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2 The problem Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
2 The problem

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2 The problem

2 The problem

Internet services one might wish to access over a serial IP link from home range from interactive `terminal' type connections (e.g., telnet, rlogin, xterm) to bulk data transfer (e.g., ftp, smtp, nntp). Header compression is motivated by the need for good interactive response. I.e., the line efficiency of a protocol is the ratio of the data to header+data in a datagram. If efficient bulk data transfer is the only objective, it is always possible to make the datagram large enough to approach an efficiency of 100%.

Human-factors studies[15] have found that interactive response is perceived as `bad' when low-level feedback (character echo) takes longer than 100 to 200 ms. Protocol headers interact with this threshold three ways:

  1. If the line is too slow, it may be impossible to fit both the headers and data into a 200 ms window: One typed character results in a 41 byte TCP/IP packet being sent and a 41 byte echo being received. The line speed must be at least 4000 bps to handle these 82 bytes in 200 ms.

  2. Even with a line fast enough to handle packetized typing echo (4800 bps or above), there may be an undesirable interaction between bulk data and interactive traffic: For reasonable line efficiency the bulk data packet size needs to be 10 to 20 times the header size. I.e., the line maximum transmission unit or MTU should be 500 to 1000 bytes for 40 byte TCP/IP headers. Even with type-of-service queuing to give priority to interactive traffic, a telnet packet has to wait for any in-progress bulk data packet to finish. Assuming data transfer in only one direction, that wait averages half the MTU or 500 ms for a 1024 byte MTU at 9600 bps.

  3. Any communication medium has a maximum signalling rate, the Shannon limit. Based on an AT&T study[2], the Shannon limit for a typical dialup phone line is around 22,000 bps. Since a full duplex, 9600 bps modem already runs at 80% of the limit, modem manufacturers are starting to offer asymmetric allocation schemes to increase effective bandwidth: Since a line rarely has equivalent amounts of data flowing both directions simultaneously, it is possible to give one end of the line more than 11,000 bps by either time-division multiplexing a half-duplex line (e.g., the Telebit Trailblazer) or offering a low-speed `reverse channel' (e.g., the USR Courier HST)./3/ In either case, the modem dynamically tries to guess which end of the conversation needs high bandwidth by assuming one end of the conversation is a human (i.e., demand is limited to <300 bps by typing speed). The factor-of-forty bandwidth multiplication due to protocol headers will fool this allocation heuristic and cause these modems to `thrash'.

From the above, it's clear that one design goal of the compression should be to limit the bandwidth demand of typing and ack traffic to at most 300 bps. A typical maximum typing speed is around five characters per second/4/ which leaves a budget 30 - 5 = 25 characters for headers or five bytes of header per character typed./5/ Five byte headers solve problems (1) and (3) directly and, indirectly, problem (2): A packet size of 100--200 bytes will easily amortize the cost of a five byte header and offer a user 95--98% of the line bandwidth for data. These short packets mean little interference between interactive and bulk data traffic (see sec. 5.2).

Figure 1: A topology that gives incomplete information at gateways

Another design goal is that the compression protocol be based solely on information guaranteed to be known to both ends of a single serial link. Consider the topology shown in fig. 1 where communicating hosts A and B are on separate local area nets (the heavy black lines) and the nets are connected by two serial links (the open lines between gateways C--D and E--F)./6/ One compression possibility would be to convert each TCP/IP conversation into a semantically equivalent conversation in a protocol with smaller headers, e.g., to an X.25 call. But, because of routing transients or multipathing, it's entirely possible that some of the A--B traffic will follow the A-C-D-B path and some will follow the A-E-F-B path. Similarly, it's possible that A->B traffic will flow A-C-D-B and B->A traffic will flow B-F-E-A. None of the gateways can count on seeing all the packets in a particular TCP conversation and a compression algorithm that works for such a topology cannot be tied to the TCP connection syntax.

A physical link treated as two, independent, simplex links (one each direction) imposes the minimum requirements on topology, routing and pipelining. The ends of each simplex link only have to agree on the most recent packet(s) sent on that link. Thus, although any compression scheme involves shared state, this state is spatially and temporally local and adheres to Dave Clark's principle of fate sharing[4]: The two ends can only disagree on the state if the link connecting them is inoperable, in which case the disagreement doesn't matter.

Next: 3 The compression algorithm

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
2 The problem


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