Common Local Discovery Methods

In section 8.1.4, we mentioned how to discover controlled devices in the LAN using Wi-Fi wireless transmission media. In the TCP/IP protocol stack, discovering the controlled device means obtaining the IP address of the controlled device.

In a LAN, how to obtain the peer's IP address is a problem worth studying. A common protocol for obtaining the peer's IP address is the Reverse Address Resolution Protocol (RARP). This protocol sends query packets with knowing the peer's MAC address, and the gateway server parses its own ARP table to obtain the IP address of the queried MAC device. If you are familiar with LAN, you may immediately associate with the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), which is a protocol that sends query packets with knowing the peer's IP address. The peer device or gateway device replies with the MAC address corresponding to the IP address after querying its own ARP table. ARP and RARP are a pair of protocols that mutually resolve network layer addresses and data link layer addresses. However, these two protocols both need to know the peer's network layer address or data link layer address. This feature brings difficulty to IoT applications as the network layer address and data link layer address of a device in the LAN are difficult to be obtained. Thus, this subsection will introduce the local discovery technology that is truly suitable for IoT.

Local discovery is to discover information about nodes in the LAN, including address information for communication with nodes, application service information supported by nodes, and customised information. For example, mDNS (Multicast DNS, which will be introduced in subsection 8.2.4) is a commonly-used local discovery protocol. The principle of local discovery is to send a message, and the peer will inform the sender of its device information after receiving the message. Now the problem that needs to be solved is how to ensure that the peer can receive the message sent by the sender.

In fact, if you understand the classification of IP addresses, you will know that in addition to the more commonly-used point-to-point communication (unicast), there are also one-to-many (multicast) and one-to-all (broadcast) communications. IP addresses can be divided into unicast addresses, multicast addresses, and broadcast addresses. Unicast needs to know the peer's IP address, so it is not suitable for local discovery. Multicast and broadcast do not need to know the peer's IP address. They send messages to specific addresses, and the peer can receive the messages as long as it monitors this address. Thus, multicast and broadcast are suitable for discovering devices in the LAN, and the peer can receive the message sent by the sender with these two technologies.