Monday, May 22, 2017

Some multicast programming tips

Never too old to learn.  :-)

There are lots of multicast example programs out there, so I won't try to compete with them.  But I did run across several things that weren't explained very well.

Single Socket, Multiple Groups

Yes, you can create a single socket and have it receive datagrams from multiple multicast groups.  Just include multiple calls to:
  setsockopt(recv_sock, IPPROTO_IP, IP_ADD_MEMBERSHIP, ...

Multiple Sockets, One Group per Socket

This is another common use case, where you create multiple sockets for receiving, with each socket joined to a different multicast group.

Binding the Receive Socket

Since a socket needs to be bound to a port to receive any kind of UDP datagram, multicast or unicast, you need to include a call to bind().  You pass in a sockaddr_in with the sin_port set as desired (remember to pass it in network order).  But what about the sin_addr?  What do you set that to?

Many people set it to INADDR_ANY, which is what I did in a recent program.  But in the multiple sockets, one group per socket case, it had an unexpected side effect.  All of my sockets were bound to the same destination port, but joined to different multicast groups.  With sin_addr set to INADDR_ANY, the kernel replicated the received datagrams and delivered a copy to *every* socket! I.e. simply doing the IP_ADD_MEMBERSHIP didn't do any filtering.  When a multicast datagram was received, the kernel just used the destination port and delivered a copy to every socket.

I had to do some extra searching to find out that you can set the sin_addr to the multicast group.  I have some reason to suspect that this is not portable across all operating systems, but at least it works on Linux.  Now I can have 10 sockets, each bound to the same port (don't forget SO_REUSEADDR) but different multicast groups.  When a multicast datagram is received, it is delivered *only* to the socket which is bound to the right port/multicast group pair.

Single Socket, Multiple Groups, reprise

So, what about the case where you have a single socket joined to multiple groups?  In that case, you *do* want to use INADDR_ANY in the bind.

Mix and Match?

I guess this poses a restriction.  You can't have, say, 2 sockets that you distribute 4 multicast groups across, with two groups each.  Why would you want to do that?  Maybe to load-balance across threads.  But assuming they all want to bind to the same port, you can't do it.  Setting the sin_addr to INADDR_ANY will mean that both sockets will receive a copy of each datagram sent. But you can't set sin_addr to multiple multicast groups.

So if you want to have multiple sockets, you need to have one group per socket, and bind that socket to the group.

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