What Is a Socket Timeout?

Alex Newth

In complex networks and in consumer computers, there is a digital component called a socket that connects two different platforms. When there is a problem with the socket connection, such as the network being unavailable or there being no Internet, the socket will keep trying to connect. A socket timeout stops this connection after a specified amount of time. The socket timeout command is usually created in object-oriented programming (OOP) or network programming, and keeps the socket from creating inflated problems by severing the connection.

Sockets, whether used in Linux® or another operating system (OS), are made to establish a connection between a client program and a server.
Sockets, whether used in Linux® or another operating system (OS), are made to establish a connection between a client program and a server.

A socket timeout is a designated amount of time from when the socket connects until the connection breaks. Many users believe the timeout itself is a problem, but the timeout is actually made to keep further problems from manifesting. The amount of time between the connection and the timeout is set by programmers of the software or operating system (OS). Without a timeout command, the socket will continue to attempt the connection indefinitely.

If the socket timeout is not programmed, then the socket will remain open as it waits for the other side to connect. Allowing it to remain open opens the computer up to potential malicious attacks; more commonly, the computer just uses excess memory to connect to a network that is not responding. This also keeps the socket from being used for anything else, which makes the entire computer slow down.

OS and software programmers have to specify the socket timeout wait time. This is most commonly seen in OOP or network programming, because these are the programs that use sockets the most; most website programming does not use sockets as often and has no timeout commands. The timeout amount is generally measured in milliseconds, but the programmer can make the timeout take several minutes or even hours if he or she desires.

Most programmers have two socket timeout messages, one for a connection that is not responding and another for when the server or network program is closed. A socket timeout is not always needed for a socket to stop the connection. When a server or computer is about to close the connection, it sends a signal to the socket to do the same and close the connection between the two systems. This signal is not always received, including when the Internet suddenly crashes or the Ethernet cable is removed during the connection time. In these instances, the socket will just keep waiting for data.

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Discussion Comments


Socket timeouts can occur when attempting to connect to a remote server, or during communication, especially long-lived ones.

They can be caused by any connectivity problem on the network.

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