Internet DRAFT - draft-chiappa-ipng-nimrod-arch
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Internet Draft J. Noel Chiappa
Expires: January 21, 1995 July 21, 1994
IPng Technical Requirements
Of the Nimrod Routing and Addressing Architecture
Status of this Memo
This document is an Internet Draft. Internet Drafts are working
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This document presents the requirements that the Nimrod routing and
addressing architecture has upon the internetwork layer protocol. To be most
useful to Nimrod, any protocol selected as the IPng should satisfy these
requirements. Also presented is some background information, consisting of
i) information about architectural and design principles which might apply
to the design of a new internetworking layer, and ii) some details of the
logic and reasoning behind particular requirements.
It is important to note that this document is not "IPng Requirements
for Routing", as other proposed routing and addressing designs may need
different support; this document is specific to Nimrod, and doesn't claim to
speak for other efforts.
However, although I don't wish to assume that the particular designs
being worked on by the Nimrod WG will be widely adopted by the Internet (if
for no other reason, they have not yet been deployed and tried and tested in
practise, to see if they really work, an absolutely necessary hurdle for any
protocol), there are reasons to believe that any routing architecture for a
large, ubiquitous global Internet will have many of the same basic fundamental
principles as the Nimrod architecture, and the requirements that these
While current day routing technologies do not yet have the
characteristics and capabilities that generate these requirements, they also
do not seem to be completely suited to routing in the next-generation
Internet. As routing technology moves towards what is needed for the next
generation Internet, the underlying fundamental laws and principles of routing
will almost inevitably drive the design, and hence the requirements, toward
things which look like the material presented here.
Therefore, even if Nimrod is not the routing architecture of the
next-generation Internet, the basic routing architecture of that Internet will
have requirements that, while differing in detail, will almost inevitably be
similar to these.
In a similar, but more general, context, note that, by and large, the
general analysis of sections 3.1 ("Interaction Architectural Issues") and 3.2
("State and Flows in the Internetwork Layer") will apply to other areas of
a new internetwork layer, not just routing.
I will tackle the internetwork packet format first (which is simpler),
and then the whole issue of the interaction with the rest of the internetwork
layer (which is a much more subtle topic).
2.1 Packet Format Issues
As a general rule, the design philosophy of Nimrod is "maximize the
lifetime (and flexibility) of the architecture". Design tradeoffs (i.e.
optimizations) that will adversely affect the flexibility, adaptability and
lifetime of the design are not not necessarily wise choices; they may cost
more than they save. Such optimizations might be the correct choices in a
stand-alone system, where the replacement costs are relatively small; in the
global communication network, the replacement costs are very much higher.
Providing the Nimrod functionality requires the carrying of certain
information in the packets. The design principle noted above has a number of
corollaries in specifying the fields to contain that information.
First, the design should be "simple and straightforward", which means
that various functions should be handled by completely separate mechanisms,
and fields in the packets. It may seem that an opportunity exists to save
space by overloading two functions onto one mechanism or field, but general
experience is that, over time, this attempt at optimization costs more, by
restricting flexibility and adaptability.
Second, field lengths should be specified to be somewhat larger than
can conceivably be used; the history of system architecture is replete with
examples (processor address size being the most notorious) where fields became
too short over the lifetime of the system. The document indicates what the
smallest reasonable "adequate" lengths are, but this is more of a "critical
floor" than a recommendation. A "recommended" length is also given, which is
the length which corresponds to the application of this principle. The wise
designer would pick this length.
It is important to now that this does *not* mean that
implementations must support the maximum value possible in a field of that
size. I imagine that system-wide administrative limits will be placed on the
maximum values which must be supported. Then, as the need arises, we can
increase the administrative limit. This allows an easy, and completely
interoperable (with no special mechanisms) path to upgrade the capability of
the network. If the maximum supported value of a field needs to be increased
from M to N, an announcement is made that this is coming; during the interim
period, the system continues to operate with M, but new implementations are
deployed; while this is happening, interoperation is automatic, with no
transition mechanisms of any kind needed. When things are "ready" (i.e. the
proportion of old equipment is small enough), use of the larger value
Also, in speaking of the packet format, you first need to distinguish
between the host-router part of the path, and the router-router part; a
format that works OK for one may not do for another.
The issue is complicated by the fact that Nimrod can be made to work,
albeit not in optimal form, with information/fields missing from the packet in
the host to "first hop router" section of the packet's path. The missing
fields and information can then be added by the first hop router. (This
capability will be used to allow deployment and operation with unmodified IPv4
hosts, although similar techniques could be used with other internetworking
protocols.) Access to the full range of Nimrod capabilities will require
upgrading of hosts to include the necessary information in the packets they
exchange with the routers.
Second, Nimrod currently has three planned forwarding modes (flows,
datagram, and source-routed packets), and a format that works for one may not
work for another; some modes use fields that are not used by other modes.
The presence or absence of these fields will make a difference.
2.2 Packet Format Fields
What Nimrod would like to see in the internetworking packet is:
- Source and destination endpoint identification. There are several
One is "UID"s, which are "shortish", fixed length fields which appear in
each packet, in the internetwork header, which contain globally unique,
topologically insensitive identifiers for either i) endpoints (if you
aren't familiar with endpoints, think of them as hosts), or ii)
multicast groups. (In the former instance, the UID is an EID; in the
latter, a "set ID", or SID. An SID is an identifier which looks just
like an EID, but it refers to a group of endpoints. The semantics of
SID's are not completely defined.) For each of these 48 bits is
adequate, but we would recommend 64 bits. (IPv4 will be able to operate
with smaller ones for a while, but eventually either need a new packet
format, or the difficult and not wholly satisfactory technique known as
Network Address Translators, which allows the contents of these fields
to be only locally unique.)
Another possibility is some shorter field, named an "endpoint selector",
or ESEL, which contains a value which is not globally unique, but only
unique in mapping tables on each end, tables which map from the small
value to a globally unique value, such as a DNS name.
Finally, it is possible to conceive of overall networking designs which
do not include any endpoint identification in the packet at all, but
transfer it at the start of a communication, and from then on infer it.
This alternative would have to have some other means of telling which
endpoint a given packet is for, if there are several endpoints at a
given destination. Some coordination on allocation of flow-ids, or
higher level port numbers, etc, might do this.
- Flow identification. There are two basic approaches here, depending on
whether flows are aggregated (in intermediate switches) or not. It
should be emphasized at this point that it is not yet known whether
flow aggregation will be needed. The only reason to do it is to control
the growth of state in intermediate routers, but there is no hard case
made that either this growth will be unmanageable, or that aggregating
flows will be feasible practically.
For the non-aggregated case, a single "flow-id" field will suffice.
This *must not* use one of the two previous UID fields, as in
datagram mode (and probably source-routed mode as well) the flow-id will
be over-written during transit of the network. It could most easily be
constructed by adding a UID to a locally unique flow-id, which will
provide a globally unique flow-id. It is possible to use non-globally
unique flow-ids, (which would allow a shorter length to this field),
although this would mean that collisions would result, and have to be
dealt with. An adequate length for the local part of a globally unique
flow-id would be 12 bits (which would be my "out of thin air" guess),
but we recommend 32. For a non-globally unique flow-id, 24 bits would
be adequate, but I recommend 32.
For the aggregated case, three broad classes of mechanism are possible.
- Option 1: The packet contains a sequence (sort of like a source route)
of flow-ids. Whenever you aggregate or deaggregate, you move along the
list to the next one. This takes the most space, but is otherwise the
least work for the routers.
- Option 2: The packet contains a stack of flow-ids, with the current
one on the top. When you aggregate, you push a new one on; when you
de-aggregate, you take one off. This takes more work, but less space in
the packet than the complete "source-route". Encapsulating packets to do
aggregation does basically this, but you're stacking entire headers, not
just flow-ids. The clever way to do this flow-id stacking, without doing
encapsulation, is to find out from flow-setup how deep the stack will get,
and allocate the space in the packet when it's created. That way, all you
ever have to do is insert a new flow-id, or "remove" one; you never have
to make room for more flow-ids.
- Option 3: The packet contains only the "base" flow-id (i.e. the one
with the finest granularity), and the current flow-id. When you aggregate,
you just bash the current flow-id. The tricky part comes when you
de-aggregate; you have to put the right value back. To do this, you have
to have state in the router at the end of the aggregated flow, which tells
you what the de-aggregated flow for each base flow is. The downside
here is obvious: we get away without individual flow state for each of
the constituent flows in all the routers along the path of that
aggregated, flow, *except* for the last one.
Other than encapsulation, which has significant inefficiency in space
overhead fairly quickly, after just a few layers of aggregation, there
appears to be no way to do it with just one flow-id in the packet header.
Even if you don't touch the packets, but do the aggregation by mapping
some number of "base" flow-id's to a single aggregated flow in the routers
along the path of the aggregated flow, the table that does the mapping is
still going to have to have a number of entries directly proportional to
the number of base flows going through the switch.
- A looping packet detector. This is any mechanism that will detect a packet
which is "stuck" in the network; a timeout value in packets, together
with a check in routers, is an example. If this is a hop-count, it has
to be more than 8 bits; 12 bits would be adequate, and I recommend 16
(which also makes it easy to update). This is not to say that I think
networks with diameters larger than 256 are good, or that we should design
such nets, but I think limiting the maximum path through the network to
256 hops is likely to bite us down the road the same way making
"infinity" 16 in RIP did (as it did, eventually). When we hit that
ceiling, it's going to hurt, and there won't be an easy fix. I will
note in passing that we are already seeing paths lengths of over 30 hops.
- Optional source and destination locators. These are structured, variable
length items which are topologically sensitive identifiers for the
place in the network from which the traffic originates or to which the
traffic is destined. The locator will probably contain internal
separators which divide up the fields, so that a particular field can be
enlarged without creating a great deal of upheaval. An adequate value
for maximum length supported would be up to 32 bytes per locator, and
longer would be even better; I would recommend up to 256 bytes per
- Perhaps (paired with the above), an optional pointer into the locators.
This is optional "forwarding state" (i.e. state in the packet which
records something about its progress across the network) which is used
in the datagram forwarding mode to help ensure that the packet does not
loop. It can also improve the forwarding processing efficiency. It is thus
not absolutely essential, but is very desirable from a real-world
engineering view point. It needs to be large enough to identify
locations in either locator; e.g. if locators can be up to 256 bytes,
it would need to be 9 bits.
- An optional source route. This is used to support the "source routed
packet" forwarding mode. Although not designed in detail yet, we can
discuss two possible approaches.
In one, used with "semi-strict" source routing (in which a contiguous
series of entities is named, albeit perhaps at a high layer of
abstraction), the syntax will likely look much like source routes in PIP;
in Nimrod they will be a sequence of Nimrod entity identifiers (i.e.
locator elements, not complete locators), along with clues as to the
context in which each identifier is to be interpreted (e.g. up, down,
across, etc). Since those identifiers themselves are variable length
(although probably most will be two bytes or less, otherwise the routing
overhead inside the named object would be excessive), and the hop count
above contemplates the possibility of paths of over 256 hops, it would
seem that these might possibly some day exceed 512 bytes, if a lengthy
path was specified in terms of the actual physical assets used. An
adequate length would be 512 bytes; the recommended length would be 2^16
bytes (although this length would probably not be supported in practise;
rather, the field length would allow it).
In the other, used with classical "loose" source routes, the source
consists of a number of locators. It is not yet clear if this mode will
be supported. If so, the header would need to be able to store a
sequence of locators (as described above). Space might be saved by
not repeating locator prefixes that match that of the previous locator
in the sequence; Nimrod will probably allow use of such "locally useful"
locators. It is hard to determine what an adequate length would be for
this case; the recommended length would be 2^16 bytes (again, with the
- Perhaps (paired with the above), an optional pointer into the source
route. This is also optional "forwarding state". It needs to be large
enough to identify locations anywhere in the source route; e.g. if the
source router can be up to 1024 bytes, it would need to be 10 bits.
- An internetwork header length. I mention this since the above fields could
easily exceed 256 bytes, if they are to all be carried in the internetwork
header (see comments below as to where to carry all this information), the
header length field needs to be more than 8 bits; 12 bits would be
adequate, and I recommend 16 bits. The approach of putting some of the
data items above into an interior header, to limit the size of the basic
internetworking header, does not really seem optimal, as this data is
for use by the intermediate routers, and it needs to be easily accessible.
- Authentication of some sort is needed. See the recent IAB document which
was produced as a result of the IAB architecture retreat on security
(draft-iab-sec-arch-workshop-00.txt), section 4, and especially section
4.3. There is currently no set way of doing "denial/theft of service" in
Nimrod, but this topic is well explored in that document; Nimrod would
use whatever mechanism(s) seem appropriate to those knowledgeable in
- A version number. Future forwarding mechanisms might need other
information (i.e. fields) in the packet header; use a version number would
allow it to be modified to contain what's needed. (This would not
necessarily be information that is visible to the hosts, so this does
not necessarily mean that the hosts would need to know about this new
format.) 4 bits is adequate; it's not clear if a larger value needs to be
2.3 Field Requirements and Addition Methods
As noted above, it's possible to use Nimrod in a limited mode where
needed information/fields are added by the first-hop router. It's thus
useful to ask "which of the fields must be present in the host-router
header, and which could be added by the router?" The only ones which are
absolutely necessary in all packets are the endpoint identification
(provided that some means is available to map them into locators; this
would obviously be most useful on UID's which are EID's).
As to the others, if the user wishes to use flows, and wants to
guarantee that their packets are assigned to the correct flows, the flow-id
field is needed. If the user wishes efficient use of the datagram mode, it's
probably necessary to include the locators in the packet sent to the router.
If the user wishes to specify the route for the packets, and does not wish to
set up a flow, they need to include the source route.
How would additional information/fields be added to the packet, if
the packet is emitted from the host in incomplete form? (By this, I mean the
simple question of how, mechanically, not the more complex issue of where
any needed information comes from.)
This question is complex, since all the IPng candidates (and in fact,
any reasonable inter-networking protocol) are extensible protocols; those
extension mechanisms could be used. Also, it would possible to carry some of
the required information as user data in the internetworking packet, with the
original user's data encapsulated further inside. Finally, a private
inter-router packet format could be defined.
It's not clear which path is best, but we can talk about which fields
the Nimrod routers need access to, and how often; less used ones could be
placed in harder-to-get-to locations (such as in an encapsulated header). The
fields to which the routers need access on every hop are the flow-id and the
looping packet detector. The locator/pointer fields are only needed at
intervals (in what datagram forwarding mode calls "active" routers), as is the
source route (the latter at every object which is named in the source route).
Depending on how access control is done, and which forwarding mode is
used, the UID's and/or locators might be examined for access control purposes,
wherever that function is performed.
This is not a complete exploration of the topic, but should give a
rough idea of what's going on.
3.1 Interaction Architectural Issues
The topic of the interaction with the rest of the internetwork layer
is more complex. Nimrod springs in part from a design vision which sees the
entire internetwork layer, distributed across all the hosts and routers of the
internetwork, as a single system, albeit a distributed system.
Approached from that angle, one naturally falls into a typical system
designer point of view, where you start to think of the modularization of the
system; chosing the functional boundaries which divide the system up into
functional units, and defining the interactions between the functional units.
As we all know, that modularization is the key part of the system design
It's rare that a group of completely independent modules form a
system; there's usually a fairly strong internal interaction. Those
interactions have to be thought about and understood as part of the
modularization process, since it effects the placement of the functional
boundaries. Poor placement leads to complex interactions, or desired
interactions which cannot be realized.
These are all more important issues with a system which is expected to
have a long lifetime; correct placement of the functional boundaries, so as to
clearly and simply break up the system into truly fundamental units, is a
necessity is the system is to endure and serve well.
3.1.1 The Internetwork Layer Service Model
To return to the view of the internetwork layer as a system, that
system provides certain services to its clients; i.e. it instantiates a
service model. To begin with, lacking a shared view of the service model that
the internetwork layer is supposed to provide, it's reasonable to suppose that
it will prove impossible to agree on mechanisms at the internetwork level to
provide that service.
To answer the question of what the service model ought to be, one can
view the internetwork layer itself as a subsystem of an even large system, the
entire internetwork itself. (That system is quite likely the largest and most
complex system we will ever build, as it is the largest system we can possibly
build; it is the system which will inevitably contain almost all other
From that point of view, the issue of the service model of the
internetwork layer becomes a little clearer. The services provided by the
internetwork layer are no longer purely abstract, but can be thought about as
the external module interface of the internetwork layer module. If agreement
can be reached on where to put the functional boundaries of the internetwork
layer, and on what overall service the internet as a whole should provide, the
service model of the internetwork layer should be easier to agree on.
In general terms, it seems that the unreliable packet ought to remain
the fundamental building block of the internetwork layer. The design principle
that says that we can take any packet and throw it away with no warning or
other action, or take any router and turn it off with no warning, and have the
system still work, seems very powerful. The component design simplicity (since
routers don't have to stand on their heads to retain a packet which they have
the only copy of), and overall system robustness, resulting from these two
assumptions is absolutely critical.
In detail, however, particularly in areas which are still the subject
of research and experimentation (such as resource allocation, security,
etc), it seems difficult to provide a finished definition of exactly what the
service model of the internetwork layer ought to be.
3.1.2 The Subsystems of the Internetwork Layer
In any event, by viewing the internetwork layer as a large system, one
starts to think about what subsystems are needed, and what the interactions
among them should look like. Nimrod is simply a number of the subsystems of
this larger system, the internetwork layer. It is *not* intended to be a
purely standalone set of subsystems, but to work together in close concert
with the other subsystems of the internetwork layer (resource allocation,
security, charging, etc) to provide the internetwork layer service model.
One reason that Nimrod is not simply a monolithic subsystem is that
some of the interactions with the other subsystems of the internetwork layer,
for instance the resource allocation subsystem, are much clearer and easier to
manage if the routing is broken up into several subsystems, with the
interactions between them open.
It is important to realize that Nimrod was initially broken up into
separate subsystems for purely internal reasons. It so happens that,
considered as a separate problem, the fundamental boundary lines for dividing
routing up into subsystems are the same boundaries that make interaction with
other subsystems cleaner; this provides added evidence that these boundaries
are in fact the right ones.
The subsystems which comprise the functionality covered by Nimrod are
i) routing information distribution (in the case of Nimrod, topology map
distribution, along with the attributes [policy, QOS, etc] of the topology
elements), ii) route selection (strictly speaking, not part of the Nimrod
spec per se, but functional examples will be produced), and iii) user traffic
The former can fairly well be defined without reference to other
subsystems, but the second and third are necessarily more involved. For
instance, route selection might involve finding out which links have the
resources available to handle some required level of service. For user traffic
handling, if a particular application needs a resource reservation, getting
that resource reservation to the routers is as much a part of getting the
routers ready as making sure they have the correct routing information, so
here too, routing is tied in with other subsystems.
In any event, although we can talk about the relationship between the
Nimrod subsystems, and the other functional subsystems of the internetwork
layer, until the service model of the internetwork layer is more clearly
visible, along with the functional boundaries within that layer, such a
discussion is necessarily rather nebulous.
3.2 State and Flows in the Internetwork Layer
The internetwork layer as whole contains a variety of information, of
varying lifetimes. This information we can refer to as the internetwork
layer's "state". Some of this state is stored in the routers, and some is
stored in the packets.
In the packet, I distinguish between what I call "forwarding state",
which records something about the progress of this individual packet through
the network (such as the hop count, or the pointer into a source route), and
other state, which is information about what service the user wants from the
network (such as the destination of the packet), etc.
3.2.1 User and Service State
I call state which reflects the desires and service requests of the
user "user state". This is information which could be sent in each packet, or
which can be stored in the router and applied to multiple packets (depending
on which makes the most engineering sense). It is still called user state,
even when a copy is stored in the routers.
User state can be divided into two classes; "critical" (such as
destination addresses), without which the packets cannot be forwarded at all,
and "non-critical" (such as a resource allocation class), without which the
packets can still be forwarded, just not quite in the way the user would most
There are a range of possible mechanisms for getting this user state
to the routers; it may be put in every packet, or placed there by a setup. In
the latter case, you have a whole range of possibilities for how to get it
back when you lose it, such as placing a copy in every Nth packet.
However, other state is needed which cannot be stored in each packet;
it's state about the longer-term (i.e. across the life of many packets)
situation; i.e. state which is inherently associated with a number of packets
over some time-frame (e.g. a resource allocation). I call this state "server
This apparently changes the "stateless" model of routers somewhat,
but this change is more apparent than real. The routers already contain
state, such as routing table entries; state without which is it virtually
impossible to handle user traffic. All that is being changed is the
amount, granularity, and lifetime, of state in the routers.
Some of this service state may need to be installed in a fairly
reliable fashion; e.g. if there is service state related to billing, or
allocation of resources for a critical application, one more or less needs to
be guaranteed that this service state has been correctly installed.
To the extent that you have state in the routers (either service
state, or user state), you have to be able to associate that state with the
packets it goes with. The fields in the packets that allow you to do this are
It is useful to step back for a bit here, and think about the traffic
in the network. Some of it will be from applications with are basically
transactions; i.e. they require only a single packet, or a very small number.
(I tend to use the term "datagram" to refer to such applications, and use the
term "packet" to describe the unit of transmission through the network.)
However, other packets are part of longer-lived communications, which have
been termed "flows".
A flow, from the user's point of view, is a sequence of packets which
are associated, usually by being from a single application instance. In an
internetwork layer which has a more complex service model (e.g. supports
resource allocation, etc), the flow would have service requirements to pass
on to some or all of the subsystems which provide those services.
To the internetworking layer, a flow is a sequence of packets that
share all the attributes that the internetworking layer cares about. This
includes, but is not limited to: source/destination, path, resource
allocation, accounting/authorization, authentication/security, etc, etc.
There isn't necessarily a one-one mapping from flows to *anything*
else, be it a TCP connection, or an application instance, or whatever. A
single flow might contain several TCP connections (e.g. with FTP, where you
have the control connection, and a number of data connections), or a single
application might have several flows (e.g. multi-media conferencing, where
you'd have one flow for the audio, another for a graphic window, etc, with
different resource requirements in terms of bandwidth, delay, etc for each.)
Flows may also be multicast constructs, i.e. multiple sources and
destinations; they are not inherently unicast. Multicast flows are more
complex than unicast (there is a large pool of state which must be made
coherent), but the concepts are similar.
There's an interesting architectural issue here. Let's assume we have
all these different internetwork level subsystems (routing, resource
allocation, security/access-control, accounting), etc. Now, we have two
First, we could allow each individual subsystem which uses the
concept of flows to define itself what it thinks a "flow" is, and define
which values in which fields in the packet define a given "flow" for it. Now,
presumably, we have to allow 2 flows for subsystem X to map onto 1 flow for
subsystem Y to map onto 3 flows for subsystem Z; i.e. you can mix and match
to your heart's content.
Second, we could define a standard "flow" mechanism for the
internetwork layer, along with a way of identifying the flow in the packet,
etc. Then, if you have two things which wish to differ in *any* subsystem,
you have to have a separate flow for each.
The former has the advantages that it's a little easier to deploy
incrementally, since you don't have to agree on a common flow mechanism. It
may save on replicated state (if I have 3 flows, and they are the same for
subsystem X, and different for Y, I only need one set of X state). It also
has a lot more flexibility. The latter is simple and straightforward, and
given the complexity of what is being proposed, it seems that any place we
can make things simpler, we should.
The choice is not trivial; it all depends on things like "what
percentage of flows will want to share the same state in certain subsystems
with other flows". I don't know how to quantify those, but as an architect, I
prefer simple, straightforward things. This system is pretty complex already,
and I'm not sure the benefits of being able to mix and match are worth the
added complexity. So, for the moment I'll assume a single, system-wide,
definition of flows.
The packets which belong to a flow could be identified by a tag
consisting of a number of fields (such as addresses, ports, etc), as opposed
to a specialized field. However, it may be more straightforward, and
foolproof, to simply identify the flow a packet belongs to with by means of a
specialized tag field (the "flow-id" ) in the internetwork header. Given that
you can always find situations where the existing fields alone don't do the
job, and you *still* need a separate field to do the job correctly, it seems
best to take the simple, direct approach , and say "the flow a packet belongs
to is named by a flow-id in the packet header".
The simplicity of globally-unique flow-id's (or at least a flow-id
which unique along the path of the flow) is also desirable; they take more
bits in the header, but then you don't have to worry about all the mechanism
needed to remap locally-unique flow-id's, etc, etc. From the perspective of
designing something with a long lifetime, and which is to be deployed
widely, simplicity and directness is the only way to go. For me, that
translates into flows being named solely by globally unique flow-id's,
rather than some complex semantics on existing fields.
However, the issue of how to recognize which packets belong to flows
is somewhat orthogonal to the issue of whether the internetwork level
recognizes flows at all. Should it?
3.2.3 Flows and State
To the extent that you have service state in the routers you have to
be able to associate that state with the packets it goes with. This is a
fundamental reason for flows. Access to service state is one reason to
explicitly recognize flows at the internetwork layer, but it is not the only
If the user has requirements in a number of areas (e.g. routing and
access control), they can theoretically communicate these to the routers by
placing a copy of all the relevant information in each packet (in the
internetwork header). If many subsystems of the internetwork are involved,
and the requirements are complex, this could be a lot of bits.
(As a final aside, there's clearly no point in storing in the routers
any user state about packets which are providing datagram service; the
datagram service has usually come and gone in the same packet, and this
discussion is all about state retention.)
There are two schools of thought as to how to proceed. The first says
that for reasons of robustness and simplicity, all user state ought to be
repeated in each packet. For efficiency reasons, the routers may cache such
user state, probably along with precomputed data derived from the user state.
(It makes sense to store such cached user state along with any applicable
server state, of course.)
The second school says that if something is going to generate lots of
packets, it makes engineering sense to give all this information to the
routers once, and from then on have a tag (the flow-id) in the packet which
tells the routers where to find that information. It's simply going to be too
inefficient to carry all the user state around all the time. This is purely
an engineering efficiency reason, but it's a significant one.
There is a slightly deeper argument, which says that the routers will
inevitably come to contain more user state, and it's simply a question of
whether that state is installed by an explicit mechanism, or whether the
routers infer that state from watching the packets which pass through them.
To the extent that it is inevitable anyway, there are obvious benefits to be
gained from recognizing that, and an explicit design of the installation is
more likely to give satisfactory results (as opposed to an ad-hoc mechanism).
It is worth noting that although the term "flow" is often used to
refer to this state in the routers along the path of the flow, it is important
to distinguish between i) a flow as a sequence of packets (i.e. the definition
given in 3.2.2 above), and ii) a flow, as the thing which is set up in the
routers. They are different, and although the particular meaning is usually
clear from the context, they are not the same thing at all.
I'm not sure how much use there is to any intermediate position, in
which one subsystem installs user state in the routers, and another carries a
copy of its user state in each packet.
(There are other intermediate positions. First, one flow might use a
given technique for all its subsystems, and another flow might use a
different technique for its; there is potentially some use to this, although
I'm not sure the cost in complexity of supporting both mechanisms is worth
the benefits. Second, one flow might use one mechanism with one router along
its path, and another for a different router. A number of different reasons
exist as to why one might do this, including the fact that not all routers
may support the same mechanisms simultaneously.)
It seems to me that to have one internetwork layer subsystem (e.g.
resource allocation) carry user state in all the packets (perhaps with use of
a "hint" in the packets to find potentially cached copies in the router), and
have a second (e.g. routing) use a direct installation, and use a tag in the
packets to find it, makes little sense. We should do one or the other, based
on a consideration of the efficiency/robustness tradeoff.
Also, if there is a way of installing such flow-associated state, it
makes sense to have only one, which all subsystems use, instead of building a
separate one for each flow.
It's a little difficult to make the choice between installation, and
carrying a copy in each packet, without more information of exactly how much
user state the network is likely to have in the future. (For instance, we
might wind up with 500 byte headers if we include the full source route,
resource reservation, etc, etc in every header.)
It's also difficult without consideration of the actual mechanisms
involved. As a general principle, we wish to make recovery from a loss of
state as local as possible, to limit the number of entities which have to
become involved. (For instance, when a router crashes, traffic is rerouted
around it without needing to open a new TCP connection.) The option of the
"installation" looks a lot more attractive if it's simple, and relatively
cheap, to reinstall the user state when a router crashes, without otherwise
causing a lot of hassle.
However, given the likely growth in user state, the necessity for
service state, the requirement for reliable installation, and a number of
similar considerations, it seems that direct installation of user state, and
explicit recognition of flows, through a unified definition and tag mechanism
in the packets, is the way to go, and this is the path that Nimrod has
3.3 Specific Interaction Issues
Here is a very incomplete list of the things which Nimrod would like to see
from the internetwork layer as a whole:
- A unified definition of flows in the internetwork layer, and a unified
way of identifying, through a separate flow-id field, which packets belong
to a given flow.
- A unified mechanism (potentially distributed) for installing state about
flows (including multicast flows) in routers.
- A method for getting information about whether a given resource allocation
request has failed along a given path; this might be part of the unified
flow setup mechanism.
- An interface to (potentially distributed) mechanism for maintaining the
membership in a multi-cast group.
- Support for multiple interfaces; i.e. multi-homing. Nimrod does this by
decoupling transport identification (done via EID's) from interface
identification (done via locators). E.g., a packet with any valid
destination locator should be accepted by the TCP of an endpoint, if the
destination EID is the one assigned to that endpoint.
- Support for multiple locators ("addresses") per network interface. This
is needed for a number of reasons, among them to allow for less painful
transitions in the locator abstraction hierarchy as the topology changes.
- Support for multiple UID's ("addresses") per endpoint (roughly, per
host). This would definitely include both multiple multicast SID's, and
at least one unicast EID (the need for multiple unicast EID's per endpoint
is not obvious).
- Support for distinction between a multicast group as a named entity,
and a multicast flow which may not reach all the members.
- A distributed, replicated, user name translation system (DNS?) that maps
such user names into (EID, locator0, ... locatorN) bindings.
Expires: January 21, 1995 July 21, 1994