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Scenix Lib IO OSI3 Tcpip Documentation Rfcs RFC2001.TXT


Network Working Group                                         W. Stevens
Request for Comments: 2001                                          NOAO
Category: Standards Track                                   January 1997

                 TCP Slow Start, Congestion Avoidance,
             Fast Retransmit, and Fast Recovery Algorithms

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


   Modern implementations of TCP contain four intertwined algorithms
   that have never been fully documented as Internet standards:  slow
   start, congestion avoidance, fast retransmit, and fast recovery.  [2]
   and [3] provide some details on these algorithms, [4] provides
   examples of the algorithms in action, and [5] provides the source
   code for the 4.4BSD implementation.  RFC 1122 requires that a TCP
   must implement slow start and congestion avoidance (Section
   of [1]), citing [2] as the reference, but fast retransmit and fast
   recovery were implemented after RFC 1122.  The purpose of this
   document is to document these four algorithms for the Internet.


   Much of this memo is taken from "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1:  The
   Protocols" by W. Richard Stevens (Addison-Wesley, 1994) and "TCP/IP
   Illustrated, Volume 2: The Implementation" by Gary R. Wright and W.
   Richard Stevens (Addison-Wesley, 1995).  This material is used with
   the permission of Addison-Wesley.  The four algorithms that are
   described were developed by Van Jacobson.

1.  Slow Start

   Old TCPs would start a connection with the sender injecting multiple
   segments into the network, up to the window size advertised by the
   receiver.  While this is OK when the two hosts are on the same LAN,
   if there are routers and slower links between the sender and the
   receiver, problems can arise.  Some intermediate router must queue
   the packets, and it's possible for that router to run out of space.
   [2] shows how this naive approach can reduce the throughput of a TCP
   connection drastically.

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 1]
RFC 2001                          TCP                       January 1997

   The algorithm to avoid this is called slow start.  It operates by
   observing that the rate at which new packets should be injected into
   the network is the rate at which the acknowledgments are returned by
   the other end.

   Slow start adds another window to the sender's TCP:  the congestion
   window, called "cwnd".  When a new connection is established with a
   host on another network, the congestion window is initialized to one
   segment (i.e., the segment size announced by the other end, or the
   default, typically 536 or 512).  Each time an ACK is received, the
   congestion window is increased by one segment.  The sender can
   transmit up to the minimum of the congestion window and the
   advertised window.  The congestion window is flow control imposed by
   the sender, while the advertised window is flow control imposed by
   the receiver.  The former is based on the sender's assessment of
   perceived network congestion; the latter is related to the amount of
   available buffer space at the receiver for this connection.

   The sender starts by transmitting one segment and waiting for its
   ACK.  When that ACK is received, the congestion window is incremented
   from one to two, and two segments can be sent.  When each of those
   two segments is acknowledged, the congestion window is increased to
   four.  This provides an exponential growth, although it is not
   exactly exponential because the receiver may delay its ACKs,
   typically sending one ACK for every two segments that it receives.

   At some point the capacity of the internet can be reached, and an
   intermediate router will start discarding packets.  This tells the
   sender that its congestion window has gotten too large.

   Early implementations performed slow start only if the other end was
   on a different network.  Current implementations always perform slow

2.  Congestion Avoidance

   Congestion can occur when data arrives on a big pipe (a fast LAN) and
   gets sent out a smaller pipe (a slower WAN).  Congestion can also
   occur when multiple input streams arrive at a router whose output
   capacity is less than the sum of the inputs.  Congestion avoidance is
   a way to deal with lost packets.  It is described in [2].

   The assumption of the algorithm is that packet loss caused by damage
   is very small (much less than 1%), therefore the loss of a packet
   signals congestion somewhere in the network between the source and
   destination.  There are two indications of packet loss:  a timeout
   occurring and the receipt of duplicate ACKs.

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 2]
RFC 2001                          TCP                       January 1997

   Congestion avoidance and slow start are independent algorithms with
   different objectives.  But when congestion occurs TCP must slow down
   its transmission rate of packets into the network, and then invoke
   slow start to get things going again.  In practice they are
   implemented together.

   Congestion avoidance and slow start require that two variables be
   maintained for each connection: a congestion window, cwnd, and a slow
   start threshold size, ssthresh.  The combined algorithm operates as

   1.  Initialization for a given connection sets cwnd to one segment
       and ssthresh to 65535 bytes.

   2.  The TCP output routine never sends more than the minimum of cwnd
       and the receiver's advertised window.

   3.  When congestion occurs (indicated by a timeout or the reception
       of duplicate ACKs), one-half of the current window size (the
       minimum of cwnd and the receiver's advertised window, but at
       least two segments) is saved in ssthresh.  Additionally, if the
       congestion is indicated by a timeout, cwnd is set to one segment
       (i.e., slow start).

   4.  When new data is acknowledged by the other end, increase cwnd,
       but the way it increases depends on whether TCP is performing
       slow start or congestion avoidance.

      If cwnd is less than or equal to ssthresh, TCP is in slow start;
      otherwise TCP is performing congestion avoidance.  Slow start
      continues until TCP is halfway to where it was when congestion
      occurred (since it recorded half of the window size that caused
      the problem in step 2), and then congestion avoidance takes over.

      Slow start has cwnd begin at one segment, and be incremented by
      one segment every time an ACK is received.  As mentioned earlier,
      this opens the window exponentially:  send one segment, then two,
      then four, and so on.  Congestion avoidance dictates that cwnd be
      incremented by segsize*segsize/cwnd each time an ACK is received,
      where segsize is the segment size and cwnd is maintained in bytes.
      This is a linear growth of cwnd, compared to slow start's
      exponential growth.  The increase in cwnd should be at most one
      segment each round-trip time (regardless how many ACKs are
      received in that RTT), whereas slow start increments cwnd by the
      number of ACKs received in a round-trip time.

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 3]
RFC 2001                          TCP                       January 1997

   Many implementations incorrectly add a small fraction of the segment
   size (typically the segment size divided by 8) during congestion
   avoidance.  This is wrong and should not be emulated in future

3.  Fast Retransmit

   Modifications to the congestion avoidance algorithm were proposed in
   1990 [3].  Before describing the change, realize that TCP may
   generate an immediate acknowledgment (a duplicate ACK) when an out-
   of-order segment is received (Section of [1], with a note
   that one reason for doing so was for the experimental fast-
   retransmit algorithm).  This duplicate ACK should not be delayed.
   The purpose of this duplicate ACK is to let the other end know that a
   segment was received out of order, and to tell it what sequence
   number is expected.

   Since TCP does not know whether a duplicate ACK is caused by a lost
   segment or just a reordering of segments, it waits for a small number
   of duplicate ACKs to be received.  It is assumed that if there is
   just a reordering of the segments, there will be only one or two
   duplicate ACKs before the reordered segment is processed, which will
   then generate a new ACK.  If three or more duplicate ACKs are
   received in a row, it is a strong indication that a segment has been
   lost.  TCP then performs a retransmission of what appears to be the
   missing segment, without waiting for a retransmission timer to

4.  Fast Recovery

   After fast retransmit sends what appears to be the missing segment,
   congestion avoidance, but not slow start is performed.  This is the
   fast recovery algorithm.  It is an improvement that allows high
   throughput under moderate congestion, especially for large windows.

   The reason for not performing slow start in this case is that the
   receipt of the duplicate ACKs tells TCP more than just a packet has
   been lost.  Since the receiver can only generate the duplicate ACK
   when another segment is received, that segment has left the network
   and is in the receiver's buffer.  That is, there is still data
   flowing between the two ends, and TCP does not want to reduce the
   flow abruptly by going into slow start.

   The fast retransmit and fast recovery algorithms are usually
   implemented together as follows.

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 4]
RFC 2001                          TCP                       January 1997

   1.  When the third duplicate ACK in a row is received, set ssthresh
       to one-half the current congestion window, cwnd, but no less
       than two segments.  Retransmit the missing segment.  Set cwnd to
       ssthresh plus 3 times the segment size.  This inflates the
       congestion window by the number of segments that have left the
       network and which the other end has cached (3).

   2.  Each time another duplicate ACK arrives, increment cwnd by the
       segment size.  This inflates the congestion window for the
       additional segment that has left the network.  Transmit a
       packet, if allowed by the new value of cwnd.

   3.  When the next ACK arrives that acknowledges new data, set cwnd
       to ssthresh (the value set in step 1).  This ACK should be the
       acknowledgment of the retransmission from step 1, one round-trip
       time after the retransmission.  Additionally, this ACK should
       acknowledge all the intermediate segments sent between the lost
       packet and the receipt of the first duplicate ACK.  This step is
       congestion avoidance, since TCP is down to one-half the rate it
       was at when the packet was lost.

   The fast retransmit algorithm first appeared in the 4.3BSD Tahoe
   release, and it was followed by slow start.  The fast recovery
   algorithm appeared in the 4.3BSD Reno release.

5.  Security Considerations

   Security considerations are not discussed in this memo.

6.  References

   [1]  B. Braden, ed., "Requirements for Internet Hosts --
        Communication Layers," RFC 1122, Oct. 1989.

   [2]  V. Jacobson, "Congestion Avoidance and Control," Computer
        Communication Review, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 314-329, Aug. 1988.

   [3]  V. Jacobson, "Modified TCP Congestion Avoidance Algorithm,"
        end2end-interest mailing list, April 30, 1990.

   [4]  W. R. Stevens, "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols",
        Addison-Wesley, 1994.

   [5]  G. R. Wright, W. R. Stevens, "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 2:
        The Implementation", Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 5]
RFC 2001                          TCP                       January 1997

Author's  Address:

    W. Richard Stevens
    1202 E. Paseo del Zorro
    Tucson, AZ  85718

    Phone: 520-297-9416

    Home Page:

Stevens                     Standards Track                     [Page 6]

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