7.7 Concurrent Servers

Unlike a sequential server, a concurrent server has to be able to serve more than one client at a time. For example, a chat server may be serving a specific client for hours—it cannot wait till it stops serving a client before it serves the next one.

This requires a significant change in our flowchart:

We moved the serve from the daemon process to its own server process. However, because each child process inherits all open files (and a socket is treated just like a file), the new process inherits not only the “accepted handle,” i.e., the socket returned by the accept call, but also the top socket, i.e., the one opened by the top process right at the beginning.

However, the server process does not need this socket and should close it immediately. Similarly, the daemon process no longer needs the accepted socket, and not only should, but must close it—otherwise, it will run out of available file descriptors sooner or later.

After the server process is done serving, it should close the accepted socket. Instead of returning to accept, it now exits.

Under UNIX®, a process does not really exit. Instead, it returns to its parent. Typically, a parent process waits for its child process, and obtains a return value. However, our daemon process cannot simply stop and wait. That would defeat the whole purpose of creating additional processes. But if it never does wait, its children will become zombies—no longer functional but still roaming around.

For that reason, the daemon process needs to set signal handlers in its initialize daemon phase. At least a SIGCHLD signal has to be processed, so the daemon can remove the zombie return values from the system and release the system resources they are taking up.

That is why our flowchart now contains a process signals box, which is not connected to any other box. By the way, many servers also process SIGHUP, and typically interpret as the signal from the superuser that they should reread their configuration files. This allows us to change settings without having to kill and restart these servers.