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Alternate-Marking Method
RFC 9341

Document Type RFC - Proposed Standard (December 2022)
Obsoletes RFC 8321
Authors Giuseppe Fioccola , Mauro Cociglio , Greg Mirsky , Tal Mizrahi , Tianran Zhou
Last updated 2022-12-14
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
IESG Responsible AD Martin Duke
Send notices to (None)
RFC 9341

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                  G. Fioccola, Ed.
Request for Comments: 9341                           Huawei Technologies
Obsoletes: 8321                                              M. Cociglio
Category: Standards Track                                 Telecom Italia
ISSN: 2070-1721                                                G. Mirsky
                                                              T. Mizrahi
                                                                 T. Zhou
                                                     Huawei Technologies
                                                           December 2022

                        Alternate-Marking Method


   This document describes the Alternate-Marking technique to perform
   packet loss, delay, and jitter measurements on live traffic.  This
   technology can be applied in various situations and for different
   protocols.  According to the classification defined in RFC 7799, it
   could be considered Passive or Hybrid depending on the application.
   This document obsoletes RFC 8321.

Status of This Memo

   This is an Internet Standards Track document.

   This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
   (IETF).  It represents the consensus of the IETF community.  It has
   received public review and has been approved for publication by the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Further information on
   Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2022 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
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  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
     1.1.  Summary of Changes from RFC 8321
     1.2.  Requirements Language
   2.  Overview of the Method
   3.  Detailed Description of the Method
     3.1.  Packet-Loss Measurement
     3.2.  One-Way Delay Measurement
       3.2.1.  Single-Marking Methodology
       3.2.2.  Double-Marking Methodology
     3.3.  Delay Variation Measurement
   4.  Alternate-Marking Functions
     4.1.  Marking the Packets
     4.2.  Counting and Timestamping Packets
     4.3.  Data Collection and Correlation
   5.  Synchronization and Timing
   6.  Packet Fragmentation
   7.  Recommendations for Deployment
     7.1.  Controlled Domain Requirement
   8.  Compliance with Guidelines from RFC 6390
   9.  IANA Considerations
   10. Security Considerations
   11. References
     11.1.  Normative References
     11.2.  Informative References
   Authors' Addresses

1.  Introduction

   Most Service Providers' networks carry traffic with contents that are
   highly sensitive to packet loss [RFC7680], delay [RFC7679], and
   jitter [RFC3393].

   Methodologies and tools are therefore needed to monitor and
   accurately measure network performance, in order to constantly
   control the quality of experience perceived by the end customers.
   Performance monitoring also provides useful information for improving
   network management (e.g., isolation of network problems,
   troubleshooting, etc.).

   [RFC7799] defines Active, Passive, and Hybrid Methods of Measurement.
   In particular, Active Methods of Measurement depend on a dedicated
   measurement packet stream; Passive Methods of Measurement are based
   solely on observations of an undisturbed and unmodified packet stream
   of interest; Hybrid Methods are Methods of Measurement that use a
   combination of Active Methods and Passive Methods.

   This document proposes a performance monitoring technique, called the
   "Alternate-Marking Method", which is potentially applicable to any
   kind of packet-based traffic, both point-to-point unicast and
   multicast, including Ethernet, IP, and MPLS.  The method primarily
   addresses packet-loss measurement, but it can be easily extended to
   one-way or two-way delay and delay variation measurements as well.

   The Alternate-Marking methodology, described in this document, allows
   the synchronization of the measurements at different points by
   dividing the packet flow into batches.  So it is possible to get
   coherent counters and timestamps in every marking period and
   therefore measure the Performance Metrics for the monitored flow.

   The method has been explicitly designed for Passive or Hybrid
   measurements as stated in [RFC8321].  But, according to the
   definitions of [RFC7799], the Alternate-Marking Method can be
   classified as Hybrid Type I.  Indeed, Alternate Marking can be
   implemented by using reserved bits in the protocol header, and the
   change in value of these marking bits at the domain edges (and not
   along the path) is formally considered a modification of the stream
   of interest.

   It is worth mentioning that this is a methodology document, so the
   mechanism that can be used to transmit the counters and the
   timestamps is out of scope here.  Additional details about the
   applicability of the Alternate-Marking methodology are described in

1.1.  Summary of Changes from RFC 8321

   This document defines the Alternate-Marking Method, addressing
   ambiguities and building on its experimental phase that was based on
   the original specification [RFC8321].

   The relevant changes are:

   *  Added the recommendations about the methods to employ in case one
      or two flag bits are available for marking (Section 7).

   *  Changed the structure to improve the readability.

   *  Removed the wording about the initial experiments of the method
      and considerations that no longer apply.

   *  Extended the description of detailed aspects of the methodology,
      e.g., synchronization, timing, packet fragmentation, and marked
      and unmarked traffic handling.

   It is important to note that all the changes are totally backward
   compatible with [RFC8321] and no new additional technique has been
   introduced in this document compared to [RFC8321].

1.2.  Requirements Language

   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.

2.  Overview of the Method

   In order to perform packet-loss measurements on a production traffic
   flow, different approaches exist.  The most intuitive one consists in
   numbering the packets so that each router that receives the flow can
   immediately detect a packet that is missing.  This approach, though
   very simple in theory, is not simple to achieve: it requires the
   insertion of a sequence number into each packet, and the devices must
   be able to extract the number and check it in real time.  Such a task
   can be difficult to implement on live traffic: if UDP is used as the
   transport protocol, the sequence number is not available; on the
   other hand, if a higher-layer sequence number (e.g., in the RTP
   header) is used, extracting that information from each packet and
   processing it in real time could overload the device.

   An alternate approach is to count the number of packets sent on one
   end, count the number of packets received on the other end, and
   compare the two values.  This operation is much simpler to implement,
   but it requires the devices performing the measurement to be in sync:
   in order to compare two counters, it is required that they refer
   exactly to the same set of packets.  Since a flow is continuous and
   cannot be stopped when a counter has to be read, it can be difficult
   to determine exactly when to read the counter.  A possible solution
   to overcome this problem is to virtually split the flow in
   consecutive blocks by periodically inserting a delimiter so that each
   counter refers exactly to the same block of packets.  The delimiter
   could be, for example, a special packet inserted artificially into
   the flow.  However, delimiting the flow using specific packets has
   some limitations.  First, it requires generating additional packets
   within the flow and requires the equipment to be able to process
   those packets.  In addition, the method is vulnerable to out-of-order
   reception of delimiting packets and, to a lesser extent, to their

   The method proposed in this document follows the second approach, but
   it doesn't use additional packets to virtually split the flow in
   blocks.  Instead, it "marks" the packets so that the packets
   belonging to the same block will have the same notional "color",
   whilst consecutive blocks will have different colors.  Each change of
   color represents a sort of auto-synchronization signal that enhances
   the consistency of measurements taken by different devices along the

   Figure 1 represents a very simple network and shows how the method
   can be used to measure packet loss on different network segments: by
   enabling the measurement on several interfaces along the path, it is
   possible to perform link monitoring, node monitoring, or end-to-end
   monitoring.  The method is flexible enough to measure packet loss on
   any segment of the network and can be used to isolate the faulty

                               Traffic Flow
          +------+       +------+       +------+       +------+
      ---<>  R1  <>-----<>  R2  <>-----<>  R3  <>-----<>  R4  <>---
          +------+       +------+       +------+       +------+
          .              .      .              .       .      .
          .              .      .              .       .      .
          .              <------>              <------->      .
          .          Node Packet Loss      Link Packet Loss   .
          .                                                   .
                           End-to-End Packet Loss

                      Figure 1: Available Measurements

3.  Detailed Description of the Method

   This section describes, in detail, how the method operates.  A
   special emphasis is given to the measurement of packet loss, which
   represents the core application of the method, but applicability to
   delay and jitter measurements is also considered.

3.1.  Packet-Loss Measurement

   The basic idea is to virtually split traffic flows into consecutive
   blocks: each block represents a measurable entity unambiguously
   recognizable by all network devices along the path.  By counting the
   number of packets in each block and comparing the values measured by
   different network devices along the path, it is possible to measure
   if packet loss occurred in any single block between any two points.

   As discussed in the previous section, a simple way to create the
   blocks is to "color" the traffic (two colors are sufficient) so that
   packets belonging to alternate consecutive blocks will have different
   colors.  Whenever the color changes, the previous block terminates
   and the new one begins.  Hence, all the packets belonging to the same
   block will have the same color, and packets of different consecutive
   blocks will have different colors.  The number of packets in each
   block depends on the criterion used to create the blocks:

   *  if the color is switched after a fixed number of packets, then
      each block will contain the same number of packets (except for any
      losses); and

   *  if the color is switched according to a fixed timer, then the
      number of packets may be different in each block depending on the
      packet rate.

   The use of a fixed timer for the creation of blocks is REQUIRED when
   implementing this specification.  The switching after a fixed number
   of packets is an additional possibility, but its detailed
   specification is out of scope.  An example of application is in

   The following figure shows how a flow appears when it is split into
   traffic blocks with colored packets.

   A: packet with A coloring
   B: packet with B coloring

            |           |           |           |           |
            |           |    Traffic Flow       |           |
       ...  |  Block 5  |  Block 4  |  Block 3  |  Block 2  |  Block 1
            |           |           |           |           |

                         Figure 2: Traffic Coloring

   Figure 3 shows how the method can be used to measure link packet loss
   between two adjacent nodes.

   Referring to the figure, let's assume we want to monitor the packet
   loss on the link between two routers: router R1 and router R2.
   According to the method, the traffic is colored alternatively with
   two different colors: A and B.  Whenever the color changes, the
   transition generates a sort of square-wave signal, as depicted in the
   following figure.

   Color A   ----------+           +-----------+           +----------
                       |           |           |           |
   Color B             +-----------+           +-----------+
              Block n        ...      Block 3     Block 2     Block 1
            <---------> <---------> <---------> <---------> <--------->

                                Traffic Flow

                 Figure 3: Computation of Link Packet Loss

   Traffic coloring can be done by R1 itself if the traffic is not
   already colored.  R1 needs two counters, C(A)R1 and C(B)R1, on its
   egress interface: C(A)R1 counts the packets with color A and C(B)R1
   counts those with color B.  As long as traffic is colored as A, only
   counter C(A)R1 will be incremented, while C(B)R1 is not incremented;
   conversely, when the traffic is colored as B, only C(B)R1 is
   incremented.  C(A)R1 and C(B)R1 can be used as reference values to
   determine the packet loss from R1 to any other measurement point down
   the path.  Router R2, similarly, will need two counters on its
   ingress interface, C(A)R2 and C(B)R2, to count the packets received
   on that interface and colored with A and B, respectively.  When an A
   block ends, it is possible to compare C(A)R1 and C(A)R2 and calculate
   the packet loss within the block; similarly, when the successive B
   block terminates, it is possible to compare C(B)R1 with C(B)R2, and
   so on, for every successive block.

   Likewise, by using two counters on the R2 egress interface, it is
   possible to count the packets sent out of the R2 interface and use
   them as reference values to calculate the packet loss from R2 to any
   measurement point downstream from R2.

   The length of the blocks can be chosen large enough to simplify the
   collection and the comparison of measures taken by different network
   devices.  It's preferable to read the value of the counters not
   immediately after the color switch: some packets could arrive out of
   order and increment the counter associated with the previous block
   (color), so it is worth waiting for some time.  A safe choice is to
   wait L/2 time units (where L is the duration for each block) after
   the color switch, to read the counter of the previous color
   (Section 5).  The drawback is that the longer the duration of the
   block, the less frequently the measurement can be taken.

   Two different strategies that can be used when implementing the
   method are:

   flow-based:  the flow-based strategy is used when well-defined
      traffic flows need to be monitored.  According to this strategy,
      only the specified flow is colored.  Counters for packet-loss
      measurements can be instantiated for each single flow, or for the
      set as a whole, depending on the desired granularity.  With this
      approach, it is necessary to know in advance the path followed by
      flows that are subject to measurement.  Path rerouting and traffic
      load balancing need to be taken into account.

   link-based:  measurements are performed on all the traffic on a link-
      by-link basis.  The link could be a physical link or a logical
      link.  Counters could be instantiated for the traffic as a whole
      or for each traffic class (in case it is desired to monitor each
      class separately), but in the second case, two counters are needed
      for each class.

   The flow-based strategy is REQUIRED when implementing this
   specification.  It requires the identification of the flow to be
   monitored and the discovery of the path followed by the selected
   flow.  It is possible to monitor a single flow or multiple flows
   grouped together, but in this case, measurement is consistent only if
   all the flows in the group follow the same path.  Moreover, if a
   measurement is performed by grouping many flows, it is not possible
   to determine exactly which flow was affected by packet loss.  In
   order to have measures per single flow, it is necessary to configure
   counters for each specific flow.  Once the flow(s) to be monitored
   has been identified, it is necessary to configure the monitoring on
   the proper nodes.  Configuring the monitoring means configuring the
   rule to intercept the traffic and configuring the counters to count
   the packets.  To have just an end-to-end monitoring, it is sufficient
   to enable the monitoring on the first- and last-hop routers of the
   path: the mechanism is completely transparent to intermediate nodes
   and independent of the path followed by traffic flows.  On the
   contrary, to monitor the flow on a hop-by-hop basis along its whole
   path, it is necessary to enable the monitoring on every node from the
   source to the destination.  In case the exact path followed by the
   flow is not known a priori (i.e., the flow has multiple paths to
   reach the destination), it is necessary to enable the monitoring on
   every path: counters on interfaces traversed by the flow will report
   packet count, whereas counters on other interfaces will be null.

3.2.  One-Way Delay Measurement

   The same principle used to measure packet loss can be applied also to
   one-way delay measurement.  There are two methodologies, as described

   Note that, for all the one-way delay alternatives described in the
   next sections, by summing the one-way delays of the two directions of
   a path, it is always possible to measure the two-way delay (round-
   trip "virtual" delay).  The Network Time Protocol (NTP) [RFC5905] or
   the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) [IEEE-1588] (as discussed
   in the previous section) can be used for the timestamp formats
   depending on the needed precision.

3.2.1.  Single-Marking Methodology

   The alternation of colors can be used as a time reference to
   calculate the delay.  Whenever the color changes (which means that a
   new block has started), a network device can store the timestamp of
   the first packet of the new block; that timestamp can be compared
   with the timestamp of the same packet on a second router to compute
   packet delay.  When looking at Figure 2, R1 stores the timestamp
   TS(A1)R1 when it sends the first packet of block 1 (A-colored), the
   timestamp TS(B2)R1 when it sends the first packet of block 2
   (B-colored), and so on for every other block.  R2 performs the same
   operation on the receiving side, recording TS(A1)R2, TS(B2)R2, and so
   on.  Since the timestamps refer to specific packets (the first packet
   of each block), in the case where no packet loss or misordering
   exists, we would be sure that timestamps compared to compute delay
   refer to the same packets.  By comparing TS(A1)R1 with TS(A1)R2 (and
   similarly TS(B2)R1 with TS(B2)R2, and so on), it is possible to
   measure the delay between R1 and R2.  In order to have more
   measurements, it is possible to take and store more timestamps,
   referring to other packets within each block.  The number of
   measurements could be increased by considering multiple packets in
   the block; for instance, a timestamp could be taken every N packets,
   thus generating multiple delay measurements.  Taking this to the
   limit, in principle, the delay could be measured for each packet by
   taking and comparing the corresponding timestamps (possible but
   impractical from an implementation point of view).

   In order to coherently compare timestamps collected on different
   routers, the clocks on the network nodes MUST be in sync (Section 5).
   Furthermore, a measurement is valid only if no packet loss occurs and
   if packet misordering can be avoided; otherwise, the first packet of
   a block on R1 could be different from the first packet of the same
   block on R2 (for instance, if that packet is lost between R1 and R2
   or it arrives after the next one).  Since packet misordering is
   generally undetectable, it is not possible to check whether the first
   packet on R1 is the same on R2, and this is part of the intrinsic
   error in this measurement.  Mean Delay

   The method previously exposed for measuring the delay is sensitive to
   out-of-order reception of packets.  In order to overcome this
   problem, an approach based on the concept of mean delay can be
   considered.  The mean delay is calculated by considering the average
   arrival time of the packets within a single block.  The network
   device locally stores a timestamp for each packet received within a
   single block: summing all the timestamps and dividing by the total
   number of packets received, the average arrival time for that block
   of packets can be calculated.  By subtracting the average arrival
   times of two adjacent devices, it is possible to calculate the mean
   delay between those nodes.  This method greatly reduces the number of
   timestamps that have to be collected (only one per block for each
   network device), and it is robust to out-of-order packets with only a
   small error introduced in case of packet loss.  But, when computing
   the mean delay, the measurement error could be augmented by
   accumulating the measurement error of a lot of packets.
   Additionally, it only gives one measure for the duration of the
   block, and it doesn't give the minimum, maximum, and median delay
   values [RFC6703].  This limitation could be overcome by reducing the
   duration of the block (for instance, from minutes to seconds), which
   implies a highly optimized implementation of the method.  For this
   reason, the mean delay calculation may not be so viable in some

3.2.2.  Double-Marking Methodology

   As mentioned above, the Single-Marking methodology for one-way delay
   measurement has some limitations, since it is sensitive to out-of-
   order reception of packets, and even the mean delay calculation is
   limited because it doesn't give information about the delay value's
   distribution for the duration of the block.  Actually, it may be
   useful to have not only the mean delay but also the minimum, maximum,
   and median delay values and, in wider terms, to know more about the
   statistical distribution of delay values.  So, in order to have more
   information about the delay and to overcome out-of-order issues, a
   different approach can be introduced, and it is based on a Double-
   Marking methodology.

   Basically, the idea is to use the first marking to create the
   alternate flow and, within this colored flow, a second marking to
   select the packets for measuring delay/jitter.  The first marking is
   needed for packet loss and may be used for mean delay measurement.
   The second marking creates a new set of marked packets that are fully
   identified over the network so that a network device can store the
   timestamps of these packets.  These timestamps can be compared with
   the timestamps of the same packets on the next node to compute packet
   delay values for each packet.  The number of measurements can be
   easily increased by changing the frequency of the second marking.
   But the frequency of the second marking must not be too high in order
   to avoid out-of-order issues.  Between packets with the second
   marking, there should be an adequate time gap to avoid out-of-order
   issues and also to have a number of measurement packets that are rate
   independent.  This gap may be, at the minimum, the mean network delay
   calculated with the previous methodology.  Therefore, it is possible
   to choose a proper time gap to guarantee a fixed number of double-
   marked packets uniformly spaced in each block.  If packets with the
   second marking are lost, it is easy to recognize the loss since the
   number of double-marked packets is known for each block.  Based on
   the spacing between these packets, it can also be possible to
   understand which packet of the second marking sequence has been lost
   and perform the measurements only for the remaining packets.  But
   this may be complicated if more packets are lost.  In this case, an
   implementation may simply discard the delay measurements for the
   corrupted block and proceed with the next block.

   An efficient and robust mode is to select a single packet with the
   second marking for each block; in this way, there is no time gap to
   consider between the double-marked packets to avoid their reorder.
   In addition, it is also easier to identify the only double-marked
   packet in each block and skip the delay measurement for the block if
   it is lost.

   The Double-Marking methodology can also be used to get more
   statistics of delay extent data, e.g., percentiles, variance, and
   median delay values.  Indeed, a subset of batch packets is selected
   for extensive delay calculation by using the second marking, and it
   is possible to perform a detailed analysis on these double-marked
   packets.  It is worth noting that there are classic algorithms for
   median and variance calculation, but they are out of the scope of
   this document.  The conventional range (maximum-minimum) should be
   avoided for several reasons, including stability of the maximum delay
   due to the influence by outliers.  In this regard, Section 6.5 of
   [RFC5481] highlights how the 99.9th percentile of delay and delay
   variation is more helpful to performance planners.

3.3.  Delay Variation Measurement

   Similar to one-way delay measurement (both for Single Marking and
   Double Marking), the method can also be used to measure the inter-
   arrival jitter.  We refer to the definition in [RFC3393].  The
   alternation of colors, for a Single-Marking Method, can be used as a
   time reference to measure delay variations.  In case of Double
   Marking, the time reference is given by the second-marked packets.
   Considering the example depicted in Figure 2, R1 stores the timestamp
   TS(A)R1 whenever it sends the first packet of a block, and R2 stores
   the timestamp TS(B)R2 whenever it receives the first packet of a
   block.  The inter-arrival jitter can be easily derived from one-way
   delay measurement, by evaluating the delay variation of consecutive

   The concept of mean delay can also be applied to delay variation, by
   evaluating the average variation of the interval between consecutive
   packets of the flow from R1 to R2.

4.  Alternate-Marking Functions

4.1.  Marking the Packets

   The coloring operation is fundamental in order to create packet
   blocks and marked packets.  This implies choosing where to activate
   the coloring and how to color the packets.

   In case of flow-based measurements, the flow to monitor can be
   defined by a set of selection rules (e.g., header fields) used to
   match a subset of the packets; in this way, it is possible to control
   the number of nodes involved, the path followed by the packets, and
   the size of the flows.  It is possible, in general, to have multiple
   coloring nodes or a single coloring node that is easier to manage and
   doesn't raise any risk of conflict.  Coloring in multiple nodes can
   be done, and the requirement is that the coloring must change
   periodically between the nodes according to the timing considerations
   in Section 5; so every node that is designated as a measurement point
   along the path should be able to identify unambiguously the colored
   packets.  Furthermore, [RFC9342] generalizes the coloring for
   multipoint-to-multipoint flow.  In addition, it can be advantageous
   to color the flow as close as possible to the source because it
   allows an end-to-end measure if a measurement point is enabled on the
   last-hop router as well.

   For link-based measurements, all traffic needs to be colored when
   transmitted on the link.  If the traffic had already been colored,
   then it has to be re-colored because the color must be consistent on
   the link.  This means that each hop along the path must (re-)color
   the traffic; the color is not required to be consistent along
   different links.

   Traffic coloring can be implemented by setting specific flags in the
   packet header and changing the value of that bit periodically.  How
   to choose the marking field depends on the application and is out of
   scope here.

4.2.  Counting and Timestamping Packets

   For flow-based measurements, assuming that the coloring of the
   packets is performed only by the source nodes, the nodes between
   source and destination (inclusive) have to count and timestamp the
   colored packets that they receive and forward: this operation can be
   enabled on every router along the path or only on a subset, depending
   on which network segment is being monitored (a single link, a
   particular metro area, the backbone, or the whole path).  Since the
   color switches periodically between two values, two counters (one for
   each value) are needed for each flow and for every interface being
   monitored.  The number of timestamps to be stored depends on the
   method for delay measurement that is applied.  Furthermore, [RFC9342]
   generalizes the counting for multipoint-to-multipoint flow.

   In case of link-based measurements, the behavior is similar except
   that coloring, counting, and timestamping operations are performed on
   a link-by-link basis at each endpoint of the link.

   Another important consideration is when to read the counters or when
   to select the packets to be double-marked for delay measurement.  It
   involves timing aspects to consider that are further described in
   Section 5.

4.3.  Data Collection and Correlation

   The nodes enabled to perform performance monitoring collect the value
   of the counters and timestamps, but they are not able to directly use
   this information to measure packet loss and delay, because they only
   have their own samples.

   Data collection enables the transmission of the counters and
   timestamps as soon as it has been read.  Data correlation is the
   mechanism to compare counters and timestamps for packet loss, delay,
   and delay variation calculation.

   There are two main possibilities to perform both data collection and
   correlation depending on the Alternate-Marking application and use

   *  Use of a centralized solution using the Network Management System
      (NMS) to correlate data.  This can be done in Push Mode or Polling
      Mode.  In the first case, each router periodically sends the
      information to the NMS; in the latter case, it is the NMS that
      periodically polls routers to collect information.

   *  Definition of a protocol-based distributed solution to exchange
      values of counters and timestamps between the endpoints.  This can
      be done by introducing a new protocol or by extending the existing
      protocols (e.g., the Two-Way Active Measurement Protocol (TWAMP)
      as defined in [RFC5357] or the One-Way Active Measurement Protocol
      (OWAMP) as defined in [RFC4656]) in order to communicate the
      counters and timestamps between nodes.

   In the following paragraphs, an example data correlation mechanism is
   explained and could be used independently of the adopted solutions.

   When data is collected on the upstream and downstream nodes, e.g.,
   packet counts for packet-loss measurement or timestamps for packet
   delay measurement, and is periodically reported to or pulled by other
   nodes or an NMS, a certain data correlation mechanism SHOULD be in
   use to help the nodes or NMS tell whether any two or more packet
   counts are related to the same block of markers or if any two
   timestamps are related to the same marked packet.

   The Alternate-Marking Method described in this document literally
   splits the packets of the measured flow into different measurement
   blocks.  An implementation MAY use a Block Number (BN) for data
   correlation.  The BN MUST be assigned to each measurement block and
   associated with each packet count and timestamp reported to or pulled
   by other nodes or NMSs.  When the nodes or NMS see, for example, the
   same BNs associated with two packet counts from an upstream and a
   downstream node, respectively, it considers that these two packet
   counts correspond to the same block.  The assumption of this BN
   mechanism is that the measurement nodes are time synchronized.  This
   requires the measurement nodes to have a certain time synchronization
   capability (e.g., the NTP [RFC5905] or the IEEE 1588 PTP

5.  Synchronization and Timing

   Color switching is the reference for all the network devices acting
   as measurement points, and the only requirement to be achieved is
   that they have to recognize the right batch along the path in order
   to get the related information of counters and timestamps.

   In general, clocks in network devices are not accurate and for this
   reason, there is a clock error between the measurement points R1 and
   R2.  And, to implement the methodology, they must be synchronized to
   the same clock reference with an adequate accuracy in order to
   guarantee that all network devices consistently match the marking bit
   to the correct block.  Additionally, in practice, besides clock
   errors, packet reordering is also common in a packet network due to
   equal-cost multipath (ECMP).  In particular, the delay between
   measurement points is the main cause of out-of-order packets because
   each packet can be delayed differently.  If the block is sufficiently
   large, packet reordering occurs only at the edge of adjacent blocks,
   and it can be easy to assign reordered packets to the right interval

   In summary, we need to take into account two contributions: clock
   error between network devices and the interval we need to wait to
   avoid packets being out of order because of network delay.

   The following figure explains both issues:

                |                   L                    |
                |       L/2                   L/2        |
                |<===>|                            |<===>|
                   d  |                            |   d
                       available counting interval

                          Figure 4: Timing Aspects

   where L is the time duration of each block.

   It is assumed that all network devices are synchronized to a common
   reference time with an accuracy of +/- A/2.  Thus, the difference
   between the clock values of any two network devices is bounded by A.

   The network delay between the network devices can be represented as a
   normal distribution and 99.7% of the samples are within 3 standard
   deviations of the average.

   The guard band d is given by:

   d = A + D_avg + 3*D_stddev,

   where A is the clock accuracy, D_avg is the average value of the
   network delay between the network devices, and D_stddev is the
   standard deviation of the delay.

   The available counting interval is L - 2d, which must be > 0.

   The condition that MUST be satisfied and is a requirement on the
   synchronization accuracy is:

   d < L/2.

   This is the fundamental rule for deciding when to read the counters
   and when to select the packets to be double-marked; indeed, packet
   counters and double-marked packets MUST respectively be taken and
   chosen within the available counting interval that is not affected by
   error factors.

   If the time duration L of each block is not so small, the
   synchronization requirement could be satisfied even with a relatively
   inaccurate synchronization method.

6.  Packet Fragmentation

   Fragmentation can be managed with the Alternate-Marking Method using
   the following guidance:

      Marking nodes MUST mark all fragments if there are flag bits to
      use (i.e., it is in the specific encapsulation), as if they were
      separate packets.

      Nodes that fragment packets within the measurement domain SHOULD,
      if they have the capability to do so, ensure that only one
      resulting fragment carries the marking bit(s) of the original
      packet.  Failure to do so can introduce errors into the

      Measurement points SHOULD simply ignore unmarked fragments and
      count marked fragments as full packets.  However, if resources
      allow, measurement points MAY make note of both marked and
      unmarked initial fragments and only increment the corresponding
      counter if (a) other fragments are also marked or (b) it observes
      all other fragments and they are unmarked.

   The proposed approach allows the marking node to mark all the
   fragments except in the case of fragmentation within the network
   domain; in that event, it is suggested to mark only the first

7.  Recommendations for Deployment

   The methodology described in the previous sections can be applied to
   various performance measurement problems.  The only requirement is to
   select and mark the flow to be monitored; in this way, packets are
   batched by the sender, and each batch is alternately marked such that
   it can be easily recognized by the receiver.  [RFC8321] reports
   experimental examples, and [IEEE-NETWORK-PNPM] also includes some
   information about the deployment experience.

   Either one or two flag bits might be available for marking in
   different deployments:

   One flag:  packet-loss measurement MUST be done as described in
      Section 3.1, while delay measurement MUST be done according to the
      Single-Marking Method described in Section 3.2.1.  Mean delay
      (Section MAY also be used but it could imply more
      computational load.

   Two flags:  packet-loss measurement MUST be done as described in
      Section 3.1, while delay measurement MUST be done according to the
      Double-Marking Method as described in Section 3.2.2.  In this
      case, Single Marking MAY also be used in combination with Double
      Marking, and the two approaches provide slightly different pieces
      of information that can be combined to have a more robust data

   There are some operational guidelines to consider for the purpose of
   deciding to follow the recommendations above and to use one or two

   *  The Alternate-Marking Method utilizes specific flags in the packet
      header, so an important factor is the number of flags available
      for the implementation.  Indeed, if there is only one flag
      available, then there is no other way; if two flags are available,
      then the option with two flags is certainly more complete.

   *  The duration of the Alternate-Marking period affects the frequency
      of the measurement, and this is a parameter that can be decided on
      the basis of the required temporal sampling.  But it cannot be
      freely chosen, as explained in Section 5.

   *  The Alternate-Marking methodologies enable packet loss, delay, and
      delay variation calculation, but in accordance with the method
      used (e.g., Single Marking or Double Marking), there is a
      different kind of information that can be derived.  For example,
      to get more statistics of extent data, the option with two flags
      is desirable.  For this reason, the type of data needed in the
      specific scenario is an additional element to take into account.

   *  The Alternate-Marking Methods imply different computational load
      depending on the method employed.  Therefore, the available
      computational resources on the measurement points can also
      influence the choice.  As an example, mean delay calculation may
      require more processing, and it may not be the best option to
      minimize the computational load.

   The experiment with Alternate-Marking methodologies confirmed the
   benefits already described in [RFC8321].

   A deployment of the Alternate-Marking Method should also take into
   account how to handle and recognize marked and unmarked traffic.
   Since Alternate Marking normally employs a marking field that is
   dedicated, reserved, and included in a protocol extension, the
   measurement points can learn whether the measurement is activated or
   not by checking if the specific extension is included or not within
   the packets.

   It is worth mentioning some related work; in particular,
   [IEEE-NETWORK-PNPM] explains the Alternate-Marking Method together
   with new mechanisms based on hashing techniques.

7.1.  Controlled Domain Requirement

   The Alternate-Marking Method is an example of a solution limited to a
   controlled domain [RFC8799].

   A controlled domain is a managed network that selects, monitors, and
   controls access by enforcing policies at the domain boundaries in
   order to discard undesired external packets entering the domain and
   to check internal packets leaving the domain.  It does not
   necessarily mean that a controlled domain is a single administrative
   domain or a single organization.  A controlled domain can correspond
   to a single administrative domain or multiple administrative domains
   under a defined network management.  It must be possible to control
   the domain boundaries and use specific precautions to ensure
   authentication, encryption, and integrity protection if traffic
   traverses the Internet.

   For security reasons, the Alternate-Marking Method MUST only be
   applied to controlled domains.

8.  Compliance with Guidelines from RFC 6390

   [RFC6390] defines a framework and a process for developing
   Performance Metrics for protocols above and below the IP layer (such
   as IP-based applications that operate over reliable or datagram
   transport protocols).

   This document doesn't aim to propose a new Performance Metric but
   rather a new Method of Measurement for a few Performance Metrics that
   have already been standardized.  Nevertheless, it's worth applying
   guidelines from [RFC6390] to the present document, in order to
   provide a more complete and coherent description of the proposed
   method.  The mechanisms described in this document use a combination
   of the Performance Metric Definition template defined in Section 5.4
   of [RFC6390] and the Dependencies laid out in Section 5.5 of that

   *  Metric Name / Metric Description: as already stated, this document
      doesn't propose any new Performance Metrics.  On the contrary, it
      describes a novel method for measuring packet loss [RFC7680].  The
      same concept, with small differences, can also be used to measure
      delay [RFC7679] and jitter [RFC3393].  The document mainly
      describes the applicability to packet-loss measurement.

   *  Method of Measurement or Calculation: according to the method
      described in the previous sections, the number of packets lost is
      calculated by subtracting the value of the counter on the source
      node from the value of the counter on the destination node.  Both
      counters must refer to the same color.  The calculation is
      performed when the value of the counters is in a steady state.
      The steady state is an intrinsic characteristic of the marking
      method counters because the alternation of color makes the counter
      associated with a color inactive for the duration of a marking

   *  Units of Measurement: the method calculates and reports the exact
      number of packets sent by the source node and not received by the
      destination node.

   *  Measurement Point(s) with Potential Measurement Domain: the
      measurement can be performed between adjacent nodes, on a per-link
      basis, or along a multi-hop path, provided that the traffic under
      measurement follows that path.  In case of a multi-hop path, the
      measurements can be performed both end to end and hop by hop.

   *  Measurement Timing: the method has a constraint on the frequency
      of measurements.  This is detailed in Section 5, where it is
      specified that the marking period and the guard band interval are
      strictly related to each other to avoid out-of-order issues.  That
      is because, in order to perform a measurement, the counter must be
      in a steady state, and this happens when the traffic is being
      colored with the alternate color.

   *  Implementation: the method uses one or two marking bits to color
      the packets; this enables the use of policy configurations on the
      router to color the packets and accordingly configure the counter
      for each color.  The path followed by traffic being measured
      should be known in advance in order to configure the counters
      along the path and be able to compare the correct values.

   *  Verification: the methodology has been tested and deployed
      experimentally in both lab and operational network scenarios
      performing packet loss and delay measurements on traffic patterns
      created by traffic generators together with precision test
      instruments and network emulators.

   *  Use and Applications: the method can be used to measure packet
      loss with high precision on live traffic; moreover, by combining
      end-to-end and per-link measurements, the method is useful to
      pinpoint the single link that is experiencing loss events.

   *  Reporting Model: the value of the counters has to be sent to a
      centralized management system that performs the calculations; such
      samples must contain a reference to the time interval they refer
      to so that the management system can perform the correct
      correlation.  The samples have to be sent while the corresponding
      counter is in a steady state (within a time interval); otherwise,
      the value of the sample should be stored locally.

   *  Dependencies: the values of the counters have to be correlated to
      the time interval they refer to.

   *  Organization of Results: the Method of Measurement produces
      singletons, according to the definition of [RFC2330].

   *  Parameters: the main parameters of the method are the information
      about the flow or the link to be measured, the time interval
      chosen to alternate the colors and to read the counters, and the
      type of method selected for packet-loss and delay measurements.

9.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no IANA actions.

10.  Security Considerations

   This document specifies a method to perform measurements that does
   not directly affect Internet security nor applications that run on
   the Internet.  However, implementation of this method must be mindful
   of security and privacy concerns.

   There are two types of security concerns: potential harm caused by
   the measurements and potential harm to the measurements.

   *  Harm caused by the measurement: the measurements described in this
      document are Passive, so there are no new packets injected into
      the network causing potential harm to the network itself and to
      data traffic.  Nevertheless, the method implies modifications on
      the fly to a header or encapsulation of the data packets: this
      must be performed in a way that doesn't alter the quality of
      service experienced by packets subject to measurements and that
      preserves stability and performance of routers doing the
      measurements.  One of the main security threats in Operations,
      Administration, and Maintenance (OAM) protocols is network
      reconnaissance; an attacker can gather information about the
      network performance by passively eavesdropping on OAM messages.
      The advantage of the methods described in this document is that
      the marking bits are the only information that is exchanged
      between the network devices.  Therefore, Passive eavesdropping on
      data plane traffic does not allow attackers to gain information
      about the network performance.

   *  Harm to the Measurement: the measurements could be harmed by
      routers altering the marking of the packets or by an attacker
      injecting artificial traffic.  Authentication techniques, such as
      digital signatures, may be used where appropriate to guard against
      injected traffic attacks.  Since the measurement itself may be
      affected by routers (or other network devices) along the path of
      IP packets intentionally altering the value of marking bits of
      packets, as mentioned above, the mechanism specified in this
      document can be applied just in the context of a controlled
      domain; thus, the routers (or other network devices) are locally
      administered, and this type of attack can be avoided.

   An attacker that does not belong to the controlled domain can
   maliciously send marked packets.  However, no problems occur if
   Alternate Marking is not supported in the controlled domain.  If
   Alternate Marking is supported in the controlled domain, it is
   necessary to keep the measurements from being affected; therefore,
   externally marked packets must be checked to see if they are marked
   and eventually filtered or cleared.

   The precondition for the application of the Alternate-Marking Method
   is that it MUST be applied in specific controlled domains, thus
   confining the potential attack vectors within the network domain.  A
   limited administrative domain provides the network administrator with
   the means to select, monitor, and control the access to the network,
   making it a trusted domain.  In this regard, it is expected to
   enforce policies at the domain boundaries to filter both external
   marked packets entering the domain and internal marked packets
   leaving the domain.  Therefore, the trusted domain is unlikely
   subject to the hijacking of packets since marked packets are
   processed and used only within the controlled domain.  But despite
   that, leakages may happen for different reasons, such as a failure or
   a fault.  In this case, nodes outside the domain are expected to
   ignore marked packets since they are not configured to handle it and
   should not process it.

   It might be theoretically possible to modulate the marking to serve
   as a covert channel to be used by an on-path observer.  This may
   affect both the data and management plane, but, here too, the
   application to a controlled domain helps to reduce the effects.

   It is worth highlighting that an attacker can't gain information
   about network performance from a single monitoring point; they must
   use synchronized monitoring points at multiple points on the path
   because they have to do the same kind of measurement and aggregation
   that Service Providers using Alternate Marking must do.

   Attacks on the data collection and reporting of the statistics
   between the monitoring points and the NMS can interfere with the
   proper functioning of the system.  Hence, the channels used to report
   back flow statistics MUST be secured.

   The privacy concerns of network measurement are limited because the
   method only relies on information contained in the header or
   encapsulation without any release of user data.  Although information
   in the header or encapsulation is metadata that can be used to
   compromise the privacy of users, the limited marking technique in
   this document seems unlikely to substantially increase the existing
   privacy risks from header or encapsulation metadata.  It might be
   theoretically possible to modulate the marking to serve as a covert
   channel, but it would have a very low data rate if it is to avoid
   adversely affecting the measurement systems that monitor the marking.

   Delay attacks are another potential threat in the context of this
   document.  Delay measurement is performed using a specific packet in
   each block, marked by a dedicated color bit.  Therefore, an on-path
   attacker can selectively induce synthetic delay only to delay-colored
   packets, causing systematic error in the delay measurements.  As
   discussed in previous sections, the methods described in this
   document rely on an underlying time synchronization protocol.  Thus,
   by attacking the time protocol, an attacker can potentially
   compromise the integrity of the measurement.  A detailed discussion
   about the threats against time protocols and how to mitigate them is
   presented in [RFC7384].

11.  References

11.1.  Normative References

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

   [RFC3393]  Demichelis, C. and P. Chimento, "IP Packet Delay Variation
              Metric for IP Performance Metrics (IPPM)", RFC 3393,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC3393, November 2002,

   [RFC7679]  Almes, G., Kalidindi, S., Zekauskas, M., and A. Morton,
              Ed., "A One-Way Delay Metric for IP Performance Metrics
              (IPPM)", STD 81, RFC 7679, DOI 10.17487/RFC7679, January
              2016, <>.

   [RFC7680]  Almes, G., Kalidindi, S., Zekauskas, M., and A. Morton,
              Ed., "A One-Way Loss Metric for IP Performance Metrics
              (IPPM)", STD 82, RFC 7680, DOI 10.17487/RFC7680, January
              2016, <>.

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

11.2.  Informative References

              Cociglio, M., Ferrieux, A., Fioccola, G., Lubashev, I.,
              Bulgarella, F., Nilo, M., Hamchaoui, I., and R. Sisto,
              "Explicit Flow Measurements Techniques", Work in Progress,
              Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-ippm-explicit-flow-
              measurements-02, 13 October 2022,

              IEEE, "IEEE Standard for a Precision Clock Synchronization
              Protocol for Networked Measurement and Control Systems",
              IEEE Std 1588-2008, DOI 10.1109/IEEESTD.2008.4579760, July
              2008, <>.

              Mizrahi, T., Navon, G., Fioccola, G., Cociglio, M., Chen,
              M., and G. Mirsky, "AM-PM: Efficient Network Telemetry
              using Alternate Marking", IEEE Network Vol. 33, Issue 4,
              DOI 10.1109/MNET.2019.1800152, July 2019,

   [RFC2330]  Paxson, V., Almes, G., Mahdavi, J., and M. Mathis,
              "Framework for IP Performance Metrics", RFC 2330,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2330, May 1998,

   [RFC4656]  Shalunov, S., Teitelbaum, B., Karp, A., Boote, J., and M.
              Zekauskas, "A One-way Active Measurement Protocol
              (OWAMP)", RFC 4656, DOI 10.17487/RFC4656, September 2006,

   [RFC5357]  Hedayat, K., Krzanowski, R., Morton, A., Yum, K., and J.
              Babiarz, "A Two-Way Active Measurement Protocol (TWAMP)",
              RFC 5357, DOI 10.17487/RFC5357, October 2008,

   [RFC5481]  Morton, A. and B. Claise, "Packet Delay Variation
              Applicability Statement", RFC 5481, DOI 10.17487/RFC5481,
              March 2009, <>.

   [RFC5905]  Mills, D., Martin, J., Ed., Burbank, J., and W. Kasch,
              "Network Time Protocol Version 4: Protocol and Algorithms
              Specification", RFC 5905, DOI 10.17487/RFC5905, June 2010,

   [RFC6390]  Clark, A. and B. Claise, "Guidelines for Considering New
              Performance Metric Development", BCP 170, RFC 6390,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC6390, October 2011,

   [RFC6703]  Morton, A., Ramachandran, G., and G. Maguluri, "Reporting
              IP Network Performance Metrics: Different Points of View",
              RFC 6703, DOI 10.17487/RFC6703, August 2012,

   [RFC7384]  Mizrahi, T., "Security Requirements of Time Protocols in
              Packet Switched Networks", RFC 7384, DOI 10.17487/RFC7384,
              October 2014, <>.

   [RFC7799]  Morton, A., "Active and Passive Metrics and Methods (with
              Hybrid Types In-Between)", RFC 7799, DOI 10.17487/RFC7799,
              May 2016, <>.

   [RFC8321]  Fioccola, G., Ed., Capello, A., Cociglio, M., Castaldelli,
              L., Chen, M., Zheng, L., Mirsky, G., and T. Mizrahi,
              "Alternate-Marking Method for Passive and Hybrid
              Performance Monitoring", RFC 8321, DOI 10.17487/RFC8321,
              January 2018, <>.

   [RFC8799]  Carpenter, B. and B. Liu, "Limited Domains and Internet
              Protocols", RFC 8799, DOI 10.17487/RFC8799, July 2020,

   [RFC9342]  Fioccola, G., Ed., Cociglio, M., Sapio, A., Sisto, R., and
              T. Zhou, "Clustered Alternate-Marking Method", RFC 9342,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC9342, December 2022,


   The authors would like to thank Alberto Tempia Bonda, Luca
   Castaldelli, and Lianshu Zheng for their contribution to the
   experimentation of the method.

   The authors would also like to thank Martin Duke and Tommy Pauly for
   their assistance and their detailed and precious reviews.


   Xiao Min
   ZTE Corp.

   Mach(Guoyi) Chen
   Huawei Technologies

   Alessandro Capello
   Telecom Italia

Authors' Addresses

   Giuseppe Fioccola (editor)
   Huawei Technologies
   Riesstrasse, 25
   80992 Munich

   Mauro Cociglio
   Telecom Italia

   Greg Mirsky

   Tal Mizrahi
   Huawei Technologies

   Tianran Zhou
   Huawei Technologies
   156 Beiqing Rd.