blank.gif (43 bytes)

Church Of The
Swimming Elephant

Search: Dead Gateway Detection Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia Dead Gateway Detection

Up: Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
Up: Requests For Comments
Up: RFC 1122
Up: 3.3.1 Routing Outbound Datagrams
Prev: Route Cache
Next: New Gateway Selection Dead Gateway Detection Dead Gateway Detection

The IP layer MUST be able to detect the failure of a "next- hop" gateway that is listed in its route cache and to choose an alternate gateway (see Section

Dead gateway detection is covered in some detail in RFC-816 [IP:11]. Experience to date has not produced a complete algorithm which is totally satisfactory, though it has identified several forbidden paths and promising techniques.

  • A particular gateway SHOULD NOT be used indefinitely in the absence of positive indications that it is functioning.

  • Active probes such as "pinging" (i.e., using an ICMP Echo Request/Reply exchange) are expensive and scale poorly. In particular, hosts MUST NOT actively check the status of a first-hop gateway by simply pinging the gateway continuously.

  • Even when it is the only effective way to verify a gateway's status, pinging MUST be used only when traffic is being sent to the gateway and when there is no other positive indication to suggest that the gateway is functioning.

  • To avoid pinging, the layers above and/or below the Internet layer SHOULD be able to give "advice" on the status of route cache entries when either positive (gateway OK) or negative (gateway dead) information is available.


If an implementation does not include an adequate mechanism for detecting a dead gateway and re-routing, a gateway failure may cause datagrams to apparently vanish into a "black hole". This failure can be extremely confusing for users and difficult for network personnel to debug.

The dead-gateway detection mechanism must not cause unacceptable load on the host, on connected networks, or on first-hop gateway(s). The exact constraints on the timeliness of dead gateway detection and on acceptable load may vary somewhat depending on the nature of the host's mission, but a host generally needs to detect a failed first-hop gateway quickly enough that transport-layer connections will not break before an alternate gateway can be selected.

Passing advice from other layers of the protocol stack complicates the interfaces between the layers, but it is the preferred approach to dead gateway detection. Advice can come from almost any part of the IP/TCP architecture, but it is expected to come primarily from the transport and link layers. Here are some possible sources for gateway advice:

  • TCP or any connection-oriented transport protocol should be able to give negative advice, e.g., triggered by excessive retransmissions.

  • TCP may give positive advice when (new) data is acknowledged. Even though the route may be asymmetric, an ACK for new data proves that the acknowleged data must have been transmitted successfully.

  • An ICMP Redirect message from a particular gateway should be used as positive advice about that gateway.

  • Link-layer information that reliably detects and reports host failures (e.g., ARPANET Destination Dead messages) should be used as negative advice.

  • Failure to ARP or to re-validate ARP mappings may be used as negative advice for the corresponding IP address.

  • Packets arriving from a particular link-layer address are evidence that the system at this address is alive. However, turning this information into advice about gateways requires mapping the link-layer address into an IP address, and then checking that IP address against the gateways pointed to by the route cache. This is probably prohibitively inefficient.

Note that positive advice that is given for every datagram received may cause unacceptable overhead in the implementation.

While advice might be passed using required arguments in all interfaces to the IP layer, some transport and application layer protocols cannot deduce the correct advice. These interfaces must therefore allow a neutral value for advice, since either always-positive or always-negative advice leads to incorrect behavior.

There is another technique for dead gateway detection that has been commonly used but is not recommended. This technique depends upon the host passively receiving ("wiretapping") the Interior Gateway Protocol (IGP) datagrams that the gateways are broadcasting to each other. This approach has the drawback that a host needs to recognize all the interior gateway protocols that gateways may use (see [INTRO:2]). In addition, it only works on a broadcast network.

At present, pinging (i.e., using ICMP Echo messages) is the mechanism for gateway probing when absolutely required. A successful ping guarantees that the addressed interface and its associated machine are up, but it does not guarantee that the machine is a gateway as opposed to a host. The normal inference is that if a Redirect or other evidence indicates that a machine was a gateway, successful pings will indicate that the machine is still up and hence still a gateway. However, since a host silently discards packets that a gateway would forward or redirect, this assumption could sometimes fail. To avoid this problem, a new ICMP message under development will ask "are you a gateway?"


The following specific algorithm has been suggested:

  • Associate a "reroute timer" with each gateway pointed to by the route cache. Initialize the timer to a value Tr, which must be small enough to allow detection of a dead gateway before transport connections time out.

  • Positive advice would reset the reroute timer to Tr. Negative advice would reduce or zero the reroute timer.

  • Whenever the IP layer used a particular gateway to route a datagram, it would check the corresponding reroute timer. If the timer had expired (reached zero), the IP layer would send a ping to the gateway, followed immediately by the datagram.

  • The ping (ICMP Echo) would be sent again if necessary, up to N times. If no ping reply was received in N tries, the gateway would be assumed to have failed, and a new first-hop gateway would be chosen for all cache entries pointing to the failed gateway.

Note that the size of Tr is inversely related to the amount of advice available. Tr should be large enough to insure that:

  • Any pinging will be at a low level (e.g., <10%) of all packets sent to a gateway from the host, AND

  • pinging is infrequent (e.g., every 3 minutes)

Since the recommended algorithm is concerned with the gateways pointed to by route cache entries, rather than the cache entries themselves, a two level data structure (perhaps coordinated with ARP or similar caches) may be desirable for implementing a route cache.

Next: New Gateway Selection

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia Dead Gateway Detection


Protect yourself from cyberstalkers, identity thieves, and those who would snoop on you.
Stop spam from invading your inbox without losing the mail you want. We give you more control over your e-mail than any other service.
Block popups, ads, and malicious scripts while you surf the net through our anonymous proxies.
Participate in Usenet, host your web files, easily send anonymous messages, and more, much more.
All private, all encrypted, all secure, all in an easy to use service, and all for only $5.95 a month!

Service Details

Have you gone to church today?
All pages ©1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Church of the Swimming Elephant unless otherwise stated
Church of the Swimming Elephant©1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Packetderm, LLC.

Packetderm, LLC
210 Park Ave #308
Worcester, MA 01609