What Is a Service Discovery?

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  • Written By: T.S. Adams
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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A service discovery is a type of networking protocol which can immediately and automatically detect the hardware networking devices and services of the computers on a network. Without a working service discovery model on a computer, the network hardware would have to be manually configured by the user, which could be a rather difficult task for most novice computer users. Service discovery techniques are a part of all modern operating systems, allowing computers to network with one another and go online with the user only needing a relatively modest level of individual technical knowledge.

When a computer is plugged into a network, the service discovery protocols on the computer step into action, scanning the network to connect the computer to it, so it can use the various services and hardware offered. From the position of the end user, this is a fairly discreet process; often, the only way to know it is being done is through the network connection lights that appear on the computer itself and any network connection messages that pop up through the operating system. Although it seems elementary and rather mundane from the end user's point of view, the operating system itself is actually working quite hard to scan the network for available connection methods, other computers on the network, and the available files and services located through the network, providing the information to the end user as needed relatively quickly.


Service discovery techniques are also a crucial component to using the Internet, as webpages often allow visitors to make use of their services. Having to perform individual manual connections for each webpage visited would prove both overwhelming and impossible for almost all computer users. By automating the process through service discovery protocols, the same streamlined network connection experience the user has when plugging into a network becomes just as seamless and efficient when browsing the Internet.

Connections made on the Internet through service discovery protocols often take place using the dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP), which is the foremost model used on Internet protocol (IP) networks. The DHCP model obtains an IP address for the computer from the network prior to completing its connection, establishing a basic network connection without the active intervention of an actual human user. By sending a message to the network server, it obtains all of this information as soon as the computer is plugged into the network.


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