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Current Open Questions in Path Aware Networking

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 9217.
Author Brian Trammell
Last updated 2021-12-06 (Latest revision 2021-11-11)
Replaces draft-trammell-panrg-questions
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Path Aware Networking RG                                     B. Trammell
Internet-Draft                                   Google Switzerland GmbH
Intended status: Informational                          11 November 2021
Expires: 15 May 2022

            Current Open Questions in Path Aware Networking


   In contrast to the present Internet architecture, a path-aware
   internetworking architecture has two important properties: it exposes
   the properties of available Internet paths to endpoints, and provides
   for endpoints and applications to use these properties to select
   paths through the Internet for their traffic.  While this property of
   "path awareness" already exists in many Internet-connected networks
   within single domains and via administrative interfaces to the
   network layer, a fully path-aware internetwork expands these concepts
   across layers and across the Internet.

   This document poses questions in path-aware networking open as of
   2021, that must be answered in the design, development, and
   deployment of path-aware internetworks.  It was originally written to
   frame discussions in the Path Aware Networking proposed Research
   Group (PANRG), and has been published to snapshot current thinking in
   this space.

Discussion Venues

   This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

   Source for this draft and an issue tracker can be found at

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on 15 May 2022.

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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction to Path-Aware Networking . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     1.1.  Definition  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   2.  Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  A Vocabulary of Path Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.2.  Discovery, Distribution, and Trustworthiness of Path
           Properties  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.3.  Supporting Path Selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     2.4.  Interfaces for Path Awareness . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     2.5.  Implications of Path Awareness for the Transport and
           Application Layers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     2.6.  What is an Endpoint?  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     2.7.  Operating a Path Aware Network  . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     2.8.  Deploying a Path Aware Network  . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   3.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   4.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11

1.  Introduction to Path-Aware Networking

   In the current Internet architecture, the network layer provides an
   unverifiable, best-effort service to the endpoints using it.  While
   there are technologies that attempt better-than-best-effort delivery,
   the interfaces to these are generally administrative as opposed to
   endpoint-exposed (e.g.  Path Computation Element (PCE) [RFC4655] and
   Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) approaches), and they are

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   often restricted to single administrative domains.  In this
   environment, an application can assume that a packet with a given
   destination address will eventually be forwarded toward that
   destination, but little else.

   A transport layer protocol such as TCP can provide reliability over
   this best-effort service, and a protocol above the network layer such
   as IPsec Authentication Header (AH) [RFC4302] or Transport Layer
   Security (TLS) [RFC8446] can authenticate the remote endpoint.
   However, little, if any, explicit information about the path is
   available to the endpoint, and assumptions about that path often do
   not hold, sometimes with serious impacts on the application, as in
   the case with BGP hijacking attacks.

   By contrast, in a path-aware internetworking architecture, endpoints
   have the ability to select or influence the path through the network
   used by any given packet or flow.  The network and transport layers
   explicitly expose information about the path or paths available from
   one endpoint to another, and to those endpoints and the applications
   running on them, so that they can make this selection.  The
   Application Layer Traffic Optimization (ALTO) protocol [RFC7285] can
   be seen as an example of a path-awareness approach implemented in
   transport-layer terms on the present Internet protocol stack.

   Path selection provides explicit visibility and control of network
   treatment to applications and users of the network.  This selection
   is available to the application, transport, and/or network layer
   entities at each endpoint.  Path control at the flow and subflow
   level enables the design of new transport protocols that can leverage
   multipath connectivity across disjoint paths through the Internet,
   even over a single physical interface.  When exposed to applications,
   or to end-users through a system configuration interface, path
   control allows the specification of constraints on the paths that
   traffic should traverse, for instance to confound passive
   surveillance in the network core [RFC7624].

   We note that this property of "path awareness" already exists in many
   Internet-connected networks within single domains.  Indeed, much of
   the practice of network engineering using encapsulation at layer 3
   can be said to be "path aware", in that it explicitly assigns traffic
   at tunnel endpoints to a given path within the network.  Path-aware
   internetworking seeks to extend this awareness across domain
   boundaries without resorting to overlays, except as a transition

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   This document presents a snapshot of open questions in this space
   that will need to be answered in order to realize a path-aware
   internetworking architecture; it is published to further frame
   discussions within and outside the Path Aware Networking Research
   Group, and is published with the rough consensus of that group.

1.1.  Definition

   For purposes of this document, "path aware networking" describes
   endpoint discovery of the properties of paths they use for
   communication across an internetwork, and endpoint reaction to these
   properties that affects routing and/or data transfer.  Note that this
   can and already does happen to some extent in the current Internet
   architecture; this definition expands current techniques of path
   discovery and manipulation to cross administrative domain boundaries
   and up to the transport and application layers at the endpoints.

   Expanding on this definition, a "path aware internetwork" is one in
   which endpoint discovery of path properties and endpoint selection of
   paths used by traffic exchanged by the endpoint are explicitly
   supported, regardless of the specific design of the protocol features
   which enable this discovery and selection.

   A "path", for the purposes of these definitions, is abstractly
   defined as a sequence of adjacent path elements over which a packet
   can be transmitted, where the definition of "path element" is
   technology-dependent.  As this document is intended to pose questions
   rather than answer them, it assumes that this definition will be
   refined as part of the answer the first two questions it poses, about
   the vocabulary of path properties and how they are disseminated.

   Research into path aware networking covers any and all aspects of
   designing, building, and operating path aware internetworks or the
   networks and endpoints attached to them.  This document presents a
   collection of research questions to address in order to make a path
   aware Internet a reality.

2.  Questions

   Realizing path-aware networking requires answers to a set of open
   research questions.  This document poses these questions, as a
   starting point for discussions about how to realize path awareness in
   the Internet, and to direct future research efforts within the Path
   Aware Networking Research Group.

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2.1.  A Vocabulary of Path Properties

   The first question: how are paths and path properties defined and

   In order for information about paths to be exposed to an endpoint,
   and for the endpoint to make use of that information, it is necessary
   to define a common vocabulary for paths through an internetwork, and
   properties of those paths.  The elements of this vocabulary could
   include terminology for components of a path and properties defined
   for these components, for the entire path, or for subpaths of a path.
   These properties may be relatively static, such as the presence of a
   given node or service function on the path; as well as relatively
   dynamic, such as the current values of metrics such as loss and

   This vocabulary must be defined carefully, as its design will have
   impacts on the expressiveness of a given path-aware internetworking
   architecture.  This expressiveness also exhibits tradeoffs.  For
   example, a system that exposes node-level information for the
   topology through each network would maximize information about the
   individual components of the path at the endpoints, at the expense of
   making internal network topology universally public, which may be in
   conflict with the business goals of each network's operator.
   Furthermore, properties related to individual components of the path
   may change frequently and may quickly become outdated.  However,
   aggregating the properties of individual components to distill end-
   to-end properties for the entire path is not trivial.

2.2.  Discovery, Distribution, and Trustworthiness of Path Properties

   The second question: how do endpoints and applications get access to
   accurate, useful, and trustworthy path properties?

   Once endpoints and networks have a shared vocabulary for expressing
   path properties, the network must have some method for distributing
   those path properties to the endpoint.  Regardless of how path
   property information is distributed to the endpoints, the endpoints
   require a method to authenticate the properties -- to determine that
   they originated from and pertain to the path that they purport to.

   Choices in distribution and authentication methods will have impacts
   on the scalability of a path-aware architecture.  Possible dimensions
   in the space of distribution methods include in-band versus out-of-
   band, push versus pull versus publish-subscribe, and so on.  There
   are temporal issues with path property dissemination as well,
   especially with dynamic properties, since the measurement or
   elicitation of dynamic properties may be outdated by the time that

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   information is available at the endpoints, and interactions between
   the measurement and dissemination delay may exhibit pathological
   behavior for unlucky points in the parameter space.

2.3.  Supporting Path Selection

   The third question: how can endpoints select paths to use for traffic
   in a way that can be trusted by the network, the endpoints, and the
   applications using them?

   Access to trustworthy path properties is only half of the challenge
   in establishing a path-aware architecture.  Endpoints must be able to
   use this information in order to select paths for specific traffic
   they send.  As with the dissemination of path properties, choices
   made in path selection methods will also have an impact on the
   tradeoff between scalability and expressiveness of a path-aware
   architecture.  One key choice here is between in-band and out-of-band
   control of path selection.  Another is granularity of path selection
   (whether per packet, per flow, or per larger aggregate), which also
   has a large impact on the scalabilty/expressiveness tradeoff.  Path
   selection must, like path property information, be trustworthy, such
   that the result of a path selection at an endpoint is predictable.
   Moreover, any path selection mechanism should aim to provide an
   outcome that is not worse than using a single path, or selecting
   paths at random.

   Path selection may be exposed in terms of the properties of the path
   or the identity of elements of the path.  In the latter case, a path
   may be identified at any of multiple layers (e.g. routing domain
   identifier, network layer address, higher-layer identifier or name,
   and so on).  In this case, care must be taken to present semantically
   useful information to those making decisions about which path(s) to

2.4.  Interfaces for Path Awareness

   The fourth question: how can interfaces among the network, transport,
   and application layers support the use of path awareness?

   In order for applications to make effective use of a path-aware
   networking architecture, the control interfaces presented by the
   network and transport layers must also expose path properties to the
   application in a useful way, and provide a useful set of paths among
   which the application can select.  Path selection must be possible
   based not only on the preferences and policies of the application
   developer, but of end-users as well.  Also, the path selection
   interfaces presented to applications and end users will need to
   support multiple levels of granularity.  Most applications'

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   requirements can be satisfied with the expression of path selection
   policies in terms of properties of the paths, while some applications
   may need finer-grained, per-path control.  These interfaces will need
   to support incremental development and deployment of applications,
   and provide sensible defaults, to avoid hindering their adoption.

2.5.  Implications of Path Awareness for the Transport and Application

   The fifth question: how should transport-layer and higher layer
   protocols be redesigned to work most effectively over a path-aware
   networking layer?

   In the current Internet, the basic assumption that at a given time
   all traffic for a given flow will receive the same network treatment
   and traverse the same path or equivalend paths often holds.  In a
   path aware network, this assumption is more easily violated.  The
   weakening of this assumption has implications for the design of
   protocols above any path-aware network layer.

   For example, one advantage of multipath communication is that a given
   end-to-end flow can be "sprayed" along multiple paths in order to
   confound attempts to collect data or metadata from those flows for
   pervasive surveillance purposes [RFC7624].  However, the benefits of
   this approach are reduced if the upper-layer protocols use linkable
   identifiers on packets belonging to the same flow across different
   paths.  Clients may mitigate linkability by opting to not re-use
   cleartext connection identifiers, such as TLS session IDs or tickets,
   on separate paths.  The privacy-conscious strategies required for
   effective privacy in a path-aware Internet are only possible if
   higher-layer protocols such as TLS permit clients to obtain
   unlinkable identifiers.

2.6.  What is an Endpoint?

   The sixth question: how is path awareness (in terms of vocabulary and
   interfaces) different when applied to tunnel and overlay endpoints?

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   The vision of path-aware networking articulated so far makes an
   assumption that path properties will be disseminated to endpoints on
   which applications are running (terminals with user agents, servers,
   and so on).  However, incremental deployment may require that a path-
   aware network "core" be used to interconnect islands of legacy
   protocol networks.  In these cases, it is the gateways, not the
   application endpoints, that receive path properties and make path
   selections for that traffic.  The interfaces provided by this gateway
   are necessarily different than those a path-aware networking layer
   provides to its transport and application layers, and the path
   property information the gateway needs and makes available over those
   interfaces may also be different.

2.7.  Operating a Path Aware Network

   The seventh question: how can a path aware network in a path aware
   internetwork be effectively operated, given control inputs from
   network administrators, application designers, and end users?

   The network operations model in the current Internet architecture
   assumes that traffic flows are controlled by the decisions and
   policies made by network operators, as expressed in interdomain and
   intradomain routing protocols.  In a network providing path selection
   to the endpoints, however, this assumption no longer holds, as
   endpoints may react to path properties by selecting alternate paths.
   Competing control inputs from path-aware endpoints and the routing
   control plane may lead to more difficult traffic engineering or
   nonconvergent forwarding, especially if the endpoints' and operators'
   notion of the "best" path for given traffic diverges significantly.
   The degree of difficulty may depend on the fidelity of information
   made available to path selection algorithms at the endpoints.
   Explicit path selection can also specify outbound paths, while BGP
   policies are expressed in terms of inbound traffic.

   A concept for path aware network operations will need to have clear
   methods for the resolution of apparent (if not actual) conflicts of
   intent between the network's operator and the path selection at an
   endpoint.  It will also need set of safety principles to ensure that
   increasing path control does not lead to decreasing connectivity; one
   such safety principle could be "the existence of at least one path
   between two endpoints guarantees the selection of at least one path
   between those endpoints."

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2.8.  Deploying a Path Aware Network

   The eighth question: how can the incentives of network operators and
   end-users be aligned to realize the vision of path aware networking,
   and how can the transition from current ("path-oblivious") to path-
   aware networking be managed?

   The vision presented in the introduction discusses path aware
   networking from the point of view of the benefits accruing at the
   endpoints, to designers of transport protocols and applications as
   well as to the end users of those applications.  However, this vision
   requires action not only at the endpoints but also within the
   interconnected networks offering path aware connectivity.  While the
   specific actions required are a matter of the design and
   implementation of a specific realization of a path aware protocol
   stack, it is clear than any path aware architecture will require
   network operators to give up some control of their networks over to
   endpoint-driven control inputs.

   Here the question of apparent versus actual conflicts of intent
   arises again: certain network operations requirements may appear
   essential, but are merely accidents of the interfaces provided by
   current routing and management protocols.  For example, related (but
   adjacent) to path aware networking, the widespread use of the TCP
   wire image [RFC8546] in network monitoring for DDoS prevention
   appears in conflict with the deployment of encrypted transports, only
   because path signaling [RFC8558] has been implicit in the deployment
   of past transport protocols.

   Similarly, incentives for deployment must show how existing network
   operations requirements are met through new path selection and
   property dissemination mechanisms.

   The incentives for network operators and equipment vendors need to be
   made clear, in terms of a plan to transition [RFC8170] an
   internetwork to path-aware operation, one network and facility at a
   time.  This plan to transition must also take into account that the
   dynamics of path aware networking early in this transition (when few
   endpoints and flows in the Internet use path selection) may be
   different than those later in the transition.

   Aspects of data security and information management in a network that
   explicitly radiates more information about the network's deployment
   and configuration, and implicitly radiates information about endpoint
   configuration and preference through path selection, must also be

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3.  Acknowledgments

   Many thanks to Adrian Perrig, Jean-Pierre Smith, Mirja Kuehlewind,
   Olivier Bonaventure, Martin Thomson, Shwetha Bhandari, Chris Wood,
   Lee Howard, Mohamed Boucadair, Thorben Krueger, Gorry Fairhurst,
   Spencer Dawkins, Theresa Enghardt, Laurent Ciavaglia, and Stephen
   Farrell, for discussions leading to questions in this document, and
   for feedback on the document itself.

   This work is partially supported by the European Commission under
   Horizon 2020 grant agreement no. 688421 Measurement and Architecture
   for a Middleboxed Internet (MAMI), and by the Swiss State Secretariat
   for Education, Research, and Innovation under contract no. 15.0268.
   This support does not imply endorsement.

4.  Informative References

   [RFC4302]  Kent, S., "IP Authentication Header", RFC 4302,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC4302, December 2005,

   [RFC4655]  Farrel, A., Vasseur, J.-P., and J. Ash, "A Path
              Computation Element (PCE)-Based Architecture", RFC 4655,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC4655, August 2006,

   [RFC7285]  Alimi, R., Ed., Penno, R., Ed., Yang, Y., Ed., Kiesel, S.,
              Previdi, S., Roome, W., Shalunov, S., and R. Woundy,
              "Application-Layer Traffic Optimization (ALTO) Protocol",
              RFC 7285, DOI 10.17487/RFC7285, September 2014,

   [RFC7624]  Barnes, R., Schneier, B., Jennings, C., Hardie, T.,
              Trammell, B., Huitema, C., and D. Borkmann,
              "Confidentiality in the Face of Pervasive Surveillance: A
              Threat Model and Problem Statement", RFC 7624,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7624, August 2015,

   [RFC8170]  Thaler, D., Ed., "Planning for Protocol Adoption and
              Subsequent Transitions", RFC 8170, DOI 10.17487/RFC8170,
              May 2017, <>.

   [RFC8446]  Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol
              Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, August 2018,

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   [RFC8546]  Trammell, B. and M. Kuehlewind, "The Wire Image of a
              Network Protocol", RFC 8546, DOI 10.17487/RFC8546, April
              2019, <>.

   [RFC8558]  Hardie, T., Ed., "Transport Protocol Path Signals",
              RFC 8558, DOI 10.17487/RFC8558, April 2019,

Author's Address

   Brian Trammell
   Google Switzerland GmbH
   Gustav-Gull-Platz 1
   CH- 8004 Zurich


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