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A Beginners Guide to Socket Programming in C

Hi all👋🏽 This is my first blog. I never had thoughts about writing blogs. I then came across why beginners should start blogging as they learn new things here, so here we go.


My career began 6 months ago as a backend developer working on node.js and express👨‍💻. I was thoroughly enjoying this phase of learning and coding. Eventually the project got over and in the new project I was to work on socket programming.

I was more or less as clueless and sweating as this guy xD.
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But this was only in the beginning. Let's us go through the concepts of socket programming to feel better📈


  • A decent C programming experience.
  • Basic understanding of networking concepts.

Without wasting any time, let us start.

Socket Programming in C

What are Sockets?

Sockets allow communication between two different processes on the same or different machines.

What is socket programming?

Socket programming is a way of connecting two nodes on a network to communicate with each other. One socket (node) listens on a particular port at an IP, while other socket reaches out to the other to form a connection. Server forms the listener socket while client reaches out to the server.

What is Client-Server Communication?

Client/Server communication involves two components, namely a client and a server. There are usually multiple clients in communication with a single server. The clients send requests to the server and the server responds to the client requests.

Client is sometimes on and initiates requests to the server whenever interested. It needs to know the address of the server.

Server is always on and services requests from many clients. It doesn’t initiate contact with any clients.

How to use sockets?

  1. Set up a socket.
  2. Send and Receive the packets.
  3. Close the socket.

Typical Client Program Using TCP

  1. Set up a Socket (Prepare to communicate)
    1. Create a socket
    2. Determine server IP address and port number
    3. Initiate the connection to the server
  2. Send and receive packets (Exchange data with the server)
    1. Write data (i.e., request) to the socket
    2. Read data (i.e., response) from the socket
    3. Do stuff with the data (e.g., display a Web page)
  3. Close the socket.

Typical Server Program Using TCP

  1. Set up a Socket (Prepare to communicate)
    1. Create a socket s_listen (i.e., the listening socket)
    2. Associate server’s IP address and port no. with the socket
  2. Wait to hear from a client
    1. Indicate how many connections can be pending on the socket
    2. Accept an incoming connection from a client, create a new socket s_new for the client.
  3. Send and receive packets (Exchange data with the client over the new socket s_new)
    1. Read data (i.e., client request) from the socket
    2. Handle the request
    3. Write data (i.e., server response) to the socket
    4. Close the socket s_new
  4. Repeat 2.2-3.4 with the next connection request

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Let us see how each step is done.

1. Socket creation

Both client and server need to setup the socket
int socket (domain, type, protocol);
Returns a socket descriptor on success, -1 on failure.

  • domain
    • AF_INET for Ipv4
    • AF_INET6 for Ipv6
  • type
    • SOCK_DGRAM for UDP
  • protocol
    • 0

int sockfd = socket (AF_INET, SOCK_STREAM, 0);

2. Bind

Only the server needs to bind.
int bind (int sockfd, const struct sockaddr *my_addr, socklen_t addrlen);

  • sockfd is a file descriptor socket() that is returned.
  • my_addr
    struck sockaddr_in for IPv4

    struct sockaddr_in { 
    short sin_family; // e.g. AF_INET 
    unsigned short sin_port; // e.g. htons(3490)‏ 
    struct in_addr sin_addr; // see struct in_addr below 
    char sin_zero[8]; // zero this if you want to 

    struct in_addr

    struct in_addr { 
    unsigned long s_addr; // load with inet_aton()‏ 
  • addrlen is the size of the address structure

Example for bind()

struct sockaddr_in my_addr; 
int sockfd; 
if ((sockfd = socket (AF_INET, SOCK_STREAM, 0) < 0) {
    printf (Error while creating the socket\n);
bzero (&my_addr, sizeof(my_addr)); // zero structure out 
my_addr.sin_family = AF_INET; // match the socket() call
my_addr.sin_port = htons(5100); // specify port to listen on
my_addr.sin_addr.s_addr = htonl(INADDR_ANY); //allow the server to accept a client connection on any interface
if((bind(sockfd, (struct sockaddr *) &my_addr, sizeof(saddr)) < 0 {
    printf(Error in binding\n);

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3. Listen

Only the server needs to listen
int listen (int sockfd, int backlog)

  • backlog specifies the maximum number of pending connections the kernel should queue for the socket. Listen returns 0 if OK, -1 on error

4. Accept

Only the server can accept the incoming client connections.
int accept (int sockfd, struct sockaddr *fromaddr, socklen_t *addrlen)

  • fromaddr is a pointer to store the client address
  • addrlen is a pointer to store the returned size of addr. accept() takes the first connection off the queue for sockfd and create a new socket (the return value) for communicating with the client. accept() return a new socket descriptor if OK, -1 on error

5. Connect

The client need not bind, listen or accept. All client needs to do is to just connect to the server.
int connect (int sockfd, struct sockaddr *toaddr, socklen_t addrlen)

  • toaddr contains the IP address and port number of the serve
  • addrlen is length of the socket address structure connect() returns 0 if connection is successful and -1 on error

6. Sending and receiving the data

  • ssize_t read(int sockfd, void *buffer, size_t len)
    • Read up to n bytes from sockfd into buffer
    • Returns the number of bytes read on success (0 indicates end of file), -1 on error.

Example read (sockfd, buffer, sizeof(buffer));

  • ssize_t write(int sockfd, const void *buffer, size_t n)
    • Write up to n bytes from buffer to sockfd
    • Returns the number of bytes written on success, -1 on error.

Example write (sockfd, “Hello”, strlen(“Hello”));

7. Close

Don't forget to close the socket descriptor after all the effort we've put.
int close(int sockfd)

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If I could learn socket programming, you can too!
Happy Programming!!

Top comments (5)

ruppysuppy profile image
Tapajyoti Bose

Welcome to Dev and best of luck for your future blogs as well! :)

sanjayrv profile image

Thank you :)

ascyrax profile image
Suraj Singh Raman

helpful content

zhuang18 profile image

good content!! really short but clear, all to the point. thank you!!

yukikimoto profile image
Yuki Kimoto - SPVM Author

Are you interested in Perl/SPVM socket handling?