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The socket module

This module implements an interface to the socket communication layer. You can create both client and server sockets using this module.

Let’s start with a client example. The following client connects to a time protocol server, reads the 4-byte response, and converts it to a time value.

Example: Using the socket module to implement a time client
# File: socket-example-1.py

import socket
import struct, time

# server
HOST = "www.python.org"
PORT = 37

# reference time (in seconds since 1900-01-01 00:00:00)
TIME1970 = 2208988800L # 1970-01-01 00:00:00

# connect to server
s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
s.connect((HOST, PORT))

# read 4 bytes, and convert to time value
t = s.recv(4)
t = struct.unpack("!I", t)[0]
t = int(t - TIME1970)

s.close()

# print results
print "server time is", time.ctime(t)
print "local clock is", int(time.time()) - t, "seconds off"

server time is Sat Oct 09 16:42:36 1999
local clock is 8 seconds off

The socket factory function creates a new socket of the given type (in this case, an Internet stream socket, also known as a TCP socket). The connect method attempts to connect this socket to the given server. Once that has succeeded, the recv method is used to read data.

Creating a server socket is done in a similar fashion. But instead of connecting to a server, you bind the socket to a port on the local machine, tell it to listen for incoming connection requests, and process each request as fast as possible.

The following example creates a time server, bound to port 8037 on the local machine (port numbers up to 1024 are reserved for system services, and you have to have root privileges to use them to implement services on a Unix system):

Example: Using the socket module to implement a time server
# File: socket-example-2.py

import socket
import struct, time

# user-accessible port
PORT = 8037

# reference time
TIME1970 = 2208988800L

# establish server
service = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
service.bind(("", PORT))
service.listen(1)

print "listening on port", PORT

while 1:
    # serve forever
    channel, info = service.accept()
    print "connection from", info
    t = int(time.time()) + TIME1970
    t = struct.pack("!I", t)
    channel.send(t) # send timestamp
    channel.close() # disconnect

listening on port 8037
connection from ('127.0.0.1', 1469)
connection from ('127.0.0.1', 1470)
...

The listen call tells the socket that we’re willing to accept incoming connections. The argument gives the size of the connection queue (which holds connection requests that our program hasn’t gotten around to processing yet). Finally, the accept loop returns the current time to any client bold enough to connect.

Note that the accept function returns a new socket object, which is directly connected to the client. The original socket is only used to establish the connection; all further traffic goes via the new socket.

To test this server, we can use the following generalized version of our first example:

Example: A time protocol client
# File: timeclient.py

import socket
import struct, sys, time

# default server
host = "localhost"
port = 8037

# reference time (in seconds since 1900-01-01 00:00:00)
TIME1970 = 2208988800L # 1970-01-01 00:00:00

def gettime(host, port):
    # fetch time buffer from stream server
    s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
    s.connect((host, port))
    t = s.recv(4)
    s.close()
    t = struct.unpack("!I", t)[0]
    return int(t - TIME1970)

if __name__ == "__main__":
    # command line utility
    if sys.argv[1:]:
        host = sys.argv[1]
        if sys.argv[2:]:
            port = int(sys.argv[2])
        else:
            port = 37 # default for public servers

    t = gettime(host, port)
    print "server time is", time.ctime(t)
    print "local clock is", int(time.time()) - t, "seconds off"

server time is Sat Oct 09 16:58:50 1999
local clock is 0 seconds off

This sample script can also be used as a module; to get the current time from a server, import the timeclient module, and call the gettime function.

This far, we’ve used stream (or TCP) sockets. The time protocol specification also mentions UDP sockets, or datagrams. Stream sockets work pretty much like a phone line; you’ll know if someone at the remote end picks up the receiver, and you’ll notice when she hangs up. In contrast, sending datagrams is more like shouting into a dark room. There might be someone there, but you won’t know unless she replies.

You don’t need to connect to send data over a datagram socket. Instead, you use the sendto method, which takes both the data and the address of the receiver. To read incoming datagrams, use the recvfrom method.

Example: Using the socket module to implement a datagram time client
# File: socket-example-4.py

import socket
import struct, time

# server
HOST = "localhost"
PORT = 8037

# reference time (in seconds since 1900-01-01 00:00:00)
TIME1970 = 2208988800L # 1970-01-01 00:00:00

# connect to server
s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_DGRAM)

# send empty packet
s.sendto("", (HOST, PORT))

# read 4 bytes from server, and convert to time value
t, server = s.recvfrom(4)
t = struct.unpack("!I", t)[0]
t = int(t - TIME1970)

s.close()

print "server time is", time.ctime(t)
print "local clock is", int(time.time()) - t, "seconds off"

server time is Sat Oct 09 16:42:36 1999
local clock is 8 seconds off

Note that recvfrom returns two values; the actual data, and the address of the sender. Use the latter if you need to reply.

And here’s the corresponding server:

Example: Using the socket module to implement a datagram time server
# File: socket-example-5.py

import socket
import struct, time

# user-accessible port
PORT = 8037

# reference time
TIME1970 = 2208988800L

# establish server
service = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_DGRAM)
service.bind(("", PORT))

print "listening on port", PORT

while 1:
    # serve forever
    data, client = service.recvfrom(0)
    print "connection from", client
    t = int(time.time()) + TIME1970
    t = struct.pack("!I", t)
    service.sendto(t, client) # send timestamp

listening on port 8037
connection from ('127.0.0.1', 1469)
connection from ('127.0.0.1', 1470)
...

The main difference is that the server uses bind to assign a known port number to the socket, and sends data back to the client address returned by recvfrom.