The IPC mechanisms discussed earlier all have one severe restriction: they’re designed for communication between processes running on the same computer. (Even though files can sometimes be shared across machines through mechanisms like NFS, locking fails miserably on many NFS implementations, which takes away most of the fun of concurrent access.) For general-purpose networking, sockets are the way to go. Although sockets were invented under BSD, they quickly spread to other forms of Unix, and nowadays you can find a socket interface on nearly every viable operating system out there. If you don’t have sockets on your machine, you’re going to have tremendous difficulty using the Internet.

With sockets, you can do both virtual circuits (as TCP streams) and datagrams (as UDP packets). You may be able to do even more, depending on your system. But the most common sort of socket programming uses TCP over Internet-domain sockets, so that’s the kind we cover here. Such sockets provide reliable connections that work a little bit like bidirectional pipes that aren’t restricted to the local machine. The two killer apps of the Internet, email and web browsing, both rely almost exclusively on TCP sockets.

You also use UDP heavily without knowing it. Every time your machine tries to find a site on the Internet, it sends UDP packets to your DNS server asking it for the actual IP address. You might use UDP yourself when you want to send and receive datagrams. Datagrams are cheaper than TCP ...

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