One key differentiation for AppleTalk was it contained three protocols aimed at making the system completely self-configuring. The AppleTalk address resolution protocol (AARP) allowed AppleTalk hosts to automatically generate their own network addresses, and the Name Binding Protocol (NBP) was a dynamic Domain Name System (DNS) system, mapping network addresses to user-readable names. Although systems similar to AARP existed in other systems, Banyan VINES for instance, nothing like NBP has existed until recently.
Both AARP and NBP had defined ways to allow "controller" devices to override the default mechanisms. The concept was to allow routers to provide the information or "hardwire" the system to known addresses and names. On larger networks where AARP could cause problems as new nodes searched for free addresses, the addition of a router could reduce "chattiness." Together AARP and NBP made AppleTalk an easy-to-use networking system. New machines were added to the network by plugging them and optionally giving them a name. The NBP lists were examined and displayed by a program known as the Chooser which would display a list of machines on the local network, divided into classes such as file-servers and printers.
One problem for AppleTalk is it was intended to be part of a project known as Macintosh Office, which would consist of a host machine providing routing, printer sharing and file sharing. However this project was canceled in 1986. Despite this, the LaserWriter included built-in AppleTalk. Apple released a file and print server known as the AppleShare File and Print Servers.
Today AppleTalk support is provided for backward compatibility in many products, but the default networking on the Mac is TCP/IP. Starting with Mac OS X v10.2, Bonjour (originally named Rendezvous) provides similar discovery and configuration services for TCP/IP-based networks. Bonjour is Apple's implementation of ZeroConf, which was written specifically to bring NBP's ease-of-use to the TCP/IP world.
Because of this dynamism, users could not be expected to access services by specifying their address. Instead, all services had names which, being chosen by humans, could be expected to be meaningful to users, and also could be sufficiently long enough to minimize the chance of conflicts.
Note that, because a name translated to an address, which included a socket number as well as a node number, a name in AppleTalk mapped directly to a service being provided by a machine, which was entirely separate from the name of the machine itself. Thus, services could be moved to a different machine and, so long as they kept the same service name, there was no need for users to do anything different to continue accessing the service. And the same machine could host any number of instances of services of the same type, without any network connection conflicts.
Contrast this with A records in the DNS, where a name translates only to a machine address, not including the port number that might be providing a service. Thus, if people are accustomed to using a particular machine name to access a particular service, their access will break when the service is moved to a different machine. This can be mitigated somewhat by insistence on using CNAME records indicating service rather than actual machine names to refer to the service, but there is no way of guaranteeing that users will follow such a convention. (Some newer protocols, such as Kerberos and Active Directory use DNS SRV records to identify services by name, which is much closer to the AppleTalk model.)
AARP is a fairly simple system. When powered on, an AppleTalk machine broadcasts an AARP probe packet asking for a network address, intending to hear back from controllers such as routers. If no address is provided, one is picked at random from the "base subnet", 0. It then broadcasts another packet saying "I am selecting this address", and then waits to see if anyone else on the network complains. If another machine has that address, it will pick another address, and keep trying until it finds a free one. On a network with many machines it may take several tries before a free address is found, so for performance purposes the successful address is "written down" in NVRAM and used as the default address in the future. This means that in most real-world setups where machines are added a few at a time, only one or two tries are needed before the address effectively become constant.
An ATP request packet could be answered by up to eight response packets. The requestor then sent an acknowledgement packet containing a bit mask indicating which of the response packets it received, so the responder could retransmit the remainder.
ATP could operate in either "at-least-once" mode or "exactly-once" mode. Exactly-once mode was essential for operations which were not idempotent; in this mode, the responder kept a copy of the response buffers in memory until successful receipt of a release packet from the requestor, or until a timeout elapsed. This way, it could respond to duplicate requests with the same transaction ID by resending the same response data, without performing the actual operation again.**
As would be expected from Apple, names were truly human readable, containing spaces, upper and lower case letters, and including support for searching.
PAP also provided for out-of-band status queries, handled by separate ATP transactions. Even while it was busy servicing a print job from one client, a PAP server could continue to respond to status requests from any number of other clients. This allowed other Macintoshes on the LAN that were waiting to print to display status messages indicating that the printer was busy, and what the job was that it was busy with.
Other physical implementations were also available. One common replacement for LocalTalk was PhoneNet, a 3rd party solution (from a company called Farallon) that also used the RS-422 port and was indistinguishable from LocalTalk as far as Apple's LocalTalk port drivers were concerned, but ran over two unused wires in existing phone cabling. PhoneNet was considerably less expensive to install and maintain. Ethernet and Token Ring was also supported, known as EtherTalk and TokenTalk respectively. EtherTalk in particular gradually became the dominant implementation method for AppleTalk as Ethernet became generally popular in the PC industry throughout the 1990s. An Ethernet network could also run AppleTalk and TCP/IP simultaneously.
|OSI Model||Corresponding AppleTalk layers|
|Application||Apple Filing Protocol (AFP)|
|Presentation||Apple Filing Protocol (AFP)|
|Session||Zone Information Protocol (ZIP)|
AppleTalk Session Protocol (ASP)
AppleTalk Data Stream Protocol (ADSP)
|Transport||AppleTalk Transaction Protocol (ATP)|
AppleTalk Echo Protocol (AEP)
Name Binding Protocol (NBP)
Routing Table Maintenance Protocol (RTMP)
|Network||Datagram Delivery Protocol (DDP)|
|Data link||EtherTalk Link Access Protocol (ELAP)|
LocalTalk Link Access Protocol (LLAP)
TokenTalk Link Access Protocol (TLAP)
Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI)
Token Ring driver
|AppleTalk version||Apple Filing Protocol||Corresponds to Mac OS||Notes|
In addition, Columbia University released the Columbia AppleTalk Package (CAP) which implemented the protocol suite for various Unix flavors including Ultrix, SunOS, *BSD and IRIX. This package is no longer actively maintained.