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Socket address structures are an integral part of every network program. We allocate them, fill them in, and pass pointers to them to various socket functions. Sometimes we pass a pointer to one of these structures to a socket function and it fills in the contents. We always pass these structures by reference (that is, we pass a pointer to the structure, not the structure itself), and we always pass the size of the structure as another argument. When a socket function fills in a structure, the length is also passed by reference, so that its value can be updated by the function. We call these value-result arguments.
Socket address structures are self-defining because they always begin with a field (the "family") that identifies the address family contained in the structure. Newer implementations that support variable-length socket address structures also contain a length field at the beginning, which contains the length of the entire structure.
The two functions that convert IP addresses between presentation format (what we write, such as ASCII characters) and numeric format (what goes into a socket address structure) are inet_pton and inet_ntop. Although we will use these two functions in the coming chapters, they are protocol-dependent. A better technique is to manipulate socket address structures as opaque objects, knowing just the pointer to the structure and its size. We used this method to develop a set of sock_ functions that helped to make our programs protocol-independent. We will complete the development of our protocol-independent tools in Chapter 11 with the getaddrinfo and getnameinfo functions.
TCP sockets provide a byte stream to an application: There are no record markers. The return value from a read can be less than what we asked for, but this does not indicate an error. To help read and write a byte stream, we developed three functions, readn, writen, and readline, which we will use throughout the text. However, network programs should be written to act on buffers rather than lines.
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