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Multicast Sockets

The sockets in the previous chapters are unicast: they provide point-to-point communication. Unicast sockets create a connection with two well-defined endpoints; there is one sender and one receiver and, although they may switch roles, at any given time it is easy to tell which is which. However, although point-to-point communications serve many, if not most needs (people have engaged in one-on-one conversations for millennia), many tasks require a different model. For example, a television station broadcasts data from one location to every point within range of its transmitter. The signal reaches every television set, whether or not it's turned on and whether or not it's tuned to that particular station. Indeed, the signal even reaches homes with cable boxes instead of antennas and homes that don't have a television. This is the classic example of broadcasting. It's indiscriminate and quite wasteful of both the electromagnetic spectrum and power. Videoconferencing, by contrast, sends an audio-video feed to a select group of people. Usenet news is posted at one site and distributed around the world to hundreds of thousands of people. DNS router updates travel from the site, announcing a change to many other routers. However, the sender relies on the intermediate sites to copy and relay the message to downstream sites. The sender does not address its message to every host that will eventually receive it. These are examples of multicasting, although they're implemented with additional app layer protocols on top of TCP or UDP. These protocols require fairly detailed configuration and intervention by human beings. For instance, to join Usenet you have to find a site willing to send news to you and relay your outgoing news to the rest of the world. To add you to the Usenet feed, the news administrator of your news relay has to specifically add your site to their news config files. However, recent developments with the network software in most major operating systems as well as Internet routers have opened up a new possibility—true multicasting, in which the routers decide how to efficiently move a message to individual hosts. In particular, the initial router sends only one copy of the message to a router near the receiving hosts, which then makes multiple copies for different recipients at or closer to the destinations. Internet multicasting is built on top of UDP. Multicasting in Java uses the DatagramPacket class introduced in , along with a new MulticastSocket class.

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