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Implementing Video Chat in a Phoenix Application with WebRTC

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In this blog post we’re going to cover how to implement video chat in a Phoenix application with WebRTC. By the end of this post we will have enabled two remote clients to connect with each other and engage in a video conversation.

We will use Phoenix channels to communicate messages between our two clients so they can establish a remote peer connection. WebRTC allows clients to establish a direct peer to peer connection with each other, but before they can establish this connection they need to communicate certain information about themselves, and this is what our Phoenix channels will facilitate. For a more in-depth explanation of how WebRTC works, visit https://www.html5rocks.com/en/tutorials/webrtc/basics.

To begin, let’s create a new app (Note that we will be using Phoenix version 1.0.2. For install instructions visit https://www.phoenixframework.org/docs/installation).

mix phoenix.new video_chat

Let’s first create a basic call controller to handle our requests.

// web/controllers/call_controller.ex

defmodule VideoChat.CallController do
  use VideoChat.Web, :controller

  def index(conn, _params) do
    render conn, index.html"

Then we’ll need to create a corresponding call view to render our template.

// web/views/call_view.ex

defmodule VideoChat.CallView do
  use VideoChat.Web, :view

For our template we will just include two video elements, one for the local stream and another for the remote stream. We will also need some buttons to invoke our actions.

<!--  web/templates/call/index.html.eex -->

  <video id=“localVideo" autoplay></video>
  <video id=“remoteVideo" autoplay></video>

  <button id=“connect”>Connect</button>
  <button id="call">Call</button>
  <button id="hangup">Hangup</button>

Next we need to update our router to redirect to our call controller. Change the root path from PageController to CallController.

// web/router.ex

get /, CallController, :index

Now we can run mix phoenix.server and navigate to localhost:4000 to make sure our template is rendering correctly.

With that in place we are ready to set up our channel. Create a call channel with a join/3 function to allow clients to join the channel, as well as a handle_in/3 function to handle incoming events.

//  web/channels/call_channel.ex

defmodule VideoChat.CallChannel do
  use Phoenix.Channel

  def join("call", _auth_msg, socket) do
    {:ok, socket}

  def handle_in("message", %{"body" => body}, socket) do
    broadcast! socket, "message", %{body: body}
    {:noreply, socket}

Next we need to define our call channel in our socket handler. Add the following line to web/channels/user_socket.ex.

// web/channels/user_socket.ex

channel "call", VideoChat.CallChannel

Now we are just about ready to implement our JavaScript code to enable our clients to establish a connection. First add the following line to our application template to enable our WebRTC methods to work across different browsers (Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all currently support WebRTC).

<!-- web/templates/layout/app.html.eex -->

<script src="//cdn.temasys.com.sg/adapterjs/0.10.x/adapter.debug.js"></script>

For this example we will put our JavaScript code in app.js. Let’s first import our socket and then establish a connection with our call channel.

// web/static/js/app.js

import socket from "./socket"

let channel = socket.channel("call", {})
  .receive("ok", () => { console.log("Successfully joined call channel") })
  .receive("error", () => { console.log("Unable to join") })

Note that our socket is imported from web/static/js/socket.js. If you take a look at that file you will see that is where our socket is created and connected. You can also comment out or delete the code attempting to join a new channel since we have implemented that on our own.

Now we can wire up our buttons.

//  web/static/js/app.js

let localStream, peerConnection;
let localVideo = document.getElementById("localVideo");
let remoteVideo = document.getElementById("remoteVideo");
let connectButton = document.getElementById("connect");
let callButton = document.getElementById("call");
let hangupButton = document.getElementById("hangup");

hangupButton.disabled = true;
callButton.disabled = true;
connectButton.onclick = connect;
callButton.onclick = call;
hangupButton.onclick = hangup;

And then begin to define how our clients will establish their connections.

// web/static/js/app.js

function connect() {
  console.log("Requesting local stream");
  navigator.getUserMedia({audio:true, video:true}, gotStream, error => {
       console.log("getUserMedia error: ", error);

Here we are using the getUserMedia function to capture our local video stream and then call the callback function gotStream.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotStream(stream) {
   console.log("Received local stream");
   localVideo.src = URL.createObjectURL(stream);
   localStream = stream;

In gotStream we are setting our local stream and then calling setupPeerConnection.

// web/static/js/app.js

function setupPeerConnection() {
  connectButton.disabled = true;
  callButton.disabled = false;
  hangupButton.disabled = false;
  console.log("Waiting for call");

  let servers = {
    "iceServers": [{
      "url": "stun:stun.example.org"

  peerConnection = new RTCPeerConnection(servers);
  console.log("Created local peer connection");
  peerConnection.onicecandidate = gotLocalIceCandidate;
  peerConnection.onaddstream = gotRemoteStream;
  console.log("Added localStream to localPeerConnection");

setUpPeerConnection creates a new RTCPeerConnection and then sets callbacks for when certain events occur on the connection, such as an ICE candidate is detected or a stream is added. Then we add our local video stream to the peer connection.

Next we will add our call function to send a message to other clients connected on our channel with a local peer connection.

// web/static/js/app.js

function call() {
  callButton.disabled = true;
  console.log("Starting call");
  peerConnection.createOffer(gotLocalDescription, handleError);

We are passing the createOffer function the following gotLocalDescription callback.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotLocalDescription(description){
  peerConnection.setLocalDescription(description, () => {
      channel.push("message", { body: JSON.stringify({
              "sdp": peerConnection.localDescription
      }, handleError);
  console.log("Offer from localPeerConnection: \n" + description.sdp);

The createOffer function created a description of the local peer connection and then sent that description to any potential clients. Once a client receives such a description it then calls the following gotRemoteDescription function.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotRemoteDescription(description){
  console.log("Answer from remotePeerConnection: \n" + description.sdp);
  peerConnection.setRemoteDescription(new RTCSessionDescription(description.sdp));
  peerConnection.createAnswer(gotLocalDescription, handleError);

Here it sets the remote description on its local peer connection so it can connect to that remote client. It then replies with an answer containing its own description so that remote client can connect back to it as well.

The descriptions being sent back and forth between our clients also contain the streams that we added to their peer connections. Once a client receives a remote stream it will call the following function.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotRemoteStream(event) {
  remoteVideo.src = URL.createObjectURL(event.stream);
  console.log("Received remote stream");

Here we are just setting the remote stream we receive to the video element in our template.

Also, when we create our local description we are also creating a local ICE candidate, which will call the following function.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotLocalIceCandidate(event) {
  if (event.candidate) {
    console.log("Local ICE candidate: \n" + event.candidate.candidate);
    channel.push("message", {body: JSON.stringify({
        "candidate": event.candidate

This sends information about the local ICE candidate over the channel to any potential clients. When a client receives a description about an ICE candidate it will call the following function.

// web/static/js/app.js

function gotRemoteIceCandidate(event) {
  callButton.disabled = true;
  if (event.candidate) {
    peerConnection.addIceCandidate(new RTCIceCandidate(event.candidate));
    console.log("Remote ICE candidate: \n " + event.candidate.candidate);

This function will add information about the remote candidate to its local peer connection.

When our channel receives a message from the server it needs to know how to process that message. If the message it receives is a description of the remote peer connection we need to call the gotRemoteDescription function, but if it is a description of the remote ICE candidate we need to call the gotRemoteIceCandidate function. We will implement our channel’s event handler to account for these two scenarios.

// web/static/js/app.js

channel.on("message", payload => {
  let message = JSON.parse(payload.body);
  if (message.sdp) {
  } else {

Let’s also include a hangup function so a user can close the connection and stop the video chat session.

// web/static/js/app.js

function hangup() {
  console.log("Ending call");
  localVideo.src = null;
  peerConnection = null;
  hangupButton.disabled = true;
  connectButton.disabled = false;
  callButton.disabled = true;

And finally add our handleError function.

// web/static/js/app.js

function handleError(error) {
  console.log(error.name + ": " + error.message);

Now if you navigate back to the browser, open up two tabs, and click the connect button in each tab you should see that each one has created a local peer connection and added its local video stream. If you click the call button from one of the tabs then it will send a description of its local peer connection to the other peer connection, and after they exchange the necessary information they will establish their remote connection. Now you can see their video chat session. You can view the sample repository at https://github.com/chadbrading/phoenix-webrtc.

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