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3.5 sockaddr Structure

Addressing information for an interface consists of more than a single host address. Net/3 maintains host, broadcast, and network masks in structures derived from a generic sockaddr structure. By using a generic structure, hardware and protocol-specific addressing details are hidden from the interface layer.

Figure 3.17 shows the current definition of the structure as well as the definition from earlier BSD releases—an osockaddr structure.

03fig17.gifFigure 3.17. sockaddr and osockaddr structures.

Figure 3.18 illustrates the organization of these structures.

03fig18.gifFigure 3.18. sockaddr and osockaddr structures (sa_ prefix dropped).

In many figures, we omit the common prefix in member names. In this case, we've dropped the sa_ prefix.

sockaddr structure


Every protocol has its own address format. Net/3 handles generic addresses in a sockaddr structure. sa_len specifies the length of the address (OSI and Unix domain protocols have variable-length addresses) and sa_family specifies the type of address. Figure 3.19 lists the address family constants that we encounter.

03fig19.gifFigure 3.19. sa_family constants.

The contents of a sockaddr when AF_UNSPEC is specified depends on the context. In most cases, it contains an Ethernet hardware address.

The sa_len and sa_family members allow protocol-independent code to manipulate variable-length sockaddr structures from multiple protocol families. The remaining member, sa_data, contains the address in a protocol-dependent format. sa_data is defined to be an array of 14 bytes, but when the sockaddr structure overlays a larger area of memory sa_data may be up to 253 bytes long. sa_len is only a single byte, so the size of the entire address including sa_len and sa_family must be less than 256 bytes.

This is a common C technique that allows the programmer to consider the last member in a structure to have a variable length.

Each protocol defines a specialized sockaddr structure that duplicates the sa_len and sa_family members but defines the sa_data member as required for that protocol. The address stored in sa_data is a transport address; it contains enough information to identify multiple communication end points on the same host. In Chapter 6 we look at the Internet address structure sockaddr_in, which consists of an IP address and a port number.

osockaddr structure


The osockaddr structure is the definition of a sockaddr before the 4.3BSD Reno release. Since the length of an address was not explicitly available in this definition, it was not possible to write protocol-independent code to handle variable-length addresses. The desire to include the OSI protocols, which utilize variable-length addresses, motivated the change in the sockaddr definition seen in Net/3. The osockaddr structure is supported for binary compatibility with previously compiled programs.

We have omitted the binary compatibility code from this text.

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