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22 April 2008, 17:14

Switching protocol

Dusan Zivadinovic

With the Bonjour networking protocol, devices on a local network can configure themselves automatically and users can discover services provided by such devices without needing to know their names or IP addresses. Although Bonjour is now available for all widely-used operating systems, as far as peripherals go, it is still mostly found in printers. With a little savoir-faire, it can be wrangled so that even offspring can locate Jukebox PCs, photo servers or DVB receivers on the local network without a hitch.

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Each time a new device is connected to a network, the configuration merry-go-round starts up again - set up the printer, set up shared folders on other workstations or connect music, video and other servers. If a server is shifted to another PC, the fun starts all over again. While this is a minor irritation for professional administrators managing large networks, it can prove a significant hurdle for home administrators.

Apple's Bonjour network service can spare the nerves of both of the above, as the application, originally released under the name Rendezvous as part of Mac OS X 10.2 in 2002, realises a substantial degree of automatic configuration. Apple has since renamed the application Bonjour and has ported it to Windows and Linux. Distributions such as Suse also include it as standard.

There are also third party Bonjour implementations - some Linux distributions (such as Debian, Fedora and Ubuntu) include the promising Avahi. The no longer available Howl, from Porchdog Software, was partly built on Apple source code and could also be compiled for Windows. The rest of this article will deal with the Apple implementation only, as it is largely the same for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows.

In this article we will illustrate how to set up the Apache web server on Mac OS X for Bonjour and how to register services on the network using Bonjour. This allows Bonjour ease of use to be simulated for servers, instant messaging applications and multi-user word processers and makes it easier to access network devices which do not include Bonjour by default.

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