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Coturn architecture, part 1
Network architecture
This document assumes that the reader is familiar with the various TURN specifications.
The goal of this document is to provide general information for the Coturn
administrators and code developers about organization of the network interaction
in Coturn.
Coturn is a TURN relay server that has several general types of main network interaction:
1) Session establishment and maintenance negotiations with the client application.
2) Accepting packets to be relayed from the Client application, on the client-facing
sockets, and relaying those packets, through the relay sockets, to the Peer application.
3) Accepting packets to be relayed from the Peer application, on the peer-facing
relay sockets, and relaying those packets, through the Client sockets, to the Client
There are other, secondary, interactions:
1) Communications with the database servers.
2) Communications with the telnet admin console.
3) Communications with the client admin browser, over HTTPS.
This document concentrates on the main network communications. It will describe
how those communicatiuons are organized in the Coturn code.
The key to the understanding how Coturn works is the notions of "listeners" and
"general relay servers".
In Coturn, a "listener" is the entity that initiates dialog with the new client. When a
new client sends its first packet to TURN, then it is initially accepted by the UDP
listener (the code in dtls_listener.c) or by TCP listener (the code in tls_listener.c).
The listeners are smart enough to recognize whether the new session is a TLS session or
"plain" protocol session, and it handles necessary SSL keys and negotiations.
The listener then creates a client endpoint (depending on the protocol and on the
"network engine" - see below).
What happens next depends on the "network engine" that the Coturn is using in runtime.
If the relay server that will be handling that session is located in a different thread,
then the listener will "send" the endpoint to that relay server (see the "connect_cb"
callback function). If the relay server is located in the same thread as the listener,
then the listener will call the session establishment function itself. See the function
open_client_connection_session() and where and how it is called in various cases,
for reference.
The listeners (and the relay servers) configuration is initiated in the function
setup_server() in netengine.c. First, setup_listener() creates the necessary generic
data structures for the listeners. Second, network-engine-specific functions associate
listeners with the execution threads and with the relay servers.
There may be multiple listeners in the server, and they may be running in different
The relay servers take control over the client sessions after the initial contact was
established by the listeners. The relay server will be reading the session sockets
(the client and the relay sockets) and perform the necessary actions on them, according
to the TURN specs.
There can be multiple relay servers in the system, running in different threads.
The client sessions are distributed among them in fairly random manner, for load
The relay server will be responsible for the session as long as the session exists.
It will exclusively handle all session communications. Thus, the session will stay
within the same thread for its lifetime. The performance benefit is that there will be
no CPU context switching when the session packets are handled.
There is one exception when a relay server will transfer a session to another relay
server: the mobility functionality. When the client address changes, it may require
that the session must be using a different thread - and a different relay server, as
the result. The the original relay server will have to pack the session, say
"farewell" to it and ship it to another relay server. The destination relay server
will adopt the session and the session will stay with the new relay server - until the
next client address change.
UDP communications are rather under-developed, comparing to the TCP communications,
in modern operational systems. Because TURN stresses UDP communications, UDP
performance is very important. Different OS's have different capabilities, so Coturn,
being a portable server, had to employ different strategies for different systems.
There are three "network engines" (or rather "network threading patterns") implemented
in Coturn:
1) UDP listener thread per frontend IP (FreeBSD, Solaris) with multiple UDP/TCP
relay servers. Listeners and relays are in different threads.
2) UDP listener and relay thread per frontend IP, with multiple TCP relay threads
(early Linux). The listener and the relay servers are related, form pairs and are
working in the same thread.
3) Multiple UDP and TCP listeners and relay per each frontend IP (advanced Linuxes).
The listener and the relay servers are related, form pairs and are
working in the same thread.
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