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Technical Advice

With the release of MacOS X 10.6, the faithful stalwart known as Appletalk is no more. It was the best way to discover servers and printers on your network, but it was long in the tooth and had some drawbacks. The replacement for Appletalk is now Bonjour (aka Rendezvous, aka mDNS, aka Zeroconf). But how does that help you? First a little history...

Back in the olden days when Appletalk was King, you would go to your Chooser, click on Laserwriter and then go through the list of Appletalk printers it found on your zone. Click on the printer you wanted and the computer would talk to the printer via Appletalk to find out what kind of printer it was, how many paper trays it had, how much RAM, if it had a duplexer, color capabilities and then you were done. After this one-time setup. you could then print to that printer. This is one of the things that supported the Mac's unofficial motto "It just works".

One negative of this is that many "anti-mac" network admins would say that Appletalk was "chatty" and use it as an excuse to ban Macs from their network or segregate them off to their own VLAN. "Chatty" is a subjective term, but the overhead of the computers and printers advertizing themselves on the network was a bit more than other network protocols at the time. The larger your Appletalk network, the more traffic there was. Another drawback is that Appletalk can only communicate over one network interface at a time. Another was that only Macs could take advantage of its convenience.  There were other parts of Appletalk that weren't really identified as weaknesses until the computer and network worlds grew at an amazing pace, and Appletalk just couldn't keep up.

Apple introduced Rendezvous in 2002 with the release of OSX 10.2 (Jaguar) as a new way to connect to network resources. There weren't many devices to take advantage of this at the time except for OSX Server and desktop machines to talk to each other. Because of an obscure trademark that pre-dated Apple's naming of this technology, the name was changed to Bonjour. The two names, however, are still sometimes used interchangeably. As time progressed more and more vendors were taking advantage of this new network protocol that lets users and devices get together on the network without needing a network admin with a list of IP addresses.

Today, most home and office networkable printers support Bonjour. There are still a few larger, more expensive office printers that support Appletalk but they are far and few between and soon will be extinct because Apple has now officially dropped Appletalk support from their products.

Bonjour is a worthy replacement to Appletalk, but it isn't without its own drawbacks.

  • It isn't as "chatty" as Appletalk. Instead of each device constantly advertizing itself on the network, each device waits for a discovery request to be broadcast on the network and then replies with "here i am" 
  • it is based on open source software which means Windows and UNIX PCs can now use this protocol too
  • it is a much more versatile network protocol. This means it can be used for more than just printing. Web browsers, chat programs, FTP, SSH, and many more apps can communicate with it.
  • It can communicate over multiple network interfaces at the same time - multiple ethernet ports, WiFi, etc


  • The degree of implementation among printer manufacturers appears to vary. Some printers can be fully setup with the same ease as Appletalk, while some printers still require you to tell your computer how many paper trays, how much RAM, color capabilities etc they have.
  • If the printer supports multiple print queues, you will have to specify in your print dialog boxes which queue you want to print to. 
  • Discovery of new devices & services on the network can sometimes be slowed down or blocked for unexplained reasons. Usually this can be resolved by restarting your computer or the device you're looking for.
  • There is no way to turn off or reset Bonjour on your Mac. It is always on. So if you wish for your computer to not browse or reply to Bonjour requests, you can't stop it without disconnecting from the network.
  • It doesn't work beyond your local network subnet... but neither could Appletalk without expensive network hardware. 

What if you need to upgrade to OSX 10.6 and have an older printer that supports Appletalk but doesn't have the ability to communicate over Bonjour (or mDNS as it is sometimes called)?  You do have options, but they aren't always perfect:

  • if you have an OSX Server 10.5 or older, you can setup the printer on the server and then share it out via Bonjour.
  • you *MAY* be able to print to the printer via IP printing. The printer and driver would have to support this method, however. The printer MUST have a static IP address or DNS entry assigned to it in order for the printer to always be where you expect it to be.
  • print via direct USB connection, but many network printers don't have that as a connection and it may not be practical.
  • If your printer is so old that it supports Appletalk but can't do IP printing and doesn't have a USB connection, then you have a real dinosaur on your hands and it may be time to bite the bullet and replace it with a new printer.  You'd be happier with a newer, faster printer with more functionality anyway, wouldn't you?

One last thing: As many people remember, printing to an Appletalk printer required the presence of Postscript installed on the printer. This is still mostly true with Bonjour. Some very specific high-end printer models may include Mac-specific drivers that bypass the need for Postscript. Unless the marketing materials and tech specs on the websites specifically say the models support Mac printing via Bonjour (or Rendezvous or mDNS), you should contact the vendor for clarification.

Some links:

Bonjour for Windows - so you can take advantage of this technology on your Windows machine. If you are running a 64-bit version of windows you have to download the 64-bit version linked to on that page.

Brother printers - We have had great experiences with Brother's line of network printers.

HP printers - they have great printers too but finding out which non-Laserjet ones support Bonjour may be difficult without direct access to the packaging or the printer itself.

Bonjour Browser - a great app for seeing exactly what kinds of Bonjour devices and services are on your network. You can also use it for troubleshooting possible network problems.

Bonjour wikipedia article for more info