Using Ports

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While the IP address provides enough information to find the system on the other end of a socket connection, you also need a port number on that system. Without port numbers, a system could only form a single connection at a time. Port numbers are unique identifiers that enable a single system to host multiple connections simultaneously, by giving each connection a separate port number.

One way to look at port numbers is as numeric codes for the services implemented by network applications. This is a convention that allows listening server connections to make themselves available on a fixed port number so that they can be found by client sockets. Server sockets listen on the port number associated with the service they provide. When they accept a connection to a client socket, they create a separate socket connection that uses a different, arbitrary, port number. This way, the listening connection can continue to listen on the port number associated with the service.

Client sockets use an arbitrary local port number, as there is no need for them to be found by other sockets. They specify the port number of the server socket to which they want to connect so that they can find the server application. Often, this port number is specified indirectly, by naming the desired service.

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