The application layer consists of what most users think of as
programs. The application does the actual work at hand. Although
each application is different, some applications are so useful that
they have become standardized.
The Internet has defined standards for:
- File transfer (FTP):
- Connect to a remote machine and send or
fetch an arbitrary file. FTP deals with authentication, listing a
directory contents, ascii or binary files, etc.
- Remote login (telnet):
- A remote terminal protocol that
allows a user at one site to establish a TCP connection to another
site, and then pass keystrokes from the local host to the remote
- Mail (SMTP):
- Allow a mail delivery agent on a local machine
to connect to a mail delivery agent on a remote machine and deliver
- News (NNTP):
- Allows communication between a news server and a news
- Web (HTTP):
- Base protocol for communication on the World Wide Web.
Electronic mail is by far the most popular network service. There are
two parts to electronic mail systems:
- User agent:
- The user interface to the mail system. The
user agent accesses messages stored in a system mailbox, provides ways
to view, edit, and reply to messages, etc. The user agent can be as
simple as having the user use a text editor to create a file that the
user agent hands to the message transfer agent.
Sample agents in Unix: /bin/Mail, mh, elm, and the
emacs rmail package.
- Message transfer agent (MTA):
- Software that transports
messages created by a user to destination mailboxes, possibly
on remote machines.
The MTA's job is more complex than other applications:
- It must handle temporary failures; if a destination machine is
temporarily unavailable, it must spool the message on the local
machine for later delivery. Thus, the User Agent typically just
deposits messages into a spool area.
- It must distinguish between local and remote recipients.
- It may have to deliver copies of a message to several machines.
- It may allow mixing text, voice, and video in a message as well as
appending documents and files to a message.
Mail addresses consist of:
- mailbox names:
- The name of a specific mailbox. Usually,
a mailbox is associated with one login id.
- symbolic names:
- The name of a service rather than a
specific user. For instance, ``postmaster'' is universally
recognized as an address for mail problems. Symbolic names are
aliases for specific mailbox(s).
- group names (mail exploders):
- An alias for a set of
How does an MTA know what to do with mail?
It consults an internal database that specifies how
the mail address should be interpreted.
The Internet includes a standard for mail delivery called the
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).
The protocol itself is surprisingly simple; because it uses TCP, much
of the hard work is handled by lower-level protocols.
To deliver mail, the MTA opens a TCP connection to a destination site,
and sends it the message. The remote MTA deposits the message
in its spool area, and returns an acknowledgment ONLY after it has
saved the message in stable storage. The sender removes its copy
ONLY after it has received the acknowledgment.
If the destination is unavailable, the MTA tries again later. If
a message cannot be delivered in (say) 3 days, an error is returned to
Internet mail has an important advantage over other mail
systems (e.g., uucp or bitnet): Because it is
an end-to-end delivery system, it is inherently more reliable
than other systems.
In contrast, systems utilizing message switching can only
guarantee that a message gets to an intermediate destination.
In uucp, one specifies a list of machines (e.g.,
``mcvax!enidbo!cxr''). The local MTA delivers the message to machine
mcvax and deletes it from the local spool area.
Unfortunately, we now no longer have a copy of the message, and it has not
yet reached the destination machine enidbo. In short, anything
- Machine mcvax might crash and lose the message (without reporting
- The message could be delayed hours or days.
- Worst of all, neither sender nor recipient can find out what
the status of the message is.
Within the Internet, all mail addresses have the same form:
local-part@domain-name. Is domain-name a machine name?
No. Rather than referring to a machine name, domain-name
refers to an MX record in the DNS.
Local-part refers to anything to the left of the ``@'' and can
be the name of a user, the name of a mailing list, etc.
Internet addresses only specify the syntax of addresses, not
their semantics. For example:
- Specifies a domain name of
cs.wpi.edu and local-part cew.
- Specifies a domain
name of cs.purdue.edu, and a local part of
cew%cs.wpi.edu. The MTA would deliver the mail to
purdue, which would process the mail based on the local-part.
- The MTA delivers the
message to uunet.UU.NET, uunet then inspects the local
Uunet.UU.NET uses the convention that ``!'' characters in the
local part refer to uucp path names. Note that this is a convention
only -- many sites do not interpret ``!'' in this way, and there is
no requirement that they do so.
The mail to a bitnet site demonstrates the need for mail
gateways, gateways that accept mail messages from one network
type (e.g. Internet) and send them across another (e.g. bitnet).
- Are used when the sender and recipient cannot communicate
directly using common transport protocols.
- Hide the details of multiple incompatible networks from users.
- Increase the complexity of an MTA, which now has to be able to
translate selected addresses into other forms. An MTA may need to
translate an internet address into a Bitnet address, for instance.
SMTP deals with transferring mail from one MTA to another. It
only concerns itself with transferring mail from one machine to
another. Surprisingly, the SMTP protocol is quite simple. It uses
the query response model, and only a few message types are defined.
The hard work is handled by TCP.
SMTP commands consist of human-readable ascii strings.
Responses begin with a 3-digit number (used by the SMTP
program), followed by a string (used as comments for
users), and a terminating newline character. Each
command has a corresponding response:
- Initiate a mail transaction, identifying the sender to
Typical response: ``250 OK''.
- MAIL FROM: ;SPMlt;reverse-path;SPMgt;:
- Tells the remote SMTP that
a new mail transaction is beginning. A single TCP connection can
be used to serially process a set of message exchanges between a pair
Reverse-path specifies where errors should be sent to,
allowing error messages to be forwarded to a system administrator
rather than the sender. This feature is especially useful in large
mailing lists, where errors about undeliverable mail should go to the
list maintainer rather than a sender.
Typical response: ``250 OK''.
- RCPT TO:;SPMlt;forward-path;SPMgt;:
- Forward-path specifies a
single recipient of the message. Forward-path is the
``local part'' of a mail address, and can be a user, mail list, etc.
The sending SMTP sends a RCPT command for each intended
Typical responses: ``250 OK'', ``251 User not local; will forward to
;SPMlt;forward-path;SPMgt;'', or ``550 No such user''.
- If accepted, the sender transfers the actual
message. End-of-message is indicated by sending a ``.'' on a line by
Typical response: ``250 OK''. When can sender delete message
from its queue? The sender does not delete its copy of the
message until after receiving the 250 reply.
- Terminate the connection.
The following example shows mail sent by walnut
through owl to cs.purdue.edu.
220-owl.WPI.EDU Sendmail 8.6.12 ready at Wed, 24 Apr 1996 11:10:06 -0400
220 ESMTP spoken here
>>> EHLO walnut.WPI.EDU
250-owl.WPI.EDU Hello walnut.WPI.EDU [188.8.131.52], pleased to meet you
>>> MAIL From:<cew@walnut.WPI.EDU> SIZE=91
250 <cew@walnut.WPI.EDU>... Sender ok
>>> RCPT To:<firstname.lastname@example.org>
250 <email@example.com>... Recipient ok
354 Enter mail, end with "." on a line by itself
250 LAA27806 Message accepted for delivery
firstname.lastname@example.org... Sent (LAA27806 Message accepted for delivery)
Closing connection to owl.wpi.edu.
221 owl.WPI.EDU closing connection
Miscellaneous SMTP commands:
- Turn the line around. When the client has finished
sending mail, the TURN command switches the sender and receiver,
allowing the receiver to start sending messages without having to
terminate and reestablish a connection.
- expand a mailbox name into its aliases.
Note: Is mail authenticated? No. It is trivial to fool SMTP
into accepting forged messages. SMTP makes no attempt to authenticate
A remote login facility allows a user to establish a login session to
a remote machine and then execute commands. Implementing a remote
login facility is not as trivial as might seem:
Telnet is an Internet standard remote login protocol that
connects a local terminal with a remote login session. It copies
keystrokes to the remote machine and copies output from the remote
machine to the local terminal. Telnet provides three
- Telnet defines a Network Virtual Terminal
(NVT) standard that describes a standard terminal. Client
programs interact with the NVT, and the server translates NVT
operations into ones specific to the actual hardware/operating
- Telnet allows the two ends of the connection to negotiate
options with one another. Option negotiation allows both ends
to agree on a common level of service.
- Telnet treats both ends of a connection symmetrically allowing
both ends to be programs.
To handle heterogeneity, telnet defines how data and command
sequences are represented. The client translates keystrokes
into NVT format and sends them the server. The server translates NVT
operations into the appropriate local representation.
All telnet operations are sent as 8-bit bytes:
- Bytes with a first bit of zero are treated as normal 7-bit ascii
- Printable ascii characters have standard meanings, and the
meaning of control characters is specified to eliminate ambiguities.
- Bytes with the high order bit set are used for command sequences.
- The two-character sequence CR-LF delimits records.
Telnet defines the following commands:
- Interrupt process (IP):
- Terminate the running program.
- Abort output (AO):
- Discard any buffered output.
- Are you there (AYT):
- Allows client to send and out-of-band
query to verify the remote end is still there.
- Erase character (EC):
- Erase the previous character.
- Erase line (EL):
- Delete the entire current line.
- Clear data path to remote party.
- Equivalent of the BREAK or ATTENTION key.
To send a command, telnet sends the escape sequence
Interpret As Command (IAC) followed by the 1-byte
command. The IAC has a value of 0xff (and must be escaped when
it appears in the data).
Sending control functions is not always enough to guarantee the
desired results. Consider the following scenario:
- If the remote program is in a loop, it may never read input or
- If the client continues sending output, the server's receive
buffer will fill, and the server will eventual advertise a TCP
flow-control window of size 0. Further data sent to the server
will remain in buffered at the sender.
- What if the client now sends an ``interrupt process'' command?
It will never be delivered because the client is no longer allowed to
send new data. The command stays in the sender's buffer.
Telnet solves this problem by using the TCP urgent
pointer mechanism to send an out-of-band signal. When it
sends the interrupt process command, it directs TCP to set
the urgent pointer to the IAC command. TCP then sends a segment (that
doesn't necessarily have data in it) with the urgent pointer set. The
remote TCP then alerts the remote telnet of the urgent data,
which proceeds to process it.
Note: The TCP urgent mechanism specification requires that the
operating system provide a mechanism for asynchronously notifying a
process of the presence of urgent data; Unix uses the SIGURG
Telnet allows either end of a connection to negotiate the use of
Option processing is interesting because either end can request the
use of an option.
To request an option, side A sends a ``Will X'' option request.
The remote side responds with ``Do X'' or ``Don't X'',
indicating that it will or will not participate in the requested
option. If an option is accepted, it become effective immediately
after the ``DO X'' in the data stream.
Actual option negotiation takes place in two steps. At the top
level, two telnet processes negotiate as to whether they are willing
to negotiate an option. If the answer is yes, further option-specific
subnegotiation takes place to exchange the actual option information.
Note: Telnet servers using newer options coexist with older
servers; they negotiate the use of new options with newer
servers, while older server respond ``Won't X'' for any option X they
do not understand.
- Use an 8-bit instead of 7-bit data path. This allows the
transmission of non-ascii data.
- Full duplex vs. half duplex operation.
- Local editing. That is, have the local telnet perform
echoing, erase, etc., and only send complete lines. This can save a
tremendous amount of bandwidth.
Another option allows the remote side to specify what characters
indicate ``end of command''.
- Specify mappings of characters to interrupt functions.
For example, map ctrl-C into the abort command.
- Determine the size (rows and columns) of the terminal.
Berkeley Unix includes a set of network applications that support the
idea of a set of trusted hosts. System administrators define a
set of machines that can be trusted, allowing users within the set of
machines to dispense with explicit authentication (e.g., typing
In the CS Department, for instance, all Sun machines belong to one
set, allowing users to rlogin from one workstation to
another without providing passwords.
Unix includes several rsh (``r-shell'') programs:
- Similar to telnet, but tailored to the Unix
environment. For instance:
Many of the weaknesses in telnet relative to rlogin
have been fixed in the past several years.
- It doesn't require use of password when logging into another
machine in the set of trusted hosts.
- Users can augment the default set of trusted hosts
by adding (machine name, user id) pairs to the file .rhosts.
For example, the .rhosts file for the cs4514 account on
wpi could contain the entry: ``walnut.wpi.edu cew''.
- It exports the terminal type (e.g., the TERM variable) to the
remote machine. (Note: telnet only recently added the option necessary
to achieve this.)
- Handles CTRL-S and CTRL-Q locally, so that output is stopped
immediately. Recall that with telnet, CTRL-S is not processed
by the local client at all; it is sent to the remote telnet,
introducing a significant delay between entering CTRL-S and having the
- Execute a remote command. For example, ``rsh eve
ls'' executes the ``ls'' command on eve.
- Copy a file from one machine to another. Analogous
to cp, but filenames can be prepended with ``machine:'' to
specify files on remote machines. One advantage that rcp has
over FTP is that since rcp assumes both machine run Unix, it
can set the permissions of the copied file properly. FTP is unable to
do that because permissions generally have differing interpretations
on different vendor's machines.
There are two basic approaches to remote file access:
- On-line access:
- Multiple programs running on different machines
concurrently access a single file located on a file server.
When accessing a file, an application operates on pieces of the
file rather than the entire file. In addition, the server (and its
associated protocols) may be able to guarantee each client sees the
same version of a file.
This approach is typified by Sun's Network File System (NFS).
- Whole file copying:
- An application fetches a copy of the
entire file from a remote server, and then operates on the local copy.
If the operating system provides access to remote files exactly like
it provides access to local files, we say that the remote files are
integrated with local files and that the file system provides
transparent access. The advantages of transparent on-line
access should be obvious:
- Users use the same programs to access local and remote files.
- Files needed by many machines can be shared, reducing
the amount of disk space needed. For example, binaries to
popular programs such as emacs.
- Users can access their files, regardless of which particular
machine they log into.
However, there also disadvantages:
- If an application uses both local and remote files, an
application may not work, even if the local machine is running.
That is, we still have a central point of failure.
- Performance degrades when the network or remote server becomes
The alternative to transparent access is to provide application
programs to copy files between local and remote machines. The
Internet defines one such application, File Transfer
Protocol (FTP). FTP provides:
- Interactive access:
- Users interact with a remote server,
issuing commands such as ``ls'', ``chdir'', ``put'', ``get'', etc.
- The User specifies the type of file being transferred,
allowing the transfer of ASCII or EBCDIC text files, binary data, etc.
- User must present account and password before
being given access to the remote system.
Unlike other applications, FTP uses two TCP connections to do its work:
- Control connection:
- The first connection is used by an
interactive front end for command processing.
Moreover, rather than defining a new protocol, FTP uses a
restricted form of telnet (e.g., no option negotiation)
for the control connection.
- Transfer connection:
- A second connection is used for the
actual transfer of data (e.g., files, output from ``ls''
One interesting aspect of FTP is its selection of TCP port numbers for
the data connection. For the control connection, a client picks any
unused local port number and connects to the well-known FTP port
on the remote system. The server accepts control connection requests
from any machine.
For the transfer connection, however, the server should only accept a
connection from the user at the other end of the control connection.
Thus, the remote FTP client picks a local port number and sends it to
the server via the control connection. The server than accepts
a connection request, but specifies that the remote address must match
that received over the control port.
Typically, a user connecting to an FTP server must specify an account
and password. Often, it is convenient to set up a special account in
which no password is needed. Such systems provide a service
called anonymous FTP:
- When asked for an account and password, the user uses an id of
``anonymous'' and password ``guest''. (Or any password for that
matter. The user's Internet mailing address is the preferred
- The account generally has restricted privileges; in
Unix systems, for instance, anonymous FTP users can only access
files within the restricted directory of the FTP account.
- Anonymous ftp is a convention and must be setup by a system
The following shows a sample FTP session used to fetch X software from MIT:
< sequoia >ftp ftp.cs.usask.ca
Connected to clotho.usask.ca.
220 clotho FTP server (UNIX(r) System V Release 4.0) ready.
Name (ftp.cs.usask.ca:cew): anonymous
331 Guest login ok, send ident as password.
230 Guest login ok, access restrictions apply.
200 PORT command successful.
150 ASCII data connection for /bin/ls (184.108.40.206,1467) (0 bytes).
226 ASCII Transfer complete.
37 bytes received in 0.016 seconds (2.3 Kbytes/s)
ftp> cd pub
250 CWD command successful.
ftp> ls -CF
200 PORT command successful.
150 ASCII data connection for /bin/ls (220.127.116.11,1469) (0 bytes).
111/ cmpt250/ eric/ pc99/ yang/
115/ combi/ geometry/ publications/
UofS_local/ defaults/ grassman/ rsmith.tar
aries/ discus/ keil/ sailor/
carey/ envlop/ microweb/ software/
226 ASCII Transfer complete.
294 bytes received in 0.016 seconds (18 Kbytes/s)
200 Type set to I.
ftp> get rsmith.tar
200 PORT command successful.
150 Binary data connection for rsmith.tar (18.104.22.168,1470) (55296 bytes).
226 Binary Transfer complete.
local: rsmith.tar remote: rsmith.tar
55296 bytes received in 3.8 seconds (14 Kbytes/s)
The Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP)
is another Internet standard for transferring files. It differs from
FTP in the following ways:
- It is based on UDP rather than TCP and is a basic stop-and-wait
protocol with acknowledgments and retransmissions.
- It has no authentication.
- It is small enough that it fits in workstation and PC read-only
memories (ROMs). Thus, workstations can use standard
Internet protocols to bootstrap off of file servers.
Indeed, Sun diskless workstations boot as follows:
- Use RARP to obtain their Internet addresses.
- Use TFTP to download a copy of the operating system into memory.
- Start execution.
The protocol itself is exceedingly simple:
- The first datagram identifies the name of a file, and specifies
whether the file is to be fetched or sent.
- Datagrams are numbered sequentially, and each datagram
containing 512 bytes of data.
End-of-data is signaled by a datagram containing less than 512 data
- Datagrams contain a sequence number and are either ACK or DATA
Sun's NFS has become a de facto standard for remote file
systems. It provides online, transparent, integrated file access.
Because it is RPC-based, users access remote files in the
same way as local files. Clients invoke operations on the file server
solely through RPCs.
For instance, to open a file, an application issues an open
system call specifying the file to be opened. If the file is
local, the operating system processes the open request as normal. If
the file is located on a remote another server, the operating system
issues an RPC to the server.
A read system call is translated into an RPC request for the
relevant data blocks of the file.
Some interesting issues in building NFS:
- NFS is an interface to a virtual file
system. Although it is used primarily in Unix, it can also be
used to access files in other operating systems.
- RPC and XDR had to be moved from user-level library routines into the
operating system kernel, because any file-related system
calls might translate into a server request.
- For fault tolerance, file servers should be stateless.
That is, the server shouldn't maintain any information between
subsequent client calls needed to satisfy a request -- if the server
were to crash, the state would be lost and the request could not be
In other words, an RPC's arguments should contain all information
needed to satisfy a request.
- Client RPC calls were designed to be idempotent. Is this
possible given a stateless server? No. For example, what
happens if a client invokes an RPC to delete a file, gets no response,
and retransmits the request. If the request is executed once, the file
will be deleted. If executed twice, the second request will result in
an error -- non-existent file. Without maintaining state, the server
has no way of knowing whether a request is new or a retransmission.
- Clients must first mount a remote file system onto the
local file tree before accessing remote files. The mount operation
allows the server to authenticate the client. Note, however,
that authentication is based on the IP address of the client, a weak
form of authentication.
- The first version of NFS was very slow. Adding a small cache of
recently used file pages to the client speeded up execution.
(Files being written are flushed to the server when a file is closed.)
- Further study showed that 90% of the client-server RPCs were
for the getattr routine (e.g., Unix stat). Adding a
client cache of recent responses reduced traffic to 10%.
Like many industry-originated de facto standards, NFS exhibits
significant technical problems:
- Cache coherency:
Using caches to improve performance is a well known technique. A big
problem is cache coherence.
What happens if two machines access the same file, one writing it, and
the other reading it? They interfere with each other, because
NFS's caching strategy isn't sophisticated enough to turn off
- NFS performs authentication based on the
sender's IP address (servers maintain a list of ``trusted''
machines), and each RPC packet contains an authentication field.
In the Unix environment, the authentication field contains the sender's
machine name, user id, group id, and a list of the groups the user is
a member of. When a server gets an RPC request, it (naively?) assumes
that the information is valid. Thus, in theory, anyone with a PC or
workstation that can send arbitrary packets is able to impersonate a
legitimate user. For instance, an imposter could claim to be some
other user, and then send a sequence of packets to open a file and
then read arbitrary data from the file.
NFS does include hooks for using DES encryption, but special hardware
- UDP-based transport protocol:
- RPC uses UDP rather than a
true transport protocol. One result has been implementations that
work across LANs, but not WANs.
- Yellow pages:
- Sun workstations use a distributed database
system called yellow pages. The idea is to have a single
server manage such information as passwords, and translating host
names to host addresses.
Unfortunately, yellow pages is unable to return temporary failure
indications, such as when using the DNS.
Despite its technical problems, NFS is tremendously popular and
Built on the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP).
Addressing a key. Done through a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
Form of a URL: protocol://hostname/file
Look at sample of what happens.
Other protocols can be used (see Fig. 7-63).
Language used is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). Can include
Forms, scripts (commands to generate a page).
``Holy grail of computing''--lots of technical challenges, lots of
Generally concerned about continuous media--audio and video.
Particular characteristics of each in the text.
Data compression is important to reduce the amount of data sent.
JPEG--used to compress still pictures.
MPEG--used to compress videos. Four kinds of frames (MPEG-1):
- I (intracoded) frames: self-contained JPEG images
- P (predictive) frames: block-by-block difference with last frame
- B (bidirectional) frames: difference with last and next frame
- D (DC-coded): block averages used for fast forward