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IT groups petition Apple to "fix" Bonjour protocol

Petition asks changes to Zeroconf protocol for iOS, Mac networking

By , Network World
July 19, 2012 08:34 AM ET

Network World - It's time for Apple to make it's Bonjour and AirPlay technologies enterprise friendly. That's the contention of a group of college and university IT managers who are finalizing a petition that urges Apple to adapt both for enterprise networks.

"Designing 'iPad WLANs' poses new, renewed challenges"

The proposed changes, they say, would make it easier for IT to provision, manage and secure Bonjour-enabled networking of Apple products. But the changes also would make more Apple's networking more useable for iPad and iPhone owners. On campus, or at the office, they want the same kind ease of access and use they have at home. They want to connect easily over enterprise networks with resources such as printers running Apple's AirPrint protocol, or use Apple's AirPlay wireless multimedia streaming, and to marry iOS devices with flat-panel displays or high-def speakers via Apple TV, or with projectors. And today, they often can't do that because of how enterprise networks are designed.

Not everyone agrees about what should be changed. And some network professionals argue that the petition, in effect, asks Apple to scrap Bonjour and craft an entirely new and more complex discovery mechanism, which few seem to think is likely.

The petition drive began earlier this month, at the WLAN listserv group at Educause, a non-profit group that focuses on higher education IT. A draft of the final text, completed over the past weekend is available on a Facebook group. But dissatisfaction with Bonjour and AirPlay has been simmering for a long time.

Apple had not yet responded to a request for comment as this story was posted.

Bonjour, originally called Rendezvous when introduced in the early 2000's, is Apple's latest implementation of "zero configuration networking" or Zeroconf, which is a group of open protocols to automatically and quickly set up an IP network, without having to set up services such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol or DNS. More background is online, at a page maintained by Stuart Cheshire, Zeroconf's pioneer who was later hired by Apple.

Zeroconf and its Bonjour iteration are intended to let computers attach to a network, find each other and communicate usefully "without needing a man in a white lab coat to set it all up for you," as Cheshire says. He identifies four main requirements for Zeroconf, and the services used to meet these requirements in implementations like Bonjour:

+ Allocate addresses without a DHCP server, using IPv4 Link-Local Addressing.

+ Translate between names and IP addresses without a DNS server, using Multicast DNS.

+ Find services, like printers, without a directory server, using DNS Service Discovery.

+ Allocate IP Multicast addresses without a MADCAP (Multicast Address Dynamic Client Allocation Protocol) server, a future project.

And it needs to do all this without causing harm when the computers are part of larger, configured networks.

Bonjour is what gives Apple products their plug and play networking capabilities - they just network when they're connected to the same LAN. AirPlay builds on this, by letting iOS devices and Macs stream multimedia files, or selected Web-based content, via an Apple TV box to AirPlay enabled speakers or flatpanel displays, all with just a few finger taps or mouse clicks. It's very compelling in the small Wi-Fi networks typically found at home, for example. But it's not so compelling today on larger, more complex networks, at least as they are designed today.

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