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9.2 Datagram Sockets

TinyHttpd used a Socket to create a connection to the client using the TCP protocol. In that example, TCP itself took care of data integrity; we didn't have to worry about data arriving out of order or incorrect. Now we'll take a walk on the wild side. We'll build an applet that uses a java.net.DatagramSocket, which uses the UDP protocol. A datagram is sort of like a "data telegram": it's a discrete chunk of data transmitted in one packet. Unlike the previous example, where we could get a convenient OutputStream from our Socket and write the data as if writing to a file, with a DatagramSocket we have to work one datagram at a time. (Of course, the TCP protocol was taking our OutputStream and slicing the data into packets, but we didn't have to worry about those details).

UDP doesn't guarantee that the data will get through. If the data do get through, it may not arrive in the right order; it's even possible for duplicate datagrams to arrive. Using UDP is something like cutting the pages out of the encyclopedia, putting them into separate envelopes, and mailing them to your friend. If your friend wants to read the encyclopedia, it's his or her job to put the pages in order. If some pages got lost in the mail, your friend has to send you a letter asking for replacements.

Obviously, you wouldn't use UDP to send a huge amount of data. But it's significantly more efficient than TCP, particularly if you don't care about the order in which messages arrive, or whether the data arrive at all. For example, in a database lookup, the client can send a query; the server's response itself constitutes an acknowledgment. If the response doesn't arrive within a certain time, the client can send another query. It shouldn't be hard for the client to match responses to its original queries. Some important applications that use UDP are the Domain Name System (DNS) and Sun's Network Filesystem (NFS).

The HeartBeat Applet

In this section we'll build a simple applet, HeartBeat, that sends a datagram to its server each time it's started and stopped. (See Chapter 10, Understand the Abstract Windowing Toolkit for a complete discussion of the Applet class.) We'll also build a simple standalone server application, Pulse, that receives that datagrams and prints them. By tracking the output, you could have a crude measure of who is currently looking at your Web page at any given time. This is an ideal application for UDP: we don't want the overhead of a TCP socket, and if datagrams get lost, it's no big deal.

First, the HeartBeat applet:

import java.net.*; 
import java.io.*; 
 
public class HeartBeat extends java.applet.Applet { 
    String myHost; 
    int myPort; 
 
    public void init() { 
        myHost = getCodeBase().getHost(); 
        myPort = Integer.parseInt( getParameter("myPort") ); 
    } 
 
    private void sendMessage( String message ) { 
        try { 
            byte [] data = new byte [ message.length() ]; 
            message.getBytes(0, data.length, data, 0); 
            InetAddress addr = InetAddress.getByName( myHost ); 
            DatagramPacket pack = 
               new DatagramPacket(data, data.length, addr, myPort); 
 
            DatagramSocket ds = new DatagramSocket(); 
            ds.send( pack ); 
            ds.close(); 
        }  
        catch ( IOException e )    
            System.out.println( e ); 
    } 
 
    public void start() { 
        sendMessage("Arrived"); 
    } 
    public void stop() { 
        sendMessage("Departed"); 
    } 
} 

Compile the applet and include it in an HTML document with an <applet> tag:

<applet height=10 width=10 code=HeartBeat>  
    <param name="myPort" value="1234"> 
</applet> 

The myPort parameter should specify the port number on which our server application listens for data.

Next, the server-side application, Pulse:

import java.net.*; 
import java.io.*; 
 
public class Pulse { 
    public static void main( String [] argv ) throws IOException { 
 
        DatagramSocket s = 
           new DatagramSocket(Integer.parseInt(argv[0])); 
        while ( true ) { 
            DatagramPacket packet = new DatagramPacket(new byte
                                                      [1024], 1024); 
            s.receive( packet ); 
            String message = new String(packet.getData(), 0, 0, 
                                        packet.getLength()); 
            System.out.println( "Heartbeat from: " +  
                packet.getAddress().getHostName() + " - " + message ); 
        } 
    } 
} 

Compile Pulse and run it on your Web server, specifying a port number as an argument:

% java Pulse 1234

The port number should be the same as the one you used in the myPort parameter of the <applet> tag for HeartBeat.

Now, pull up the Web page in your browser. You won't see anything there (a better application might do something visual as well), but you should get a blip from the Pulse application. Leave the page and return to it a few times. Each time the applet is started or stopped, it sends a message:

Heartbeat from: foo.bar.com - Arrived 
Heartbeat from: foo.bar.com - Departed 
Heartbeat from: foo.bar.com - Arrived 
Heartbeat from: foo.bar.com - Departed 
... 

Cool, eh? Just remember the datagrams are not guaranteed to arrive (although it's unlikely you'll see them fail), and it's possible that you could miss an arrival or a departure. Now let's look at the code.

HeartBeat

HeartBeat overrides the init(), start(), and stop() methods of the Applet class, and implements one private method of its own, sendMessage(), that sends a datagram. HeartBeat begins its life in init(), where it determines the destination for its messages. It uses the Applet getCodeBase() and getHost() methods to find the name of its originating host and fetches the correct port number from the myPort parameter of the HTML tag. After init() has finished, the start() and stop() methods are called whenever the applet is started or stopped. These methods merely call sendMessage() with the appropriate message.

sendMessage() is responsible for sending a String message to the server as a datagram. It takes the text as an argument, constructs a datagram packet containing the message, and then sends the datagram. All of the datagram information, including the destination and port number, are packed into a java.net.DatagramPacket object. The DatagramPacket is like an addressed envelope, stuffed with our bytes. After the DatagramPacket is created, sendMessage() simply has to open a DatagramSocket and send it.

The first four lines of sendMessage() build the DatagramPacket:

try { 
    byte [] data = new byte [ message.length() ]; 
    message.getBytes(0, data.length, data, 0); 
    InetAddress addr = InetAddress.getByName( myHost ); 
    DatagramPacket pack = 
       new DatagramPacket(data, data.length, addr, myPort ); 

First, the contents of message are placed into an array of bytes called data. Next a java.net.InetAddress object is created from the name myHost. An InetAddress simply holds the network address information for a host in a special format. We get an InetAddress object for our host by using the static getByName() method of the InetAddress class. (We can't construct an InetAddress object directly.) Finally, we call the DatagramPacket constructor with four arguments: the byte array containing our data, the length of the data, the destination address object, and the port number.

The remaining lines construct a default client DatagramSocket and call its send() method to transmit the DatagramPacket; after sending the datagram, we close the socket:

DatagramSocket ds = new DatagramSocket(); 
ds.send( pack ); 
ds.close(); 

Two operations throw a type of IOException: the InetAddress.getByName() lookup and the DatagramSocket send(). InetAddress.getByName() can throw an UnknownHostException, which is a type of IOException that indicates that the host name can't be resolved. If send() throws an IOException, it implies a serious client side problem in talking to the network. We need to catch these exceptions; our catch block simply prints a message telling us that something went wrong. If we get one of these exceptions, we can assume the datagram never arrived. However, we can't assume the converse. Even if we don't get an exception, we still don't know that the host is actually accessible or that the data actually arrived; with a DatagramSocket, we never find out.

Pulse

The Pulse server corresponds to the HeartBeat applet. First, it creates a DatagramSocket to listen on our prearranged port. This time, we specify a port number in the constructor; we get the port number from the command line as a string (argv[0]) and convert it to an integer with Integer.parseInt(). Note the difference between this call to the constructor and the call in HeartBeat. In the server, we need to listen for incoming datagrams on a prearranged port, so we need to specify the port when creating the DatagramSocket. In the client, we need only to send datagrams, so we don't have to specify the port in advance; we build the port number into the DatagramPacket itself.

Second, Pulse creates an empty DatagramPacket of a fixed size to receive an incoming datagram. This alternative constructor for DatagramPacket takes a byte array and a length as arguments. As much data as possible is stored in the byte array when it's received. (A practical limit on the size of a UDP datagram is 8K.) Finally, Pulse calls the DatagramSocket's receive() method to wait for a packet to arrive. When a packet arrives, its contents are printed.

As you can see, working with DatagramSocket is slightly more tedious than working with Sockets. With datagrams, it's harder to spackle over the messiness of the socket interface. However, the Java API rather slavishly follows the UNIX interface, and that doesn't help. I don't see any reason why we have to prepare a datagram to hand to receive() (at least for the current functionality); receive() ought to create an appropriate object on its own and hand it to us, saving us the effort of building the datagram in advance and unpacking the data from it afterwards. It's easy to imagine other conveniences; perhaps we'll have them in a future release.


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