Among the message types, the most commonly used messages are M_DATA, M_PROTO, and M_PCPROTO. These messages can be passed between a process and the topmost module in a stream, with the same message boundary alignment maintained between user and kernel space. This allows a user process to function, to some degree, as a module above the stream and maintain a service interface. M_PROTO and M_PCPROTO messages carry service interface information among modules, drivers, and user processes.
Modules and drivers do not interact directly with any interfaces except open(2) and close(2). The stream head translates and passes all messages between user processes and the uppermost STREAMS module. Message transfers between a process and the stream head can occur in different forms. For example, M_DATA and M_PROTO messages can be transferred in their direct form by getmsg(2) and putmsg(2). Alternatively, write(2) creates one or more M_DATA messages from the data buffer supplied in the call. M_DATA messages received at the stream head are consumed by read(2) and copied into the user buffer.
Any module or driver can send any message in either direction on a stream. However, based on their intended use in STREAMS and their treatment by the stream head, certain messages can be categorized as upstream, downstream, or bidirectional. For example, M_DATA, M_PROTO, or M_PCPROTO messages can be sent in both directions. Other message types such as M_IOACK are sent upstream to be processed only by the stream head. Messages to be sent downstream are silently discarded if received by the stream head. Table 7-1 and Table 7-2 indicate the intended direction of message types.
STREAMS lets modules create messages and pass them to neighboring modules. read(2) and write(2) are not enough to allow a user process to generate and receive all messages. In the first place, read(2) and write(2) are byte-stream oriented with no concept of message boundaries. The message boundary of each service primitive must be preserved so that the start and end of each primitive can be located in order to support service interfaces. Furthermore, read(2) and write(2) offer only one buffer to the user for transmitting and receiving STREAMS messages. If control information and data is placed in a single buffer, the user has to parse the contents of the buffer to separate the data from the control information.