January 6, 2017

How Fast Are Unix Domain Sockets?

It probably happened more than once, when you ask your team about how a reverse proxy should talk to the application backend server. “Unix sockets. They are faster.”, they’ll say. But how much faster this communication will be? And why a Unix domain socket is faster than an IP socket when multiple processes are talking to each other in the same machine? Before answering those questions, we should figure what Unix sockets really are.

Unix sockets are a form of inter-process communication (IPC) that allows data exchange between processes in the same machine. They are special files, in the sense that they exist in a file system like a regular file (hence, have an inode and metadata like ownership and permissions associated to it), but will be read and written using recv() and send() syscalls instead of read() and write(). When binding and connecting to a Unix socket, we’ll be using file paths instead of IP addresses and ports.

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