On his blog, Dan Cybulski recently asked why cross-subnet Bonjour work is so important, and why it was so interesting. Fundamentally, it’s because the Bonjour technology itself is changing the way we build networks.
When I first started using networks, it was a multiprotocol world. (Never mention DEC LAT in my presence.) One of the reasons that TCP/IP was a “hard” network technology was that it required a network administrator to give every computer a unique number (IP address) and maintain a mapping between all those unique numbers and unique names (DNS). What made TCP/IP easy enough to use everywhere was the automation of DHCP. With DHCP commonplace, you could just plug into a network and get on with using the network.
Even with DHCP, though, you still need to have the DNS administrator involved in making the server available. For other people to find your service, you had to persuade the DNS administrator to publish a name, and then distribute the name. And just because a name is in DNS doesn’t mean that it will do what you think!
Bonjour helps users cope with dynamic networks. Users understand names, not funny IP addresses or hierarchical domain names. With Bonjour, something that’s on the network describes itself in a way that lets anybody use it. Looking for a file server? Bonjour won’t tell you about remote desktop servers.
When you find a file server, you don’t need to know its IP address. You can just use it. Can you run a network by managing service names manually? Yes. Do you want to run a network manually? I doubt it.
Stuart Cheshire invented Bonjour to make networking easier, and Apple sponsors that work because easier networking benefits them. Just because Apple employees drove much of the design work does not mean that Bonjour is Apple-only technology.
Many Linux distributions ship with Avahi, and will run Bonjour out of the box. Several consumer electronics companies use Bonjour so that they can create an easy-to-use product. As just one example, the TiVo Desktop software uses Bonjour to locate video storage without needing to create advertisements. (You can view a complete list of registered Bonjour service names at the IANA site here.)
Let’s do a thought experiment here. Bonjour is a vendor-independent technology (though, yes, it is most widely used by Apple). Let’s say that tomorrow Google decides to adopt Bonjour within the standard Android tablet distribution. With a keystroke, then Aerohive’s Bonjour Gateway immediately becomes multi-vendor, without a single change on our part. (Given how much better Bonjour is than uPnP, it would also be a good move on Google’s part.)
Why did we build the Bonjour Gateway? Bonjour, like Aerohive, tries to make networking easier. The first question after “how do I get on the network?” is “how can I do X?” MDM systems answer the first question by getting devices on the network, but they can’t help with the second question. If you need to do something beyond simple Internet access, you need to focus on helping a device use the network, too.
Interest in the Aerohive Bonjour Gateway has been widespread, though the interest has been concentrated where there’s significant Apple device usage. There’s a great deal of interest in education, all across the board from K-12 on up through major research universities.
Beyond education, the enterprise interest is strongly correlated with places that you’ll find a lot of Apple devices. Any place where the executives have moved to using iPads, you’ll find interest in the Bonjour gateway, whether that is a creative studio that’s putting Apple TVs in every conference room, a distributed enterprise that needs to enable printing in every remote office, or a network that needs to enable peer-to-peer file sharing for everybody.
Or, shorter version: Bonjour is the first thing you’ll run into after onboarding a device, it’s not just for Apple, and yes, it’s widely used. That’s why Aerohive built it, and that’s why we made it free.