network programming

Steve Holden steve at
Mon Aug 22 14:29:12 CEST 2005

Tom Anderson wrote:
> On Sun, 21 Aug 2005, John Walton wrote:
>>Hello, everyone.  I just began school, and they already assigned us 
>>science fair.  Since I'm in 8th grade, I get to do demonstrations for 
>>our projects. I'm probably going to demonstrate Python's networking 
>>capabilities by writing a simple instant messenger program.  I only have 
>>a few problems:
>>1. I know squat about Python network Programming
>>2. I know nothing about networks
>>So if any of you know of a good Python Networking Tutorial or a website 
>>with lots of information on networks and networking, please reply. 
> There are two sides to this problem. The first is understanding networks 
> in general, and the specific application protocols you're interested in. 
> When i say 'understanding networks in general', don't panic - i don't mean 
> you need to understand everything about how the internet works. In fact, 
> you don't really need to understand *anything* about how the internet 
> works, you just need to understand the interfaces it exposes to you. And, 
> helpfully, that interface is pretty simple: a program can get a connection 
> to another program, running on a different machine, which amounts ot a 
> pipe for bytes - both ends can write bytes to the pipe when they feel like 
> it, and those bytes become available for the other end to read. To open 
> one of these connections, you need to know the hostname or IP address of 
> the computer at the far end, and something called a 'port number', which 
> is basically a way of identifying which program on that machine you want 
> to talk to; if you want other programs to be able to open connections to 
> your program, you have to pick a port number and ask the system to give 
> you any connections that are made to it.
> That's pretty much it for the network fundamentals. There is more - 
> datagram sockets, looking up IP addresses, doing funky things with sockets 
> - but you can forget about that until you've mastered the basics.
I tried to cover those basics as briefly as possible in the tutorial I 
mentioned earlier. I'd appreciate your comments on how well I succeeded.

> What you do need to understand beyond this, though, is about the 
> application protocol you're using. The network just gives you a way to 
> move streams of bytes; in order to actually do anything useful, you need 
> an agreement between the programs at either end of the connection about 
> what those bytes mean - that's an application protocol. It's basically a 
> file format as applied to a network connection instead of a file. Each 
> application protocol is completely different to every other one (well, 
> there are a lot of similarities, but they're mostly different), so you'll 
> need to read up on the one you want to use (or invent your own!) - the 
> documentation is (almost always) in the form of a document unhelpfully 
> called a Request For Comments, or RFC; the internet RFCs are published 
> here:
> For example, here's the RFC for HTTP version 1.0:
> RFCs can be pretty heavy going, but they are *the* definitive 
> specifications, so they're worth reading. Once you're used to them, 
> they're often easier to read than tutorials, i find.
Not for newbies, though very useful for ensuring high levels of 
interoperability (and fascinating when you start to realize that real 
products bend the RFCs in various ways).

> The second thing is understanding how to do network programming in python. 
> There's a well-established API in C for network programming - the socket 
> API - which comes from UNIX; python uses a fairly simple translation of 
> this as its network API (look in the 'socket' package). The good thing 
> about this is that this API is well-understood and well-documented. The 
> bad thing is that it's a bit of a mess (compare and contrast to the API in 
> Java if you don't believe me). There's detailed documentation for the 
> socket module here:

But then Java's a bit of a mess as a language when compared with Python, 
I should say. While I know the language has many adherents, it also 
seems to have many programmers who only know enough to follow recipes. 
This latter feature is a symptom of the language's popularity, so I 
suppose we should expect the same problems in about twenty years when 
Python becomes more popular than Java.

Steve Holden       +44 150 684 7255  +1 800 494 3119
Holden Web LLC   

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