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de4e531 Jun 20, 2018
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gRPC Concepts Overview

Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs) provide a useful abstraction for building distributed applications and services. The libraries in this repository provide a concrete implementation of the gRPC protocol, layered over HTTP/2. These libraries enable communication between clients and servers using any combination of the supported languages.


Developers using gRPC start with a language agnostic description of an RPC service (a collection of methods). From this description, gRPC will generate client and server side interfaces in any of the supported languages. The server implements the service interface, which can be remotely invoked by the client interface.

By default, gRPC uses Protocol Buffers as the Interface Definition Language (IDL) for describing both the service interface and the structure of the payload messages. It is possible to use other alternatives if desired.

Invoking & handling remote calls

Starting from an interface definition in a .proto file, gRPC provides Protocol Compiler plugins that generate Client- and Server-side APIs. gRPC users call into these APIs on the Client side and implement the corresponding API on the server side.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous

Synchronous RPC calls, that block until a response arrives from the server, are the closest approximation to the abstraction of a procedure call that RPC aspires to.

On the other hand, networks are inherently asynchronous and in many scenarios, it is desirable to have the ability to start RPCs without blocking the current thread.

The gRPC programming surface in most languages comes in both synchronous and asynchronous flavors.


gRPC supports streaming semantics, where either the client or the server (or both) send a stream of messages on a single RPC call. The most general case is Bidirectional Streaming where a single gRPC call establishes a stream in which both the client and the server can send a stream of messages to each other. The streamed messages are delivered in the order they were sent.


The gRPC protocol specifies the abstract requirements for communication between clients and servers. A concrete embedding over HTTP/2 completes the picture by fleshing out the details of each of the required operations.

Abstract gRPC protocol

A gRPC call comprises of a bidirectional stream of messages, initiated by the client. In the client-to-server direction, this stream begins with a mandatory Call Header, followed by optional Initial-Metadata, followed by zero or more Payload Messages. The server-to-client direction contains an optional Initial-Metadata, followed by zero or more Payload Messages terminated with a mandatory Status and optional Status-Metadata (a.k.a.,Trailing-Metadata).

Implementation over HTTP/2

The abstract protocol defined above is implemented over HTTP/2. gRPC bidirectional streams are mapped to HTTP/2 streams. The contents of Call Header and Initial Metadata are sent as HTTP/2 headers and subject to HPACK compression. Payload Messages are serialized into a byte stream of length prefixed gRPC frames which are then fragmented into HTTP/2 frames at the sender and reassembled at the receiver. Status and Trailing-Metadata are sent as HTTP/2 trailing headers (a.k.a., trailers).

Flow Control

gRPC uses the flow control mechanism in HTTP/2. This enables fine-grained control of memory used for buffering in-flight messages.