# Wednesday, 02 August 2006

I’ve been doing some exploration of the Peer Channel in WCF over the last week or so.  It’s a pretty cool idea.  Basically, the peer channel provides a way to do multi-cast messages with WCF, where all parties involved get a call at (essentially) the same time.  Better still, it’s not just a simple broadcast, but a “mesh” with some pretty complex algorithms for maximizing network resources, etc. 

The hard part is in the bootstrapping.  When you want to join the “mesh”, you have to have at least one other machine to talk to so that you can get started.  Where does that one machine live?  Tricky.  The best case solution is to use what MS calls PNRP, or the Peer Name Resolution Protocol.  There’s a well known address at microsoft.com that will be the bootstrapping server to get you going.  Alternatively, you can set up your own bootstrap servers, and change local machine configurations to go there instead.  All this depends on the Peer Networking system in XP SP2 and up, so some things have to be configured at the Win32 level to get everything working.  The drawback (and it’s a big one) to PNRP is that it depends on IPv6.  It took me quite a while to ferret out that bit of information, since it’s not called out in the WCF docs.  I finally found it in the Win32 docs for the Peer Networking system. 

This poses a problem.  IPv6 is super cool and everything, but NOBODY uses it.  I’m sure there are a few hearty souls out there embracing it fully, but it’s just not there in the average corporate environment.  Apparently, our routers don’t route IPv6, so PNRP just doesn’t work. 

The way to solve this little problem with WCF is to write a Custom Peer Resolver.  You implement your own class, derived from PeerResolver, and it provides some way to register with a mesh, and get a list of the other machines in the mesh you want to talk to.  There’s a sample peer resolver that ships with the WCF samples, which works great.  Unfortunately, it stores all the lists of machines-per-mesh in memory, which suddenly makes it a single point of failure in an enterprise system, which makes me sad…

That said, I’ve been working on a custom resolver that is DB backed instead of memory backed.  This should allow us to run it across a bunch of machines, and have it not be a bottleneck.  I’m guessing that once everyone has joined the mesh, there won’t be all that much traffic, so I don’t think performance should be a big deal. 

The next step will be WS-Discovery over PeerChannel.  I’ve seen a couple of vague rumors of this being “worked on” but I haven’t seen anything released anywhere.  If someone knows different I’d love to hear about it.

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