socket() - Unix, Linux System Call
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socket() - Unix, Linux System Call

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socket - create an endpoint for communication


#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/socket.h>

int socket(int domain, int type, int protocol);


socket() creates an endpoint for communication and returns a descriptor.

The domain parameter specifies a communication domain; this selects the protocol family which will be used for communication. These families are defined in <sys/socket.h>. The currently understood formats include:

NamePurposeMan page
Local communication
IPv4 Internet protocols
IPv6 Internet protocols 
IPX - Novell protocols 
Kernel user interface device
ITU-T X.25 / ISO-8208 protocol
Amateur radio AX.25 protocol  
Access to raw ATM PVCs 
Low level packet interface

The socket has the indicated type, which specifies the communication semantics. Currently defined types are:

  Provides sequenced, reliable, two-way, connection-based byte streams. An out-of-band data transmission mechanism may be supported.
  Supports datagrams (connectionless, unreliable messages of a fixed maximum length).
  Provides a sequenced, reliable, two-way connection-based data transmission path for datagrams of fixed maximum length; a consumer is required to read an entire packet with each read system call.
  Provides raw network protocol access.
  Provides a reliable datagram layer that does not guarantee ordering.
  Obsolete and should not be used in new programs; see packet(7).
Some socket types may not be implemented by all protocol families; for example, SOCK_SEQPACKET is not implemented for AF_INET.

The protocol specifies a particular protocol to be used with the socket. Normally only a single protocol exists to support a particular socket type within a given protocol family, in which case protocol can be specified as 0. However, it is possible that many protocols may exist, in which case a particular protocol must be specified in this manner. The protocol number to use is specific to the “communication domain” in which communication is to take place; see protocols(5). See getprotoent(3) on how to map protocol name strings to protocol numbers.

Sockets of type SOCK_STREAM are full-duplex byte streams, similar to pipes. They do not preserve record boundaries. A stream socket must be in a connected state before any data may be sent or received on it. A connection to another socket is created with a connect(2) call. Once connected, data may be transferred using read(2) and write(2) calls or some variant of the send(2) and recv(2) calls. When a session has been completed a close(2) may be performed. Out-of-band data may also be transmitted as described in send(2) and received as described in recv(2).

The communications protocols which implement a SOCK_STREAM ensure that data is not lost or duplicated. If a piece of data for which the peer protocol has buffer space cannot be successfully transmitted within a reasonable length of time, then the connection is considered to be dead. When SO_KEEPALIVE is enabled on the socket the protocol checks in a protocol-specific manner if the other end is still alive. A SIGPIPE signal is raised if a process sends or receives on a broken stream; this causes naive processes, which do not handle the signal, to exit. SOCK_SEQPACKET sockets employ the same system calls as SOCK_STREAM sockets. The only difference is that read(2) calls will return only the amount of data requested, and any data remaining in the arriving packet will be discarded. Also all message boundaries in incoming datagrams are preserved.

SOCK_DGRAM and SOCK_RAW sockets allow sending of datagrams to correspondents named in sendto(2) calls. Datagrams are generally received with recvfrom(2), which returns the next datagram along with the address of its sender.

SOCK_PACKET is an obsolete socket type to receive raw packets directly from the device driver. Use packet(7) instead.

An fcntl(2) F_SETOWN operation can be used to specify a process or process group to receive a SIGURG signal when the out-of-band data arrives or SIGPIPE signal when a SOCK_STREAM connection breaks unexpectedly. This operation may also be used to set the process or process group that receives the I/O and asynchronous notification of I/O events via SIGIO. Using F_SETOWN is equivalent to an ioctl(2) call with the FIOSETOWN or SIOCSPGRP argument.

When the network signals an error condition to the protocol module (e.g., using a ICMP message for IP) the pending error flag is set for the socket. The next operation on this socket will return the error code of the pending error. For some protocols it is possible to enable a per-socket error queue to retrieve detailed information about the error; see IP_RECVERR in ip(7) .

The operation of sockets is controlled by socket level options. These options are defined in <sys/socket.h>. The functions setsockopt(2) and getsockopt(2) are used to set and get options, respectively.


On success, a file descriptor for the new socket is returned. On error, -1 is returned, and errno is set appropriately.


EACCES Permission to create a socket of the specified type and/or protocol is denied.
  The implementation does not support the specified address family.
EINVAL Unknown protocol, or protocol family not available.
EMFILE Process file table overflow.
ENFILE The system limit on the total number of open files has been reached.
  Insufficient memory is available. The socket cannot be created until sufficient resources are freed.
  The protocol type or the specified protocol is not supported within this domain.
Other errors may be generated by the underlying protocol modules.


4.4BSD, POSIX.1-2001. socket() appeared in 4.2BSD. It is generally portable to/from non-BSD systems supporting clones of the BSD socket layer (including System V variants).


The manifest constants used under 4.x BSD for protocol families are PF_UNIX, PF_INET, etc., while AF_UNIX etc. are used for address families. However, already the BSD man page promises: "The protocol family generally is the same as the address family", and subsequent standards use AF_* everywhere.


SOCK_UUCP is not implemented yet.


\(lqAn Introductory 4.3BSD Interprocess Communication Tutorial\(rq is reprinted in UNIX Programmer’s Supplementary Documents Volume 1.

\(lqBSD Interprocess Communication Tutorial\(rq is reprinted in UNIX Programmer’s Supplementary Documents Volume 1.

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