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A.D. Birrell and B. J. Nelson

direction. Nevertheless, by interleaving parallel remote calls from multiple proc- esses, we have achieved a data rate of 2 megabits per second transferring between Dorado main memories on the 3 megabit Ethernet. This is equal to the rate achieved by our most highly optimized byte stream implementation (written in BCPL).

We have not measured the cost of exporting or importing an interface. Both of these operations are dominated by the time spent talking to the Grapevine server(s). After locating the exporter machine, calling the exporter to determine the dispatcher identifier uses an RPC call with a few words of data.


The package as we have described it is fully implemented and in use by Cedar programmers. The entire RPCRuntime package amounts to four Cedar modules (packet exchange, packet sequencing, binding and security), totalling about 2,200 lines of source code. Lupine (the stub generator) is substantially larger. Clients are using RPC for several projects, including the complete communication protocol for Alpine (a file server supporting multimachine transactions), and the control communication for an Ethernet-based telephone and audio project. (It has also been used for two network games, providing real-time communication between players on multiple machines.) All of our clients have found the package convenient to use, although neither of the projects is yet in full-scale use. Implementations of the protocol have been made for BCPL, InterLisp, SmallTalk and C.

We are still in the early stages of acquiring experience with the use of RPC and certainly more work needs to be done. We will have much more confidence in the strength of our design and the appropriateness of RPC when it has been used in earnest by the projects that are now committing to it. There are certain circumstances in which RPC seems to be the wrong communication paradigm.

These correspond to situations casting seem more appropriate

where 2. It

solutions based on multicasting or broad- may be that in a distributed environment

there are times processing and though there do

when procedure calls (together with our language's parallel coroutine facilities) are not a sufficiently powerful tool, even not appear to be any such situations in a single machine.

One of our hopes in providing an RPC package with high performance and low cost is that it will encourage the development of new distributed applications that were formerly infeasible. At present it is hard to justify some of our insistence on good performance because we lack examples demonstrating the importance of such performance. But our belief is that the examples will come: the present lack is due to the fact that, historically, distributed communication has been incon- venient and slow. Already we are starting to see distributed algorithms being developed that are not considered a major undertaking; if this trend continues we will have been successful.

A question on which we are still undecided is whether a sufficient level of performance for our RPC aims can be achieved by a general purpose transport protocol whose implementation adopts strategies suitable for RPC as well as ones suitable for bulk data transfer. Certainly, there is no entirely convincing argument that it would be impossible. On the other hand, we have not yet seen it achieved.

ACM Transactions on Computer Systems, Vol. 2, No. 1, February 1984

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