What is Message Passing?

Malcolm Tatum

In the world of computer science, message passing is a term used to identify a type of communication process that is used in a number of different processes, including object-oriented programming, interprocess communication, and parallel computing. Essentially, the term describes the orderly and efficient transmission of information between components. The exact formulation of that information will vary from one application to the other, but the message passing typically makes it possible for that information to be easily recognized by different programs and synchronized in a manner that makes its use quick and simple.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

In order for message passing to function properly, there are several factors that must be taken into consideration. One has to do with identifying the format used for the transmission. The actual forms of the messages may be signals, data packets, or some sort of remote trigger using a basic language that the recipient systems are programmed to recognize. Along with the type of data transmitted, message passing also involves structuring the order in which transmissions are received, a factor that aids in the assimilation of the data at the receiving end.

Message passing may use what is known as a one-to-one approach, meaning there is a single recipient of the message. In this scenario, the recipient assimilates the message, then may or may not initiate a new message that is passed on to a second recipient. There is also a process known as one-to-many messaging that calls for a single point of origin to initiate the transmission of a message to multiple destinations, a method that may be highly desirable depending on the construction of a network or platform.

There are several different approaches to the process of message passing. One of the most common is known as synchronous message passing. With this approach, the originator or sender continues to transmit the message until confirmation is received from the sender that the data has been delivered and is in the process of being assimilated. At that point, the sender can disengage and move on to other tasks. This approach offers a couple of benefits, in that the messaging process does not require the use of any type of buffers. A second benefit is that if anything is interfering with the reception of the message, that situation usually can be traced and resolved in a relatively short period of time, allowing the overall system to recover full efficiency without exerting a negative impact on other processes currently in operation.

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