Winsock is an application program interface that defines how a Windows application works with network communication protocols.
Winsock, short for Windows Socket, was developed in response to the need to have a standardized way for software developers to write web-enabled applications that would work on any Windows computers.
Prior to the release of Winsock, most networking solutions for Windows systems were sold as a hardware-software bundle. This was the only way that the software developer could be certain of how the computer system had been designed handle network communications and TCP/IP communications in particular.
Winsock was created to provide a common ground where a piece of software could work in conjunction with any networking hardware. With Winsock running on a Windows system, a software developer only has to worry about the interface between their application and Winsock. If all networking applications follow the Winsock specification, then any piece of networking software will work with any piece of networking hardware on any Windows machine. In short, Winsock provides a common language that connects software developers, hardware vendors, and computer system designers.
It's helpful to think of Winsock as a translator that stands between a computer's networking hardware and a networking application, such as the Google Chrome web browser. The team responsible for developing Google Chrome cannot possibly write an application that will work on all Windows machines if every Windows machine implements TCP/IP connections a little differently. Thanks to Winsock, they don't have to try! Instead, they just make sure Google Chrome interfaces correctly with Winsock, and, having accomplished that, the application will have no trouble negotiating an Internet connection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why don't I see a Winsock application on my Windows computer?
Winsock is a system utility. It runs in the background between your computer's networking hardware, and any applications accessing the Internet. You never actually see or use Winsock. It's just the glue in the background that lets your browser, e-mail client, and VoIP application access the Internet.
I've had to reset corrupted Winsock settings before. What causes Winsock settings to become corrupted?
When a Windows machine experiences issues connecting to the Internet due to corrupt Winsock settings, quite often some form of malware has infected the machine and made changes to the Winsock settings. While resetting the settings may restore connectivity if you don't remove the infection the issue will repeat itself. In order to find the culpable bug run complete system scans of your system using a couple of reputable anti-virus programs and correct any issues they discover. Then reset your Winsock settings, reboot your computer, and determine if the problem has been addressed.
Why would Microsoft want to open up the Windows system to third party developers?
The goal of Winsock was to make it easier for third-party developers to write network software for Windows machines. Why would Microsoft want that? While the answer to that question is pure conjecture, we can think of two reasons why this was a good move for Microsoft.
First, Microsoft's ultimate goal was to sell more copies of Windows. Making development of Windows applications easier than development on any other platform meant that more and more applications would be available on Windows. As a result, customers would demand the Windows environment, and Windows share of the operating system market would increase.
Second, Microsoft must have felt that they didn't have a corner on the market of good ideas and innovation. Opening the door to third-party developers would allow Microsoft to focus on their core software products while other third-party developers rolled out high-risk cutting-edge applications designed to run on Windows systems.