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MudOS LPC Sockets Tutorial - version 1.0 1992 October 20 by Cynosure (Dave Richards)

Minor update 1994 Sept 16 by Robocoder (Anthon Pang)

One of the enhancements added to MudOS between 0.8.14 and 0.9.0 was the inclusion of Internet sockets in LPC. It has been an ongoing dream of the MudOS and TMI researchers to provide more tightly integrated MUDs communicating over the Internet. Socket efuns (or LPC sockets) provide the first level of MUD integration by allowing LPC developers to write Internet sockets-based applications. For example, LPC objects already exist for telnet, remote MUD finger, remote MUD tell, inter-MUD mail delivery, and participation in the MUDWHO system.

This document is intended as a tutorial on how to use LPC sockets to write network-based intercommunicating objects. It is intended for intermediate to advanced LPC programmers, who already understand the fundementals of LPC programming, and wish to write network-based LPC services.

Socket Modes

There are five different modes of communication, or socket modes: MUD, STREAM, DATAGRAM, STREAM_BINARY, and DATAGRAM_BINARY. Definitions for these modes can be obtained by including from the mudlib.

MUD Mode

MUD mode is a connection-oriented communication mode where LPC data types may be passed across the network to another MUD. For example, in MUD mode one could send structured data, like arrays or mappings, across the network to another MUD which is using a MUD mode socket. All LPC data types except “objects” may be sent and received using MUD mode.

STREAM Mode

STREAM mode is also a connection-oriented communication mode. It differs from MUD mode however, in that all data is sent and received as strings. So, using STREAM mode one can send streams of data across the network to other MUDs. STREAM mode sockets are less powerful in that they do not transparently send and receive all LPC data types. However, many applications like telnet, for example, do not need to send data as integers, or arrays. Instead, telnet views data as a stream of characters going in each direction.

MUD mode sockets are effectively implemented as STREAM mode sockets with special code to send and receive LPC data types. Therefore, it behooves one to only use MUD mode if the application requires this extra data abstraction. MUD mode is inherently slower and uses more memory buffer space than STREAM mode. Note that when using STREAM mode, there is no guarantee that the string being sent will arrive all at once; instead, it may arrive in pieces which the receiving side may then have to reassemble (the pieces will arrive in order).

DATAGRAM Mode

Unlike MUD and STREAM modes, DATAGRAM mode is connectionless. No connection is established between MUDs to transfer data. Instead, each piece of data is sent to the destination MUD in a message called a datagram.

Because no connection is estsblished in DATAGRAM mode, it is possible that the network could lose the DATAGRAM and neither MUD would realize it! For example, if TMI sent a datagram to Portals using DATAGRAM mode and the network lost the datagram, Portals would never receive the datagram and would be ignorant of the datagram ever being sent at all. And TMI won’t realize the datagram was lost because no error is received if the datagram is lost.

TCP and UDP

In MUD and STREAM mode, a TCP connection is established between the two MUDs. TCP is a protocol that will re-transmit data if it detects that data has been lost. It uses algorithms that send data, measure how long it takes to get a reply, wait that long and re-transmit the data until an acknowledgement is received. TCP also guarantees that the data packets arrive in order and are not spuriously duplicated. (This is a very superficial description of TCP, but does indicate the sort of work involved in making data transfer reliable).

DATAGRAM sockets, on the other hand, use a datagram oriented protocol called UDP. UDPs send datagrams between MUDs without the overhead of connections, retransmission, etc. Now, since DATAGRAM mode is unreliable why would one want to use it? Clearly TCP is better because it guarantees that data is retransmitted if it doesn’t arrive, and it deals with all the ugliness that a network can throw at it. Simply stated, some applications really don’t care if all data arrives at the other end. Then why send it? Okay, okay. This is a good question, but now is too soon to talk about it. Just take it on faith that there is a need for DATAGRAM mode and we can fill in the details a bit later.

Creating Sockets

Ok, so let’s start off by creating a MUD mode socket. We can write an object to do this:

#include <socket.h>

void
create()
{
	int s;

	s = socket_create(MUD, "close_callback");
	if (s < 0) {
		write("socket_create: " + socket_error(s) + "\n");
		return;
	}

	write("Created socket descriptor " + s + "\n");

	socket_close(s);
}

void
close_callback(int s)
{
	write("socket " + s + " has closed\n");
}

Let’s analyze this object to see how a socket is created. Be forewarned, we have a long way to go before we can send data on a socket, and creation is only one step along this trail. So be patient and be sure to understand each example before moving.

The first thing we do is #include . All socket definitions are contained in socket.h, remember? #defines exist, for example, for MUD, STREAM and DATAGRAM. Although each name maps to a number, a well written application will use this name instead; partly because the #defines may one day change, but mostly because it is more obvious what you mean to do.

We declare an integer variable s. In many sockets applocations s is used as an abbreviation for socket. Then we call socket_create() with two arguments. The first argument is the socket mode (which we discussed above), and note that we use the synbolic name MUD for MUD mode. The second argument in the above example is called the close callback function. It is the name of a function within the object that MudOS will call when the connection is closed. Callbacks are used often in LPC sockets efuns to notify the object when important network events occur. Note, by the way, that we could have passed STREAM or DATAGRAM to socket_create() to create STREAM or DATAGRAM sockets.

All socket efuns return an exit status or return value. This value indicates the completion status of the function. By convention all values less than 0 indicate errors or warnings. When an error is returned the application must decide how to respond to it. In many cases there is no possibility for success unless the MUD administrator makes changes to local config file or the MudOS driver itself, so in many cases the application may decide to just return on failure. In the above example, if an error is returned (s is less than 0) then we use the socket efun socket_error() to write an error message on the screen. This is useful during debegging, but should probably be converted to log_file() calls eventually so the errors can be logged and fixed.

If socket_create() succeeds, it returns an integer greater than or equal to

  1. This integer is known as a socket, a socket descriptor or a file descriptor. All three names have their origins in UNIX terminology. If socket_create() returns a value less than 0 then an error has occurred and no socket has been created. There really aren’t any good reasons for getting an error. The most common errors would be specifiying an incorrect socket mode (which should not happen if you use the socket mode definitions in socket.h) and out of sockets. The MUD administrator can configure the number of LPC sockets that can be used by MudOS. By default, this number is 16, but should be changed to fit the MUD’s requirements. Increasing this number will make more LPC sockets available. Note, that each active LPC socket takes away one socket that could be used to handle a player login or an open file. If the mud needs to handle many players and many open sockets simultaneously, the machine adminstrator may need to be convinced to increase the maximum number of open file descriptors allowed to a process.

All socket objects should be careful not to “lose” sockets. Sockets are not like other LPC objects, there are only a finite number of them. So in the above example, if we were able to create a socket, we close it afterwards. Losing track of a researce is called “leaking”. Socket leaks occur when object create sockets, use them for a while and then stop using them without closing them so that they can be used by other objects. When an object is destructed, all LPC sockets are automatically closed. One other thought about sockets: each socket in MudOS has it’s own unique socket descriptor (or socket number). So if one object created a socket, and another created a second socket, neither object would receive the same socket descriptor. Object may use this knowledge to their advantage. It is common, for example, to use the socket descriptor as an index into a mapping that notes various information for each open socket. Remember, however, that once the socket is closed, it becomes available for re-use by other socket_create() calls.

Client/Server Model

Before continuing with the rest of the socket efuns now is probably a good time to stop and review some basic networking concepts. Connection-oriented communication is normally described in terms of the client/server model. In this model each connection has a client and a server. The client is the subject that initiates the connection and solicits some sort of service. The server on the other hand waits for connection requests from a client, and when they arrive provides the service requested. Ftp, for example, operates this way. A user initiates a request by connecting to a server. The server than acts on the requests of the client. A server is unlike a client however in that is may be serving more than one client at any point in time.

MUD and STREAM mode sockets use the client/server model. The client and server each using slightly different calls to establish a connection. Later we will discuss the peer-to-peer model when discussing DATAGRAMS, which is slightly different than the client/server model and uses an again slightly different method for establishing communication.

It is possible to have many different services available. Each service is identified by a “well-known port”. A port is simply an integer in the range 1 to 65535. Most MUDs, however, can only use the range 1025 to 65535 because the first 1023 are reserved for applications like telnet, ftp, etc that are standardized. In order for a client and server to cummunicate the server my first create a socket, bind to a well-known port and listen for connection requests. The client on the other hand must create a socket and connect to the well-known port. The client connects to the same port as the server has bound and listened on. That is why it is called a “well-known” port. Because clients know the port a priori and can therefore connect to it. In the Internet Request for Comments documentation, for example, the port number is actually specified with the text of the standard.

We will continue our discussion then in the order that socket efun calls would normally be executed to establish a connection between the client and server. The server must do some preperation before the client can initiate a request, so we will start with the server.

Binding to a Port

After the server has created a socket with socket_create() (and has verified that the return value is greater than or equal to 0) the next logical step is to bind to a port. This is done with socket_bind(). Let’s add some more code to the example above. First let’s declare a new integer variable called error, which is used to hold the return value from socket_bind().

int error;

// Now let’s add a call to socket_bind():

error = socket_bind(s, 12345);
if (error != EESUCCESS) {
	write("socket_bind: " + socket_error(error) + "\n");
	socket_close(s);
	return;
}

This should be added above socket_close(s). What does it do? Well the first argument is no suprise, it’s just the socket descriptor we got back from socket_create(). We will have to pass s into every socket call from now on so that MudOS knows which socket we are referring to. Remember servers can and often do service more than one client socket at one time, so we need to be able to keep them straight. The second argument is simply the port number. Recall, it should be in the range 1024 to 65535. (Actually 0 is legal too, but 0 will be discussed a bit later.)

After calling socket_bind() we check the return value to see if an error occurred. In this case, however, we compare against EESUCCESS. In most cases (excluding socket_create()) EESUCCESS indicates that the socket efun completed successfully. Like socket_create() above, if an error is returned we call socket_error() to display the error as a string. After writing the error we simply return, right? Wrong! We discussed leaks above. If we were to return, then an object would exist that is no longer using a socket but stops others from using it. If we decided we cannot use the socket anymore CLOSE IT so others can. Once socket_create() has been called and until socket_close() has been called the socket remains open. So remember to be a good socket citizen and close sockets when you are finished.

socket_bind() is notorious for returning EEADDRINUSE. What does it mean? If one socket binds to port 12345 and another socket attempts to bind to the same port (i.e. 12345) the second socket will fail to bind. This is simple enough to understand. Once a socket binds to a port that socket owns that port. Other attempts to bind to the same port will fail with EEADDRINUSE. This is a very common error and can occur if two folks attempt to run the same server demo, for example. The correct resolution to this problem is to 1) determine if the same service is being started twice, in which case, DON’T, once is fine, or 2) more than one developer has chosen the same port number for multiple services. This won’t work. One way to avoid this is to have one port administrator that assign ports. Unfortunately, since networks are generally not isolated, this port assignment must be agreed upon by all MUDs that you intend to communicate with.

Security

Before going on and to satiate those with crimical intent we should answer a few questions about invalid sockets descriptors. What happens if we were to pass in a bad socket descriptor value, just to be mean? Don’t worry MudOS will catch you doing it and tell you so. For example, if you passed in a value that was less then 0 or greater or equal to the total number of possible sockets in the driver, then MudOS would know you were lying though your teeth and would return EEFDRANGE. Now if you were more sneaky you might try to pass in a legal socket descriptor but one that was not currently is use. MudOS would catch you again and would return EBADF. Ok sneak that you are, you found out about a socket that in use by some other object. What then? Well there is a 2-level security system built into LPC sockets.

The first level of security uses the master object to validate which objects can and cannot use sockets. It might make sense on some MUDs, for example, for some developers to have access to LPC sockets and some others not too. Or perhaps one developer is abusive of network priviledges and should be banned from socket use. (In the latter case such a developer should probably asked to leave.) To enforce such a policy, MudOS invokes a function called valid_socket(). valid_socket() should return 0 or 1 indicating whether the requested socket operation should be allowed. If no valid_socket() function exists, then the value 0 is assumed and all LPC socket access is denied. On most MUDs however master.c would contain the following valid_socket().

int
valid_socket(object eff_user, string fun, mixed *info)
{
return 1;
}

The 2nd level of security is more rigid and is used to stop one object from interfering with another object. When a socket is created the socket becomes “owned” by the object that called socket_create(). Each time a socket efun is called the calling object is compared to the owner object. If they are not the same, then the socket efun call is aborted. Thus, heinous code like:

int s;

for (s = 0; s < 100; s++)
	socket_close(s);

will not succeed in closing all sockets on the MUD. It will close all sockets owned by that calling object, but all other sockets are protected by tge 2nd-level security policy.

In either case if the 1st or 2nd level security policy is violated, then EESECURITY is returned to the caller indicating that the socket efun was aborted because of such a violation. If you encounter this error when writing LPC socket code the mostly like reason would be that you passed in the incorrect socket descriptor. This happens.

Listening for Connections

Once a socket has been created and a port has been bound, a server must begin listening for connections. This is done with socket_listen(). Like socket_bind() the first argument is the socket on which to listen. The second argument is the “listen callback” function. Recall the close callback function from socket_create()? socket_listen() specifies a function within the object that will be called when a connection request is received from a client. Within the listen callback function a server can either accept the connection from the client or close it. In most servers there is really no good reason for ever just closing a connection. It is considered rude and should be avoided. If the client and server implement some sort of authentication protocol (i.e. password checking) the server should return some indication as to why the socket is being closed. This is more a question of style, of course, but it is difficult to debug a problem with a client or server when a connection is made then dropped immediately. If you must do this, be sure to log some indication as to why in a logfile so that an administrator or developers can determine the cause and resolve the problem.

The following code starts listening for connection requests on a socket that has been created and bound to a port.

error = socket_listen(s, "listen_callback");
if (error != EESUCCESS) {
	write("socket_listen: " + socket_error(error) + "\n");
	socket_close(s);
	return;
}

It is really just more of the same code, right? We call the socket_listen() efun, check the return value for success, if an error occurs write an error message out which includes a description of the specific error, close the socket because we’re done with it and return. In reality much of the code necessary in sockets applications follow this pattern.

Now obviously the next thing to do is discuss the listen_callback function, right? Right. But we won’t. Instead we’ll change gears here and look at the client code for a bit. The reason for this is simple. Before a client can initiate a connection to a server the steps we have discussed now for the server must have occured. Until the client does initiate a connection though, no more code will be executed within the server. So it makes sense to digress and discuss the client for a moment.

Clients

So far we have discussed a connection from the server’s perspective. Now let’s back up and walk through the client. Just like the server a client must call socket_create() to create a socket. Since a client does not intend that another client connect to it there is no need to bind the port to socket. Does this mean that it cannot do so? No. It is possible for either a client or server to bind to a port.

But why would a client wish to do so? Well the truth of the matter is this, every socket must be bound before a connection can be established. Every one. However, since clients don’t really care what port they are bound to, a special bind is used. It was alluded to above, we’re just catching up to it now. If a client calls socket_bind() with a second argument of 0, this indicates that the caller doesn’t care what port is selected, just pick any one that is available. And this makes it easy for a client. If the caller did bind to a specific port, what happens if another client is already bound to it? The bind fails. So why not let the system do the work of choosing the port?

Now there is one more trick up our sleeve, however. The operating system is pretty smart. It knows whether a sosket is bound or not. It knows when you do a connect (It knows when you’ve been bad or good). So, seeing how common it would be for a client to wish to connect to a server the designers of the 4.2/4.3BSD networking system put in a neat feature. If you connect on a socket, and the socket is not yet bound, the system will do a socket_bind(s, 0) for you automatically! In fact if you read BSD networking applications you will notice that almost no sockets that are used to initiate connect requests on ever bother doing the bind call. Laziness is bliss.

Initiating a Connect

Once a client has created a socket with socket_create() and optionally bound to a port with socket_bind(), can then called socket_connect() to initiate a connection request. socket_connect() requires four parameter:

  1. the socket on which the connection to be performed, 2. the address and port to connection to, 3. the read callback function, and 4. the write callback function. There are several new concepts we need to cover so let’s go slowly and review each argument in tern.

The first argument is old hat by now. It is just the socket or (socket descriptor) that was returned from socket_create(). The second argument, however, is new and exciting. It is a string representating of the address and port to which we want to connect. Rather than waste your time talking about Internet standard dot notation, and address classes, etc, lets just say this about Internet (or IP) addresses. You have probably seem them before. They are 4-byte addresses, with each byte being separated by a “.”. For example, the Internet address for eng3.sequent.com is 138.96.19.14. There are many ways to find the IP address for a machine. The mud list supplies the host name and IP address for the MUD machine (which do change from time to time). The UNIX ping and nslookup commands can be used, as well. From this point on, we will just assume you can determine the IP address for a destination machine. One thing to think about though is that in general most applications to not embed IP addresses within the code. It is more common that the user would provide tha address as an argument to the application, so don’t panic.

We discussed ports above when we talked about binding. The port that you specify to socket_connect() is the same “well-known” port number that the server bound to above. That’s the whole point, by the way, of binding. The server and client rendezvous so to speak at the port. So how should the second argument appear? Let’s assume we wanted to connect to eng3.sequent.com port 12345. We would write the following additional code:

string address;

address = "138.95.19.14 12345";
error = socket_connect(s, address, "read_callback", "write_callback");
if (error != EESUCCESS) {
	write("socket_connect: " + socket_error(error) + "\n");
	socket_close(s);
	return;
}

Notice the address variable. It is a string and we asssign it the Internet address and port number with a space in between to seperate them. This is the format that socket_connect() expects addresses and ports to be specified.

So what are the read and write callback functions? Well we have already talked about callbacks in general. MudOS calls these function when some network event occurs. In these cases, MudOS calls the applications when data becomes available to read (i.e. read callback) or that it is now okay to write data (write callback). We will discuss how these callbacks should work in just a bit.

The point is, once socket_connect() is called, the client initiates a connect request to the server. Because of the way MudOS works this is all we can do for now. The network has work to do. We have just requested the network to send a connect request to a remote machine. That remote machine will then inform the application that a connect request has been received and that application will decided what to do about it. The point is, all of this takes time. And while all this is going on MudOS has other work to do. So rather than stop MudOS from doing useful work, MudOS simply return EESUCCESS. Does this mean that the connection has been made? No. Does it mean the remote machine will connect with us? No. Do we even know if the remote machine is up? No. Do we know anything? Yes, a little. We know that three possible things can happen in the near future. 1. the read callback function could be called indicating the arrival of data from the remote application, 2. the write callback could be called indicating that it is okay to send data, or 3. the close callback function (that was provided way back in socket_create()) could be closed indicating that the remote machine did not accept of connection request.

Before going one step further though, make sure this is all clear. socket_connect() tells TCP to start a connection request. When socket_connect() returns we don’t know anything about the state of the connection as of yet. MudOS will eventually call back one of the functions so we know what happened. This sort of programming is called asynchronuous programming. It’s opposite is known as synchronous programming. In synchronous programming your application would wait until the connection is either accepted or closed before returning. But we do not have the leisure of synchronous programming in MUDs because while we wait for the network, other things are being ignored which should not be. So to be fair to everyone we use this asynchronous model. Which is not really that complicated once you get the hang of it.

Of course, in the above discussion we assume you check the return value from socket_connect() for EESUCCESS. If socket_connect() does not return EESUCCESS then the connection request failed and no callbacks will be called. A common mistake is to forget to check the return value and assume one of the callbacks will eventually be called. Be careful. As in all cases above if the connection request fails then be write an error message out to the display, close the socket so it can be re-used and return.

Now we wait. Some time in the future either the read, write or close callback will be called…

Accepting a Connection

Meanwhile (back at the server) a connection request is received from the client. When this occurs our listen callback function will be called. This function was specified in the socket_listen() function, remember? MudOS calls the listen callback with a single argument, that being the socket descriptor of the socket that, socket_create(), socket_bind() and socket_listen() was done on. This is useful if an object is listening on multiple sockets at the same time.

The responsibility of the listen callback function is too either accept the connection or close it. In general though, as was mentioned above, we always accept incoming connection requests. The following code accepts an incoming connection request:

void
listen_callback(int s)
{
	int ns;

	ns = socket_accept(s, "read_callback", "write_callback");
	if (ns < 0 && ns != EENOSOCKS) {
		write("socket_connect: " + socket_error(error) + "\n");
		return;
	}
}

Okay, we know what s is, right? It was passed as an argument to us. It is the socket on which the connection indication came in on. So what is ns? Aha! ns is an abbreviation for new socket. When a connection is established a new socket is created for that connection. So what is s used for? It is used to accept connections on. s will never be used, for example, to actually send or receive data. Instead, it is used to tell the socket application when connection requests arrive. ns, however, is a socket that can communicate with the client. The server can send and receive data on it etc. Make sense?

Now if you recall, we passed read and write callback function names to the socket_connect() efun. We are doing the same thing here. We haven’t discussed them yet so don’t worry, we’ll get there. For now just realize that the read and write callbacks are used for the same purpose for socket_accept() as they are for socket_connect(). And don’t get too impatient we are almost ready to discuss them in gory detail.

It’s important to note that our error handling is different here than in other cases. If socket_accept() returns a value greater than or equal to 0 then the efun succeeded just like socket_create(). This means that the connection has been established! This is major progress. However if it did not succeed there is one case that is worth making an exception for. Recall from way, way back that there are a limited number of sockets that MudOS can use? Well, what would happen if all sockets are in use when a connection request arrived? Well simple, stated the connection could not be accepted because there are no sockets to accept it on. This is a shame but it can happen. If it does EENOSOCKS is returned. This is more of a warning than a really bad error. Sure the connection was closed because not sockets were available, but if some other socket becomes free a new connection could be established in the future, so this is an example of a temporary error. In this case, it may make sense to just return. However, in all other cases, the listen socket is closed. This means that no new connections can be accepted, until the server is restarted. As a result be sure to display an error message so an administrator knows to restart the server!


Flow Control

Before talking about data transfer which is sort of the climactic section anyway, we need to discuss another paradigm. If we were to look at networking technology today networks run at several orders of magnitude of difference in performance. FDDI, for example, which is the fiber opitc network standard of today runs at around 80 million bits per second, IBM Token Ring runs around 16 million bits per second, Ethernet around 10 millions bits per second, high-speed syncronous serial runs at about 56 thousand bits per second and finally consumer asynchronous modems run from 1.2 thousand to 14.4 thousand bits per second. These are raw data rates, and one certainly cannot expect to use the entire bandwidth of the various media. The point is this, if you ever expected to find a hetrogeneous operating environment, networking is it. The same protocols operate correctly at various data rates, and with different network technologies. This is what the Internet model is all about.

Because of the variety in networks today it is difficult to make assumption about how long things might take on networks. Recall from about that when we initiated a connect request from a client we checked to be sure that socket_connect() return EESUCCESS and then just returned and waited? This was not just a cute metaphor. In reality we were. On an Ethernet we probably waited about 3/1000s of a second for a reply, not really all that long. So short in fact, we could have probably just hung around for the response and delayed further processing within MudOS. But what if the reply were to take several seconds, which is is likely to do on a SLIP or Point-to-Point link? We don’t know a priori how long things will take and so must be prepared for the worst when dealing with networks.

There really is a point to all of this discussion. Computers are pretty fast and are getting faster. Desktop computer can runs millions of instructions per second. At best a similarly priced modem for such a computer could run at around 19.2 thousand bits per second. That works out to less than 2 thousand bytes per second. So if we compare the computer speed to the network speed we find a vast difference in speed. The conclusion one should reach is this: A computer can generate data much faster than a network can send it. Therefore I could write a program that sat in a loop and pounded the network with data, and it’s very likely that I would eventually run into a case where I had data ready to send and the network is not ready to accept it. What should we do in this situation? Well if we follow our previous example (i.e. socket_connect()) we would just wait until the network is ready for more data. And so we do.

Realizing the difference in speed between computers and networks the inventor of network software have designed the following kind of interface. Each socket has a reasonably-sized memory buffer (typically around 4k bytes of data) that is used to temporary hold data while is waits for the network to send it. This temporary buffer will eventually fill, of course, if we were to send data faster than the network can handle. When it does the socket is said to be “flow controlled”. This mean we are told that there is no more room in this temporary buffer to hold any more data, so we should stop sending more data. This flow controlled notion affects is directly when writing sockets code. We have to be smart enough to send when we can and wait when we cannot send. This may sound complicated; luckily we can reduce this down to a few very simple rules.

Remember we said that socket_connect() generates a connection request and returns immediately without waiting for the reply? This is true it does. But what we didn’t mention back then is that during the connection request your application cannot send any data. This makes sense right? If the connection has not been established then how can data be sent. This is like dialing a phone number and starting to talk while the phone rings! Well if we cannot send data after socket_connect(), when can we. We talked about this before, remember? Once the connection is established then either the read, write or close callback will be called.

So if we want to send data what should we do? Wait for the write callback procedure! Simple enough, right? Let’s forget about the close callback for the moment because we know why it gets called and it not important any- more. Let’s just focus on the read and write callback functions. We said when the connection has been established either the read or write callback function will be called. Well gee, if we are waiting for the connection to come up so we can send data and our read callack gets called what should we do, send the data? No. Because no matter what, once the connection comes up the write callback is guaranteed to be called at least once. In other words, there are two directions of communcation the read direction (data coming across the network towards us) and the write direction (data we send out the network towards the other MUD). If we stick to our guns and think of each direction as seperate we will avoid confusion.

Now remember the term flow-controlled? It means that we cannot send any more data because we are waiting for the network to catch up. Well after a connection request (i.e. socket_connect()) we are flow- controlled. Once the connection has been accepted by the server then our write callback function is called and we become, not flow-controlled! This is our cue! Send data! Make sense?

Ok, so we take our chance and start sending data like mad. The network sends this, and this, and this too. At some point the buffer inside is going to fill up and we are going to become flow-controlled again. What do we do then? Same as before. Wait for our write callback function to be called again so we can start sending more data. Sending on a network is like send bits of data in bursts. We send, we wait, we send some more. A correctly written socket application then is one who keeps track of whether it can or not. And only sends when MudOS says it can, and waits when MudOS says it cannot.

Before you go off and get frustrated with LPC sockets, remember this: the rules for flow control are not difficult to understand, but violating them can end in disaster. Make sure you understand this flow control model. It is fundamental to the asyncrhonous programming model. If it does not make sense then please re-read this section or ask a sockets-savvy friend for help, because this is very important.

Sending data

Okay, now that we understand the constraints within which we live, it’s time to discuss actually sending data. It’s been a long time in coming, but we have convered a lot of important information along the way.

After a client’s write callback is called the client is no longer flow-controlled, which means it can begin writing data. What about the server? Is the server flow-controlled after doing socket_accept()? This is a good question. The answer is no, it is not. This is another difference between clients and server. The client must wait for a write callback before it can begin sending data, the server can begin as soon as the connection has been accepted. Ignoring this final detail though, there is no difference between client and servers send and receiving data. Both client and server use the same socket efuns in the same way.

So let’s do it, let’s send a number in MUD mode.

error = socket_write(s, 0);

Incredibly enough that’s all it takes to send the LPC integer 0 to the other MUD. One could do:

error = socket_write(s, "Hello you other MUD1");

to send a hello message as a string to the other MUD. In fact in MUD mode you can send any LPC data type except objects. This means arrays, mappings, integers, etc. This is very powerful indeed! Ok we sent it, but what happened on the other side so they can receive it? Remember the read callback function, we specified it in the socket_connect() and socket_accept() efuns? The read callback function is called when the network delivers to the data to the socket. For example:

void
read_callback(int s, mixed message)
{
	write("Received " + message + "\n");
}

would write the receive data! The read callback then is used by MudOS to tell an object when new data arrives. In the above example we used a second parameter of mixed. This is because in MUD mode any data type can be sent across the network. It is the object’s responsibility to make sure the object type is correct. In fact, once you are able to send and receive data correctly, you have solved the immediate problem of communication and have opened up a whole new problem called protocol engineering. This involves designing networking protocols that are reliable and can interoperate with many type of computers, but that unfortunately is far beyond the scope of the tutorial. Alas.

So have we finished with socket_write()? I hope you don’t think so. You should have noticed that we didn’t check error after calling socket_write(). Why is this? Well to be blunt, because there are four different classes of return codes that socket_write() can return and I figured we’d ease into the nitty gritty details. So here we go.

There are four things socket_write() can return. 1) because it sent the data along and everything is just fine, 2) the data has been saved in a buffer and will eventually be sent, but no more data can be accomodated at the moment, 3) the data has not been saved in a buffer and will not be sent since no more data can be accomodated at the moment, and

  1. socket_write() is very confused and doesn’t know what to do now. In the first case, socket_write() has sent the data and is ready for more. It will not call the write callback function because there is no need to, we are not flow-controlled. In other words, we should remember that it is still okay to send data. In the second case the data will be sent, it’s sitting in a memory buffer ready to be sent when the network can send it, but the buffer is now full. Which means we are now flow-controlled. It would be inappropriate for us to try to send more at this point, so we should remember we cannot send any more right now. When the network empties the memory buffer the write callback function will be called and we can then start sending data again. In the third case, the data couldn’t be sent at that moment, possibly due to socket traffic or network congestion. We are not flow- controlled so the write callback function must be called explicitly, to attempt resending the data. A call_out() is a better choice here over a direct function call since the delay gives the system a chance to recover, reduces the possibility of max eval’ing, and better simulates a callback. In the final case, some error has occurred either on the network connect or within the operating system such that the write can not be performed. In that case, however, it is likely nothing can be done to rectify the problem. In general, the best thing to do is simply close the connection. In general, this never happens.

Okay so much for the abstract, let’s look at the specifics. socket_write() returns EESUCCESS in case (1) above. This means that further writes to the socket are still possible. If socket_write() returns EECALLBACK, this indicates that the data has been buffered for output, but that further writes should be suspended until the write callback function is called. Conversely, if socket_write() returns EEWOULDBLOCK, this indicates that the data has not been buffered for output, and that the write callback function must be called again manually (to resend) before further writes are attempted. EEALREADY means that the object has violated the flow control model, i.e. a write was done while the socket was flow-controlled. In this event, the data is not buffered and the caller should again wait for the write callback function. Of course, well written application will not see EEALREADY. Any other return value should probably be interpreted as a fatal error and the socket closed.

int socket_write(int, mixed, string|void); int socket_release(int, object, string); int socket_acquire(int, string, string, string); string socket_address(int); void dump_socket_status(void);