Taken from the original at http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~beej/guide/net/ ... see end of writeup for Copyright statement.

Two Types of Internet Sockets

What's this? There are two types of Internet sockets? Yes. Well, no. I'm lying. There are more, but I didn't want to scare you. I'm only going to talk about two types here. Except for this sentence, where I'm going to tell you that "Raw Sockets" are also very powerful and you should look them up.

All right, already. What are the two types? One is "Stream Sockets"; the other is "Datagram Sockets", which may hereafter be referred to as "SOCK_STREAM" and "SOCK_DGRAM", respectively. Datagram sockets are sometimes called "connectionless sockets" (though they can be connect()'d if you really want. See connect(), below.

Stream sockets are reliable two-way connected communication streams. If you output two items into the socket in the order "1, 2", they will arrive in the order "1, 2" at the opposite end. They will also be error free. Any errors you do encounter are figments of your own deranged mind, and are not to be discussed here.

What uses stream sockets? Well, you may have heard of the telnet application, yes? It uses stream sockets. All the characters you type need to arrive in the same order you type them, right? Also, WWW browsers use the HTTP protocol which uses stream sockets to get pages. Indeed, if you telnet to a WWW site on port 80, and type "GET pagename", it'll dump the HTML back at you!

How do stream sockets achieve this high level of data transmission quality? They use a protocol called "The Transmission Control Protocol", otherwise known as "TCP" (see RFC-793 for extremely detailed info on TCP.) TCP makes sure your data arrives sequentially and error-free. You may have heard "TCP" before as the better half of "TCP/IP" where "IP" stands for "Internet Protocol" (see RFC-791.) IP deals with Internet routing only.

Cool. What about Datagram sockets? Why are they called connectionless? What is the deal, here, anyway? Why are they unreliable? Well, here are some facts: if you send a datagram, it may arrive. It may arrive out of order. If it arrives, the data within the packet will be error-free.

Datagram sockets also use IP for routing, but they don't use TCP; they use the "User Datagram Protocol", or "UDP" (see RFC-768.)

Why are they connectionless? Well, basically, it's because you don't have to maintain an open connection as you do with stream sockets. You just build a packet, slap an IP header on it with destination information, and send it out. No connection needed. They are generally used for packet-by-packet transfers of information. Sample applications: tftp, bootp, etc.

"Enough!" you may scream. "How do these programs even work if datagrams might get lost?!" Well, my human friend, each has its own protocol on top of UDP. For example, the tftp protocol says that for each packet that gets sent, the recipient has to send back a packet that says, "I got it!" (an "ACK" packet.) If the sender of the original packet gets no reply in, say, five seconds, he'll re-transmit the packet until he finally gets an ACK. This acknowledgment procedure is very important when implementing SOCK_DGRAM applications.


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Copyright © 1995, 1996 by Brian "Beej" Hall. This guide may be reprinted in any medium provided that its content is not altered, it is presented in its entirety, and this copyright notice remains intact. Contact beej@ecst.csuchico.edu for more information.

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