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Versions: 00 01 02 03 04                                                
Network Working Group                                            W. Eddy
Internet-Draft                                      NASA GRC/Verizon FNS
Expires: November 7, 2005                                    May 6, 2005

             Extending the Space Available for TCP Options

Status of this Memo

   By submitting this Internet-Draft, each author represents that any
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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).


   This document describes a method for increasing the space available
   for TCP options.  Two new TCP options (LO and SLO) are detailed which
   reduce the limitations imposed by the TCP header's Data Offset field.
   The LO option provides this extension after connection establishment,
   and the SLO option aids in transmission of lengthy connection
   initialization and configuration options.

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Table of Contents

   1.   Requirements Notation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.   Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   3.   The Long Options (LO) Option . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.   The SYN Long Options (SLO) Option  . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   5.   Middlebox Interactions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   6.   Comparison to Extended Segments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   7.   Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
   8.   IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
   9.   Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
   10.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
     10.1   Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
     10.2   Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
        Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17
        Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . .  18

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1.  Requirements Notation

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

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2.  Introduction

   Every TCP segment's header contains a 4-bit Data Offset (DO) field
   that implies the length of that segment's TCP header.  The DO field
   has been specified as: "The number of 32-bit words in the TCP Header.
   This indicates where the data begins.  The TCP header (even one
   including options) is an integral number of 32 bits long" [1].  For a
   TCP implementation, this means that the boundary separating TCP
   control data and application data is always exactly DO * 4 bytes from
   the beginning of the TCP header.

   As a 4-bit unsigned integer, DO's value is bounded between 0 and 15.
   This allows for a maximum TCP header length of 60 bytes (15 * 4
   bytes).  The required fields in a TCP header occupy a fixed 20 bytes,
   leaving 40 bytes as the maximum amount of space for use by TCP

   While 40 bytes is a reasonable amount of space, sufficient for the
   concurrent use of several presently defined TCP options, there are
   cases where more space might be useful.  For example, the Selective
   Acknowledgement (SACK) option [5] uses a fixed 2 bytes for its kind
   and length fields, and requires an additional 8 bytes per SACK block.
   Thus, the maximum number of SACK blocks a TCP acknowledgement may
   carry is limited to 4 (with 6 bytes left over).  Since SACK is
   commonly used with the Timestamp option [4], which uses 10 bytes,
   this further limits the number of SACK blocks that may be carried to
   3.  For specific scenarios involving large windows and combinations
   of data and acknowledgement loss, additional capacity for SACK blocks
   is known to be useful [6].

   Creation of new TCP options is also hindered by the lack of space
   left over after currently-used options are accounted for.  For long
   options that must be present at connection-startup time, this is a
   particular problem, as all negotiable options need to share 40 bytes
   of space in a SYN segment.  One method that has been used to get
   around this limitation is overloading the Timestamp bytes in the SYN
   segments [7].  There are other header fields that might be similarly
   overloaded (e.g. the urgent pointer), but this approach is of
   obviously limited utility, as it does not address the fundamental
   limitation imposed by the DO field, and there are a finite number of
   overloadable header bits.

   This document specifies two new TCP options, LO and SLO.  The Long
   Options (LO) option allows two hosts to negotiate for the ability to
   use TCP headers longer than 60 bytes (and thus options space of
   greater than 40 bytes) on subsequent segments.  This is accomplished
   by ignoring the DO field's value and adding a 16-bit field at a fixed
   location in the header's options to replace it.  The format and usage

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   of the LO option is detailed in Section 3.

   Attempting to process initial SYN segements with greater than 60
   bytes of TCP headers might cause errors if received by hosts that
   consider anything past the DO-specified boundary to be application
   data.  For backwards compatibility reasons, the maximum length of
   options on a connection-initiating SYN segment remains 40.  The SYN
   Long Options (SLO) option is used in the case where these 40 bytes
   are not enough space to carry the desired startup configuration
   options, and negotiates for later reliable delivery of the left-off
   options.  Section 4 describes the format and usage of the SLO option.

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3.  The Long Options (LO) Option

   A host might implement some set of TCP options allowing it to predict
   that greater than 40 bytes of TCP options space may be useful (for
   example SACK, Timestamps, alternate checksums, etc).  In this case, a
   host MAY implement the LO option.  When initiating connections
   through an active open, hosts implementing the LO option SHOULD place
   a LO option of the form shown in Figure 1 somewhere in the SYN
   segment's options.  The 16-bit field labelled "Header Length" should
   be filled in with the same value as the DO field in the required
   portion of the TCP header, left-padded with zeros.

                        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
   |    Kind = 27  |  Length = 4   |        Header Length          |

   TCP Long Options (LO) Option

                                 Figure 1

   Receipt of an acknowledgement covering the SYN and also containing a
   LO option means the LO option MUST be used as the first option on all
   subsequent segments, and the DO field on all subsequent segments
   SHOULD be set to 6.  The value 6 represents the length of the
   required portions of the TCP header plus the LO option.  The Header
   Length field of a LO option overrides the DO field in the fixed
   header, and has an identical meaning, but with 16 bits of unsigned
   precision rather than 4.  Semantically, this still represents the
   offset from the beginning of the TCP header bounding the start of
   application data bytes.  Since the LO option is found in a fixed
   place on all susbequent segments, it essentially becomes part of the
   required header, and looking up the Header Length field is of similar
   computational complexity to that required when the DO field is used.

   Since a LO option's Header Length field is of the same range as the
   IP header's Total Length field [2], this allows TCP options to
   consume an entire maximum-sized IP datagram's length (minus the IP
   header and required TCP header fields).  No matter what size the
   options section of a TCP header is, it must still be appended with
   zero-padding to make the total header a multiple of 32 bits, per RFC
   793 [1].

   Listening hosts that implement the LO option, after reception of a
   SYN segment with the LO option present, SHOULD reply with a LO option
   in their SYN-ACK.  The LO option is then used on all subsequent
   segments to override the DO field.  It can be seen that in both the

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   normal case where one host passively opens and another actively
   opens, and the more rare case where two hosts simultaneously initiate
   active opens, the LO option's use can be successfully negotiated.

   Mandating the use of the LO option on all subsequent segments after
   negotiation may seem to be a bit arbitrary.  For instance, it would
   be technically feasible to only include LO options on particular
   segments for which the DO field is determined to not be long enough.
   This would save 4 bytes of header overhead when the extra options
   space is not needed.  However, the behavior that this document
   describes proved to be easier to implement in the authors'
   experiences with two different TCP implementations.  Mandating the LO
   option on all segments makes odd buggy behaviors less likely and
   simplifies the algorithms for parsing TCP headers and options in the
   implementations we worked with.  If the additional header overhead
   seems problematic, it can be effectively mitigated using header
   compression techniques, since the stream of 4 byte LO options
   typically has very little entropy.

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4.  The SYN Long Options (SLO) Option

   If the LO option has been successfully negotiated, an active-opening
   host that has more bytes of initialization options than would fit in
   the SYN, can use the SYN Long Options (SLO) option.  If a host
   supports the LO option, then it MUST support the SLO option.

   Any option bytes transmitted using the SLO option will be treated as
   if they were carried on the SYN segment.  Since there is no guarantee
   that the LO option will be successfully negotiated, the additional 36
   bytes left over aside from the 4 byte LO option on a SYN segment
   should be filled with the most important remaining options that will
   fit, as determined by the particular implementation.  A host issuing
   a passive open, MUST NOT use the SLO option, as it can use the LO
   option on SYN-ACK segments if it needs to send long initilization
   options.  The SLO option only serves the needs of an active-opening
   host that, for backwards compatibility reasons, could not send more
   than 40 bytes of options on the SYN segment.

   After successful LO negotiation, if a host has any options that did
   not fit on the SYN, then additional data or acknowledgement segments
   MUST carry a SLO option until the first data byte has been
   acknowledged.  The SLO option's format is shown in figure Figure 2.
   The trailing 2 bytes hold a 16-bit unsigned count of the additional
   bytes that would have been in the SYN segment's options, if they had
   been possible to include.  This represents an offset from the end of
   the SLO option, to the last byte that should be considered a SYN
   option.  The next "Additional Byte Count"-number of bytes trailing
   the SLO option MUST be the ones that did not fit in the SYN segment.
   The SLO option should always immediately follow the LO option,
   followed by the additional SYN options, and then by normal options,
   and finally application data.

                        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
   |    Kind = 28  |  Length = 4   |    Additional Byte Count      |

   TCP SYN Long Options (SLO) Option

                                 Figure 2

   Since TCP connection establishment is often concluded by a pure
   acknowledgement (carrying no data), only placing the SLO option and
   additional SYN options in such a single, unreliable segment would be
   risky.  This is why a host MUST continue transmitting SLO options on
   all segments until its first byte of sent data is acknowledged.

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   Acknowledgement of the first data-byte implicitly covers the SLO and
   trailing options, as these must have been received end-to-end with
   the first data byte.

   If a host does not send any data bytes, but if by some means (perhaps
   through the received options) it is possible to derive either an
   explicit or implicit acknowledgement of even a single option
   transmitted in a SLO-carrying segment (for example via a Timestamp
   echo), then a host MAY choose to stop transmitting the SLO data.
   This special case overrides the previously specified MUST condition.

   A host SHOULD NOT continue sending SLO options after it has received
   acknowledgement of the first data byte, nor should a host process
   incoming SLO options other than on the first valid segment it
   receives that carries them.

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5.  Middlebox Interactions

   The large number of middleboxes (firewalls, proxies, protocol
   scrubbers, etc) currently present in the Internet pose some
   difficulty for deploying new TCP options.  Some firewalls may block
   segments that carry unknown options.  For instance, if the LO option
   is not understood by a firewall, incoming SYNs advertising LO support
   may be dropped, preventing connection establishment.  This is similar
   to the ECN blackhole problem, where certain faulty hosts and routers
   throw away packets with ECN bits set [8].  Some recent results
   indicate that for new TCP options, this may not be a significant
   threat, with only 0.2% of web requests failing when carrying an
   unknown option [9].

   More problematic, are the implications of TCP connection-splitting
   middleboxes and protocol scrubbers that do not understand the LO
   option.  Since such middleboxes may operate on a packet's contents
   (aggregating application data between multiple segments, rewriting
   sequence numbers, etc), if the LO option is not understood, then
   there may be a mangling of the data passed to the application, as
   control data could end up inter-mingled with the application data.
   Such errors could be difficult to detect at the transport layer, and
   many applications might not perform their own integrity checks.  An
   encouraging fact is that some of these devices reset connection
   attempts when they see TCP options that they do not understand.
   Hosts that implement the TCP options described in this document MAY
   retry connection attempts without LO options on the SYNs, if their
   first attempt with LO options fails.

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6.  Comparison to Extended Segments

   Another proposal that solves the same problem as the LO and SLO
   options is that of TCP "extended egments" [10].  The extended
   segments technique was proposed following the initial introduction
   and discussion of the LO and SLO options within the IETF's TCP
   Maintenance and Minor Extensions working group.  The two methods
   solve the same problem in rather different ways, and have several
   minor comparative advantages and disadvantages.

   The LO and SLO options are designed using the philosophy of using the
   TCP options space to compensate for insufficiency of the standard
   header.  This is in keeping with the way that several currently-used
   options work.  For example, the Window Scale option deals with the
   limited space in the advertised receive window field, and the
   Selective Acknowledgement option solves the lack of information in
   the cumulative acknowledgement field.  Extended segments approach
   overloads the meaning of the standard Data Offset field, keeping its
   original meaning for values of 5 and greater, but redefining it for
   values less than 5.  This is seen as acceptable since values less
   than 5 are currently impossible, illegal, and unusable.  Extended
   segments avoid the need for new options by changing the way that the
   existing standard header is parsed.

   A key advantage of the extended segments approach is that it does not
   increase the TCP header size, whereas the LO option adds 4 bytes of
   space to TCP headers.  The severity or triviality of this bloat in
   header overhead depends entirely upon the network properties and
   application traffic for particular use cases.

   It is also not altogether clear that extended segments will always
   save space in comparison to LO options.  The granularity of option
   lengths that extended segments can support is limited to the number
   of unusable Data Offset values (5, 0 through 4).  Currently, the
   extended segments proposal defines 4 fixed lengths, and one
   "infinite" length that means the entire segment is options, with no
   application data.  The fixed option lengths are 48, 64, 128, and 256
   bytes.  If the required per-data-segment options space for some
   extension or combination of extensions does not map to exactly these
   values, then padding bytes are required.  If 129 bytes of options are
   required on a data segment, then a length of 256 must be used, and
   127 bytes of useless padding are added.  The LO option has a single-
   byte granularity and avoids the need for all wasteful padding, aside
   from that mandated to make the header a perfect multiple of 4-bytes.
   It is possible that the overhead on a single extended segment could
   be more than that of several segments using the LO option.

   Some networkers have found the SLO mechanism that is required for

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   processing of long initialization options to be somewhat "ugly".
   Extended segments avoid this by sending long intialization options on
   the initial SYN and SYN-ACK segments.  If the other side does not
   support extended segments, this adds needless confusion and delay in
   connection setup.  The protocol dance to negotiate use of extended
   segments is arguably much worse than using SLO.  If an extended SYN
   is not understood, a non-reliably transmitted RST segment signals the
   initiating host to retry without extended segments.  Such a retry
   mechanism is not commonly found in existing TCP implementations.  If
   the LO option is not understood, a SYN-ACK is still immediately
   generated and the connection goes on uninterrupted, without any
   additional retry mechanisms.  Furthermore, extended SYN-ACKs may be
   sent in response to non-extended SYNs.  This complicates the recovery
   proceedure even more, if not understood, and goes against the way
   that all current negotiable TCP extensions operate (only used on SYN-
   ACK if advertised on SYN).

   Over-zealous middleboxes are immensely troublesome for the deployment
   of most transport layer extensions.  It is unclear whether LO and
   extended segments have any real difference in robustness in the
   presence of different types of middleboxes.  Both types of segments
   may appear as invalid to some middleboxes, and both may be mangled if
   rewritten by a middlebox.

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7.  Security Considerations

   The TCP options presented in this document open no additional
   vulnerabilities that we are aware of.

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8.  IANA Considerations

   This document does not create any new registries or modify the rules
   for any existing registries managed by IANA.

   This document requires IANA to update values in its registry of TCP
   options numbers to reflect the use of values 27 and 28 for the LO and
   SLO options detailed in this document.

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9.  Acknowledgements

   This document benefitted specifically from discussions with Josh
   Blanton and Shawn Ostermann.  Some comments from Eddie Kohler
   motivated the discussion of middlebox interactions.  Valuable
   feedback was obtained from Mark Allman and other participants in the
   TCP Maintenance and Minor Extensions (TCPM) Working Group.

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10.  References

10.1  Normative References

   [1]  Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7, RFC 793,
        September 1981.

   [2]  Postel, J., "Internet Protocol", STD 5, RFC 791, September 1981.

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

10.2  Informative References

   [4]   Jacobson, V., Braden, B., and D. Borman, "TCP Extensions for
         High Performance", RFC 1323, May 1992.

   [5]   Mathis, M., Mahdavi, J., Floyd, S., and A. Romanow, "TCP
         Selective Acknowledgment Options", RFC 2018, October 1996.

   [6]   Srijith, K., Jacob, L., and A. Ananda, "Worst-case Performance
         Limitation of TCP SACK and a Feasible Solution", Proceedings of
         8th IEEE International Conference on Communications Systems
         (ICCS), November 2002.

   [7]   Snoeren, A. and H. Balakrishnan, "An End-to-End Approach to
         Host Mobility", Proc. of the Sixth Annual ACM/IEEE
         International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking,
         August 2000.

   [8]   Ramakrishnan, K., Floyd, S., and D. Black, "The Addition of
         Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) to IP", RFC 3168,
         September 2001.

   [9]   Medina, A., Allman, M., and S. Floyd, "Measuring Interactions
         Between Transport Protocols and Middleboxes", ACM SIGCOMM/
         USENIX Internet Measurement Conference, October 2004.

   [10]  Kohler, E., "Extended Option Space for TCP", Internet Draft
         (work in progress), September 2004.

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Author's Address

   Wesley M. Eddy
   NASA GRC/Verizon FNS
   21000 Brookpark Rd, MS 54-5
   Cleveland, OH  44135

   Phone: 216-433-6682
   Email: weddy@grc.nasa.gov

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Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).  This document is subject
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   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
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