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RFCs & Standards Voice over IP

What is a SIP Registrar?

Explanation of what a SIP Registrar does, Contact header and Address on Record, and how it all fits together to route messages correctly.

If we want to send a SIP message to Bob’s phone, we needs to know the IP Address of Bob’s phone. There are 4,294,967,296 IPv4 addresses, so finding Bob may take a while.

Bob could let us know his IP address, but what if Bob’s IP changes? If he’s using a Softphone while he’s out to lunch and a desk phone once he gets back to the office. How do we find Bob?

SIP manages this using a SIP Registrar, essentially, when Bob goes out to lunch and starts his softphone app, the softphone checks in with the Registrar and lets the Registrar know what IP to find Bob on now (the softphone’s IP).

When he gets back to the office he closes the softphone app, as it shuts down it checks in with the Registrar again to let it know Bob’s not using the softphone any more.

So our Registrar keeps track of the IP address you can find a SIP endpoint on.

It does this using an Address on Record (AoR). It’s a record of a contact – Like Bob, and the IP Addresses to contact Bob, kind of like DNS is a record of the domain name and the IP it translates to.

A simplified example AoR might look like:

 Bob | 192.168.1.2 | Expires 1800

So if we want to send a SIP message to Bob, we look up Bob’s IP in our Address on Record list, and send it to that IP.

A Registrar takes the info received in a SIP REGISTER messages and stores the IP Address and contact info in the form of an Address on Record (AoR).

Registrars also manage expiry, if Bob’s softphone sends a SIP REGISTER message letting us know we’re on one IP address, and then his phone runs out of battery or drops out of coverage, we don’t want to keep sending SIP messages that are going to be lost, so in this case Bob has 1800 seconds left, after which his Address on Record will be discarded if he doesn’t send another REGISTER message before then.

Different SIP Registrars use different ways to store this information, and some store more info, like User-Agent, NAT information and multiple contact IP addresses. Most implementations of a SIP Registrar use some form of database back end or another to store this information. In my Kamailio Registrar example we store it in memory, but you could store it in some form of SQL database, text files, post it notes or punch card, so long a you have a quick way to look it up when needed.

So that’s a SIP Registrar in a nutshell, we’ll talk more about the REGISTER process and flow, including what the www-auth header does, the Contact header and multi endpoint registration in future posts.

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