There’s a lot of talk about “Push” notifications both in web and mobile scenarios. “Push” is often positioned as something entirely different to “Pull” (or polling). The reality is that “Push” in the sense that it is used with Web Sockets or Apple/Windows/Android Push Notification systems is just a pattern nuance away from “Pull”. 

When I discuss that general realm with folks here, I use three terms. “Push”, “Solicited Push”, and “Pull”. When people talk about “Push” as an explicit thing today, they usually refer to “Solicited Push”.

“Solicited Push” and “Pull” are similar in that a message sink (client) receives messages after having established a connection to a message source. The only difference between them is how many messages are being asked for by the message sink – and, if you want to find a second one, whether the message sink will wait for messages to become available or instantly respond with a negative reply.  The clearly distinct third pattern is plain “Push” where a message source sends messages to message sinks on connections that the source initiates.

  • “Push” – a message source initiates a connection (or a datagram route) to a message sink (which has previously indicated the desire to be notified by other means) and sends a message. This requires that the message sink has independent and reachable network connectivity from the perspective of the message source.
  • “Solicited Push” – a message sink initiates  a connection (or a datagram route) to a message source and asks for an unbounded sequence of messages. As messages become available, they are routed via the connection/route. The connection is maintained for indeterminate time and reestablished once found to be broken for whatever reason.
  • “Pull” – message sink initiates a connection (or datagram route) to a message source and asks for a bounded sequence of messages (1 to N). For “Short Pull”, the message source immediately completes the operation providing a negative result or a sequence of less than N messages, for a “Long Pull” the source will keep the request pending until N messages have become available and routed to the sink. As the overall timeout for the request is reached or N messages have been retrieved, the message source completes the operation.

Bottom line: “Pull” or short/long polling and “Solicited Push” are just variations of the same thing. The message sink (client) provides a connection onto which the message source routes messages that the sink asks for. With “Solicited Push” it’s an unbounded sequence, with “Pull” is a bounded sequence.