2.4. Port numbers and the Service Discovery Protocol

The second part of figuring out how to communicate with a remote machine, once a numerical address and transport protocol are known, is to choose the port number. Almost all Internet transport protocols in common usage are designed with the notion of port numbers, so that multiple applications on the same host may simultaneously utilize a transport protocol. Bluetooth is no exception, but uses slightly different terminology. In L2CAP, ports are called Protocol Service Multiplexers, and can take on odd-numbered values between 1 and 32767. In RFCOMM, channels 1-30 are available for use. These differences aside, both protocol service multiplexers and channels serve the exact same purpose that ports do in TCP/IP. L2CAP, unlike RFCOMM, has a range of reserved port numbers (1-1023) that are not to be used for custom applications and protocols. This information is summarized in Table 2-2. Through the rest of this document, the word port is use in place of protocol service multiplexer and channel for clarity.

Table 2-2. Port numbers and their terminology for various protocols

protocol terminology reserved/well-known ports dynamically assigned ports
TCP port 1-1024 1025-65535
UDP port 1-1024 1025-65535
RFCOMM channel none 1-30
L2CAP PSM odd numbered 1-4095 odd numbered 4097 - 32765

In Internet programming, server applications traditionally make use of well known port numbers that are chosen and agreed upon at design time. Client applications will use the same well known port number to connect to a server. The main disadvantage to this approach is that it is not possible to run two server applications which both use the same port number. Due to the relative youth of TCP/IP and the large number of available port numbers to choose from, this has not yet become a serious issue.

The Bluetooth transport protocols, however, were designed with many fewer available port numbers, which means we cannot choose an arbitrary port number at design time. Although this problem is not as significant for L2CAP, which has around 15,000 unreserved port numbers, RFCOMM has only 30 different port numbers. A consequence of this is that there is a greater than 50% chance of port number collision with just 7 server applications. In this case, the application designer clearly should not arbitrarily choose port numbers. The Bluetooth answer to this problem is the Service Discovery Protocol (SDP).

Instead of agreeing upon a port to use at application design time, the Bluetooth approach is to assign ports at runtime and follow a publish-subscribe model. The host machine operates a server application, called the SDP server, that uses one of the few L2CAP reserved port numbers. Other server applications are dynamically assigned port numbers at runtime and register a description of themselves and the services they provide (along with the port numbers they are assigned) with the SDP server. Client applications will then query the SDP server (using the well defined port number) on a particular machine to obtain the information they need.

This raises the question of how do clients know which description is the one they are looking for. The standard way of doing this in Bluetooth is to assign a 128-bit number, called the Universally Unique Identifier (UUID), at design time. Following a standard method [1] of choosing this number guarantees choosing a UUID unique from those chosen by anyone else following the same method. Thus, a client and server application both designed with the same UUID can provide this number to the SDP server as a search term.

As with RFCOMM and L2CAP, only a small portion of SDP has been described here - those parts most relevant to a network programmer. Among the other ways SDP can be used are to describe which transport protocols a server is using, to give information such as a human-readable description of the service provided and who is providing it, and to search on fields other than the UUID such as the service name. Another point worth mentioning is that SDP is not even required to create a Bluetooth application. It is perfectly possible to revert to the TCP/IP way of assigning port numbers at design time and hoping to avoid port conflicts, and this might often be done to save some time. In controlled settings such as the computer science laboratory, this is quite reasonable. Ultimately, however, to create a portable application that will run in the greatest number of scenarios, the application should use dynamically assigned ports and SDP.



RFC 4122