TCPM Working Group G. Fairhurst
Internet-Draft I. Biswas
Intended status: Standards Track University of Aberdeen
Expires: September 08, 2011 March 07, 2011

Updating TCP to support Variable-Rate Traffic


This document addresses issues that arise when TCP is used to support variable-rate traffic that includes periods where the transmission rate is limited by the application. It evaluates TCP Congestion Window Validation (TCP-CWV), an IETF experimental specification defined in RFC 2581, and concludes that TCP-CWV sought to address important issues, but failed to deliver a widely used solution.

The document recommends that the IETF should consider moving RFC 2861 from Experimental to Historic status, and replacing this with the current specification, which updates TCP to allow a TCP sender to restart quickly following either an idle or data-limited period. The method is expected to benefit variable-rate TCP applications, while also providing an appropriate response if congestion is experienced.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

TCP's congestion window (cwnd) controls the number of packets a TCP flow may have in the network at any time. A bulk application that always sends as fast as possible, will continue to grow the cwnd, and increase its transmission rate until it reaches the maximum permitted. In contrast, a variable-rate application may experience long periods when the sender is either idle or application-limited.

Standard TCP requires the cwnd to be reset to the restart window (rw) when an application becomes idle. RFC 2861 noted that this behaviour was not always observed in current implementations. Recent experiments [Bis08] confirm this to still be the case. Standard TCP does not control growth of the cwnd when an application is data-limited. A data-limited application may therefore grow a cwnd that does not reflect any current information about the state of the network. Use of an invalid cwnd may result in reduced application performance or could significantly contribute to network congestion. These issues were noted in [RFC 2861].

TCP-CWV proposed a solution to help reduce the cases where TCP experienced an invalid cwnd. The use of TCP-CWV is discussed in Section 2.

Section 4 discusses an alternative to TCP-CWV that seeks to address the same issues, but does so in a way that is expected to mitigate the impact on an application that varies its transmission rate. The proposal described applies to both a data limited and an idle condition. .

2. Reviewing experience with TCP-CWV

RFC 2861 described a simple modification to the TCP congestion control algorithms that decayed the cwnd after the transition from a “sufficiently-long” application-limited period, while using the slow-start threshold ssthresh to save information about the previous value of the congestion window. This approach relaxed the standard TCP behaviour [RFC5681] for an idle session, intended to improve application performance. It did not modify the behaviour for an application-limited session where a sender continues to transmit at a rate less than allowed by cwnd.

RFC 2861 has been implemented in some mainstream operating systems as the default behaviour [Bis08]. Experience from using applications with TCP-CWV suggests that this mechanism does not offer the desirable increase in application performance for “bursty” applications and it is unclear that applications actually use the mechanism. Analysis (e.g. [Bis10]) has shown that TCP-CWV is able to use the available capacity after an idle period over a shared path and that this can have benefit, especially over long delay paths, when compared to slow-start restart specified by standard TCP, but this behaviour can be too conservative to be attractive to many common variable-rate applications.

TCP-CWV offer a benefit, compared to standard TCP, for an application that exhibits regular idleness. However TCP-CWV would only benefit the application if the idle period was greater than several RTOs, since the behaviour would be the same as for standard TCP. Although TCP-CWV benefits the network in an application-limited scenario, the conservative approach of TCP-CWV does not provide an incentive to application to use this. It is therefore suggested that TCP-CWV is often a poor solution for many variable rate applications. In summary, TCP-CWV has the correct motivation, but has the wrong approach to solving this problem

3. Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

The document also assumes familiarity with the terminology of TCP congestion control [RFC5681].

4. An updated TCP response to idle and application-limited periods

This section proposes an update to the TCP congestion control behaviour during an idle or data limited period. The new method allows a TCP sender to preserve the cwnd when an application becomes idle for a period of time (set in this specification to 6 minutes). This period where actual usage is less than allowed by cwnd is called the nonvalidation phase. This allows an application to resume transmission at a previous rate without incurring the delay of slow-start. However, if the TCP sender experiences congestion using the preserved cwnd, it is required to immediately reset the cwnd to an appropriate value. If a sender does not take advantage of the preserved cwnd within 6 minutes, the value of cwnd is updated, ensuring the value then reflects the capacity was recently used.

The new method does not differentiate between times when the sender has become idle or application-limited. It recognises that applications can result in variable-rate transmission. This therefore reduces the incentive for an application to send data, simply to keep transport congestion state. The method requires SACK to be enabled. This allows a sender to select a cwnd following a congestion event that is based on the measured path capacity path, better reflecting the fair-share. A similar approach was proposed by TCP Jump Start [Liu07], as a congestion response after more rapid opening of a connection.

It is expected that the proposed TCP modification will satisfy the requirements of many variable rate applications and at the same time provide an appropriate method for use in the Internet. This change may also serve to encourage application

4.1. A method for preserving cwnd in idle and application-limited periods.

The method described in this document updates RFC 5681. Use of the method REQUIRES a TCP sender and the corresponding receiver to enable the SACK option [RFC 3517].

RFC 5681 define a variable FlightSize, that indicates the amount of outstanding data in the network. In RFC 5681 this is used during loss recovery, whereas in this method it is also used in normal data transfer. A sender is not required to accurately record this value, but must be able to measure the volume of data in the network at least each RTT period.

4.2. The nonvalidated phase

The updated method creates a new TCP phase that captures where the cwnd reflects a valid or nonvalidated value. The phases are defined as:

4.3. TCP congestion control during the nonvalidated phase

A TCP sender that enters the non-validated phase preserves the cwnd (i.e., this neither grows nor reduces). The phase is concluded after a fixed period of time (6 minutes, as explained in section 4.4) or when the sender transmits using the full cwnd (i.e. it is no longer data-limited).

The behaviour in the non-validated phase is specified as:

4.3.1. Adjustment at the end of the nonvalidated phase

An application that remains in the nonvalidated phase for a period greater than six minutes is required to adjust its congestion control state.

During the non-validated phase, an application may produce bursts of data at up to the cwnd in size. This is no different to normal TCP, however it is desirable to control the maximum burst size, e.g. by setting a burst size limit, using a pacing algorithm, or some other method.

At the end of the nonvalidated phase, the sender MUST update cwnd:

cwnd = max(FlightSize*2, IW).

Where IW is the TCP initial window.

The sender also MUST reset the ssthresh:

ssthresh = max(ssthresh, 3*cwnd/4).

The adjustment of ssthresh ensures that the sender records that it has safely sustained the present rate. This change is beneficial to applications-limited flows that encounter occasional congestion, and could otherwise suffer an unwanted additional delay in recovering the transmission rate.

The sender MAY re-enter the nonvalidated phase if required (see section 4.2).

4.3.2. Response to congestion in the nonvalidated phase

If the sender receives congestion feedback while in the nonvalidated phase, i.e. it detects a packet-drop or receives an Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN), this indicates that it was unsafe to start with the preserved cwnd, and TCP is required to quickly reduce the rate to avoid further congestion.

When loss is detected, the sender MUST calculate a safe cwnd:

cwnd = FlightSize– R.

Where, R is the volume of data reported as unacknowledged by the SACK information. Following the method proposed for JumpStart {Liu07].

At the end of the recovery phase, the TCP sender MUST reset the cwnd:

cwnd = (FlightSize/2).

4.4. Determining a safe period to preserve cwnd

Setting a limit to the period that cwnd is preserved avoids the undesirable side effects that would result if cwnd were preserved for an arbitrary long period, which was a part of the problem that TCP-CWV originally attempted to address. The period a sender may safely preserve the cwnd, is a function of the period that a network path is expected to sustain capacity reflected by cwnd. There is no perfect choice for this time. The period of 6 minutes was chosen as a compromise that was larger than the idle intervals of common applications, but not sufficiently larger than the period for which an Internet path may commonly be regarded as stable.

The capacity of wired networks is usually relatively stable for periods of several minutes and that load stability increases with the capacity. This suggests that cwnd may be preserved for at least a few minutes.

There are cases where the TCP throughput exhibits significant variability over a time less than 6 minutes. Examples could include many wireless topologies, where TCP rate variations may fluctuate on the order of a few seconds as a consequence of medium access protocol instabilities. Mobility changes may also impact TCP performance over short time scales. Senders that observe such rapid changes in the path characteristic may also experience increased congestion with the new method, however such variation would likely also impact TCP’s behaviour when supporting interactive and bulk applications.

Routing algorithms may modify the network path, disrupting the RTT measurement and changing the capacity available to a TCP connection, however such changes do not often occur within a time frame of a few minutes.

The value of 6 minutes is expected to be sufficient for most current applications. Simulation studies also suggest that for most practical applications, the performance using this value will not be significantly different to that observed using a non-standard method that does not reset cwnd after idle.

5. Security Considerations

General security considerations concerning TCP congestion control are discussed in RFC 5681. This document describes a algorithm for one aspect of those congestion control procedures, and so the considerations described in RFC 5681 apply to this algorithm also.

6. IANA Considerations


7. Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the contributions of Dr A Sathiaseelan and Dr R Secchi in supporting the evaluation of TCP-CWV and for their help in developing the protocol proposed in this draft.

8. References

8.1. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC2861] Handley, M., Padhye, J. and S. Floyd, "TCP Congestion Window Validation", RFC 2861, June 2000.
[RFC3517] Blanton, E., Allman, M., Fall, K. and L. Wang, "A Conservative Selective Acknowledgment (SACK)-based Loss Recovery Algorithm for TCP", RFC 3517, April 2003.
[RFC5681] Allman, M., Paxson, V. and E. Blanton, "TCP Congestion Control", RFC 5681, September 2009.

8.2. Informative References

[Bis08] Biswas, and Fairhurst, "A Practical Evaluation of Congestion Window Validation Behaviour, 9th Annual Postgraduate Symposium in the Convergence of Telecommunications, Networking and Broadcasting (PGNet), Liverpool, UK, Jun. 2008.", .
[Liu07] Liu, , Allman, , Jiny, and Wang, "Congestion Control without a Startup Phase, 5th International Workshop on Protocols for Fast Long-Distance Networks (PFLDnet), Los Angeles, California, USA, Feb. 2007.", .
[Bis10] Biswas, , Sathiaseelan, , Secchi, and Fairhurst, "Analysing TCP for Bursty Traffic, Int'l J. of Communications, Network and System Sciences, 7(3), July 2010.", .

Authors' Addresses

Godred Fairhurst University of Aberdeen School of Engineering Fraser Noble Building Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 3UE UK EMail: URI:
Israfil Biswas University of Aberdeen School of Engineering Fraser Noble Building Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 3UE UK EMail: URI: