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Excessive retransmission of the same segment by TCP indicates some failure of the remote host or the Internet path. This failure may be of short or long duration. The following procedure MUST be used to handle excessive retransmissions of data segments [IP:11]:

  1. There are two thresholds R1 and R2 measuring the amount of retransmission that has occurred for the same segment. R1 and R2 might be measured in time units or as a count of retransmissions.

  2. When the number of transmissions of the same segment reaches or exceeds threshold R1, pass negative advice (see Section to the IP layer, to trigger dead-gateway diagnosis.

  3. When the number of transmissions of the same segment reaches a threshold R2 greater than R1, close the connection.

  4. An application MUST be able to set the value for R2 for a particular connection. For example, an interactive application might set R2 to "infinity," giving the user control over when to disconnect.

  5. TCP SHOULD inform the application of the delivery problem (unless such information has been disabled by the application; see Section, when R1 is reached and before R2. This will allow a remote login (User Telnet) application program to inform the user, for example.

The value of R1 SHOULD correspond to at least 3 retransmissions, at the current RTO. The value of R2 SHOULD correspond to at least 100 seconds.

An attempt to open a TCP connection could fail with excessive retransmissions of the SYN segment or by receipt of a RST segment or an ICMP Port Unreachable. SYN retransmissions MUST be handled in the general way just described for data retransmissions, including notification of the application layer.

However, the values of R1 and R2 may be different for SYN and data segments. In particular, R2 for a SYN segment MUST be set large enough to provide retransmission of the segment for at least 3 minutes. The application can close the connection (i.e., give up on the open attempt) sooner, of course.


Some Internet paths have significant setup times, and the number of such paths is likely to increase in the future.

Next: TCP Keep-Alives

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia TCP Connection Failures


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