Mainstream Network Library Overview

Part I - .Net Networking Briefing

All .Net networking facilities are build on top of Winsock2 subsystem, so concepts such as non-blocking I/O, async I/O and I/O multiplexing can all be applied to the managed world. .Net network framework just wrapped Winsock2 and added some extra abstraction.

Most of the wrapping stuff is done through the System.Net.Sockets.Socket class. If you are familiar with Winsock, you will feel comfortable with this class. Here I will focus on the extra (OO style)abstraction that .Net library team has added on top of this class.

There are 3 abstraction layers for .Net network programming:

-Raw Socket Layer
In this model, you work directly with System.Net.Socket.Sockets class, which is just a lightweight OO and PInvoke wrapper around native Winsock2 functionalities. You can do anything in Winsock2 using methods of this class. It's almost just method to method mapping. More info see .Net Network Programming Using Raw Socket.

- Tcp/Udp Layer
.Net network framework provides three extra classes: TcpClient, TcpListener, and UdpClient to ease the task of Tcp/Udp application developing. They are built on top of raw socket facilities and hide detail works such as connection management, data buffering and parsing with the help of NetworkStream class. More info about Tcp/Udp model and more specific on .Net Tcp Programming, .Net Udp Programming
- Request/Response Layer
It's also known as pluggable protocol layer, in which all communication are simple request/response pattern using standard URI to represent internet resources. This abstraction is build on top of Raw Socket and Tcp/Udp layer and it's also extensible so you can customize it. If you just need to work in web world, this is a great facility. More info about programming pluggable protocols, FTP programming and HTTP programming

Source code for example client/server application using .Net network framework.

BTW, blocking/non-blocking/async model and the upper 3 layer concepts are orthogonal and can be combined arbitrarily. For example, there are both blocking TcpClient/TcpListener and async TcpClient/TcpListener.


1. Network Programming Tutorial
2. Network Programming Sample
3. Core NameSpaces:
- System.Net
- System.Net.Socket
4. Good .Net Networking Books
- Tcp/Ip Sockets in C#
- C# Network Programming

Part II - Java
Networking Briefing

Java has a totally different network library taxonomy.

1. Abstraction Layers

Java doesn't have real raw socket facility, which is similar to BSD socket interface and Winsock2 interfaces. But it does contain class named as Socket that is used do network communication. It can be roughly divided into Tcp/Udp layer and URL layer.

- Tcp/Udp Layer
You deal with Tcp/Udp concepts directly when coding at this layer. Java provides 3 core classes:Socket/ServerSocket (Connection Oriented network facility, similar to .Net's TcpClient/TcpListener), DatagramSocket (Connectionless, Message Oriented network facility, similar to .Net's UdpClient). These classes also use I/O Stream to do reading/writing operations.

- URL Layer
Similar to .Net's pluggable protocol layer, it uses URL to identify network resources, provides convenient methods to talk to them. URL and URLConnection are those core classes.

2. Network I/O Model

For network I/O model, JDK provides blocking I/O in Java.Net name space since Java 1.0, multiplexing(a.k.a. non-blocking) I/O is available since Java 1.4 and Async I/O is added in Java 7, both in Java.Nio name space.

Multiplexing I/O consists of three core concepts: SelectableChannel, Selector and SelectionKey.(illustrated below). Common practices using java nio suggests that a network server is composed of acceptor to accept client connections, dispatcher to monitor network ready events and dispatch them to application handler, and application handler with worker thread pool, which handles application logic and generate response data to client.
I had write an time echo server using Java Nio and the upper architecture.

Java Asychronous IO(part of NIO.2) is relatively new and not officially released yet. But its basic idea is very simple: you issue the i/o request without blocking. The system will notify you the completion of the request by meas of:
- calling callback function
- waiting handle to wait
- polling flag to poll


1. Official Network Tutorial
2. Java Scalable I/O
3. NIO based Server Architecture

- Java.Net
- Java.NIO

Good Java Networking Books:
- Tcp/Ip Sockets in Java 2E
- Java Network Programming 3E

Other Java Network Frameworks:
- Mina from Apache
- Netty from JBoss
- Grizzly from SUN
- xSocket @ SF
[comparison report]

Part III - C/C++ Network Frameworks

1. LibEvent - http://monkey.org/~provos/libevent

- Libevent is an event notification library not only for network operations but for almost all types of i/o operations. The libevent API provides a mechanism to execute a callback function when a specific event occurs on a file descriptor or after a timeout has been reached.
- It's essentially a Reactor design pattern, in which readiness event is triggered and notified.

- The document file for LibEvent 2.0
- The Sample Code Using LibEvent 2.0

2. APR - http://apr.apache.org/

- APR provides platform independent interface for OS functionalites, which includes some basic network i/o functions. But the interface is rather basic, only blocking i/o is supported. You can see the list of functions from APR 1.4 Network I/O Doc.

3. BOOST.ASIO - http://think-async.com/
Boost ASIO is a scalable network framework using Proactor design pattern (which essentially uses completion notification mechanism, a.k.a Async Network I/O).

Here is in-depth document about Boost.Asio.

4. ACE - http://www.cs.wustl.edu/~schmidt/ACE.html

- It's a heavyweight OO communication framework but it goes beyond just computer proress communication. In a high level point view, it contains three lays:

- OS Adapter Layer: it abstracts the underlying native OS's services using raw C wrappers and provide a unified interface to upper layer components and application developers. The OS services include:

  .Concurrency and Synchronization
  .Inter-Process Communication
  .Event Demultiplexing  .File System I/O
- OO Facade Layer: it wraps the OS adapter layer using OO, more specifically, the C++ language. Its functionalities are all the same as the adapter layer.

- Communication Framework Layer: it integrates and enhances the lower-level C++ wrapper facades and supports the dynamic configuration of concurrent distributed services into applications. The framework the following components:
  .Event Demultiplexing - The Reactor and Proactor are extensible, object-oriented demultiplexers .
  .Service Initialization - The Acceptor and Connector components represents the active and passive initialization roles, respectively.
  .Service Configuration - The Service Configurator supports the configuration of applications dynamically.

is very heavy-weighted and contains many powerful components. It is also the pioneer of concurrent and communication software architect. It invents many famous design patterns in this area, for example, Reactor and Proactor.

5. ICE - http://www.zeroc.com/ice.html

ICE is a language independent RPC solution and supports Java/C#/C++/Python. It uses an IDL language called Slice(Specification Language for Ice) to define client/server interface.

The overall high level design of ICE can be found at: A New Approach to Object-Oriented Middleware

ICE website also contains other two great articles:
- The Rise and Fall of CORBA
- API Design Matters

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