remctl Streaming Protocol Draft


This is a draft of what would become version four of the remctl protocol. It adds optional support for bidirectional streaming, allowing the server and client to exchange arbitrary unsequenced data while a command is running with coordinated termination of the command.

This draft should not be used for implementation yet. The details of the protocol may change substantially before it is added to remctl.

Client library API changes are not discussed in this draft, only protocol issues.

Streaming Overview

A streaming command is a client-initiated operation. The client requests streaming when it sends the command. The server either accepts that request or rejects it. If a particular command requires streaming, the server may reject a non-streaming version of that command.

Once the server accepts the streaming command, it runs the command, passing as arguments the arguments provided in the initial command token as before. From that point on, all command output is immediately sent back to the client, and the client may also send data at any time which is passed as input to the command. This continues without ordering and sequencing until one side or the other wants to start shutting things down.

The server can indicate the end of an output stream with a token dedicated to that purpose. This communicates an EOF on that stream to the client without terminating the command processing. The client can similarly tell the server that it is done providing input tokens by sending an end of stream token to the server, after which it is not permitted to send any more input tokens until the server indicates the command is finished.

When the command is over, the server sends a token indicating that fact. This token will also include the exit status of the command. This token implies end of stream on all output streams. The server is solely responsible for determining when the command is over. The most the client can do is indicate the end of the input stream, but it must still wait for the server to indicate the end of the command.

If the server indicates the end of the command before the client closes the input stream, the server will continue to consume and discard input tokens from the client until the client sends an end of stream token.

There are therefore two ways for a streaming command to end:

The streaming command is not over until the server has sent an end of command token and the client has sent an end of input stream token. Only after both of those tokens have been sent do both sides return to normal processing of remctl commands.

New Tokens


Identical to MESSAGE_COMMAND but starts a streaming command instead of a regular command. A separate token is used for this purpose to avoid changing the format of the MESSAGE_COMMAND token to add an additional flag.


Used by both the client and the server to send data during a streaming command. The format is the same as a MESSAGE_OUTPUT token. For tokens from the client, the stream is required to be 1. Other streams are reserved for future versions of the protocol.


Indicates an end of data on a stream, equivalent to an EOF condition. The only content of this token is the stream number. After this token is sent, no further MESSAGE_STREAM_DATA tokens with that stream number will be sent as part of this command. When sent by the client, this indicates the end of streaming data from the client and promises that the client will send no further data until the server sends the end of command token.


Indicates the end of a streaming command. The format is identical to the MESSAGE_STATUS token. A separate token is used rather than reusing the MESSAGE_STATUS token only because the expected client response is different (the client may need to send a final MESSAGE_STREAM_END token) and it may be useful for the client to easily distinguish.

Implementation Issues

The remctl server will be responsible for translating the network packets from the client into data on standard input for the command and output from the command into network packets. To do so safely without making assumptions about ordering of data, it will need to poll the running command and the client network connection and do non-blocking reads and writes. However, it may need to block the client until the command can process data, or block the command while waiting for client data.

I think the best way of handling this is to add buffering code to the server with an upper limit on the allowed amount of data buffering. The remctl server will then accept data from either the command or the client up to the buffer size even if it can't yet write that data to its destination. Once the buffer is full, the server will stop polling that connection until the buffer has been drained, forcing the other end of that connection to block.

One challenge for such buffering is that the amount of data contained in a single GSS-API token may vary, and ideally the server should not partially consume that data. If the server accepts a token, it should read the entire token. This is not strictly necessary, but I think partially consuming an output token would significantly increase the risk of deadlock.


This protocol does not address deadlock and instead requires that the client and server be aware of deadlock issues and find ways of avoiding deadlock within the implementation of a streaming command.


Copyright 2008, 2011

The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

Copying and distribution of this file, with or without modification, are permitted in any medium without royalty provided the copyright notice and this notice are preserved. This file is offered as-is, without any warranty.

Converted to XHTML by faq2html version 1.33