TIME-WAIT Assassination Hazards in TCP
RFC 1337

Document Type RFC - Informational (May 1992; No errata)
Last updated 2013-03-02
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Network Working Group                                          R. Braden
Request for Comments: 1337                                           ISI
                                                                May 1992

                 TIME-WAIT Assassination Hazards in TCP

Status of This Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard.  Distribution of this memo is


   This note describes some theoretically-possible failure modes for TCP
   connections and discusses possible remedies.  In particular, one very
   simple fix is identified.


   Experiments to validate the recently-proposed TCP extensions [RFC-
   1323] have led to the discovery of a new class of TCP failures, which
   have been dubbed the "TIME-WAIT Assassination hazards".  This note
   describes these hazards, gives examples, and discusses possible
   prevention measures.

   The failures in question all result from old duplicate segments.  In
   brief, the TCP mechanisms to protect against old duplicate segments
   are [RFC-793]:

   (1)  The 3-way handshake rejects old duplicate initial <SYN>
        segments, avoiding the hazard of replaying a connection.

   (2)  Sequence numbers are used to reject old duplicate data and ACK
        segments from the current incarnation of a given connection
        (defined by a particular host and port pair).  Sequence numbers
        are also used to reject old duplicate <SYN,ACK> segments.

        For very high-speed connections, Jacobson's PAWS ("Protect
        Against Wrapped Sequences") mechanism [RFC-1323] effectively
        extends the sequence numbers so wrap-around will not introduce a
        hazard within the same incarnation.

   (3)  There are two mechanisms to avoid hazards due to old duplicate
        segments from an earlier instance of the same connection; see
        the Appendix to [RFC-1185] for details.

Braden                                                          [Page 1]
RFC 1337                 TCP TIME-WAIT Hazards                  May 1992

        For "short and slow" connections [RFC-1185], the clock-driven
        ISN (initial sequence number) selection prevents the overlap of
        the sequence spaces of the old and new incarnations [RFC-793].
        (The algorithm used by Berkeley BSD TCP for stepping ISN
        complicates the analysis slightly but does not change the

   (4)  TIME-WAIT state removes the hazard of old duplicates for "fast"
        or "long" connections, in which clock-driven ISN selection is
        unable to prevent overlap of the old and new sequence spaces.
        The TIME-WAIT delay allows all old duplicate segments time
        enough to die in the Internet before the connection is reopened.

   (5)  After a system crash, the Quiet Time at system startup allows
        old duplicates to disappear before any connections are opened.

   Our new observation is that (4) is unreliable: TIME-WAIT state can be
   prematurely terminated ("assassinated") by an old duplicate data or
   ACK segment from the current or an earlier incarnation of the same
   connection.  We refer to this as "TIME-WAIT Assassination" (TWA).

   Figure 1 shows an example of TIME-WAIT assassination.  Segments 1-5
   are copied exactly from Figure 13 of RFC-793, showing a normal close
   handshake.  Packets 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3 are an extension to this
   sequence, illustrating TWA.   Here 5.1 is *any* old segment that is
   unacceptable to TCP A.  It might be unacceptable because of its
   sequence number or because of an old PAWS timestamp.  In either case,
   TCP A sends an ACK segment 5.2 for its current SND.NXT and RCV.NXT.
   Since it has no state for this connection, TCP B reflects this as RST
   segment 5.3, which assassinates the TIME-WAIT state at A!

Braden                                                          [Page 2]
RFC 1337                 TCP TIME-WAIT Hazards                  May 1992

       TCP A                                                TCP B

   1.  ESTABLISHED                                          ESTABLISHED

   2.  FIN-WAIT-1  --> <SEQ=100><ACK=300><CTL=FIN,ACK>  --> CLOSE-WAIT

   3.  FIN-WAIT-2  <-- <SEQ=300><ACK=101><CTL=ACK>      <-- CLOSE-WAIT

   4.  TIME-WAIT   <-- <SEQ=300><ACK=101><CTL=FIN,ACK>  <-- LAST-ACK

   5.  TIME-WAIT   --> <SEQ=101><ACK=301><CTL=ACK>      --> CLOSED

  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   5.1. TIME-WAIT   <--  <SEQ=255><ACK=33> ... old duplicate

   5.2  TIME-WAIT   --> <SEQ=101><ACK=301><CTL=ACK>    -->  ????

   5.3  CLOSED      <-- <SEQ=301><CTL=RST>             <--  ????

                         Figure 1.  TWA Example

   Note that TWA is not at all an unlikely event if there are any
   duplicate segments that may be delayed in the network.  Furthermore,
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