Ktor as a backend Application


What is Ktor ?

Ktor is a Kotlin framework that allow developers to write asynchronous clients and servers applications, in Kotlin. While it's not entirely compatible, Ktor is targeting multiple platforms as JVM, JavaScript, Android and iOS.

JetBrains is working on making other platforms, like MacOS, Linux and Windows compatible.

For this overview, we will focus on the server side of Ktor. While Ktor is not fully compatible with Kotlin Native, we'll work on the JVM aspect. It can be deployed with some servlet containers (Tomcat / Jetty) or through Docker.

HowTo declare a simple App

fun main(args: Array<String>) { // (1)
    val server = embeddedServer(Netty, port = 8080) { // (2)
        routing { // (3)
            get("/") { // (4)
                call.respondText("Hello World!") // (5)
    server.start(wait = true) // (6)
  • (1) : Declare the main module of the app
  • (2) : Define the server with its Engine (e.g. Netty) and its listening port (8080)
  • (3) : Declare a routing feature that allow the app to handle HTTP requests
  • (4) : Define a path that will make the url callable
  • (5) : Implement the Pipeline that will treat the HTTP call on This will send the text "Hello World!"
  • (6) : Boot up the server

Under the hood

In this part we will describe how Ktor acts to run an asynchronous application server.

Application Server

A Ktor server is a Server Engine (Tomcat, Jetty, Netty or Coroutine I/O) listening on a port. It is composed by modules, that are themselves composed of features (e.g. routing, sessions, logging).

When a request (HTTP / WebSocket) step into the Ktor server its serialized into an ApplicationCall that contains the context (Request / Response / Environment / Attributes). Afterward, this ApplicationCall is transmitted and manipulated through a Pipeline.


When a Ktor server starts, it waits for connections on a specific port. To handle connections and furthermore, Ktor works with Pipelines, they are everywhere and are what's make Ktor asynchronous.

A Pipeline is am asynchronous chain of code blocks or functions that run asynchronous computation, with the implementation of coroutines. A Pipeline is configured by the modules and features loaded at the application startup. It's composed of phases and interceptors, that are executed in a specific and predefined order. The application is a Pipeline itself, that will handle incoming request through a specific path, established at the server loading.

For example, in the case of an HTTP call, the application's Pipeline (also called ApplicationCallPipeline), will execute multiple phases, like treating the request, or even send the HTTP response.

PipelineContext generally contains a `ApplicationCall` that is composed of the rquest information (Request / Response / Environment, Attributes). When using routes, every node has its own ApplicationCallPipeline instance. That means that every route will execute its own Pipeline.


Ktor modules are extension functions, that take for receiver the Application. They are the configuration of the Application.
So, we can configure the server, with its Engine, its listening port, or even install specific features for each modules (routing, session, logging...).

Here is an example of how to use modules

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
    val server = embeddedServer(Netty, port = 8080) {
    server.start(wait = true)

 * Module that handle the home page of the app
fun Application.landingModule() {
    routing {
        get("/") {
            call.respondText("Hello Visitor!")

 * Module that handle the login of the app
fun Application.loginModule() {
    routing {
        get("/login") {
            call.respondText("Please Login!")


Features are singletons that extend the application capabilities, like:

  • Routing: Defining the HTTP routes that will handle incoming requests.
  • Session: Keeping a link, or information that identify the client/caller, giving the ability to handle request with a context. For example, limiting the data access for some specific users.
  • WebSockets: WebSockets support for Ktor, that goes beyond the 'one-shot' HTTP calls, and aims to keep the client and server linked, allowing the server to send notification to the client.
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