7.6 Helper Functions

FreeBSD C library contains many helper functions for sockets programming. For example, in our sample client we hard coded the time.nist.gov IP address. But we do not always know the IP address. Even if we do, our software is more flexible if it allows the user to enter the IP address, or even the domain name.

7.6.1 gethostbyname

While there is no way to pass the domain name directly to any of the sockets functions, the FreeBSD C library comes with the gethostbyname(3) and gethostbyname2(3) functions, declared in netdb.h.

struct hostent * gethostbyname(const char *name);
struct hostent * gethostbyname2(const char *name, int af);

Both return a pointer to the hostent structure, with much information about the domain. For our purposes, the h_addr_list[0] field of the structure points at h_length bytes of the correct address, already stored in the network byte order.

This allows us to create a much more flexible—and much more useful—version of our daytime program:

 * daytime.c
 * Programmed by G. Adam Stanislav
 * 19 June 2001
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/socket.h>
#include <netinet/in.h>
#include <netdb.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
  register int s;
  register int bytes;
  struct sockaddr_in sa;
  struct hostent *he;
  char buf[BUFSIZ+1];
  char *host;

  if ((s = socket(PF_INET, SOCK_STREAM, 0)) < 0) {
    return 1;

  bzero(&sa, sizeof sa);

  sa.sin_family = AF_INET;
  sa.sin_port = htons(13);

  host = (argc > 1) ? (char *)argv[1] : "time.nist.gov";

  if ((he = gethostbyname(host)) == NULL) {
    return 2;

  bcopy(he->h_addr_list[0],&sa.sin_addr, he->h_length);

  if (connect(s, (struct sockaddr *)&sa, sizeof sa) < 0) {
    return 3;

  while ((bytes = read(s, buf, BUFSIZ)) > 0)
    write(1, buf, bytes);

  return 0;

We now can type a domain name (or an IP address, it works both ways) on the command line, and the program will try to connect to its daytime server. Otherwise, it will still default to time.nist.gov. However, even in this case we will use gethostbyname rather than hard coding That way, even if its IP address changes in the future, we will still find it.

Since it takes virtually no time to get the time from your local server, you could run daytime twice in a row: First to get the time from time.nist.gov, the second time from your own system. You can then compare the results and see how exact your system clock is:

% daytime ; daytime localhost

52080 01-06-20 04:02:33 50 0 0 390.2 UTC(NIST) *

As you can see, my system was two seconds ahead of the NIST time.

7.6.2 getservbyname

Sometimes you may not be sure what port a certain service uses. The getservbyname(3) function, also declared in netdb.h comes in very handy in those cases:

struct servent * getservbyname(const char *name, const char *proto);

The servent structure contains the s_port, which contains the proper port, already in network byte order.

Had we not known the correct port for the daytime service, we could have found it this way:

  struct servent *se;
  if ((se = getservbyname("daytime", "tcp")) == NULL {
    fprintf(stderr, "Cannot determine which port to use.\n");
    return 7;
  sa.sin_port = se->s_port;

You usually do know the port. But if you are developing a new protocol, you may be testing it on an unofficial port. Some day, you will register the protocol and its port (if nowhere else, at least in your /etc/services, which is where getservbyname looks). Instead of returning an error in the above code, you just use the temporary port number. Once you have listed the protocol in /etc/services, your software will find its port without you having to rewrite the code.