What does all this stuff about "client-server" mean ?
Everybody says that X has a "client-server" architecture. So this must
be true, but what does it mean ?
Well, basically a client-server architecture is conceptually a simple
thing, but the consequences may be a bit subtle, especially the way it
is implemented in the Xlib.
What is a client-server architecture ?
A client-server architecture is a general mechanism for handling a
shared resource that several programs may want to access
simultaneously. In the case of X, the shared resources are the drawing
area and the input channel. If every process was allowed to write on
it at its will, several processes may want to draw at the same place,
resulting in an unpredictable chaos. Thus, only one process is allowed
to get access to the drawing area: the X server. The processes wanting
to draw stuff or get inputs send requests to the X servers (they are
"clients"). They do this over a communication channel. The X server
performs the requests for its clients, and sends them back replies. It
may also send messages without explicit client's requests to keep them
informed of what is going on. These messages sent by the server on its
own behalf are called "events".
Advantages of the client-server architecture
The client-server architecture has several advantages, many of them
resulting from the ability to run the server and the clients on
separate machines. Here are some advantages:
- A client-server architectured system can be very robust: since
the server runs in its own address space, it can protect itself
against poorly written clients. Thus, if a client has a bug, it
will crash alone, the server and the other clients still running
as if nothing has happened.
- The client and the server don't have to run on the same machine,
so we have some communication mechanism here.
- The client and the server may run on separate machines, resulting
in a better load distribution (possibly).
- The client and the server don't have to run on the same hardware,
operating system, etc., giving a better interoperability.
Structure of the X client-server architecture
As we already mentioned, the server and a client communicates over a
communication channel. This channel is composed of two layers: the
low-level one, which is responsible for carrying bytes in a reliable
way (that is with no loss nor duplication). This link may be among
others a named pipe in the Unix environment, a DECNet link and of
course a TCP/IP connection.
The upper layer use the byte-transport channel to implement a
higher-level protocol: the X protocol. This protocol says how to tell
the server to request window creation, graphics drawing, and so on,
and how the server answers and sends events. The protocol itself is
separated into different parts:
[to be continued].
- How to connect and how to break a connection,
- how to represent the different data types,
- what are the requests and what they mean and
- what are the replies and what they mean.
Christophe Tronche, firstname.lastname@example.org