jQuery Rolling and Polling

2010-08-17 00:00:00 +0100 by Alex R. Young

Welcome to the jQuery Plugin Roundup, episode 19. Remember you can send
your plugins in for review through our contact form or

The Evolution of a Polling Plugin

Everybody hates polling. If you use polling Internet goblins will attack
you for not using WebSockets. There are times when polling makes sense,
but the main thing you need is a good library.
Ajax.PeriodicalUpdater served me well for many years, and I could technically use it alongside
jQuery, but a jQuery plugin would be better.


360innovate (GPL and MIT) rewrote PeriodicalUpdater for jQuery.

It has a jQuery-style API:

    url : 'random.php'
    var myHtml = 'The data returned from the server was: ' + data + '';

It can do useful things like decay the time between requests when the
response doesn't change. This not only limits the traffic but also
limits the amount of work your browser's doing.

Robert Fischer

Robert Fischer updated 360innovate's plugin in
JQuery-PeriodicalUpdater. The usage changes a little bit, and it plays better with jQuery's

$.PeriodicalUpdater('/path/to/service', {
    method: 'get',          // method; get or post
      data: '',                   // array of values to be passed to the page - e.g. {name: "John", greeting: "hello"}
      minTimeout: 1000,       // starting value for the timeout in milliseconds
      maxTimeout: 8000,       // maximum length of time between requests
      multiplier: 2,          // if set to 2, timerInterval will double each time the response hasn't changed (up to maxTimeout)
      type: 'text',           // response type - text, xml, json, etc.  See $.ajax config options
    maxCalls: 0,            // maximum number of calls. 0 = no limit.
    autoStop: 0             // automatically stop requests after this many returns of the same data. 0 = disabled.
}, function(data) {
      // Handle the new data (only called when there was a change)

Here's a comment I liked from Robert's post:

One stunt which people should definitely pay attention to is using executable code blocks for factoring out loop-invariant checks. In this case, it's demonstrated in the logic to boost the decay:

var boostPeriod = function() { return; };
if (settings.multiplier > 1) {
  boostPeriod = function() {
    timerInterval = timerInterval * settings.multiplier;

    if (timerInterval > settings.maxTimeout) {
        timerInterval = settings.maxTimeout;


Ethan Fremen modified Robert's plugin to produce
jquery.poll (simplified BSD license). This version can handle multiple active pollers and allows
changes to the polling interval. His blog post, jquery.poll – a
periodic polling plugin for
, has more details.

Robert and Ethan briefly discuss some of the changes in the comments.


smartupdater (GPL and MIT) by Vadim Kiryukhin has been released. This one has a demo site
with a lot of examples.

Smartupdater has some interesting features, like dynamic timeouts, decay
(he calls it multiplier), and it even supports remote control from the server to reduce load.

So What?

As you can see from the evolution of Prototype's PeriodicalUpdater,
polling is not a simple problem to solve. The original Prototype code
made it look easy, but it hid a lot of complexity. And there are some
really bad jQuery polling plugins out there. If you've got a good one,
please tell me about it!