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The Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) is a network control protocol for use in entertainment and communications systems to control streaming media servers. The protocol is used to establish and control media sessions between end points. Clients of media servers issue VCR-like commands, such as play and pause, to facilitate real-time control of playback of media files from the server.

The transmission of streaming data itself is not a task of the RTSP protocol. Most RTSP servers use the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) for media stream delivery, however some vendors implement proprietary transport protocols. The RTSP server from RealNetworks, for example, also features RealNetworks' proprietary RDT stream transport.

RTSP was developed by the Multiparty Multimedia Session Control Working Group (MMUSIC WG) of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and published as RFC 2326 in 1998.[1]

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Protocol directives

The RTSP protocol has similarities to HTTP, but RTSP adds new requests. While HTTP is stateless, RTSP is a stateful protocol. A session identifier is used to keep track of sessions when needed; thus, no permanent TCP connection is needed. RTSP messages are sent from client to server, although some exceptions exist where the server will send to the client.

Presented here are the basic RTSP requests. Some typical HTTP requests, like the OPTIONS request, are also available. The default transport layer port number is 554.

An OPTIONS request returns the request types the server will accept.
A DESCRIBE request includes an RTSP URL (rtsp://...), and the type of reply data that can be handled. The default port for the RTSP protocol is 554 for both UDP and TCP transports. This reply includes the presentation description, typically in Session Description Protocol (SDP) format. Among other things, the presentation description lists the media streams controlled with the aggregate URL. In the typical case, there is one media stream each for audio and video.
A SETUP request specifies how a single media stream must be transported. This must be done before a PLAY request is sent. The request contains the media stream URL and a transport specifier. This specifier typically includes a local port for receiving RTP data (audio or video), and another for RTCP data (meta information). The server reply usually confirms the chosen parameters, and fills in the missing parts, such as the server's chosen ports. Each media stream must be configured using SETUP before an aggregate play request may be sent.
A PLAY request will cause one or all media streams to be played. Play requests can be stacked by sending multiple PLAY requests. The URL may be the aggregate URL (to play all media streams), or a single media stream URL (to play only that stream). A range can be specified. If no range is specified, the stream is played from the beginning and plays to the end, or, if the stream is paused, it is resumed at the point it was paused.
A PAUSE request temporarily halts one or all media streams, so it can later be resumed with a PLAY request. The request contains an aggregate or media stream URL. When to pause can be specified with a range parameter. The range parameter can be left out to pause immediately.
The RECORD request can be used to send a stream to the server for storage.
A TEARDOWN request is used to terminate the session. It stops all media streams and frees all session related data on the server.

Server implementations

  • QuickTime Streaming Server: Apple's closed-source streaming server that ships with Mac OS X Server
  • Darwin Streaming Server: Open-sourced version of QuickTime Streaming Server maintained by Apple
  • pvServer: Formerly called PacketVideo Streaming Server, this is Alcatel-Lucent's streaming server product.
  • Helix DNA Server: RealNetworks' streaming server. Comes in both open-source and proprietary flavors.
  • Live555: Open source C++ server and client libraries used in well known clients like VLC and mplayer.
  • VideoLAN: Open source media player and streaming server
  • Windows Media Services: Microsoft's streaming server included with Windows Server.
  • VX30: Streaming video server and embedded JAVA client from Maui X-Stream.
  • Xenon Streaming Server: Mobile streaming server from Vidiator Technology (US) Inc.
  • RtpRtspStack: Streaming server which is designed for low footprint and high performance applications.
  • Gstreamer based RTSP Server and client
  • FFmpeg: includes ffserver a GPL or LGPL RTSP streaming server

Client applications


  1. ^ RFC 2326, Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), IETF, 1998

External links

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