The Beginning and End.

Bencoding and Networking

One of the things that I have always been fearful of is networking. Sockets, TCP/IP, and forking, all of that. In a class at university, I had done some networking in C; I remember reading Beej’s guide to network programming, and I found myself returning to it, and appreciating it a bit more this time. It’s funny how when you’re learning something in school, you could care less about it. You just want to get from point A to point B in the shortest way possible. But when you have the time to be in a self-directed environment like Hacker School, you find yourself wanting to revisit things that you didn’t learn properly the first time around, wanting to tell your past self: “You should have paid more attention when you were learning this!”

So, to learn networking in Haskell, I have decided to incrementally work towards building a simple Bittorrent client. Yesterday, I read about bencode, the encoding used by the Bittorrent protocol for torrent files (metadata).

Bencode supports four types of values:

  • Integers
  • (Byte) Strings
  • Lists
  • Dictionaries (Hash Maps)

Integers are encoded as i<integer encoded in base 10 ASCII>e. Integers can be negative, but 0 cannot be -0.

ByteStrings are encoded as <length>:<contents>. So “foo” would be encoded as 3:foo. The length of the content can be 0, but cannot be negative.

Lists are encoded as l<contents>e. Contents are bencoded elements of the list (in order), and are concatenated. Something like “cat31” would be encoded as l3:cati31ee.

Dictionaries are encoded as d<contents>e. The keys must be bytestrings, and the dictionary is ordered lexiographically by key. The encoded key value pair follow each other immediately. {“cat”: “meow”, “dog”: 44} would be encoded as d3:cat4:meow3:dogi44ee.

After reading this, I used the Parsec library and wrote a parser for bencoded values in Haskell. I tested it on a torrent for Ubuntu and got back this:


We can see things like:

and so on.

The crazy wall of text is mostly due to all of the pieces for this particular torrent.

After this, to get a better sense of networking in Haskell, I read up on TCP/IP and started working towards this tutorial on building a multi-threaded chat server in Haskell, and getting a feel for the Network.Socket library.

At the very basic level: Socket –> Bind –> Listen –> Accept.

My networking journey will continue today…