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The Client-Server Model - Administration

This article discusses the various types of networks, the methods for connnecting networks, how network data is moved from network to network, and the protocols used on today's popular networks. It is excerpted from chapter one of the book The Definitive Guide to Linux Networking Programming, written by Keir Davis et. al. (Apress, 2004; ISBN: 1590593227).

  1. Fundamentals (of Linux Networking)
  2. Addressing
  3. Internet Addresses
  4. Internet Protocol
  5. Protocol Layering
  6. User Datagram Protocol
  7. The Client-Server Model
  8. The Domain Name System
By: Apress Publishing
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October 27, 2005

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Let’s recap. We’ve discussed circuits versus packets; the concept of connecting one or many networks together via gateways; physical addresses; virtual addresses; and the IP, UDP, and TCP protocols. We’ve also used the terms  “sender,”  “source,”  “receiver,” and  “destination.” These terms can be confusing, because as you’ve seen already, a TCP connection is a connection of equals, and in a virtual circuit, the roles of sender, source, receiver, and destination are interchangeable depending on what sort of data is being sent. Regardless of which term is used, the key concept to remember is that applications are present at both endpoints of a TCP connection. Without compatible applications at both ends, the data sent doesn’t end up anywhere, nor can it be processed and utilized. Nevertheless, changing the terminology between “source” and “destination” to describe every communication between two endpoints can be pretty confusing. A better model is to designate roles for each endpoint for the duration of the communication. The model of interaction on a TCP connection, then, is known as the client-server model.

In the client-server model, the term “server” describes the application that offers a service that can be utilized by any other application over the network. Servers accept connections over a network, perform their service, and respond with the result. The simplest servers are those that accept a single packet and respond with a single packet, though in many cases servers are more complex. Some features common to servers include the ability to accept more than one request at a time (multiple connections) and the ability to service requests independently of other operating system processes such as user sessions.

A “client” is the application sending the request to the server and waiting for the response. Client applications typically make only one request to a particular server at any given time, though there is no restriction preventing them from making simultaneous requests, or even multiple requests to different servers.

There are many different types of client-server applications. The simplest of them use UDP to communicate, while others use TCP/IP with higher-level application protocols such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). The specifics of a client-server system are fairly simple. On the server, the application is started, after which it negotiates with the operating system for permission to use a particular port number for accepting requests. Assuming that the application is allowed to start on the given port, it begins to listen for incoming requests. The specifics of how to write an application that will listen on a port are covered in Chapter 2. Once listening, the server executes an endless loop until stopped: receive request, process request, assemble response, send response, repeat. In the process, the server reverses the source and destination addresses and port numbers, so that the server knows where to send the response and the client also knows that the server has responded.

The client, unlike the server, typically stops sending requests once the server has responded. At this point, the client itself may terminate, or it may simply go into a wait state until another request must be sent. Ports are handled differently on clients than on servers, however. While the server typically uses a reserved port, clients do not. This is because every client must know how to reach the server, but the server does not need to know in advance how to reach every client, since that information is contained in the packets it receives from the client, in the source address and source port fields. This allows clients to use any port they wish as their endpoint in the TCP connection with the server. For example, a web page server is usually found on port 80. Even though the client must send its requests to the server’s port 80, it can use any available port as its own endpoint, such as port number 9999, 12345, 64400, or anything in between, as long as it isn’t one of the reserved ports mentioned earlier or a port already in use by another application. Thus, the two endpoints involved in a web page request might be192.168.2.1:80for the server endpoint and10.0.0.4:11908 for the client endpoint. The main requirement for a client is that it knows, through configuration or some other method, the address and port of the server, since all other information needed will be sent within the packets.

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