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Posted 30 Aug 2003
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Introduction to RPC - Part 2

, 22 Dec 2012
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An introduction to context handles in RPC. A simple RPC client/server application using context handles is explained.

Hello Context World!



I have worked with client-server applications for a couple of years now, all of these applications use RPC as the layer of communication between the client and the server. I found it strange that no real article existed on this matter here on CodeProject, so I decided to write one of my own to spread my knowledge on this matter.

The matter is on the other hand a bit big, so I have decided to split it into several articles of different levels of difficulty. This is the second article and it will introduce you to context handles. You should have read the previous article before reading this one.

Introducing contexts

What is a context handle and what is it good for? Well we use context handles all the time when we are programming, but often they have different names in different places. You can think of a context handle as the equivalent to the this-pointer in C++, the HANDLE returned from CreateFile, or the FILE*-pointer returned from fopen. They are all different context handles that behave somewhat different, but they accomplish the same thing: they all connect to an object.

The different context handles you are used to, are more or less opaque, in RPC the context handles are totally opaque as they are actually pointers of type void*.

It is time to expand the Hello World example from my previous article with the use of a rather simple context handle. There is no better time than now.

Hello Context World!

// File ContextExample.idl
   // A unique identifier that distinguishes this
   // interface from other interfaces.

   // This is version 1.0 of this interface.

   // This interface will use explicit binding handle.
interface ContextExample // The interface is named ContextExample
   // To fully use context handles we need to do a typedef.
   typedef [context_handle] void* CONTEXT_HANDLE;

   // Open a context on the server.
      // Explicit server binding handle.
      [in] handle_t hBinding,
      // String to be output on the server.
      [in, string] const char* szString);

   // Output the context string on the server.
   void Output(
      // Context handle. The binding handle is implicitly
      // used through the explicit context handle.
      [in] CONTEXT_HANDLE hContext);

   // Closes a context on the server.
   void Close(
      // Context handle. The binding handle is implicitly
      // used through the explicit context handle.
      [in, out] CONTEXT_HANDLE* phContext);


What has changed in this example from the previous one? We have added a typedef of a context handle named CONTEXT_HANDLE ("Oooh", the masses roar). We have also added two functions to open and close the context handle. The Output function has been changed so that it takes a context handle instead of a string. And that's it, nothing else has changed.

As you can see we are using explicit binding handles, but the Output and the Close functions do not refer to the binding handle directly. They both use the binding handle indirectly through the context handle. A client side context handle contain the binding handle it is connected to, so there is no real need to send both the binding handle and the context handle to the functions.

Context server

It's time to take the generated files and put them to use in our server application.

Hello Server Context World!

// File ContextExampleServer.cpp
#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include "ContextExample.h"

// Write a formatted error message to std::cerr.
DWORD HandleError(const char* szFunction, DWORD dwError);

   /* [in] */ handle_t hBinding,
   /* [string][in] */ const char* szString)
   std::string* pContext = new std::string(szString);
   CONTEXT_HANDLE hContext = pContext;
   std::clog << "Open: Binding = " << hBinding
      << "; Context = " << hContext << std::endl;
   return hContext;

void Output(
   /* [in] */ CONTEXT_HANDLE hContext)
   std::clog << "Output: Context = " << hContext << std::endl;
   std::string* pContext = static_cast<std::string*>(hContext);
   std::cout << *pContext << std::endl;

void Close(
   /* [out][in] */ CONTEXT_HANDLE* phContext)
   std::clog << "Close: Context = " << *phContext << std::endl;
   std::string* pContext = static_cast<std::string*>(*phContext);
   delete pContext;

   // We must set the context handle to NULL, or else we will get
   // a rundown later anyway.
   *phContext = NULL;

// The RPC runtime will call this function if the connection to the client
// is lost.
   std::clog << "CONTEXT_HANDLE_rundown: Context = 
                   " << hContext << std::endl;

// The thread that will listen for incoming RPC calls.
DWORD WINAPI RpcServerListenThreadProc(LPVOID /*pParam*/)
   // Start to listen for remote procedure calls
   // for all registered interfaces.
   // This call will not return until
   // RpcMgmtStopServerListening is called.
   return RpcServerListen(
      1, // Recommended minimum number of threads.
      RPC_C_LISTEN_MAX_CALLS_DEFAULT, // Recommended maximum number of threads.
      FALSE); // Start listening now.

// Naive security callback.
RPC_STATUS CALLBACK SecurityCallback(RPC_IF_HANDLE /*hInterface*/, void* /*pBindingHandle*/)
    return RPC_S_OK; // Always allow anyone.

int main()
   RPC_STATUS status;

   std::clog << "Calling RpcServerUseProtseqEp" << std::endl;
   // Uses the protocol combined with the endpoint for receiving
   // remote procedure calls.
   status = RpcServerUseProtseqEp(
      reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>("ncacn_ip_tcp"), // Use TCP/IP protocol.
      RPC_C_PROTSEQ_MAX_REQS_DEFAULT, // Backlog queue length for TCP/IP.
      reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>("4747"), // TCP/IP port to use.
      NULL); // No security.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcServerUseProtseqEp", status);

   std::clog << "Calling RpcServerRegisterIf" << std::endl;
   // Registers the ContextExample interface.
   status = RpcServerRegisterIf2(
      ContextExample_v1_0_s_ifspec, // Interface to register.
      NULL, // Use the MIDL generated entry-point vector.
      NULL, // Use the MIDL generated entry-point vector.
      RPC_IF_ALLOW_CALLBACKS_WITH_NO_AUTH, // Forces use of security callback.
      RPC_C_LISTEN_MAX_CALLS_DEFAULT, // Use default number of concurrent calls.
      (unsigned)-1, // Infinite max size of incoming data blocks.
      SecurityCallback); // Naive security callback.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcServerRegisterIf", status);

   std::clog << "Creating listen thread" << std::endl;
   const HANDLE hThread = CreateThread(NULL, 0, RpcServerListenThreadProc,
      NULL, 0, NULL);
   if (!hThread)
      return HandleError("CreateThread", GetLastError());

   std::cout << "Press enter to stop listening" << std::endl;

   std::clog << "Calling RpcMgmtStopServerListening" << std::endl;
   status = RpcMgmtStopServerListening(NULL);
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcMgmtStopServerListening", status);

   std::clog << "Waiting for listen thread to finish";
   while (WaitForSingleObject(hThread, 1000) == WAIT_TIMEOUT)
      std::clog << '.';
   std::clog << std::endl << "Listen thread finished" << std::endl;

   DWORD dwExitCodeThread = 0;
   GetExitCodeThread(hThread, &dwExitCodeThread);
   if (dwExitCodeThread)
      return HandleError("RpcServerListen", dwExitCodeThread);

   std::cout << "Press enter to exit" << std::endl;

// Memory allocation function for RPC.
// The runtime uses these two functions for allocating/deallocating
// enough memory to pass the string to the server.
void* __RPC_USER midl_user_allocate(size_t size)
   return malloc(size);

// Memory deallocation function for RPC.
void __RPC_USER midl_user_free(void* p)


Now the server implementation is rather big compared to our first standalone application, but not so much bigger than the server example in the previous article.

So what has changed? The implementation of the Open and Close functions were added. As you can see the context handle is in fact a pointer to a std::string but disguised as a CONTEXT_HANDLE (that in turn is a pointer of type void*). The server is now more verbose, it writes what it is doing and any errors to the console window. The actual functionality to listen to incoming RPC calls is now implemented in a thread, this in turn allows the server to be shutdown by pressing enter, instead of killing it by closing the window. The memory allocation and de-allocation routines remain the same.

Something that I haven't talked about yet is the rundown routine. What is a rundown routine, you may ask. A rundown routine is a chance for the server to free any resources allocated by a context handle, if the the client is disconnected from the server. The rundown routine is automatically called by the RPC runtime for each open context handle in the client, if the client somehow is disconnected from the server.

Context client

Time has come to write our client application that will connect to the server and use the new context handles.

Hello Client Context World!

// File ContextExampleClient.cpp
#include <iostream>
#include "ContextExample.h"

// Write a formatted error message to std::cerr.
DWORD HandleError(const char* szFunction, DWORD dwError);

int main()
   RPC_STATUS status;
   unsigned char* szStringBinding = NULL;

   std::clog << "Calling RpcStringBindingCompose" << std::endl;
   // Creates a string binding handle.
   // This function is nothing more than a printf.
   // Connection is not done here.
   status = RpcStringBindingCompose(
      NULL, // UUID to bind to.
      reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>("ncacn_ip_tcp"), // Use TCP/IP protocol.
      reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>("localhost"), // TCP/IP network address to use.
      reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>("4747"), // TCP/IP port to use.
      NULL, // Protocol dependent network options to use.
      &szStringBinding); // String binding output.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcStringBindingCompose", status);

   handle_t hBinding = NULL;

   std::clog << "Calling RpcBindingFromStringBinding" << std::endl;
   // Validates the format of the string binding handle and converts
   // it to a binding handle.
   // Connection is not done here either.
   status = RpcBindingFromStringBinding(
      szStringBinding, // The string binding to validate.
      &hBinding); // Put the result in the explicit binding handle.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcBindingFromStringBinding", status);

   std::clog << "Calling RpcStringFree" << std::endl;
   // Free the memory allocated by a string.
   status = RpcStringFree(
      &szStringBinding); // String to be freed.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcStringFree", status);

   std::clog << "Calling RpcEpResolveBinding" << std::endl;
   // Resolves a partially-bound server binding handle into a
   // fully-bound server binding handle.
   status = RpcEpResolveBinding(hBinding, ContextExample_v1_0_c_ifspec);
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcEpResolveBinding", status);

      std::clog << "Calling Open" << std::endl;
      // Open the context handle.
      CONTEXT_HANDLE hContext = Open(hBinding, "Hello Context World!");

      std::cout << "Press enter to call Output" << std::endl;

      std::clog << "Calling Output" << std::endl;
      // Calls the RPC function. The hBinding binding handle
      // is used explicitly.

      std::cout << "Press enter to call Close" << std::endl;

      std::clog << "Calling Close" << std::endl;
      // Close the context handle.
      HandleError("Remote Procedure Call", RpcExceptionCode());

   std::clog << "Calling RpcBindingFree" << std::endl;
   // Releases binding handle resources and disconnects from the server.
   status = RpcBindingFree(
      &hBinding); // Frees the explicit binding handle.
   if (status)
      return HandleError("RpcBindingFree", status);

   std::cout << "Press enter to exit" << std::endl;

// Memory allocation function for RPC.
// The runtime uses these two functions for allocating/deallocating
// enough memory to pass the string to the server.
void* __RPC_USER midl_user_allocate(size_t size)
   return malloc(size);

// Memory deallocation function for RPC.
void __RPC_USER midl_user_free(void* p)


What has changed since the last time? We are checking the state of the binding handle before we are using it by using RpcEpResolveBinding. This will try to verify that the server is running (or not) before we use any of it's exposed RPC functions. Then we create a context, outputs the string using this context and finally closes the context. The client is now more verbose, it writes what it is doing and any errors to the console window. The memory allocation and de-allocation routines remain the same.

To test the rundown routine in the server, I have added some points in the code where it waits for the user to press enter. If you kill the application by closing the window instead of pressing enter, you will see the rundown in effect.


This section describes some techniques useful when using context handles in RPC applications.


The example showed in this article is not thread-safe. If two threads does things in the server at the same time, things could start behaving strange or even crash. In this simple example it does not matter, but it could easily be fixed by using some sort of mutual exclusive synchronization objects (critical sections). This will be addressed in a future article.

Server crashes

If the server becomes unavailable/crashes, the client application should call the function RpcSmDestroyClientContext to free its context data.


Using context handles in RPC is a very powerful thing, it helps you to develop object oriented applications with RPC. An object on the server can be represented by a context handle on the client, and using encapsulation, the implementation of an object on the client can often map functions directly to the server, by using context handles.

Still we have only scratched the surface of the world of RPC and client/server applications. In my future articles, we will dig even deeper.


Revision history

  • 2012-12-22:
    • Finally updated to work with Visual Studio 2010 and fixed security callback.
  • 2003-08-31:
    • Original article.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Anders Dalvander
Software Developer (Senior)
Sweden Sweden
No Biography provided

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QuestionAccess Denied Pin
Face2Shadow2-Jan-07 22:18
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AnswerRe: Access Denied Pin
Siddharth Barman2-May-07 9:17
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
Lapenia16-Aug-07 4:02
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
Islamax24-Nov-07 1:20
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
rishi785-Jun-08 6:02
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
KenryDang19-Oct-08 19:06
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
Anders Dalvander19-Oct-08 20:53
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
KenryDang19-Oct-08 22:19
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
Anders Dalvander19-Oct-08 22:37
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GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
aisoda2-Jun-12 6:55
memberaisoda2-Jun-12 6:55 
GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
Anders Dalvander2-Jun-12 11:00
memberAnders Dalvander2-Jun-12 11:00 
GeneralRe: Access Denied Pin
aisoda3-Jun-12 0:50
memberaisoda3-Jun-12 0:50 
Generalobjects transfer Pin
mahesh kumar s17-Nov-06 1:20
membermahesh kumar s17-Nov-06 1:20 
GeneralRe: objects transfer Pin
Anders Dalvander17-Nov-06 1:52
memberAnders Dalvander17-Nov-06 1:52 
General'Example1_v1_0_s_ifspec' : undeclared identifier Pin
maddyMathan13-Aug-06 17:20
membermaddyMathan13-Aug-06 17:20 
GeneralRe: 'Example1_v1_0_s_ifspec' : undeclared identifier Pin
Anders Dalvander13-Aug-06 23:42
memberAnders Dalvander13-Aug-06 23:42 
GeneralRe: 'Example1_v1_0_s_ifspec' : undeclared identifier Pin
Member 858949911-Apr-13 23:41
memberMember 858949911-Apr-13 23:41 
Questionprotocol dependant network options Pin
triendl.kj20-Apr-06 5:20
professionaltriendl.kj20-Apr-06 5:20 
GeneralVery nice article Pin
immihir16-Mar-06 10:08
memberimmihir16-Mar-06 10:08 
GeneralAuthentication of RPC Pin
Nick Zeng13-Mar-06 16:56
memberNick Zeng13-Mar-06 16:56 
GeneralRe: Authentication of RPC Pin
Anders Dalvander13-Mar-06 21:51
memberAnders Dalvander13-Mar-06 21:51 
QuestionSeems all works are for the rundown routine? Pin
zylthinking10-Mar-06 7:28
memberzylthinking10-Mar-06 7:28 
GeneralRpcImpersonateClient Pin
devisscher8-Feb-06 2:44
memberdevisscher8-Feb-06 2:44 
GeneralExcellent Article Pin
Steven_Henley22-Jan-06 20:16
memberSteven_Henley22-Jan-06 20:16 
GeneralRe: Excellent Article Pin
Anders Dalvander22-Jan-06 22:15
memberAnders Dalvander22-Jan-06 22:15 

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