stack), message-oriented, which makes use of TCP as transport layer.
The idea behind the WebSocket protocol consists of reusing the established TCP connection between a Client and Server. After the HTTP handshake the Client and Server start speaking WebSocket protocol by exchanging WebSocket envelopes. HTTP handshaking is used to overcome any barrier (e.g. firewalls) between a Client and a Server offering some services (usually port 80 is accessible from anywhere, by anyone). Client and Server can switch over speaking HTTP in any moment, making use of the same TCP connection (which is never released).
Behind the scenes WebSocket rebuilds the TCP frames in consistent envelopes/messages. The full-duplex channel is used by the Server to push updates towards the Client in an asynchronous way: the channel is open and the Client can call any futures/callbacks/promises to manage any asynchronous WebSocket received message.
To put it simply, WebSocket is a high level protocol (like HTTP itself) built on TCP (reliable transport layer, on per frame basis) that makes possible to build effective real-time application with JS Clients (previously Comet and long-polling techniques were used to pull updates from the Server before WebSockets were implemented. See Stackoverflow post: Differences between websockets and long polling for turn based game server ).
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