For many Internet of Things (IoT) applications, embedding a HTTP / WebSocket server on a device is enough to get the job done. Oftentimes, this solution can be faster, simpler and more cost effective. Choosing the right web server can be difficult, so let’s run through the decision making factors.
Why a web server?
First, a step back. Can an embedded web server really be an alternative to building an entire IoT infrastructure? Depending on what you are trying to achieve, absolutely.
A good web server can serve Web GUI on devices, implement RESTful services, RPC (e.g. JSON-RPC), asynchronous Websocket communication and handle telemetry data exchange amongst other functionalities. It should be plug & play for developers: taking existing code and just by adding some additional lines of code be able to integrate it into your existing product.
It can solve remote access demand from consumers by creating a dashboard server, enable predictive maintenance and monitoring on a one to many level through RESTful API server application and offer real-time and server-side data push through WebSocket functionality.
For many applications an embedded web server makes sense; financially as well as from a development complexity perspective.
Choosing the right solution
There are plenty of solutions on the market. Wikipedia alone lists 30+ on their comparison page. Let this be a first stop and check which web servers have the technical capacities needed. Then measure them against these 8 decision making factors:
You are integrating with your existing solution and need the most compact and lightweight solution out there to give you room to maneuver.
Ensure you can use SSL/TLS and have an authentication mechanism in place if the units are accessed remotely.
3. Stability & Maturity
Go with a solution that your peers trust and has been around the block a few times. Check GitHub and other communities to see how actively the project is contributed to and updated.
4. Platform Agnostic
Choose a solution that is platform agnostic. So whether now or in future you want to make a move and develop on eCos, UNIX/Linux, Windows, MacOS or take things into the app space with iPhone or Android your selected solution will let you do this.
Plug & play. Use a library that you can easily integrate by pasting the code and just adding a few lines of code. Choosing a vendor should make your life easier.
Look for clarity when checking out the embedding API. Ideally the source should be in a single file to make embedding easy.
Clear pricing that suits your needs. Start with a product that is open source so you can test and when you are ready to commercially apply the solution, change to a commercial license. A commercial license indicates the solution is maintained and updated regularly and you have an actual company behind the product to rely on. Ideally you want a vendor that understands that the size of the project matters in pricing: are you using this for just one product, a product line or more?
You want a solution that is simple and straightforward so that ideally you won’t need support. But especially if this is the first integration project, the option to fall back onto a support structure is comforting and will ensure you can move your project forward fast.
Check these points with each solution that fits your technical specifications and you’ll find a solution partner that will help drive your integration forward in an effective and high quality manner.
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