A bit more about the various levels of IPC: whether or not they're necessary

March 5, 2014

A question you could ask about the levels of IPC that I outlined is if anything past basic process to process IPC is actually necessary (this is the level of TCP connections or Unix domain sockets). One answer to this is basically 'of course not'. All you really need is for programs to be able to talk to each other and then you can build whatever each particular system needs from there, possibly using common patterns like simple ASCII request/response protocols. A lot of software has gotten very far on this basis.

The other answer is that yes, in the end you do need all of those additional levels. To put it one way, very few people design introspectable message bus systems with standardized protocol encodings for fun. These systems get designed and built and adopted because they solve real problems; in the jargon, they are a design pattern. If you don't create them what you really get is a whole collection of ad-hoc and often partial versions that all of the various systems have reinvented on their own. For example, not having a standard protocol encoding does not free programs from needing to define a wire protocol; it just means that every program does it separately and differently and some number of them will do it badly.

(And in the modern world some number of them will make security mistakes or have buffer overruns and other flaws. A single standard system that everyone uses has the potential advantage of being carefully designed and built based on a lot of research and maybe even experience. Of course it can also be badly done, in which case everyone gets a badly done version.)

In this sense the additional levels of IPC really do wind up being necessary. It's just not the mathematical minimization sense of 'necessary' that people sometimes like to judge systems on.

Written on 05 March 2014.
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Last modified: Wed Mar 5 22:58:38 2014
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