libcurl’s name resolving

Recently we’ve put in some efforts into remodeling libcurl’s code that handles name resolves, and then in particular the two asynchronous name resolver backends that we support: c-ares and threaded.

Name resolving in general in libcurl

libcurl can be built to do name resolves using different means. The primary difference between them is that they are either synchronous or asynchronous. The synchronous way makes the operation block during name resolves and there’s no “decent” way to abort the resolves if they take longer time than the program wants to allow it (other than using signals and that’s not what we consider a decent way).

Asynch resolving in libcurl

This is done using one of two ways: by building libcurl with c-ares support or by building libcurl and tell it to use threads to solve the problem. libcurl can be built using either mechanism on just about all platforms, but on Windows the build defaults to using the threaded resolver.

The c-ares solution

c-ares’ primary benefit is that it is an asynchronous name resolver library so it can do name resolves without blocking without requiring a new thread. It makes it use less resources and remain a perfect choice even if you’d scale up your application up to and beyond an insane number of simultaneous connections. Its primary drawback is that since it isn’t based on the system default name resolver functions, they don’t work exactly like the system name resolver functions and that causes trouble at times.

The threaded solution

By making sure the system functions are still used, this makes name resolving work exactly as with the synchronous solution, but thanks to the threading it doesn’t block. The downside here is of course that it uses a new thread for every name resolve, which in some cases can become quite a large number and of course creating and killing threads at a high rate is much more costly than sticking with the single thread.


Now we’ve made sure that we have an internal API that both our asynchronous name resolvers implement, and all code internally use this API. It makes the code a lot cleaner than the previous #ifdef maze for the different approaches, and it has the side-effect that it should allow much easier pluggable backends in case someone would like to make libcurl support another asynchronous name resolver or system.

This is all brand new in the master branch so please try it out and help us polish the initial quirks that may still exist in the code.

There is no current plan to allow this plugging to happen run-time or using any kind of external plugins. I don’t see any particular benefit for us to do that, but it would give us a lot more work and responsibilities.