Windows Socket – Winsock

Anyone who has been involved with computers for a long time will be familiar with the Winsock interface.  In the early years of the internet, IT support staff became very familiar with struggles to configure winsock on underpowered low memory personal computers.  Windows Socket to give it’s full name is an interface that allows Microsoft Windows applications to interface with TCP/IP networks.   This standard is now pretty pervasive and all Windows applications are developed to work with Winsock.  It was first defined in 1991 and has been under pretty much continuous development ever since, the current version is Winsock 2.0.

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The development of Winsock was started because in the earliest days of Windows hundreds of different application vendors had started developing their own TCP/IP protocol stacks, all with individual interfaces and ways of dealing with IP addresses.  It was extremely confusing and inefficient for all those involved developers were forced to choose one stack over another or develop their own.  You’d load one version of a stack to enable an residential VPN like this and then another version for an internet enabled application. Windows computers were also struggling to load multiple versions of these interfaces because of memory requirements and they would inevitably cause conflicts.

Windows Socket was developed by a collaboration of developers who wanted to tie together the PC based TCP/IP products and use a common interface.     It is also was known as Windows Network Transit Protocol although this is rarely used nowadays. The specification was officially released in June 1992 and was provided free of charge to all developers and software houses.

Basically Winsock provides the same sort of service for Windows that Berkeley Sockets provided for the Unix/Linux environments.  There are quite a few familiarities between the two standards and most programmers and developers can usually switch between the two interfaces fairly easily.  Perhaps the only significant difference is how Winsock is implemented as a DLL which sits above the TCP/IP protocol and below any applications which need to access the protocol stack.  At the top of the DLL is a layer which applications interface with and a bottom layer which interfaces with TCP/IP.   Programmers and developers then can simply write applications which work with the top layer of Winsock.   The interface then converts any of the commands and messages from applications and programs to work with the underlying TCP/IP protocol stack.