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What is WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications)? The Ultimate Guide to WebRTC

What is WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications)? The Ultimate Guide to WebRTC
Mar 11, 2022
WebRTC, or Web Real-Time Communications), is an open-source code alternative to Adobe Flash. WebRTC primarily works across multiple web browsers, speeding voice, video, and other data transmission applications.
Berktug Mutlu
Internet Freedom
What is WebRTC? The Ultimate Guide to WebRTC - FastVPN

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC, or Web Real-Time Communications), is an open-source code alternative to Adobe Flash. WebRTC primarily works across multiple web browsers, speeding voice, video, and other data transmission applications.
As an HTML5 specification, it has been around since 2011. After confirming two-billion users of the communications code, it was officially standardized in 2021.
Being HTML5-based, it also sidesteps the requirements of the C++ programming language (something that came later in development). Instead, its modern version relies on Javascript across all major browsers.
Its rise to popularity was bolstered due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With everyone being stuck home, the need for faster internet communication grew immensely. WebRTC (an aspect of Google Duo) reduced bandwidth costs by around 50%.

Who Made WebRTC?

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GIPS, or Global IP Solutions (GISP), was behind this tool. GISP was founded in Sweden in 1999, where Google eventually bought out the company.
Under the newly named Chrome team, Google added a JavaScript API. The Google development team has brought its platform across all popular browsers:
  • Google
  • Opera
  • Safari
  • Edge

How Does Web RTC Work?

Web RTC’s primary function is accessing and recording video and audio data. It also works with some text-based applications. But its speed comes from establishing P2P (peer-to-peer) connections between devices. This P2P connection focus prevents the typical slowdown of a middle man, such as through third-party applications (like Skype).
WebRTC does not work in all situations, as strict NAT types don’t allow communication. However, the opening of specific tunnels through port forwarding might help. However, because WebRTC is a communication tool used to develop platforms, the ports vary on the application that leverages the protocol.

What are the Applications of WebRTC?

With its primary use in mind, here are some typical applications of this tool:
  • Personal video and audio conferencing (one on one)
  • Contact centers and call centers
  • Telemedicine
  • Cloud gaming
  • Remote machine access
  • Livestreaming
  • Setting up watch parties with your friends)
  • Webinars
Those with Javascript creation knowledge can use WebRTC for various real-time communications. As a result, its use alongside the built-in Javascript API makes it suitable for application development.
The list above is not all-inclusive, as we missed numerous options. However, its use on a personal and large-scale level is worth noting.

Pros and Cons of WebRTC


It Is Open-Source

Any open-source platform is automatically more user-friendly. You can access the code at any time and look at it, getting a complete picture of what it does. Numerous open-source media applications have already been built using the API:
These open-source platforms enable you to set up WebRTC communication servers with other parties. Of course, be sure to protect yourself by only sharing communication data with people you trust.

It Works Across Numerous Popular Browsers (Including Mobile Ones)

WebRTC works across almost all major browsers, including Firefox and Chromium-based. You’ll likely find it’s currently active in your settings, speeding up your direct media communications.
Numerous businesses have already adopted the technology as well. By looking online, you might find companies able to help you better with this communication. Here are a few examples:
Many other video platforms use this, but it is important to note that WebRTC does work beyond video. However, because of the massive speed demands of those using video software, you won’t find it outside of video apps often.

It Is Incredibly Fast

Because it is a lightweight P2P system, WebRTC is incredibly speedy and light. Compared to some low-latency HTTP live streaming services, it delivers in half a second (compared to the five seconds that come with low latency).
WebRTC is a UDP-based protocol, which (if you’ve read our other content on communication protocols) prioritizes speed over data completeness. We will discuss why this is a solution and a problem later.

It Has A Lot Of Versatility

In 2018, the first WhatsApp calls were made using WebRTC. While the protocol has come a very long way over four years, it reminds us that WebRTC doesn’t just exist in a video call space.
WebRTC’s real-time applications enable it to work through teleoperations. This situation means that a forklift operator could feasibly activate and control their heavy-duty equipment hundreds of miles away. This application is known as teleoperations, which is come more in conversation with the Covid-19 pandemic.


It’s Causes A Potential IP Leak

The problem with WebRTC is that the peer-to-peer communications focus makes it an extreme risk for an IP leak. So when you have WebRTC active while watching online media that use this platform, you are exposing yourself. For this reason, many lower-end applications (like Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) die out quickly, but WebRTC was never for security.
For privacy-conscious individuals, WebRTC represents another thing to be wary of. Thankfully, we’ve got a list of ways you can prevent this later in the article.

It Is Not VPN Friendly

Because it involves making a direct connection to expose your IP VPNs (especially those that aren’t NAT friendly) have issues with WebRTC. However, this risk is notable with any communications opening, making it a similar threat to port forwarding.
Provided that you create the communication with people and apps you trust, most of the risk is mitigated. Using WebRTC with any old program or person is no different from putting your router credentials on a poster board in front of your home.

It Is Not Very Scalable

WebRTC was built for peer-to-peer communication, making it less scalable than most applications. As a result, the one-to-many communication system of some webinars makes it impossible to work. However, some apps have found ways around the limitations.
Here are a few famous app examples:
  • Google Hangouts
The one-to-few (up to fifty people) application available on these still shows that WebRTC might grow to accommodate more business needs. Until then, its business applications will be limited to one-on-one communications (Telehealth, call centers, etc.)

Quality Issues Have Been Identified

While speed is a priority, its reliance on UDP-based communications means that bitrate encoding issues are a concern. UDP, a connection protocol popular in some VPN apps and video platforms, is known for its higher potential for data loss than its slower, more reliable cousin (TCP).
If your goal is to produce a high-quality broadcast above all, WebRTC isn’t ideal for this application. You’ll find that there are few options beyond using high-speed servers.

How To Disable WebRTC in Any Browser

The problem with disabling WebRTC in any browser is that it’s built into the background of most browsers. You’ll find that disabling WebRTC in most browsers requires you to install a third-party application.
Firefox is one of the few browsers that require you to install a third-party app to get this done. This privacy control emphasis is one of the reasons we voted it as the best browser for security.

Disabling WebRTC on Firefox

Naturally, we will start with disabling WebRTC on Firefox:
  1. Enter “about:config” in your browser
  1. Accept the risks by clicking the button
  1. Search “media.peerconnection.enabled”
  1. Click the “switch” button on the right, so it reads false
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Disabling WebRTC on Chrome

Chrome (or Chromium browsers) have slightly different steps:
  1. Download the WebRTC Control Chrome extension
  1. Turn it on
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The steps above also apply to any Chromium browsers, meaning that you can use them to disable WebRTC for Opera. Because browsers like Brave or Opera run on a Chromium system, you’ll need an app to disable them on either.

Disabling WebRTC on Edge

Microsoft Edge doesn’t allow you to disable WebRTC, so you’ll need to anonymize your local IP data instead. Here are the steps you can follow for that:
  1. Type “about:flags” in your Edge address bar
  1. search “hide” in the search engine.
  1. Select “enabled” from the dropdown menu next to “anonymize local IPs.”
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If you have Internet Explorer for some reason, you don’t need to worry about this. Internet Explorer is too old to use WebRTC; it stopped being in support before WebRTC was spread amongst most browsers.

Disabling WebRTC on Mobile (both iOS and Android)

After the iOS 12 update, Apple removed the ability to remove WebRTC from mobile Safari. If you have iOS 11 or older, you’ll find the ability to edible WebRTC under experimental features found under advanced settings.
On Android, Chrome allows you to modify these settings by typing in “chrome://flgs/#disable-webrtc” and setting this to “enable.” This is also most likely to work across Chromium browsers.


When it comes to internet protection, WebRTC is not your friend. However, it is incredibly fast when it comes to its use across numerous applications. It is most likely the future of small form video communications.
Only use it sparingly to ensure you stay protected with this relatively new feature. Downloading a VPN won’t help you with the IP leak issue, so use this feature only when necessary.
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