What are the domain and type arguments to the socket system call?

Here’s the socket system call:

#include <sys/socket.h>
int socket(int domain, int type, int protocol);

Those three arguments determine the protocol we want to use. Actually, the last argument alone - protocol - seems to fully determine the protocol. For example, 6 is the protocol number for TCP. The domain and type describe this protocol, and usually the combination of domain and type also fully determines the protocol, but not always.

It seems to be traditional to pass in the domain and type, and set protocol to 0, meaning the default protocol for the domain/type pair will be selected. (The man pages don’t actually describe this behavior, but various network guides do.) For example, this call creates a TCP socket:

int fd = socket(PF_INET, SOCK_STREAM, 0);

The domain PF_INET says “TCP operates in the internet protocol family”. PF means “protocol family”, and INET means “internet”. As far as I can tell, “protocol family” and The type SOCK_STREAM says “TCP provides an ordered, reliable, bidirectional byte stream”.

Most code actually uses AF_ rather than PF_, e.g. AF_INET. AF means “address family”, and the idea was that each “address family” could support several “protocol families”. This didn’t happen; e.g., IPv4 addresses only work in the internet protocol family. Guides say to just use the AF_ constants; the PF_ constants are aliased to the AF_ ones in all implementations.

Here are some more examples:

socket(AF_INET,      SOCK_STREAM,     0);               // Selects TCP
socket(AF_INET,      SOCK_STREAM,     6);               // Also selects TCP
socket(AF_INET,      SOCK_STREAM,     IPPROTO_TCP);     // Same as above; selects TCP
socket(AF_INET,      SOCK_DGRAM,      0);               // Selects UDP
socket(AF_INET,      SOCK_SEQPACKET,  0);               // Selects SCTP (not implemented on macOS)
socket(AF_BLUETOOTH, SOCK_STREAM,     BTPROTO_RFCOMM);  // Selects the Bluetooth RFCOMM protocol
Tagged #socket-programming, #c, #posix, #networking, #system-calls.

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