You have probably heard of information
servers on the Internet such as Archie (which lets you search FTP
sites) and NNTP (the Usenet news server). Like
the Web itself, these services run as protocols on top of TCP/IP.
To make these services available over the Web, you can develop CGI
applications that act as clients to other Internet information servers
using the TCP/IP network protocol.
Let's start by looking at how a server functions. Take an
mail application (though the
theory can apply to any other server). Most mail programs save the
user's messages in a particular file, typically in the /var/spool/mail
directory. When you send mail to someone on a different host, the
mail program must find the recipient's mail file on that machine
and append the message to it. How exactly does the mail program
achieve this task, since it cannot manipulate files on a remote
The answer to this question is interprocess
communication (IPC). A process on the remote host acts
as a messenger for the mail process on that machine. The local process
communicates with this remote agent across a network to "deliver"
mail. As a result, the remote process is called a server (it "services"
an issued request), and the local process is referred to as a client.
The Web works along the same philosophy: the browser is the client
that issues a request to an HTTP server that
interprets and executes the request.
The most important thing to remember here is that the client
and the server must "speak the same language." In other words, a
particular client is designed to work with a specific server. So,
for example, an Archie client cannot communicate with a Web server.
But if you know the stream of data expected by a server, and the
stream produced as output, you can write a CGI program that communicates
with it, as we showed in the previous chapter.
One very useful application we will show in this chapter is
one where you create both the client and the server. This will be
a cookie handler, which helps you keep track of data when it is
entered into multiple forms.
The communication protocols depend on the type of UNIX
system. The version of UNIX from AT&T, called
System V, provides STREAMS
to communicate with processes across a network. On the other hand,
the BSD flavor of UNIX, from the University of
California at Berkeley, implements objects called sockets
for network communication. In this chapter, we will look only at
BSD sockets (also adopted by the PC world), which are, by far, the
most popular way to handle network communications.