How to build a real-time collaborative plugin in TinyMCE

Introduction

Just like any other developer out there, I had a project idea that I wanted to build, and when I finally had the time to research technologies that I needed I came across an issue. I needed a stylish text editor that allowed me to have multiple users edit at the same time.

After some time (actually, it was the first that appeared, but it’s comprehensible, it’s super cool) I found TinyMCE. This WYSIWYG editor had a lot of free plugins, but none of them was a collaborative plugin. I found one but it was a paid plugin (more than 10$ a month). In summary, I had a new project idea, create a free collaborative plugin for TinyMCE.

Create a plugin

Following the great, but somehow confuse TinyMCE documentation, it’s very quick to get started with a plugin example. Using the Yeoman generator you create a sample plugin project where you can start testing and deploying your plugin.

…and to start the project

I suggest using VSCode with Live Reload server to open the demo HTML file where you can access your plugin and its changes.

The Big Picture

Now it comes the fun part, what it takes to create a collaborative plugin? So if you think about it, we obviously need a way of connecting multiple clients in your TinyMCE editor, and in each one of these clients we have to communicate with a server when where we’ll bind several events, the client opens the TinyMCE editor, the client clicks in the editor and changes cursor position, client selects text, and, the clients adds new input. Each one of these events will have to be spread across all connected clients in the server.

Some of you, by reading this will think about Socket.io, and you are right, this was the approach that I’ve taken, although you could use other alternatives (SignalR, SocketCluster, Firebase, etc.).

TinyMCE Plugin — Client

Having the sample plugin created, we can start to build our own logic in the code. Let’s start from the beginning, in the demo.js we have to add a new property object to the TinyMCE Editor. In this example let’s call our plugin budwriter.

As you can see, I’ve added four properties into our budwriter plugin, special interest in socket_url that will represent the URL of our socket.io server. The other properties are my custom properties to represent a User.

Having all these properties created, we can start to develop our logic, let’s create a file inside the core and start creating our collaborative class. The plugin should connect to a socket.io server to listen for event messages. These events will be split into the following:

  • Update clients - Event received when other clients connect to the server.
  • Update cursor — Changes cursor position of a client.
  • Update selection — Changes selection of a client.
  • Delete client — Deletes user container’s when a client disconnects from the server.
Events sent from the clients to the server

As depicted in the above image, all the connected clients will send a set of events updating its TinyMCE editor status. Following my other article regarding ranges and selections we can easily implement the logic of cursor’s and selection’s, you can access the article from here.

Note: Since our socket.ioclient uses node.js modules, such as require, I added a step to our Grunt file (Browserify) to compile these modules and use it as a bundle in the browser.

TinyMCE Plugin — Server

The server side of this project, as we already discussed will be implemented using socket.io. For that, I’ve created a Node.js project where I added the socket.io package into the project.

Once the socket.io package is ready to go, we have to create the event listeners for the events sent from the clients.

In each one of these event listeners we have to propagate the change to the other clients, so they can update their plugin status (as depicted in the following image).

Events sent from the server to the clients

Codepen

Repositories

This implementation is available on GitHub.

TinyMCE Plugin

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store