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IPv6 Fragment Retransmission and Path MTU Discovery Soft Errors

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Author Fred Templin
Last updated 2021-12-22
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Network Working Group                                 F. L. Templin, Ed.
Internet-Draft                              Boeing Research & Technology
Updates: RFC8200, RFC8201, RFC4443, RFC1191 (if         22 December 2021
Intended status: Standards Track                                        
Expires: 25 June 2022

    IPv6 Fragment Retransmission and Path MTU Discovery Soft Errors


   Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) provides a fragmentation and
   reassembly service for end systems allowing for the transmission of
   packets that exceed the path MTU.  However, loss of individual
   fragments requires retransmission of original packets in their
   entirety leading to cascading reassembly failures.  This document
   specifies an IPv6 fragment retransmission scheme that matches the
   loss unit to the retransmission unit.  The document further specifies
   an update to Path MTU Discovery that distinguishes hard link size
   restrictions from reassembly congestion events.

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

   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 progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 25 June 2022.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2021 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents (
   license-info) in effect on the date of publication of this document.

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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
   and restrictions with respect to this document.  Code Components
   extracted from this document must include Revised BSD License text as
   described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are
   provided without warranty as described in the Revised BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   3.  Common Use Cases  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   4.  IPv6 Fragmentation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   5.  IPv6 Fragment Retransmission  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   6.  Packet Too Big (PTB) Soft Errors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   7.  Implementation Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   8.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   9.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   10. Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   11. References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     11.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     11.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11

1.  Introduction

   Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) [RFC8200] provides a fragmentation
   and reassembly service similar to that found in IPv4 [RFC0791], with
   the exception that only the source host (i.e., and not routers on the
   path) may perform fragmentation.  When an IPv6 packet is fragmented,
   the loss unit (i.e., a single IPv6 fragment) becomes smaller than the
   retransmission unit (i.e., the entire packet) which even under
   moderate loss conditions could result in cascading reassembly
   failures that degrade forward progress [RFC8900].

   The presumed drawbacks of fragmentation are tempered by the fact that
   performance increases can often be realized when the source sends
   packets larger than the path MTU.  This is due to the fact that
   larger packets result in fewer application system calls, plus
   transmission of a single large packet results in a burst of multiple
   IPv6 fragments separated by minimal inter-packet delays.  These
   bursts yield high network utilization for the burst duration, while
   modern reassembly implementations have proven capable of
   accommodating the bursts.  If the loss unit can somehow be made to
   match the retransmission unit, the performance benefits of IPv6
   fragmentation can be realized.

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   This document therefore proposes an IPv6 fragment retransmission
   service where the source marks fragments as retransmission-eligible
   while the destination may request retransmission of lost fragments.
   The service provides opportunistic best-effort retransmissions over
   an imaginary "link" extending from the source to the destination
   consistent with the Automatic Repeat Request (ARQ) function of common
   data links [RFC3366].  The service does not attempt to replace true
   end-to-end reliability, but instead allows the destination to recover
   missing individual fragments of partial reassemblies before true end-
   to-end timers would cause retransmission of the entire packet.

   The original packet source may be either co-located with or many IP
   network hops before the IPv6 fragmentation source.  In the same
   fashion, the IPv6 reassembly destination may be either co-located
   with or many IP network hops before the final destination.  When
   conditions suggest that an original source should begin sending
   smaller packets, the fragmentation source and/or reassembly
   destination can return a new type of ICMPv6/ICMPv4 Packet Too Big
   (PTB) message termed a PTB "soft error".

   PTB "soft errors" are distinguished from classic "hard errors" by a
   non-zero PTB Code (ICMPv6) or unused (ICMPv4) field value.  The
   fragmentation source can return rate-limited soft errors to recommend
   smaller packet sizes to the original source while fragmentation of
   large packets is producing excessive numbers of fragments.
   Similarly, the reassembly destination can return rate-limited soft
   errors (i.e., via the fragmentation source to the original source)
   while reassembly of large packets is causing excessive reassembly
   congestion.  Original sources that receive these soft errors should
   reduce their packet sizes until the errors subside, but can begin to
   increase packet sizes again without delay until further soft or hard
   errors arrive.

   The following sections discuss common use cases and operational
   considerations for applying IPv6 fragment retransmission and path MTU
   discovery soft errors.  They further specify new codings for the IPv6
   fragment header Reserved field, a new ICMPv6 message type and updates
   to ICMPv6/ICMPv4 PTB messages.  This document therefore updates
   existing standards where necessary.

2.  Terminology

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP
   14 [RFC2119][RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

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3.  Common Use Cases

   A common use case of interest is to improve the state of affairs for
   IPv6 encapsulation (i.e., "tunneling") [RFC2473] when the original
   source may be many IP hops away from the tunnel ingress, and the
   tunnel packet may be fragmented following encapsulation.  The tunnel
   is seen as a "link" on the path from the original source to the final
   destination, and the goal is to increase the reliability of that link
   in order to minimize wasteful end-to-end retransmissions.

   When the original source and IPv6 fragmentation source are co-located
   on the same platform (physical or virtual) the window of opportunity
   for successful retransmission of individual fragments may be narrow
   unless the link persistence timeframe is carefully coordinated with
   upper layer retransmission timers.  (In an uncoordinated case, upper
   layers may retransmit the entire packet before or at roughly the same
   time the IPv6 fragmentation source retransmits individual fragments,
   leading to increased congestion and wasted retransmissions.)
   However, the same retransmission facility can be applied to both the
   tunneled and end system source models.

   Upper layer protocols of the original source can further assign a
   "Parcel ID" to groups of packets eligible for delivery to final
   destination applications as a larger aggregate instead of smaller
   individual packets.  The upper layer protocols supply the Parcel ID
   to lower layers which insert the value as discussed in Section 4,
   while the destination lower layer protocols deliver the Parcel ID to
   upper layers.  Further details on parcel grouping are out of scope
   for this document.

4.  IPv6 Fragmentation

   IPv6 fragmentation is specified in Section 4.5 of [RFC8200] and is
   based on the IPv6 Fragment extension header formatted as shown below:

      |  Next Header  |   Reserved    |      Fragment Offset    |Res|M|
      |                         Identification                        |

   In this format:

   *  Next Header is a 1-octet IP protocol version of the next header
      following the Fragment Header.

   *  Reserved is a 1-octet reserved field set to 0 on transmission and
      ignored on reception.

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   *  Fragment Offset is a 13-bit field that provides the offset (in
      8-octet units) of the data portion that follows from the beginning
      of the packet.

   *  Res is a 2-bit field set to 0 on transmission and ignored on

   *  M is the "More Fragments" bit telling whether additional fragments

   *  Identification is a 32 bit numerical identification value for the
      entire IPv6 packet.  The value is copied into each fragment of the
      same IPv6 packet.

   The fragmentation and reassembly specification in [RFC8200] can be
   considered as the standard method which adheres to the details of
   that RFC.  This document presents an enhanced method that allows for
   retransmissions of individual fragments.

5.  IPv6 Fragment Retransmission

   Fragmentation implementations that follow this specification reuse
   the (formerly) Reserved field of the IPv6 Fragment Header.  For first
   fragments (i.e., those with zero Fragment Offset) the 8-bit Reserved
   field is replaced with a 7-bit Parcel ID followed by a 1-bit A(RQ)
   flag, and the 2-bit Res field is replaced with a single P(arcel) bit
   followed by a 1-bit S(ub-parcels) flag as shown below:

      |  Next Header  |  Parcel ID  |A|      Fragment Offset    |P|S|M|
      |                         Identification                        |

   For non-first fragments (i.e., those with non-zero Fragment Offset),
   the Reserved field is replaced with a 7-bit "Ordinal" field followed
   by a 1-bit A(RQ) flag as shown below:

      |  Next Header  |   Ordinal   |A|      Fragment Offset    |Res|M|
      |                         Identification                        |

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   When a source that follows this specification fragments an IPv6
   packet it sets the first fragment A flag to 1, then for IP parcels
   sets Parcel ID, P and S according to the processing and transmission
   procedures found in [I-D.templin-6man-omni].  For non-parcels, the
   source instead sets Parcel ID, P and S to 0.

   The source then sets the Ordinal value for each successive non-first
   fragment to a monotonically-increasing value beginning with 1, i.e.,
   it sets Ordinal to '1' for the first non-first fragment, '2' for the
   second non-first fragment, '3' for the third non-first fragment, etc.
   up to either Ordinal '127' or the final fragment (whichever comes
   first) while also setting the A flag to 1.  (If there are additional
   non-first fragments beyond Ordinal '127', the source instead sets
   their Ordinals to '0' to indicate that the fragment is not eligible
   for retransmission.)

   When a destination that follows this specification receives IPv6
   fragments with the A flag set to 1, it infers that the source
   participates in the protocol and maintains a checklist of all Ordinal
   fragments received for a specific Identification number.  (Note that
   receipt of any IPv6 fragments with the A flag set provides an
   implicit assertion that all lost Ordinal IPv6 fragments are also
   eligible for retransmission.)

   If the destination notices one or more Ordinals missing after most
   other Ordinals for the same Identification have arrived, it can
   prepare an ICMPv6 Fragmentation Report (FRAGREP) message [RFC4443] to
   send back to the source.  The message is formatted as follows:

        0                   1                   2                   3
        0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
       |     Type      |     Code      |          Checksum             |
       |                        Identification (0)                     |
       ~                    Ordinal Bitmap (0) (0-127)                 ~
       |                        Identification (1)                     |
       ~                    Ordinal Bitmap (1) (0-127)                 ~
       |                                ...                            |
       |                                ...                            |

   In this format, the destination prepares the FRAGREP message as a
   list of 20-octet (Identification(i), Bitmap(i)) pairs.  The first 4
   octets in each pair encode the Identification value for the IPv6

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   packet that is subject of the report, while the remaining 16 octets
   encode a 128-bit Bitmap of Ordinal fragments received for this
   Identification.  For example, if the destination receives the first
   fragment (i.e., Ordinal number 0) plus non-first fragment Ordinals 1,
   3, 4, 6, and 8 it sets Bitmap bits 0, 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 to '1' and
   sets all other bits to '0'.  The destination may include as many
   (Identification, Bitmap) pairs as necessary without causing the
   entire message to exceed the minimum IPv6 MTU of 1280 bytes.  (If
   additional pairs are necessary, the destination may prepare and send
   multiple messages.)

   The destination next transmits the FRAGREP message to the IPv6
   fragment source.  When the source receives the message, it examines
   each entry to determine the per-Identification Ordinal fragments that
   require retransmission.  For example, if the source receives a Bitmap
   for Identification 0x12345678 with bits 0, 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 set to
   '1', it would retransmit Ordinal fragments (0x12345678, 2),
   (0x12345678, 5) and (0x12345678, 7).

   This implies that the source should retain a cache of recently
   transmitted fragments for a time that determines "link persistence"
   [RFC3366].  The link persistence should be at least as long as the
   round-trip time from the fragmentation source to the reassembly
   destination, plus an additional small delay to allow for processing
   overhead and/or delay variance.  Then, if the source receives a
   FRAGREP message requesting retransmission of one or more Ordinals, it
   can retransmit if it still holds the Ordinals in its cache.
   Otherwise, the Ordinal will incur a cache miss and the original
   source will eventually retransmit the original packet in its
   entirety.  After processing all entries in the FRAGREP, the source
   discards the message.

   The maximum-sized IPv6 packet that a source can submit for
   fragmentation is 64KB, and the minimum IPv6 path MTU is 1280B.
   Assuming the minimum IPv6 path MTU as the nominal size for non-final
   fragments, the number of Ordinals for each IPv6 packet should
   therefore easily fit within the available Bitmap bits when the
   fragments are transmitted over IPv6-only network paths.  However,
   when the path may traverse one or more IPv4 networks (e.g., via
   tunneling) the path MTU may be significantly smaller.  In that case,
   the number of IPv6 fragments needed may exceed the maximum number of
   Ordinal retransmission candidates.

   When the number of IPv6 fragments exceeds 128, the source assigns an
   Ordinal value in the first 127 non-first fragments, but sets Ordinal
   to 0 in any remaining non-first fragments then transmits all
   fragments.  When the destination receives the fragments, it may
   return a FRAGREP to request retransmission of the first fragment and/

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   or any missing Ordinal non-first fragments, but may not request
   retransmission of non-first fragments with zero Ordinals for which
   the best-effort delivery default behavior applies.  However, all
   fragments are presented equally to the reassembly cache regardless of
   the (formerly) Reserved field settings, where the Reserved values are
   ignored and successful reassembly is likely.

   Finally, transmission of IPv6 fragments over IPv6-only paths can be
   safely conducted without a fragmentation-layer integrity check since
   IPv6 includes reassembly safeguards and a 32-bit Identification
   value.  Conversely, transmission of IPv6 fragments over IPv4-only or
   mixed IPv6/IPv4 paths requires a fragmentation-layer integrity check
   inserted by the source before fragmentation and verified by the
   destination following reassembly since IPv4 provides only a 16-bit
   Identification and no reassembly safeguards.  (In cases where the
   full path cannot be determined a priori, an integrity check should
   always be included as specified in AERO [I-D.templin-6man-aero] and
   OMNI [I-D.templin-6man-omni].)

6.  Packet Too Big (PTB) Soft Errors

   When an IPv6 fragmentation source forwards packets that produce what
   it considers as excessive numbers fragments (e.g., 32, 48, 64, more),
   the fragmentation source can also return PTB "soft errors" to the
   original source (subject to rate limiting).  Either the fragmentation
   source or reassembly destination may also return PTB soft errors if
   the frequency of retransmissions or reassembly failures exceeds
   acceptable thresholds.

   PTB soft errors are distinguished from ordinary "hard errors" through
   non-zero values in the ICMPv6 "Code" [RFC8201][RFC4443] or ICMPv4
   "unused" [RFC1191] fields.  The following values are currently

   *  0 - "PTB hard error" - Original sources that receive these
      messages obey the classic Path MTU Discovery (PMTUD)
      specifications found in [RFC8201][RFC1191].

   *  1 - "PTB soft error (packet lost)" - Original sources that receive
      these messages should reduce their packet sizes while
      retransmitting the lost packet data, but need not wait the
      prescribed 10 minutes before attempting to again increase packet

   *  2 - "PTB soft error (packet forwarded)" - Original sources that
      receive these messages should reduce their packet sizes without
      invoking retransmission, and also need not wait the prescribed 10
      minutes before attempting to again increase packet sizes.

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   *  3-255 - reserved for future use.

   PTB soft errors include as much of the invoking packet as possible
   without the message exceeding the minimum MTU (i.e., 1280 bytes for
   IPv6 or 576 bytes for IPv4).  Original sources that recognize PTB
   soft errors should follow common logic to dynamically tune their
   packet sizes to obtain the best performance.  In particular, an
   original source can gradually increase its packet sizes while PTB
   soft errors are suppressed then again reduce packet sizes when
   excessive soft errors arrive.

   Original sources that do not recognize PTB soft errors (i.e., that do
   not examine the Code/unused field value) follow the same standards as
   for hard errors as described above and may therefore miss performance
   improvement opportunities.

7.  Implementation Status


8.  IANA Considerations

   A new ICMPv6 Message Type code for "Fragmentation Report (FRAGREP)"
   is requested.

   The IANA is instructed to create new registries for "ICMPv6 Packet
   Too Big Code field" and "ICMPv4 Fragmentation Needed unused field"
   values.  Both registries should have the following initial values:

      Value    Sub-Type name                  Reference
      -----    -------------                  ----------
      0        PTB hard error                 [RFCXXXX]
      1        PTB soft error (loss)          [RFCXXXX]
      2        PTB soft error (no loss)       [RFCXXXX]
      3-252    Unassigned
      253-254  Reserved for Experimentation   [RFCXXXX]
      255      Reserved by IANA               [RFCXXXX]

                Figure 1: Packet Too Big Code/unused Values

9.  Security Considerations

   Communications networking security is necessary to preserve
   confidentiality, integrity and availability.

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10.  Acknowledgements

   This work was inspired by ongoing AERO/OMNI/DTN investigations.


11.  References

11.1.  Normative References

   [RFC0791]  Postel, J., "Internet Protocol", STD 5, RFC 791,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC0791, September 1981,

   [RFC1191]  Mogul, J. and S. Deering, "Path MTU discovery", RFC 1191,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC1191, November 1990,

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC4443]  Conta, A., Deering, S., and M. Gupta, Ed., "Internet
              Control Message Protocol (ICMPv6) for the Internet
              Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) Specification", STD 89,
              RFC 4443, DOI 10.17487/RFC4443, March 2006,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <>.

   [RFC8200]  Deering, S. and R. Hinden, "Internet Protocol, Version 6
              (IPv6) Specification", STD 86, RFC 8200,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8200, July 2017,

   [RFC8201]  McCann, J., Deering, S., Mogul, J., and R. Hinden, Ed.,
              "Path MTU Discovery for IP version 6", STD 87, RFC 8201,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8201, July 2017,

11.2.  Informative References

              Templin, F. L., "Automatic Extended Route Optimization
              (AERO)", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-templin-

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              6man-aero-37, 15 November 2021,

              Templin, F. L. and T. Whyman, "Transmission of IP Packets
              over Overlay Multilink Network (OMNI) Interfaces", Work in
              Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-templin-6man-omni-51, 15
              November 2021, <

   [RFC2473]  Conta, A. and S. Deering, "Generic Packet Tunneling in
              IPv6 Specification", RFC 2473, DOI 10.17487/RFC2473,
              December 1998, <>.

   [RFC3366]  Fairhurst, G. and L. Wood, "Advice to link designers on
              link Automatic Repeat reQuest (ARQ)", BCP 62, RFC 3366,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC3366, August 2002,

   [RFC8900]  Bonica, R., Baker, F., Huston, G., Hinden, R., Troan, O.,
              and F. Gont, "IP Fragmentation Considered Fragile",
              BCP 230, RFC 8900, DOI 10.17487/RFC8900, September 2020,

Author's Address

   Fred L. Templin (editor)
   Boeing Research & Technology
   P.O. Box 3707
   Seattle, WA 98124
   United States of America


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