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What Is a UDP Socket?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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A user datagram protocol‭ (‬UDP‭) ‬socket is a type of computer protocol that is used to transmit and receive information through a network.‭ ‬UDP sockets are known for their connectionless nature,‭ ‬meaning that they do not have to contact another server before attempting to send data.‭ ‬This is distinctly different from transmission control protocol‭ (‬TCP‭) ‬sockets that must maintain a line of communications to another socket at all times.‭ ‬Many Internet applications regularly use a UDP socket for communication because they allow large numbers of users to access online servers without the need for continual communications.

The three types of computer sockets are UDP,‭ ‬TCP and raw.‭ ‬Raw sockets are most frequently used to help locate or direct network traffic.‭ ‬TCP sockets are used when it is important that all information reach the destination socket in the order that it was sent in.‭ UDP sockets are used when information needs to‭ ‬be‭ ‬retrieved from a server in small batches through the use of individual packets called datagrams.

One of the disadvantages of using a UDP socket is what is called packet loss.‭ ‬There is no pre-established connection between the two sockets,‭ ‬so there is a chance that a datagram will not make it to the destination socket.‭ ‬The destination computer has no idea that the packet is coming and will not request that it be resent,‭ ‬so the data is completely lost.

Systems that use a UDP socket framework often opt for packet loss over the transmission problems that a TCP connection might cause.‭ ‬An example is a critical real-time system in which it is more important to keep data flowing into and out of the system as opposed to potentially having the entire system pause because of a slow TCP connection.‭ ‬Alternately,‭ ‬TCP connections are used in situations where any data loss could compromise system integrity.

Creating a UDP socket is very easy.‭ ‬Considering that there does not need to be a dedicated computer process to constantly maintain the port to which the socket is connected,‭ ‬it requires very little overhead.‭ ‬Sending and receiving datagrams through a UDP socket is equally easy because of the minimal size and low complexity of‭ ‬the packet structure.

Many vital online services employ UDP sockets for communications.‭ ‬The domain name system‭ (‬DNS‭)‬,‭ ‬which converts simple Internet addresses that people can read and understand into a long series of numbers,‭ ‬uses UDP sockets because only one request per user is usually required at any time.‭ ‬Streaming media services also use UDP, because the loss of a single packet does not interrupt the entire stream in most cases.

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