#2: Networking

The client-server architecture on JamiesWhiteShirt's Ramblings

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The primitive interface between logical sides imposes a certain data flow and certain restrictions. This resource explains how logical sides interface with each other, and how you have to deal with that.

NOTE: For brevity, in this resource “client” refers to a logical client and “server” refers to a logical server unless stated otherwise.

Networking: The universal interface

The connection between servers and clients is reduced to this networking interface, a universal interface. It is universal in the sense networking is used for any kind of connection between clients and servers, including single player.

Messages and connections

When a server and a client connects, they establish a connection where they communicate with messages. While not entirely accurate, messages are often also referred to as packets. The networking interface is quite primitive and can be described as such:

Connection types

Minecraft uses a library called Netty to establish connections as either TCP connections or local connections. Local connections are created only within the same process, while TCP connections are created across processes or machines. An integrated server will provide a local connection for the client, and TCP connections for remote clients on LAN. A dedicated server will only provide TCP connections for remote clients.

TCP connections and local connections differ in speed and reliability. If you play video games you may be probably familiar with the terms ping and packet loss. For local connections, the ping is virtually zero and packet loss is nonexistent. For TCP connections however, ping is a significant factor, and packet loss causes significant slowdown.

Why does all this matter?

Networking is the only interface Minecraft has to communicate between clients and servers to preserve compatibility with all kinds of servers. It means that if your mod should communicate between sides, it must to go through this interface just like everything else. Luckily, in most cases Minecraft has abstractions for this interface, but it helps to know what is happening in the background.

The fact that messages are serializable means messages cannot transmit actual objects. They have to be reconstructed on the other end. This means you can’t “cheat” and send mutable objects over the wire.

You should assume all connections are unreliable because they may be TCP connections. This means accounting for both expected and unexpected latency, usually <100ms, sometimes >100ms, rarely >1s. This brings the concept of client side prediction to user interaction design, which is highly prevalent in the base game’s code.