Computing TCP's Retransmission Timer
RFC 2988

Document Type RFC - Proposed Standard (November 2000; Errata)
Obsoleted by RFC 6298
Authors Vern Paxson  , Mark Allman 
Last updated 2020-01-21
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Network Working Group                                          V. Paxson
Request for Comments: 2988                                         ACIRI
Category: Standards Track                                      M. Allman
                                                            NASA GRC/BBN
                                                           November 2000

                  Computing TCP's Retransmission Timer

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2000).  All Rights Reserved.


   This document defines the standard algorithm that Transmission
   Control Protocol (TCP) senders are required to use to compute and
   manage their retransmission timer.  It expands on the discussion in
   section of RFC 1122 and upgrades the requirement of
   supporting the algorithm from a SHOULD to a MUST.

1   Introduction

   The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) [Pos81] uses a retransmission
   timer to ensure data delivery in the absence of any feedback from the
   remote data receiver.  The duration of this timer is referred to as
   RTO (retransmission timeout).  RFC 1122 [Bra89] specifies that the
   RTO should be calculated as outlined in [Jac88].

   This document codifies the algorithm for setting the RTO.  In
   addition, this document expands on the discussion in section
   of RFC 1122 and upgrades the requirement of supporting the algorithm
   from a SHOULD to a MUST.  RFC 2581 [APS99] outlines the algorithm TCP
   uses to begin sending after the RTO expires and a retransmission is
   sent.  This document does not alter the behavior outlined in RFC 2581

Paxson & Allman             Standards Track                     [Page 1]
RFC 2988          Computing TCP's Retransmission Timer     November 2000

   In some situations it may be beneficial for a TCP sender to be more
   conservative than the algorithms detailed in this document allow.
   However, a TCP MUST NOT be more aggressive than the following
   algorithms allow.

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [Bra97].

2   The Basic Algorithm

   To compute the current RTO, a TCP sender maintains two state
   variables, SRTT (smoothed round-trip time) and RTTVAR (round-trip
   time variation).  In addition, we assume a clock granularity of G

   The rules governing the computation of SRTT, RTTVAR, and RTO are as

   (2.1) Until a round-trip time (RTT) measurement has been made for a
         segment sent between the sender and receiver, the sender SHOULD
         set RTO <- 3 seconds (per RFC 1122 [Bra89]), though the
         "backing off" on repeated retransmission discussed in (5.5)
         still applies.

            Note that some implementations may use a "heartbeat" timer
            that in fact yield a value between 2.5 seconds and 3
            seconds.  Accordingly, a lower bound of 2.5 seconds is also
            acceptable, providing that the timer will never expire
            faster than 2.5 seconds.  Implementations using a heartbeat
            timer with a granularity of G SHOULD not set the timer below
            2.5 + G seconds.

   (2.2) When the first RTT measurement R is made, the host MUST set

            SRTT <- R
            RTTVAR <- R/2
            RTO <- SRTT + max (G, K*RTTVAR)

         where K = 4.

   (2.3) When a subsequent RTT measurement R' is made, a host MUST set

            RTTVAR <- (1 - beta) * RTTVAR + beta * |SRTT - R'|
            SRTT <- (1 - alpha) * SRTT + alpha * R'

Paxson & Allman             Standards Track                     [Page 2]
RFC 2988          Computing TCP's Retransmission Timer     November 2000

         The value of SRTT used in the update to RTTVAR is its value
         before updating SRTT itself using the second assignment.  That
         is, updating RTTVAR and SRTT MUST be computed in the above

         The above SHOULD be computed using alpha=1/8 and beta=1/4 (as
         suggested in [JK88]).

         After the computation, a host MUST update
         RTO <- SRTT + max (G, K*RTTVAR)

   (2.4) Whenever RTO is computed, if it is less than 1 second then the
         RTO SHOULD be rounded up to 1 second.

         Traditionally, TCP implementations use coarse grain clocks to
         measure the RTT and trigger the RTO, which imposes a large
         minimum value on the RTO.  Research suggests that a large
         minimum RTO is needed to keep TCP conservative and avoid
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