C.2 SLP Fundamentals

Service Location Protocol specifies three components:

  • The user agent (UA)

  • The service agent (SA)

  • The directory agent (DA)

The user agent’s job is to provide a programmatic interface for clients to query for services, and for services to advertise themselves. A user agent contacts a directory agent to query for registered services of a specified service class and within a specified scope.

The service agent’s job is to provide persistent storage and maintenance points for local services that have registered themselves with SLP. The service agent essentially maintains an in-memory database of registered local services. In fact, a service cannot register with SLP unless a local SA is present. Clients can discover services with only a UA library, but registration requires an SA, primarily because an SA must reassert the existence of registered services periodically in order to maintain the registration with listening directory agents.

The directory agent’s job is to provide a long-term persistent cache for advertised services, and to provide a point of access for user agents to look up services. As a cache, the DA listens for SAs to advertise new services, and caches those notifications. Over a short time, a DA’s cache will become more complete. Directory agents use an expiration algorithm to expire cache entries. When a directory agent comes up, it reads its cache from persistent storage (generally a hard drive), and then begins to expire entries according to the algorithm. When a new DA comes up, or when a cache has been deleted, the DA detects this condition and sends out a special notification to all listening SAs to dump their local databases so the DA can quickly build its cache.

In the absence of any directory agents, the UA will resort to a general multicast query that SAs can respond to, building a list of the requested services in much the same manner that DAs use to build their cache. The list of services returned by such a query is an incomplete and much more localized list than that provided by a DA, especially in the presence of multicast filtering, which is done by many network administrators, limiting broadcasts and multicasts to only the local subnet.

In summary, everything hinges on the directory agent that a user agent finds for a given scope.

C.2.1 NetIQ Service Location Providers

The NetIQ version of SLP takes certain liberties with the SLP standard in order to provide a more robust service advertising environment, but it does so at the expense of some scalability.

For example, in order to improve scalability for a service advertising framework, we want to limit the number of packets that are broadcast or multicast on a subnet. The SLP specification manages this by imposing restrictions on service agents and user agents regarding directory agent queries. The first directory agent discovered that services the desired scope is the one that a service agent (and consequently, local user agents) will use for all future requests on that scope.

The NetIQ SLP implementation actually scans all of the directory agents it knows about looking for query information. It assumes a 300-millisecond round trip time is too long, so it can scan 10 servers in about 3 to 5 seconds. This doesn't need to be done if SLP is configured correctly on the network, and OpenSLP assumes the network is in fact configured correctly for SLP traffic. OpenSLP’s response timeout values are greater than that of NetIQ’s SLP service provider, and it limits the number of directory agents to the first one that responds, whether or not that agent’s information is accurate and complete.

C.2.2 User Agents

A user agent takes the physical form of a static or dynamic library that is linked into an application. It allows the application to query for SLP services.

User agents follow an algorithm to obtain the address of a directory agent to which queries will be sent. Once they obtain a DA address for a specified scope, they continue to use that address for that scope until it no longer responds, at which time they obtain another DA address for that scope. User agents locate a directory agent address for a specified scope by:

  1. Checking to see if the socket handle on the current request is connected to a DA for the specified scope. If the request happens to be a multipart request, there may already be a cached connection present on the request.

  2. Checking its local known DA cache for a DA matching the specified scope.

  3. Checking with the local SA for a DA with the specified scope and adding new addresses to the cache.

  4. Querying DHCP for network-configured DA addresses that match the specified scope and adding new addresses to the cache.

  5. Multicasting a DA discovery request on a well-known port and adding new addresses to the cache.

The specified scope is “default” if not specified. That is, if no scope is statically defined in the SLP configuration file, and no scope is specified in the query, then the scope used is the word “default”. It should also be noted that eDirectory never specifies a scope in its registrations. That’s not to say the scope always used with eDirectory is “default.” In fact, if there is a statically configured scope, that scope becomes the default scope for all local UA requests and SA registrations in the absence of a specified scope.

C.2.3 Service Agents

Service agents take the physical form of a separate process on the host machine. In the case of Windows, slpd.exe runs as a service on the local machine. User agents query the local service agent by sending messages to the loop-back address on a well-known port.

A service agent locates and caches directory agents and their supported scope list by sending a DA discovery request directly to potential DA addresses by:

  1. Checking all statically configured DA addresses (and adding new ones to the SA’s known DA cache).

  2. Requesting a list of DA’s and scopes from DHCP (and adding new ones to the SA’s known DA cache).

  3. Multicasting a DA discovery request on a well-known port (and adding new ones to the SA’s known DA cache).

  4. Receiving DA advertising packets that are periodically broadcast by DAs (and adding new ones to the SA’s known DA cache).

Since a user agent always queries the local service agent first, this is important, as the local service agent’s response will determine whether or not the user agent continues to the next stage of discovery (in this case DHCP-- see steps 3 and 4 in User Agents.).