Skip to main content

Increasing TCP's Initial Window

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 2414.
Authors Dr. Craig Partridge , Sally Floyd, Mark Allman
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 1998-04-27)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Experimental
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 2414 (Experimental)
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
TCP Implementation Working Group                               M. Allman 
INTERNET DRAFT                              NASA Lewis/Sterling Software 
File: draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                          S. Floyd 
                                                            C. Partridge 
                                                        BBN Technologies     
                                                             April, 1998 
                    Increasing TCP's Initial Window 
Status of this Memo 
    This document is an Internet-Draft.  Internet-Drafts are working 
    documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas, 
    and its working groups.  Note that other groups may also distribute 
    working documents as Internet-Drafts. 
    Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six 
    months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents 
    at any time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as 
    reference material or to cite them other than as ``work in 
    To view the entire list of current Internet-Drafts, please check
    the "1id-abstracts.txt" listing contained in the Internet-Drafts
    Shadow Directories on (Africa),
    (Northern Europe), (Southern Europe),
    (Pacific Rim), (US East Coast), or
    (US West Coast).

    This document specifies an increase in the permitted initial window
    for TCP from one segment to roughly 4K bytes.  This document
    discusses the advantages and disadvantages of such a change,
    outlining experimental results that indicate the costs and benefits
    of such a change to TCP.

    The key words "MUST", "MUST  NOT",  "REQUIRED",  "SHALL", "SHALL
    "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in
    RFC 2119 [RFC2119].

1.  TCP Modification 
    This document specifies an increase in the permitted upper bound
    for TCP's initial window from one segment to between two
    and four segments.  In most cases, this change results in an upper
    bound on the initial window of roughly 4K bytes (although given a
    large segment size, the permitted initial window of two segments

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 1]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    could be significantly larger than 4K bytes).  The upper bound for
    the initial window is given more precisely in (1):
                  min (4*MSS, max (2*MSS, 4380 bytes))               (1) 
    Equivalently, the upper bound for the initial window size
    is based on the maximum segment size (MSS), as follows:
        If (MSS <= 1095 bytes) 
            then win <= 4 * MSS;
        If (1095 bytes < MSS < 2190 bytes) 
            then win <= 4380; 
        If (2190 bytes <= MSS) 
            then win <= 2 * MSS;
    This increased initial window is optional: that a TCP MAY 
    start with a larger initial window, not that it SHOULD. 

    This upper bound for the initial window size represents a change
    from RFC 2001 [S97], which specifies that the congestion window be
    initialized to one segment.  If implementation experience proves
    successful, then the intent is for this change to be incorporated
    into a revision to RFC 2001.
    This change applies to the initial window of the connection in the
    first round trip time (RTT) of transmission following the TCP
    three-way handshake.  Neither the SYN/ACK nor its acknowledgment
    (ACK) in the three-way handshake should increase the initial window
    size above that outlined in equation (1).  If the SYN or SYN/ACK is
    lost, the initial window used by a sender after a correctly
    transmitted SYN MUST be one segment.
    TCP implementations use slow start in as many as three different ways:
    (1) to start a new connection (the initial window); (2) to restart
    a transmission after a long idle period (the restart window); and
    (3) to restart after a retransmit timeout (the loss window).  The
    change proposed in this document affects the value of the initial
    window.  Optionally, a TCP MAY set the restart window to the
    same value used for the initial window.  These changes do NOT
    change the loss window, which must remain 1 (to permit the lowest
    possible window size in the case of severe congestion).
2.  Implementation Issues 

    When larger initial windows are implemented along with Path MTU
    Discovery [MD90], and the MSS being used is found to be too large,
    the congestion window `cwnd' SHOULD be reduced to prevent large
    bursts of smaller segments.  Specifically, `cwnd' SHOULD be reduced
    by the ratio of the old segment size to the new segment size.

    When larger initial windows are implemented along with Path MTU
    Discovery [MD90], alternatives are to set the "Don't Fragment" (DF)
    bit in all segments in the initial window, or to set the "Don't
    Fragment" (DF) bit in one of the segments.  It is an open question

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 2]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    which of these two alternatives is best;  we would hope that
    implementation experiences will shed light on this.  In the first
    case of setting the DF bit in all segments, if the initial packets
    are too large, then all of the initial packets will be dropped in
    the network.  In the second case of setting the DF bit in only one
    segment, if the initial packets are too large, then all but one of
    the initial packets will be fragmented in the network.  When the
    second case is followed, setting the DF bit in the last segment in
    the initial window provides the least chance for needless
    retransmissions when the initial segment size is found to be too
    large, because it minimizes the chances of duplicate ACKs
    triggering a Fast Retransmit.  However, more attention needs to be
    paid to the interaction between larger initial windows and Path MTU
    The larger initial window proposed in this document is not intended
    as an encouragement for web browsers to open multiple simultaneous
    TCP connections all with large initial windows.   When web browsers
    open simultaneous TCP connections to the same destination, this
    works against TCP's congestion control mechanisms [FF98],
    regardless of the size of the initial window.   Combining this
    behavior with larger initial windows further increases the
    unfairness to other traffic in the network.
3.  Advantages of Larger Initial Windows 
    1.   When the initial window is one segment, a receiver employing
         delayed ACKs [Bra89] is forced to wait for a timeout before
         generating an ACK.  With an initial window of at least two
         segments, the receiver will generate an ACK after the second
         data segment arrives.  This eliminates the wait on the timeout
         (often up to 200 msec).

    2.   For connections transmitting only a small amount of data, a
         larger initial window reduces the transmission time (assuming
         moderate segment drop rates).  For many email (SMTP [Pos82])
         and web page (HTTP [BLFN96, FJGFBL97]) transfers that are less
         than 4K bytes, the larger initial window would reduce the data
         transfer time to a single RTT.
    3.   For connections that will be able to use large congestion 
         windows, this modification eliminates up to three RTTs and a
         delayed ACK timeout during the initial slow-start phase.  This
         would be of particular benefit for high-bandwidth
         large-propagation-delay TCP connections, such as those over
         satellite links.

4.  Disadvantages of Larger Initial Windows for the Individual 
    In high-congestion environments, particularly for routers that have 
    a bias against bursty traffic (as in the typical Drop Tail router 
    queues), a TCP connection can sometimes be better off starting with 
    an initial window of one segment.  There are scenarios where a TCP 

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 3]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    connection slow-starting from an initial window of one segment might 
    not have segments dropped, while a TCP connection starting with an 
    initial window of four segments might experience unnecessary 
    retransmits due to the inability of the router to handle small 
    bursts.  This could result in an unnecessary retransmit timeout. 
    For a large-window connection that is able to recover without a 
    retransmit timeout, this could result in an unnecessarily-early 
    transition from the slow-start to the congestion-avoidance phase of 
    the window increase algorithm.  These premature segment drops should 
    not occur in uncongested networks with sufficient buffering or in
    moderately-congested networks where the congested router uses
    active queue management (such as Random Early Detection [FJ93]).
    Some TCP connections will receive better performance with the higher 
    initial window even if the burstiness of the initial window results 
    in premature segment drops.  This will be true if (1) the TCP 
    connection recovers from the segment drop without a retransmit 
    timeout, and (2) the TCP connection is ultimately limited to a small 
    congestion window by either network congestion or by the receiver's 
    advertised window. 
5.  Disadvantages of Larger Initial Windows for the Network 
    In terms of the potential for congestion collapse, we consider two
    separate potential dangers for the network.  The first danger would
    be a scenario where a large number of segments on congested links
    were duplicate segments that had already been received at the
    receiver.  The second danger would be a scenario where a large
    number of segments on congested links were segments that would be
    dropped later in the network before reaching their final

    In terms of the negative effect on other traffic in the network, a
    potential disadvantage of larger initial windows would be that they
    increase the general packet drop rate in the network.  We discuss
    these three issues below.
    Duplicate segments: 
        As described in the previous section, the larger initial window
        could occasionally result in a segment dropped from the initial
        window, when that segment might not have been dropped if the
        sender had slow-started from an initial window of one segment.
        However, Appendix A shows that even in this case, the larger
        initial window would not result in the transmission of a large
        number of duplicate segments.
    Segments dropped later in the network: 
        How much would the larger initial window for TCP increase the 
        number of segments on congested links that would be dropped 
        before reaching their final destination?  This is a problem that 
        can only occur for connections with multiple congested links, 
        where some segments might use scarce bandwidth on the first 

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 4]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

        congested link along the path, only to be dropped later along 
        the path. 
        First, many of the TCP connections will have only one congested 
        link along the path.  Segments dropped from these connections do 
        not ``waste'' scarce bandwidth, and do not contribute to 
        congestion collapse. 
        However, some network paths will have multiple congested links,
        and segments dropped from the initial window could use scarce
        bandwidth along the earlier congested links before ultimately
        being dropped on subsequent congested links.  To the extent
        that the drop rate is independent of the initial window used by
        TCP segments, the problem of congested links carrying segments
        that will be dropped before reaching their destination will be
        similar for TCP connections that start by sending four segments
        or one segment.
    An increased packet drop rate:

        For a network with a high segment drop rate, increasing the TCP
        initial window could increase the segment drop rate even
        further.  This is in part because routers with Drop Tail queue
        management have difficulties with bursty traffic in times of
        congestion.  However, given uncorrelated arrivals for TCP
        connections, the larger TCP initial window should not
        significantly increase the segment drop rate.  Simulation-based
        explorations of these issues are discussed in Section 7.2.
    These potential dangers for the network are explored in simulations
    and experiments described in the section below.  Our judgement
    would be, while there are dangers of congestion collapse in the
    current Internet (see [FF98] for a discussion of the dangers of
    congestion collapse from an increased deployment of UDP connections
    without end-to-end congestion control), there is no such danger to
    the network from increasing the TCP initial window to 4K bytes.

6.  Typical Levels of Burstiness for TCP Traffic.
    Larger TCP initial windows would not dramatically increase the
    burstiness of TCP traffic in the Internet today, because such
    traffic is already fairly bursty.  Bursts of two and three segments
    are already typical of TCP [Flo97]; A delayed ACK (covering two
    previously unacknowledged segments) received during congestion
    avoidance causes the congestion window to slide and two segments to
    be sent.  The same delayed ACK received during slow start causes
    the window to slide by two segments and then be incremented by one
    segment, resulting in a three-segment burst.  While not necessarily
    typical, bursts of four and five segments for TCP are not rare.
    Assuming delayed ACKs, a single dropped ACK causes the subsequent
    ACK to cover four previously unacknowledged segments.  During
    congestion avoidance this leads to a four-segment burst and during
    slow start a five-segment burst is generated.

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 5]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    There are also changes in progress that reduce the performance
    problems posed by moderate traffic bursts.  One such change is the
    deployment of higher-speed links in some parts of the network,
    where a burst of 4K bytes can represent a small quantity of data.
    A second change, for routers with sufficient buffering, is the
    deployment of queue management mechanisms such as RED, which is
    designed to be tolerant of transient traffic bursts.

7.  Simulations and Experimental Results     
7.1 Studies of TCP Connections using that Larger Initial Window
    This section surveys simulations and experiments that have been
    used to explore the effect of larger initial windows on the TCP
    connection using that larger window.  The first set of experiments
    explores performance over satellite links.  Larger initial windows
    have been shown to improve performance of TCP connections over
    satellite channels [All97b].  In this study, an initial window of
    four segments (512 byte MSS) resulted in throughput improvements of
    up to 30% (depending upon transfer size).  [HAGT98] shows that the
    use of larger initial windows results in a decrease in transfer
    time in HTTP tests over the ACTS satellite system.  A study
    involving simulations of a large number of HTTP transactions over
    hybrid fiber coax (HFC) indicates that the use of larger initial
    windows decreases the time required to load WWW pages [Nic97].
    A second set of experiments has explored TCP performance over
    dialup modem links.  In experiments over a 28.8 bps dialup channel
    [All97a, AHO98], a four-segment initial window decreased the
    transfer time of a 16KB file by roughly 10%, with no accompanying
    increase in the drop rate.  A particular area of concern has been
    TCP performance over low speed tail circuits (e.g., dialup modem
    links) with routers with small buffers.  A simulation study [SP97]
    investigated the effects of using a larger initial window on a host
    connected by a slow modem link and a router with a 3 packet
    buffer.  The study concluded that for the scenario investigated,
    the use of larger initial windows was not harmful to TCP
    performance.  Questions have been raised concerning the effects of
    larger initial windows on the transfer time for short transfers in
    this environment, but these effects have not been quantified.  A
    question has also been raised concerning the possible effect on 
    existing TCP connections sharing the link.
7.2 Studies of Networks using Larger Initial Windows 

    This section surveys simulations and experiments investigating the
    impact of the larger window on other TCP connections sharing the
    path.  Experiments in [All97a, AHO98] show that for 16 KB transfers
    to 100 Internet hosts, four-segment initial windows resulted in a
    small increase in the drop rate of 0.04 segments/transfer.  While
    the drop rate increased slightly, the transfer time was reduced by
    roughly 25% for transfers using the four-segment (512 byte MSS)
    initial window when compared to an initial window of one segment.

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 6]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    One scenario of concern is heavily loaded links.  For
    instance, a couple of years ago, one of the trans-Atlantic links
    was so heavily loaded that the correct congestion window size for a
    connection was about one segment.  In this environment, new
    connections using larger initial windows would be starting with
    windows that were four times too big.  What would the effects be?
    Do connections thrash?
    A simulation study in [PN98] explores the impact of a larger
    initial window on competing network traffic.   In this
    investigation, HTTP and FTP flows share a single congested gateway
    (where the number of HTTP and FTP flows varies from one simulation
    set to another).  For each simulation set, the paper examines
    aggregate link utilization and packet drop rates, median web page
    delay, and network power for the FTP transfers.  The larger initial
    window generally resulted in increased throughput,
    slightly-increased packet drop rates, and an increase in overall
    network power.  With the exception of one scenario, the larger
    initial window resulted in an increase in the drop rate of less
    than 1% above the loss rate experienced when using a one-segment
    initial window;  in this scenario, the drop rate increased from
    3.5% with one-segment initial windows, to 4.5% with four-segment
    initial windows.  The overall conclusions were that increasing the
    TCP initial window to three packets (or 4380 bytes) helps to
    improve perceived performance.
    Morris [Mor97] investigated larger initial windows in a very
    congested network with transfers of size 20K.  The loss rate in
    networks where all TCP connections use an initial window of four
    segments is shown to be 1-2% greater than in a network where all
    connections use an initial window of one segment.  This
    relationship held in scenarios where the loss rates with
    one-segment initial windows ranged from 1% to 11%.  In addition, in
    networks where connections used an initial window of four segments,
    TCP connections spent more time waiting for the retransmit timer
    (RTO) to expire to resend a segment than was spent when using an
    initial window of one segment.  The time spent waiting for the RTO
    timer to expire represents idle time when no useful work was being
    accomplished for that connection.  These results show that in a
    very congested environment, where each connection's share of the
    bottleneck bandwidth is close to one segment, using a larger
    initial window can cause a perceptible increase in both loss rates
    and retransmit timeouts.

8.  Security Considerations 

    This document discusses the initial congestion window permitted
    for TCP connections.  Changing this value does not raise any known
    new security issues with TCP.


Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 7]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

9.  Conclusion 
    This document proposes a small change to TCP that may be beneficial to 
    short-lived TCP connections and those over links with long RTTs 
    (saving several RTTs during the initial slow-start phase). 
10.  Acknowledgments 
    We would like to acknowledge Vern Paxson, Tim Shepard, members of
    the End-to-End-Interest Mailing List, and members of the IETF TCP
    Implementation Working Group for continuing discussions of these
    issues for discussions and feedback on this document.
11.  References 
    [All97a] Mark Allman.  An Evaluation of TCP with Larger Initial 
        Windows.  40th IETF Meeting -- TCP Implementations WG. 
        December, 1997.  Washington, DC. 
    [AHO98] Mark Allman, Chris Hayes, and Shawn Ostermann, An
        Evaluation of TCP with Larger Initial Windows, March 1998.
        Submitted to ACM Computer Communication Review.  URL

    [All97b] Mark Allman.  Improving TCP Performance Over Satellite 
        Channels.  Master's thesis, Ohio University, June 1997. 
    [BLFN96] Tim Berners-Lee, R. Fielding, and H. Nielsen.  Hypertext 
        Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.0, May 1996.  RFC 1945. 
    [Bra89] Robert Braden.  Requirements for Internet Hosts -- 
        Communication Layers, October 1989.  RFC 1122. 
    [FF96] Fall, K., and Floyd, S., Simulation-based Comparisons of 
        Tahoe, Reno, and SACK TCP.  Computer Communication Review, 
        26(3), July 1996. 
    [FF98] Sally Floyd, Kevin Fall.  Promoting the Use of End-to-End 
        Congestion Control in the Internet.  Submitted to IEEE 
        Transactions on Networking.  URL
    [FJGFBL97] R. Fielding, Jeffrey C. Mogul, Jim Gettys, H. Frystyk, 
        and Tim Berners-Lee.  Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1, 
        January 1997.  RFC 2068. 
    [FJ93] Floyd, S., and Jacobson, V., Random Early Detection gateways 
        for Congestion Avoidance. IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, 
        V.1 N.4, August 1993, p. 397-413. 
    [Flo94] Floyd, S., TCP and Explicit Congestion Notification. 
        Computer Communication Review, 24(5):10-23, October 1994. 

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 8]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    [Flo96] Floyd, S., Issues of TCP with SACK. Technical report, January 
        1996.  Available from 
    [Flo97] Floyd, S., Increasing TCP's Initial Window.  Viewgraphs,
        40th IETF Meeting - TCP Implementations WG. December, 1997.
        URL "".

    [KAGT98] Hans Kruse, Mark Allman, Jim Griner, Diepchi Tran.  HTTP 
        Page Transfer Rates Over Geo-Stationary Satellite Links.  March 
        1998.  Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on 
        Telecommunication Systems.  URL
    [MD90] Jeffrey C. Mogul and Steve Deering.  Path MTU Discovery, 
        November 1990.  RFC 1191. 
    [MMFR96] Matt Mathis, Jamshid Mahdavi, Sally Floyd and Allyn 
        Romanow.  TCP Selective Acknowledgment Options, October 1996. 
        RFC 2018. 
    [Mor97] Robert Morris.  Private communication, 1997.  Cited for
        acknowledgement purposes only.
    [Nic97] Kathleen Nichols.  Improving Network Simulation with 
        Feedback.  Com21, Inc. Technical Report.  Available from 
    [PN98] Poduri, K., and Nichols, K., Simulation Studies of Increased 
        Initial TCP Window Size, February 1998.  Internet-Draft 
        draft-ietf-tcpimpl-poduri-00.txt (work in progress). 
    [Pos82] Jon Postel.  Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, August 1982. 
        RFC 821. 
    [RF97] Ramakrishnan, K.K., and Floyd, S., A Proposal to Add Explicit 
        Congestion Notification (ECN) to IPv6 and to TCP. Internet-Draft 
        draft-kksjf-ecn-00.txt (work in progress). November 1997. 
    [RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
        Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

    [S97] W. Stevens, TCP Slow Start, Congestion Avoidance, Fast
        Retransmit, and Fast Recovery Algorithms. RFC 2001, Proposed
        Standard, January 1997.

    [SP97] Tim Shepard and Craig Partridge.  When TCP Starts Up With 
        Four Packets Into Only Three Buffers, July 1997.  Internet-Draft 
        draft-shepard-TCP-4-packets-3-buff-00.txt (work in progress). 

Expires: October, 1998                                          [Page 9]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

12.  Author's Addresses 
    Mark Allman  
    NASA Lewis Research Center/Sterling Software 
    21000 Brookpark Road 
    MS 54-2 
    Cleveland, OH 44135 
    Sally Floyd 
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 
    One Cyclotron Road 
    Berkeley, CA 94720 
    Craig Partridge 
    BBN Technologies 
    10 Moulton Street 
    Cambridge, MA 02138 
13.  Appendix - Duplicate Segments

    In the current environment (without Explicit Congestion
    Notification [Flo94] [RF97]), all TCPs use segment drops as
    indications from the network about the limits of available
    bandwidth.  We argue here that the change to a larger initial
    window should not result in the sender retransmitting
    a large number of duplicate segments that have already been 
    received at the receiver.

    If one segment is dropped from the initial window, there are three 
    different ways for TCP to recover: (1) Slow-starting from a window 
    of one segment, as is done after a retransmit timeout, or after Fast 
    Retransmit in Tahoe TCP; (2) Fast Recovery without selective 
    acknowledgments (SACK), as is done after three duplicate ACKs in 
    Reno TCP; and (3) Fast Recovery with SACK, for TCP where both the 
    sender and the receiver support the SACK option [MMFR96].  In all 
    three cases, if a single segment is dropped from the initial window, 
    no duplicate segments (i.e., segments that have already been
    received at the receiver) are transmitted.  Note that for a 
    TCP sending four 512-byte segments in the initial window, a single
    segment drop will not require a retransmit timeout, but can be
    recovered from using the Fast Retransmit algorithm (unless the
    retransmit timer expires prematurely).  In addition, a single
    segment dropped from an initial window of three segments might be
    repaired using the fast retransmit algorithm, depending on which
    segment is dropped and whether or not delayed ACKs are used.  For
    example, dropping the first segment of a three segment initial
    window will always require waiting for a timeout.  However,
    dropping the third segment will always allow recovery via the fast
    retransmit algorithm, as long as no ACKs are lost.

Expires: October, 1998                                         [Page 10]
draft-floyd-incr-init-win-02.txt                              April 1998

    Next we consider scenarios where the initial window contains
    two to four segments, and at least two of those segments are dropped.
    If all segments in the initial window are dropped, then clearly
    no duplicate segments are retransmitted, as the receiver has not yet
    received any segments.  (It is still a possibility that these dropped
    segments used scarce bandwidth on the way to their drop point;  
    this issue was discussed in Section 5.)

    When two segments are dropped from an initial window of three
    segments, the sender will only send a duplicate segment if the
    first two of the three segments were dropped, and the sender does
    not receive a packet with the SACK option acknowledging the third

    When two segments are dropped from an initial window of four
    segments, an examination of the six possible scenarios (which we
    don't go through here) shows that, depending on the position of the
    dropped packets, in the absence of SACK the sender might send one
    duplicate segment.  There are no scenarios in which the sender
    sends two duplicate segments.

    When three segments are dropped from an initial window of four segments,
    then, in the absence of SACK, it is possible that one duplicate
    segment will be sent, depending on the position of the dropped segments.

    The summary is that in the absence of SACK, there are some
    scenarios with multiple segment drops from the initial window where
    one duplicate segment will be transmitted.  There are no scenarios
    where more that one duplicate segment will be transmitted.  Our
    conclusion is that the number of duplicate segments transmitted as
    a result of a larger initial window should be small.
14.  Full Copyright Statement

   [This section would be filled in with the standard template if
   this document advances to an RFC.]

Expires: October, 1998                                         [Page 11]