Connecting to and Monitoring Network Services

This chapter describes how to connect to a Bonjour-advertised service. There are two occasions when you might need to connect to a Bonjour service:

In either case, the way you connect to the service is the same. There are three ways to connect to a service, listed in order of preference:

These techniques are described in the sections that follow. In addition, the section Persisting a Bonjour Service describes how to properly store information about a service for later reuse, and the section Monitoring a Bonjour Service explains how a Bonjour service can provide additional information that clients can passively monitor without connecting to the service.

Connecting with Streams

If you are connecting using Foundation’s raw TCP stream API (as opposed to a higher-level API, such as NSURLConnection), the most straightforward way to connect to a service is with a connect-to-service API, such as getInputStream:outputStream:.

This method provides a reference to an input stream (NSInputStream) and an output stream (NSOutputStream), both of which you may access synchronously or asynchronously. To interact asynchronously, you must schedule the streams in the current run loop and assign them a delegate object. These streams provide a general-purpose means of communicating with TCP-based network services that is not tied to any specific protocol (such as HTTP).

Listing 4-1 demonstrates how to connect to a network service (NSNetService) using streams. Note that if you require only one of the two streams, you should pass NULL for the other parameter so that you do not get the other stream back. For a complete example of service resolution using NSStream objects, see the PictureSharing sample code project in the Mac Developer Library.

Listing 4-1  Connecting to a resolved Bonjour network service

#import <sys/socket.h>
#import <netinet/in.h>
// ...
NSNetService *service;  // Assume this exists. For instance, you may
                        // have received it from an NSNetServiceBrowser
                        // delegate callback.
NSInputStream *istream = nil;
NSOutputStream *ostream = nil;
[service getInputStream:&istream outputStream:&ostream];
if (istream && ostream)
    // Use the streams as you like for reading and writing.
    NSLog(@"Failed to acquire valid streams");

Connecting by Name

If you are connecting to a Bonjour service using a higher-level API such as NSURLConnection, you should connect using the service’s hostname.

You can obtain the hostname for a Bonjour service by resolving the service and then calling the hostName method on the NSNetService object. Then, pass that hostname and port to the appropriate API, just as you would any other hostname.

The Resolution Process

When Bonjour resolves a service, it does two things:

  • Looks up the service name information to get a hostname and port number.

  • Looks up the hostname to provide a set of IP addresses.

Because resolution can take time, especially if the service is unavailable, NSNetService resolves asynchronously, providing information to your app through a delegate object.

To resolve and use an NSNetService instance, your app must do four things:

  1. Obtain an NSNetService instance through initialization or service discovery.

  2. Resolve the service.

  3. Respond to messages sent to the object’s delegate about addresses or errors.

  4. Use the resulting addresses or hostname to connect to the service.

Obtaining and Resolving an NSNetService Object

You can obtain an NSNetService object representing the service you want to connect to in one of two ways:

  • Use NSNetServiceBrowser to discover services.

  • Initialize a new NSNetService object with the name, type, and domain of a service that is known to exist, usually saved from a previous browsing session.

For information about service browsing, see Browsing for Network Services.

To create an NSNetService object for resolution rather than publication, use the initWithDomain:type:name: method.

Once you have an NSNetService object to resolve, assign it a delegate and use the resolveWithTimeout: method to asynchronously resolve the service. When resolution is complete, the delegate receives a netServiceDidResolveAddress: message upon success or a netService:didNotResolve: message if an error occurred. Because the delegate receives the identity of the NSNetService object as part of the delegate method, one delegate can serve multiple NSNetService objects.

Listing 4-2 demonstrates how to initialize and resolve an NSNetService object for a hypothetical music-sharing service. The code initializes the object with the name serviceName, with the type _music._tcp, and with the link-local suffix local.. It then assigns it a delegate and asks it to resolve the name into socket addresses.

Listing 4-2  Resolving network services with NSNetService

id delegateObject = [[NetServiceResolutionDelegate alloc] init]; // Defined below
NSString *serviceName = ...;
NSNetService *service;
service = [[NSNetService alloc] initWithDomain:@"local." type:@"_music._tcp"
[service setDelegate:delegateObject];
[service resolveWithTimeout:5.0];

Implementing Delegate Methods for Resolution

NSNetService returns resolution results to its delegate. If you are resolving a service, your delegate object should implement the following methods:

  • netServiceDidResolveAddress:

  • netService:didNotResolve:

Assuming that you are connecting by hostname, you can request that information as soon as your delegate’s netServiceDidResolveAddress: is first called. Be careful, though, because this method can be called more than once. (The reason is explained further in Connecting to a Bonjour Service by IP Address.)

If resolution fails for any reason, the netService:didNotResolve: method is called. If the delegate receives a netService:didNotResolve: message, you should extract the type of error from the returned dictionary using the NSNetServicesErrorCode key and handle the error accordingly. For a list of possible errors, see NSNetService Class Reference.

Listing 4-3 shows the interface for a class that acts as a delegate for multiple NSNetService objects, and Listing 4-4 shows its implementation. You can use this code as a starting point for more sophisticated tracking of resolved services.

Listing 4-3  Interface for an NSNetService delegate object used when resolving the service

#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>
@interface NetServiceResolutionDelegate : NSObject <NSNetServiceDelegate>
    // Keeps track of services handled by this delegate
    NSMutableArray *services;
// Other methods
- (BOOL)addressesComplete:(NSArray *)addresses
        forServiceType:(NSString *)serviceType;
- (void)handleError:(NSNumber *)error withService:(NSNetService *)service;

Listing 4-4  Implementation for an NSNetService delegate object (resolution)

#import "NetServiceResolutionDelegate.h"
@implementation NetServiceResolutionDelegate
- (id)init
    self = [super init];
    if (self) {
        services = [[NSMutableArray alloc] init];
    return self;
// Sent when addresses are resolved
- (void)netServiceDidResolveAddress:(NSNetService *)netService
    // Make sure [netService addresses] contains the
    // necessary connection information
    if ([self addressesComplete:[netService addresses]
            forServiceType:[netService type]]) {
        [services addObject:netService];
// Sent if resolution fails
- (void)netService:(NSNetService *)netService
        didNotResolve:(NSDictionary *)errorDict
    [self handleError:[errorDict objectForKey:NSNetServicesErrorCode] withService:netService];
    [services removeObject:netService];
// Verifies [netService addresses]
- (BOOL)addressesComplete:(NSArray *)addresses
        forServiceType:(NSString *)serviceType
    // Perform appropriate logic to ensure that [netService addresses]
    // contains the appropriate information to connect to the service
    return YES;
// Error handling code
- (void)handleError:(NSNumber *)error withService:(NSNetService *)service
    NSLog(@"An error occurred with service %@.%@.%@, error code = %d",
        [service name], [service type], [service domain], [error intValue]);
    // Handle error here

When Resolving Fails

In networking, it is not possible to have perfect knowledge about the state of the world. All you can know with certainty is what packets you have already received. As a result, your app might think that a service is available when it isn’t, or it might think a service is not available when it is.

Because failing to show a valid service is a bigger problem for the user than showing a stale service, Bonjour deliberately errs on the side of assuming that a service is still available. This means that there are many ways a service can go away without your app immediately being aware of it:

  • A device can be abruptly switched off, or the power can fail.

  • A device can be unplugged from a wired network.

  • A device can move out of a wireless base station’s range.

  • Packet loss can prevent the “goodbye” packet from reaching its destination.

As a result, although Bonjour generally discovers new services within a few seconds, if a service goes away, the disappearance of the service may not be discovered until your app tries to connect to it and gets no response.

You should not assume that just because the Bonjour APIs report a discovered service, the service is guaranteed to be available when the software tries to access it. All discovery means is that at some time in the recent past, Bonjour received packets indicating that the service did exist, not that the service necessarily exists right now.

To minimize the impact of stale records:

  • Don’t cancel resolving prematurely. Allow resolution to continue until the app successfully connects or the user cancels the attempt. An actively running service resolution serves as a hint to Bonjour that the named service does not seem to be responding.

  • If service resolution returns a result but the client is unable to open a TCP connection to it within 5–10 seconds, low-level C clients should call DNSServiceReconfirmRecord. This call tells Bonjour that the named service is not responding and that Bonjour's cache data for the service may be stale. Listing 4-5 shows an example of how to use the DNSServiceReconfirmRecord function.

Following these rules helps Bonjour remove stale services from browse lists faster.

Listing 4-5  Example of calling DNSServiceReconfirmRecord

            // serviceName should be in the form
            // "name.service.protocol.domain.".  For example:
            // "MyLaptop._ftp._tcp.local."
            NSString *serviceName = ...;
            NSString *              serviceName;
            NSArray *               serviceNameComponents;
            NSUInteger              serviceNameComponentsCount;
            serviceNameComponents = [serviceName componentsSeparatedByString:@"."];
            serviceNameComponentsCount = [serviceNameComponents count];
            if ( (serviceNameComponentsCount >= 5) && ([serviceNameComponents[serviceNameComponentsCount - 1] length] == 0) ) {
                protocol = [serviceNameComponents[2] lowercaseString];
                if ( [protocol isEqual:@"_tcp"] || [protocol isEqual:@"_udp"] ) {
                    fullname = [[serviceNameComponents subarrayWithRange:NSMakeRange(1, serviceNameComponentsCount - 1)] componentsJoinedByString:@"."];
                    retVal = EXIT_SUCCESS;
                    NSMutableData *     recordData;
                    recordData = [[NSMutableData alloc] init];
                    for (NSString * label in serviceNameComponents) {
                        const char *    labelStr;
                        uint8_t         labelStrLen;
                        labelStr = [label UTF8String];
                        if (strlen(labelStr) >= 64) {
                            fprintf(stderr, "%s: label too long: %s\n", getprogname(), labelStr);
                            retVal = EXIT_FAILURE;
                        } else {
                            // cast is safe because of length check
                            labelStrLen = (uint8_t) strlen(labelStr);
                            [recordData appendBytes:&labelStrLen length:sizeof(labelStrLen)];
                            [recordData appendBytes:labelStr length:labelStrLen];
                    if ( (retVal == EXIT_SUCCESS) && ([recordData length] >= 256) ) {
                        fprintf(stderr, "%s: record data too long\n", getprogname());
                        retVal = EXIT_FAILURE;
                    if (retVal == EXIT_SUCCESS) {
                        err = DNSServiceReconfirmRecord(
                            [fullname UTF8String],
                            // cast is safe because of recordData length check above
                            (uint16_t) [recordData length],
                            [recordData bytes]
                        if (err != kDNSServiceErr_NoError) {
                            fprintf(stderr, "%s: reconfirm record error: %d\n", getprogname(), (int) err);
                            retVal = EXIT_FAILURE;

Connecting to a Bonjour Service by IP Address

As a rule, you should not resolve a service to an IP address and port number unless you are doing something very unusual. In the dynamic world of modern networking, IP addresses can change at any time. Further, a given Bonjour service can have more than one IP address, and not all of them may be reachable. By connecting using hostnames, you avoid these problems. For more information, read Avoid Resolving DNS Names Before Connecting to a Host in Networking Overview.

In the rare instances when connecting by IP address is required, you can do so by following the steps for resolving a Bonjour service in Connecting by Name and then using the IP addresses instead of the hostname. There are a few caveats, however:

Persisting a Bonjour Service

If your app needs to persistently store a reference to a Bonjour service, such as in a printer chooser, store only the service name, type, and domain. By persisting only the domain, type, and name information, you ensure that your app can find the relevant service even if its IP addresses or port number has changed.

When you connect to the service later, initialize an NSNetService object with this information by calling its initWithDomain:type:name: method.

After you have initialized the service object, connect to the service by calling the getInputStream:outputStream: method or by passing the result of a hostName call to a connect-by-name function or method, as described earlier in this chapter. When you do this, Bonjour automatically resolves the hostname or domain, type, and name values into the current IP addresses and port number for the service.

Monitoring a Bonjour Service

In some situations, an app may need to know certain information about a Bonjour service without needing to maintain a connection to that service. For example, a chat program might let the user specify a status (idle, away, and so on). Other users on the network should be able to learn this new information quickly, without each machine needing to constantly poll every other machine.

To support the dissemination of such information, Bonjour lets each service provide an arbitrary DNS TXT record with additional information. If you want to use this functionality in your app, you must do the following:

When publishing a service, call the setTXTRecordData: method to set or update the data associated with the service. This data must be encoded according to section 3.3.14 of RFC 1035.

The most straightforward way to generate compliant data is by calling dataFromTXTRecordDictionary: with an NSDictionary object. In that dictionary, store only the key-value pairs that you want to make available to any app that is browsing for your service.

When browsing for services, do the following:

For more details, see the documentation for the methods mentioned above.