Resolving Vaadin push with long polling issues in AWS Elastic Beanstalk

This took me a long time to figure out, so I thought I’d share it with anyone else struggling with this.

When you upload a Vaadin application to the AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Tomcat sits behind an Apache server that proxies connections to it. (Note: this may apply to you even if you’re not in AWS/ElasticBeanstalk. If you use Apache as a proxy to an application server, be it Tomcat or something else, this could still be an issue).

If you’re using Vaadin push in long polling mode (Transport.LONG_POLLING), it turns out that the connection between the client (browser) and server (tomcat, or your other java application server) gets dropped due to a timeout issue. If there is no data exchanged between the server (tomcat) and the client (browser), then the connection is deemed “idle” by Apache and gets dropped. This is an issue because with long polling, the HTTP connection remains open indefinitely, and that’s information is pushed to the client from the server.

Now with Vaadin’s push, it’s supposed to recover from a dropped connection. The connection is supposed to just get reestablished, and everything resumes. That’s an ideal scenario. In my experience, that doesn’t always work the way it should. If I’m on a Vaadin web app through my browser, and sit idle for a while, when I come back to it a lot of time it resumes fine (I can see push reestablishing itself in the console), but a lot of times the app just hangs forever.

Another thing to note is that Vaadin sends a heartbeat to the client, to check if the client is still there. The default heartbeat is every 5 minutes. When a heartbeat is sent, Apache’s idle connection timeout is reset. So if there is no user activity for a few minutes, the goal is to adjust the configuration so that the heartbeat happens before Apache times out the HTTP connection.

So the solution for this is to

  1. Modify Apache’s timeout for idle connections. I believe the default setting in AWS’s configuration for Apache, is 60 seconds. You’ll need to ssh into your server, edit /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf, and look for the “Timeout” directive. Change the Timeout directive to be greater-than the default Vaadin heartbeat of 5 minutes. Try 6 minutes (note: the Timeout value is in seconds), so you’d set “Timeout 360”. The downside of this approach is if your server has hundreds of thousands of requests, surely some legitimately idle connections (where the client is gone without cleaning up and not coming back) will linger for longer than 60 seconds, this affecting your system performance.
  2. Modify Vaadin’s heartbeat to be less than 60 seconds. You can edit your web.xml, and add an heartbeatInterval parameter like so:
  3. You can tweak both the Vaadin heartbeat, and the Apache Timeout value to some reasonable values that suit your needs the best. Just make sure that the heartbeat interval is shorter than the timeout.