Thursday, December 16, 2010

Accelerated Connection Retry for HTTP and Firefox

Not all packet loss is created equal. In particular, losing a SYN can really ruin your day - or at least the next 3 seconds which can feel like all day. Most Operating Systems take 3 seconds of waiting before retrying the SYN. Most other timeouts are dynamically scaled to the network conditions, but not the SYN. It is generally hardcoded. And on most of today's networks 3 seconds is an eternity.

So, in FF we took a page from Chrome's book and said if Firefox has been waiting for 250ms (configurable via network.http.connection-retry-timeout) then start a second connection in parallel with that first one. Assuming you've got .25% packet loss and general independence between packets spaced that far apart the approach turns the 3 second pause from a 1 in 400 event into a 1 in 16,000 event. That is pretty much the difference between "kinda annoying" and "didn't notice". It's a good idea - if you hate it for whatever reason just set the pref to 0 to disable it.

Taking the idea one step further, if we create two connections because of this timer and they actually both end up completing obviously only one can be used immediately. But we cache the other one as if it were a persistent connection - and then when you need it (which you probably will) you don't have to wait for the handshake at all. It is essentially a prefetched TCP connection. On my desktop, I run with an especially low timer so that any site with a > 100ms RTT benefits from this and its great!

You can see this effect below, using mnot's cool htracr, on the second connection. Note how there is no request placed on it as soon as it is live (the request is the red dot at the top of the grey rectangle - the rectangle represents the connection), but one follows shortly thereafter without having to do a handshake. That's an RTT saved!

You will be able to enjoy this feature in FF 4.0 Beta 9. A buggy version of it is actually included in Beta 8 but disabled behind the pref mentioned above. Feel free to enable and play with it before Beta 9 if you don't mind a connection freeze once in a while.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Performance of Pipelining in HTTP Firefox

This post provides some performance measurements of my HTTP pipeline patches for Firefox.

The key benefits of pipelining are reduced transaction latency and potentially the use of fewer connections, so those are generally the metrics I will focus on here. For each of my 5 test cases we will look at the following statistics:
  • The percentage of requests that are delayed in the request queue inside Firefox waiting for a connection to be available.
  • The average amount of queue latency for each transaction. This is measured as the time the first byte of the request is given to the kernel minus the time at which the request was presented to Necko/Gecko. It is generally very low but greater than 0 even if the transaction can be placed directly on a pipeline because it takes a moment to construct the request and perhaps schedule the socket thread if other things are on the CPU. But a high value is an opportunity lost - that is time the request could be in flight and the server could be processing it. It includes the time necessary to create a new connection if that is necessary - that includes the three way TCP handshake but not a DNS lookup (which is cached in the test).
  • The type of connection used for each transaction (new connection, an idle persistent connection, or a pipelined connection)
  • The average amount of transaction latency for each transaction. This is measured as the time of the first byte of the response being received by firefox minus the time at which the request was presented to Necko/Gecko. It is possible for the average improvement to be greater than 1 RTT because of cumulative queueing delays in the non pipelined case.
  • The cumulative fraction of transactions completed before 3 different elapsed times in order to show improved execution time for the test case. The benchmark times are sized appropriately for each test case.

There are 4 data points for each criteria in each test case. Because pipelining is aimed at environments with significant latency and my broadband test connectivity has below average latency for much of the world and every mobile environment the first two data points have 200ms of latency added through a traffic shaper. The two datapoints compare pipelining on vs pipelining off. The other data points measure the same things but without the induced latency.

All tests are run with both a disk and memory cache enabled but empty at the beginning of the run. In order to measure the effectiveness of the pipelining, each of these sites has been put in the "green - pipelining ok" state which is normally auto discovered.


The first test is on Facebook. It starts by logging in and then selecting a particular user profile and navigating from that page via lists of friends, occasionally pulling up individual profiles, generating lists of recent updates, and pressing the More link on busy Facebook walls. There are approximately 1400 HTTP transactions in each test run.

The first thing to consider is the percent of requests that are delayed (i.e. queued) within firefox. I think queuing is particularly bad because if the request hasn't been passed to the network there is no way for any advances in server technology to ever operate on it. For instance - servers are prevented from returning responses out of order but nothing would prevent them from processing requests out of order in order to overlap latencies in DB queries and disk I/O if the requests were not queued on the browser side.

Percent of Requests Queued
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency079.1
Low Latency078.6

That is a stark contrast. It is possible by the way to see a request being queued with pipelining enabled - a default configuration limit of 32 governs the maximum depth of the pipeline and not all request types are pipeline eligible.

Average Queue Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency291630
Low Latency6285

You might expect to see 0ms for the pipelining case as we just illustrated above that no requests were delayed. But the queue latency covers the time from request submission to the time of putting the first byte of the request on the wire, so that includes any connection setup time when establishing a new connection. That is the primary source of the latency seen here for the pipeline enabled case.

That begs the question, when pipelining is enabled how many of the requests are pipelined?
Connection Type Pct
Moderate Latency w/PipelineModerate Latency wo/Pipeline Low Latency w/PipelineLow Latency wo/Pipeline
Reused Idle13961397

We see here a moderate reduction in the number of connections used when pipelining, but most of the effect is a transfer from idle persistent connections over to pipelines. While the percentage of new connections as a portion of the overall request stream has gone down just a tick with pipelining, the impact on the actual number of raw connections is significant - going from roughly 60 without pipelining to 30 with it enabled. That boils down to a 50% reduction in the number of connections created which is a significant provides a very busy site like Facebook a significant scalability boost.

The final criteria deal with transaction latency.

Average Transaction Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency7021906
Low Latency341346

Yowza! Now there is a result. Under conditions with moderate latency the average transaction waits 1200ms less from the time the request is submitted to Necko to the time the first byte of the response header is received. The net effect is so much more than the approx ~250ms RTT because of aggregating queueing delays - without pipelining enabled you are placed in a deep queue which has to be totally cleared with a 1RTT overhead on each one before you are executed. The impact under low latency conditions is probably close to being noise.

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Moderate Latency w/Pipeline979175
Moderate Latency wo/Pipeline453832

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Low Latency w/Pipeline999261
Low Latency wo/Pipeline999161

Facebook is a big success - probably the biggest success of any of the tests. 200+ms latency situations have performance significantly increased, and low latency scenarios perform similarly while using a few less TCP connections.

The test walks through a basic window shopping experience at The home page is loaded, the kindle link is clicked, a few more categories are clicked and the lists of products are generally browsed and sorted by "hot and new" and other similar things. This boils down to about 800 HTTP transactions.

Percent of Requests Queued
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency054.4
Low Latency039.8

Right away you can see that amazon queues fewer requests than Facebook, so the potential improvement is less.

Average Queue Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency116791
Low Latency12136

Connection Type Pct
Moderate Latency w/PipelineModerate Latency wo/Pipeline Low Latency w/PipelineLow Latency wo/Pipeline
Reused Idle20962887

The first thing to note is that less pipelining is going on that with facebook, so again there is less potential for improvement. How the pages are constructed has a lot to do with this (perhaps fewer images, etc..). But almost as interesting is the fact that the number of TCP connections (i.e. new connections) is halved in the low latency case. If the page can be transferred in the same amount of time using fewer connections that is still a win for the web overall.

Average Transaction Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency6351083
Low Latency266204

An interesting result - 400ms off the average transaction in the ~250ms RTT environment, but a notable loss in the low latency scenario. All of the numbers here are averages across two test runs, but just inspecting the amazon test case in particular on some other ad-hoc runs showed quite a bit of variability. My suspicion is server load occasionally results in a single resource taking a long time to return. I have seen this disable pipelining for HTML pages, but leave it enabled for images, in the past.

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Moderate Latency w/Pipeline917962
Moderate Latency wo/Pipeline776961

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Low Latency w/Pipeline939084
Low Latency wo/Pipeline999485


The flickr test is probably the simplest of the cases. It simply loads several galleries based on set names and tags. There are roughly 350 HTTP transactions in the test. Under normal conditions Flickr has a high variability in server response time.

Percent of Requests Queued
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency057
Low Latency057

Average Queue Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency43814
Low Latency7211

Connection Type Pct
Moderate Latency w/PipelineModerate Latency wo/Pipeline Low Latency w/PipelineLow Latency wo/Pipeline
Reused Idle19731973

As with the other tests, more than half of the new connections have been replaced when pipelining is enabled.

Average Transaction Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency8591091
Low Latency291366

This result is more modest, but still positive, when compared to our other tests.

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Moderate Latency w/Pipeline958767
Moderate Latency wo/Pipeline887460

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Low Latency w/Pipeline999772
Low Latency wo/Pipeline989371

The test is photo journalism clearing house site located overseas and therefore the broadband low latency case has a starting RTT of closer to 100ms, while the moderate delay case adds 200ms to that. This is the smallest test case - just 175 transactions in each run.

Percent of Requests Queued
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency044
Low Latency038

Average Queue Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency21726
Low Latency31400

I am not yet certain how to explain the very modest rise in queue time for the pipeline case when the added 200ms delay is removed. It must involve an aberrant TCP connection as that is really the only component of queue time when the requests them selves are not delayed due to connection limits.

Connection Type Pct
Moderate Latency w/PipelineModerate Latency wo/Pipeline Low Latency w/PipelineLow Latency wo/Pipeline
Reused Idle33933392

This is the first time we actually see the new connection numbers moving in the wrong direction. In this case I believe the type scheduling restrictions placed on the connection manager are generating new connections that may have been un-necessary in the non pipelining scenario. I'm curious if the effect would fade in a test with more transactions.

Average Transaction Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency13101248
Low Latency752689

This seems to track the changes in connection types and maybe the test bears further examination to see if an adjustment can be made. The scheduling algorithm seems to be getting in the way of itself and has made performance just a tick worse than before, though not by very much. And certainly not by enough to discount the gains made in some other scenarios.

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Moderate Latency w/Pipeline848252
Moderate Latency wo/Pipeline827654

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Low Latency w/Pipeline888246
Low Latency wo/Pipeline848257


This test is different in that it is driven almost exclusively through JS and XMLHttpRequest. Those elements are present in the Facebook and Amazon tests as well, but they dominate the MapQuest test. In this scenario a map is brought up on the screen and it is manipulated in the usual ways - panning in 4 directions, zooming in and out, and toggling between satelline and map mode. By the time it is done, 711 HTTP transactions have been made.

Percent of Requests Queued
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency042
Low Latency044

Average Queue Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency52381
Low Latency10198

For all cases, the queue latency is pretty low for this test. That means the number of documents requested in one burst is relatively modest.

Connection Type Pct
Moderate Latency w/PipelineModerate Latency wo/Pipeline Low Latency w/PipelineLow Latency wo/Pipeline
Reused Idle30843286

Marginally less new connections are used with pipelining. Hurrah.

Average Transaction Latency (ms)
With PipelineWithout Pipeline
Moderate Latency677732
Low Latency260500

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Moderate Latency w/Pipeline968776
Moderate Latency wo/Pipeline968370

Pct of Responses Rcvd in < Xms
Low Latency w/Pipeline999565
Low Latency wo/Pipeline877540

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Implementing a Pipelined Client for Firefox

I have been working on a set of patches to revamp the Firefox HTTP pipeline implementation. The objective is to provide a fast and robust implementation of pipelines. There are lots of reasons to think this is a good thing.

The lowest level of the current implementation, which is disabled by default, receives a few minor tweaks. The primary change is to implement a continually fillable pipeline instead of the existing one where a pipeline is loaded up to whatever depth the request queue supports and then is not refilled until it has been emptied.

There are much more serious changes on top of that. The most significant is probably captured in the "Select Connection Based on Type and State" bug and patch. This code does four things: 1) it classifies each transaction into a particular type, 2) it keeps track of the history of each server with respect to pipelining, 3) it determines whether or not pipelining is appropriate based on the type of the transaction and the history of the server with that type in the past, and 4) if it decides to pipeline it places it on a pipeline filled with only transactions of the same classification.

That's a lot to think about. But the basic idea is to sort requests into control traffic (i.e. js and css), images, revalidations, htmlish things, and things known to be pipeline inappropriate such as video, most XMLHttpRequest, non-idempotent transactions, etc.. I call the latter classification "solo".

Classes of data such as CSS and revalidations that generally have very short responses, and thus benefit the most from pipelining, favor pipelines over parallel connections even when we have less than the maximum number of connections already open.

A variety of things can plague a successful pipelining session - for instance a site may have some documents with a large processing time on the server and that "think time" can really gum up the pipeline. By segregating the types of documents we can turn off pipelining for whatever is DB driven (e.g. XHTML) while still chasing down deep pipelines for images. Facebook is a terrific example of this.. the contents of your wall or your friend list probably have to be scooped out of a database computation and composed in real time, but the dozens of icons they reference are just whipped quickly right out when you have their direct key.

This concept of negative feedback (in the example above it would be a read of the HTML page with a latency well in excess of the RTT to the server) is what drives the server state. Very large responses, sub HTTP/1.1 responses, cancelled pipelines, closed connections, and server headers known to be associated with broken pipeline implementations all trigger negative feedback too.

Most feedback is tied to the classification of the particular request, but some is applied to all classes on the server. Corrupted data is one such case - if the response contains an invalid MD5 sum, or uses the proposed Assoc-Req header but fails to provide the correct information, or appears to have non-sensical framing information, all requests to that server are prevented from using pipelines for a long time. In the past such corruptions have happened due to buggy or compromised servers and intermediaries.

Much like congestion control, the determination of whether or not to proceed with a pipeline is based on both negative and positive feedback. Initially pipelines are not sent. We must first see a HTTP/1.1 response header from the server. After that has been accomplished we try and send a pipeline of only depth 2 and only on a single connection. If both of those responses are received OK then we transition from that tentative state (known internally as yellow) to a position where each connection can send pipelines of up to depth 4 instead of opening all the way. Even after the depth-of-2 test succeeds we can still not be certain the topology supports pipelines - what appears as a short pipeline at the client may not appear that way at the server due to race conditions inherent in network transfer, but the extension to a depth of 4 for every connection still represents significant additional capacity over a single connection being allowed a depth of 2. During this phase concurrent connections are of course also used, so nothing is slowed down over the historical pipelining disabled setting.

Once a transaction that was sent at at least a depth of 3 is successfully received the depth limits are removed from all connections to that host. The new maximum depth is only governed by a configuration preference with the default of 32. Should one of the negative events mentioned earlier occur, that class of transaction is placed in the red state (i.e. no pipelining is allowed for a period of time to that server) generally without interfering with the other transactions.

As mentioned, an unexpected delay of a few hundred milliseconds is considered to be think time and feedback is applied to keep things running smoothly with only a barely perceptible bump in the road. But a longer delay not only applies feedback for future use but it also cancels any transactions pipelined after the currently delayed one and moves them to new connections. This helps mitigate the head of line blocking problem if it is really severe and as a side effect no more pipelines will happen in the near future with that server. In that sense firefox is self correcting in a hostile environment.

All of this negative information expires over time but while it is still valid firefox will keep it persistently between restarts - its value was hard earned.

XMLHttpRequests are a special source of pain in traditional pipeline implementations. They often implement long polling patterns where a request is sent to the server and the server intentionally hangs until some external event occurs - it then shares that information with the client by forming a response. It is essentially server push from a data point of view implemented with a long polling request. For that reason, XHR is by default classified as solo, but meta data can be supplied in the form of an HTTP request header to allow the application to indicate the request is expected to be fulfilled quickly.

As they say on late night TV, "But Wait! There's more!" Sometimes the pipelining infrastructure problem isn't on the server side, sometimes it is a proxy that is part of the client's topology. To test for that there is a new startup test which initiates a deep pipeline to a known pipeline friendly resource on the Internet. This server intentionally defers its responses until a deep pipeline has been received there and only then leaks a small response. Both sides continue a pipeline on the same connection until it has been confirmed that an entire window of data can be supported by the HTTP devices on that path. The results of this test are cached for a very long time. This transfer also takes the opportunity to share with the client a list of host names that should be blacklisted with respect to pipelining because of known operability problems. (You can still use them - just not pipeline with them). The location (and enablement) of the test and hostname blacklist server are configurable.

All of this feedback and history tracking sounds intimidating, but the truth is that most of the web works just fine. There are enough problems that a feedback driven self correcting implementation helps smooth out the bumps, but most of the web opens right up without any problems.

Mail your comments to me or provide a talk back link.

The Value of HTTP Pipelines

For the past few months I've been on a personal quest to implement a safe and effective HTTP pipelining strategy for Mozilla Firefox. The pipeline concept is part of HTTP/1.1 but for various reasons has not been widely deployed on the web.

I'm going to make a series of three posts. This one will be basic background information - what pipelines are in the abstract and why they are more relevant to today's web than they have been in years. The second post will be about the details of my Firefox implementation and its mechanisms for dealing with the realities of the occasional pipeline-hostile piece of infrastructure. The last post will share some performance metrics of those patches in common use cases.

HTTP Pipelines - 101

A client forms a pipeline simply by sending a second HTTP request down an HTTP connection before it has received the first response. A pipeline may be more than two transactions deep. HTTP responses are still required to be returned in the order their requests arrived.

This is a simple concept, but the benefits are profound.

Chiefly, the pipelined transactions benefit by eliminating the latency involved in sending their request. The greater the latency, the greater the benefit.

This crude diagram shows 2 normal HTTP transactions without pipelining. In it each request is shown with a rightward arrow and the response is shown with a leftward arrow. The empty space represents the network latency. When the first response is received, the second is sent.

When pipelining is used, the picture becomes different. Even though the request and response sizes are the same, and the round trip time between the hosts is the same, the overall transaction completes sooner. It is obvious that the round trip latency between the client and the server has been mitigated as a problem.

The greater the latency and the deeper the pipeline the more benefit is captured.

While bandwidth continues to improve, latency is not keeping up. The trend is toward mobile networks and those have latencies 5x to 20x worse than broadband WAN connections. This increased latency is an opportunity for pipelining.

HTTP Pipelines - 201

Conceptually, parallel HTTP connections can garner similar benefits. Afterall, independent HTTP connections do not need to wait for each other to finish before beginning their work.

Up to a point, that is completely true. Parallelism has been the mainstay for many years and served us well. But it has its limits.

The chief limit is actually specified. No more than 6 (or 4, or 2 depending on the point in history) simultaneous connections are supposed to be allowed from the user agent to the server. This is a serious handicap - Firefox may easily have a request queue of over 100 images, stylesheets, and javascript items to fetch upon parsing a Facebook HTML page full of photos, emoticons, ads, and widgets. A single digit number of connections is far too small to effectively parallelize that download.

This brings us to the reason there is a limit on the number of connections. Making a new TCP connection sucks. Before it can be used at all it requires a high latency three way handshake and if it is over TLS an expensive RSA operation on the server (and yet another round trip). Making the new connection requires access to shared data structures on the server in a way that using an existing connection does not and harms scalability. Servers that can pump multiple gigabits a second of TCP data in their sleep through a few connections, can still only initiate on the order of tens of thousands of connections a second.

Maintaining all those connections is expensive for the server too. Each one takes state (i.e. RAM in the kernel, perhaps a thread stack in the application), and the server now has to deal with sorting through more control blocks and application states everytime a packet comes in in order to match it with the right one. Because of the increased diversity of TCP control blocks in use, the L2/L3 cache is severely polluted which is the number one factor in high performance TCP.

Even if pipelines only mean browser performance equal to parallel connections but accomplished using fewer connections then that is a win for Web scalability.

HTTP Pipelines - 301

The details of TCP start to weigh in heavily in favor of pipelining when parallelism and pipelining are compared.

Most significantly, TCP slow-start performs poorly in the parallelized environment. To recap what you already know: Slow start requires the sender to send a conservative amount of data at first (typically 3 or 4 packets) and then wait a full round trip time to receive positive feedback in the form of an ACK from the recipient. At that time it can grow the window a little bit and send another burst and then wait again. After enough iterations of this the sender is generating enough traffic in each burst to "fill the window" and it no longer has to wait.

Pipelining, of course, does not eliminate slow start. But it does use fewer connections to move the same amount of data and the slow-start penalty scales with the number of connections not the amount of data. Fewer connections mean less data is transferred under the artificially slow conditions of slow start.

There is another wrinkle that applies to even parallel connections that have paid their start-up dues and progressed past slow start. TCP connections that have not sent data within an RTO (think of an RTO as a round trip time plus a grace period) are supposed to go back to slow-start! From a TCP point of view this makes some sense - the inactivity means the TCP stack has lost the ack-clock that it needs to use the connection aggressively. But for even a persistent use of a parallel HTTP connection this is a disaster. Effectively each transaction response must go through slow start because it takes more than a round trip for the last packet of the previous response to travel to the client, the client to form the next request, the request to travel to the server and the server to form the response. Pipelined connections do not have that problem - one response follows immediately on the heels of the previous response which ensures optimal TCP use of the available bandwidth. Huzzah.

Lastly, it is worth talking about Google's push for larger initial windows during slow start. They support a value of 10 instead of the current 3 or 4. Basically I think this is a good thing - the Internet can support larger bursts than we are currently sending. Unfortunately, this has a terrible potential interaction with parallel connections. 6 connections would essentially mean 60 congestion control packet credits available to be sent in a burst at any time. Just as 3 is too few for a single connection environment, 60 is too many for a multiple connection environment. Whereas pipelines reduce the reliance on parallel connections, they bring down the total number of packet credits outstanding at any time while still allowing for more effective slow start capacity probing. That's a win win in my book.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Long Out Of Order Queueing Delays

Last week I posted about a kernel patch that records how long out of order TCP packets are kept hidden from userspace while the kernel tries to fill in the necessary holes to create an in-order stream.

These packets are especially frustrating - they have arrived at the host but the application does not have access to them until the kernel can create an in-order stream. Some applications that are really doing messaging over TCP (which might be sensible if you're looking for congestion control, maybe layered security, maybe multiplexing different semantic streams onto one TCP stream and the loss is localized to one of them, etc..) might be capable of moving on with their lives (and their data) more quickly if they had access to the missing sequence numbers. So the question is, how long are these kinds of applications waiting for in-order data when out-of-order data is already at their host?

I ran that code for about 10 days on my desktop which runs typical American broadband with normal RTTs anywhere from 40 to 150ms. The host is even SACK enabled. Here is what I found:

* 38,881 web flows (port 80 or 443)

* 164 flows that contained reordered packets. That is 4.1 per thousand.

* 915K total packets. 18,169 of them reordered. That is 19.8 per thousand.

* The flows with reordering account for just .4% of the flows, but 40% of the total packets. Obviously, the bigger you are the more likely you are to experience a reordering event.. but furthermore small flows sometimes don't reorder at all because any loss that impacts them is more likely to be repaired with an empty window and a timeout.

* If you select for just the .41% of flows that experience reordering a whopping 4.6% of the packets in that flow are reordered on average. Indeed this average flow is pretty large - 2418 packets and 110 of them are delayed due to being out of order. The average size of a flow that did not experience any reordering was just 24 data packets long. The fact that reordering events are such large clusters is probably good news - it likely means that we were seeing big windows of data on the wire and just a small amount of the early packets in that window were lost.. the rest of the window is counted as out-of-order. We want to see big windows in flight - so I'm good with that.

* The average length of a reordered packet is 1424 bytes. Over 97% of these reordered packets are at least 1300 bytes long. This isn't that interesting, but I wrote it down - so here it is.

When I talk about "N packets long" I mean my host received N packets with data in them.. bare acks and control packets are not counted.

So far, that's not too bad. Big flows have this happen all the time. Reordering is basically a pre-requisite for doing any kind of TCP fast recovery in the face of packet loss so it looks good. If we assume that the reordering is due to small packet losses which can be repaired with fast-retransmit algorithms, which seems to make sense, then the out of order problem should be repaired in a little over 1 RTT, right?

Unfortunately, when I plotted the delays incurred they look a lot bigger than the distribution of RTTs I see from my dekstop. A lot bigger.

There is a really long tail on that graph - and it only captures the best 97% of the data points. The longest I saw any packet wait in the reorder queue (and make it out again) was a full 2.5 minutes.

Even though 2.5 minutes is an aberration, the normal cases are still pretty awful. The median time out of order packets spend queued in the kernel while waiting for an in-order stream is 293 milliseconds! Ouch.

Let's zoom in on that graph - this shows the 90% of the packets that waited the shortest amount of time:

That's pretty ugly, you need to budget a full second wait to get 80% of the reordered packets out of their kernel limbo.

It is much much uglier than I expected.

It's not the reordering that bothers me - big reordering runs are to be perfectly expected in the face of a little packet loss and it is good to use that bandwidth while the loss is repaired.

But why is it taking so long to repair?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Characterizing Delays Caused by TCP in-order

If packet N+1 of a TCP flow arrives before packet N, the receiving application does not see any data until packet N gets there. That's what we mean when we say TCP guarantees in-order delivery. That is also true if N+1 through N+100 get there before N - nobody gets through until they can all be delivered in-order.

At least using the BSD socket API.

I got to thinking about the impact of this when discussing a multiplexing implementation of various logical streams on top of TCP. For instance, SPDY and BEEP do things along those lines in order to create efficiencies in terms of more accurate congestion control data. But as someone objected, that creates a certain amount of fate sharing between the different streams that wouldn't exist if they were on separate TCP channels. A packet loss in one of them creates a delay for them both even though throughput might very well be maintained using some variation of fast-retransmit and large windows.

So the question: how often are packets received but the data in them is delayed by he kernel because the stream isn't yet in order? And how long are those delays?

I don't know yet, but I wrote some crude linux kernel patches to find out. When a skb is moved out of the out of order queue a structure with 2 timestamps (in queue, out of queue) is passed to userspace through the netlink connector mechanism. It also reports the total number of received data packets on each TCP stream. That way we can find out, how often and how long.

I'm running the hack on my desktop now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forwarding Decisions with Bloom Filters

Really neat paper: "Hash, Don't Cache: fast packet forwarding for enterprise edge routers". The paper and abstract are both available on line. The authors are Minlan Yu, and Jennifer Rexford - both of Princeton.

The authors share a lament of mine - caching forwarding decisions is attractive but no longer realistic as an implementation. The diversity of addresses (including those generated randomly by attackers) pollutes the cache and sends way too much traffic to slow fallback processing paths. So we end up with routers with one class of memory and no caches. Generally their memory is made totally from the really expensive fast stuff.

But the suggestion in this paper of using hashed bloom filters instead of caches is a really cool one. Essentially maintain one filter per interface in fast memory (sram probably) and evaluate those at forwarding time in parallel if you can. You probably just get a single hit and can forward the packet onwards.. you do this with only needing enough fast ram for the hash filters (i.e. not much).. whereas all the traditional trie data and routing update code can live in slow and cheap dram.

of course, due to the false positive nature of bloomies it is possible that you'll get more than one match that is going to require some kind of (probably slower) fallback plan for that packet. But the problem is nowhere near as dire as it is with caches.. with caches the misses force all the valid entries out of the cache and then all traffic is slowed down as the cache rate drops - with bloomies only the packets with the false positives are impacted, almost all of the traffic goes through the fast path unimpacted. The paper puts the false positive rate somewhere on the order of 1 in tens of thousands (depending on a bunch of factors - but that gives a feel for it.) Furthermore a cache can be intentionally attacked with a diversity of addresses in order to flood the cache and impact service for everyone - where under bloom filters such an attack is no more or less likely to impact service than any other kind of packet.

What can't you apply a bloom filter to? It's all pretty cool. The paper has a number of other details on how to minimize false positives and efficiently process route updates.

There is a related work from the same authors on a "buffalo" architecture which, after just a quick glance, appears to apply similar principles to LAN switching.

J Rexford is also an author of Web Protocols and Practice: HTTP/1.1, Networking Protocols, Caching, and Traffic Measurement which is probably the most practical description of the major web protocol I've ever seen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Googling Harder

A while back I mentioned that Google thinks TCP ought to be more aggressive.

I must admit, this matches my own bias. I can barely count the number of applications I have watched wait for network I/O when there was plenty of CPU and idle bandwidth available. It's maddening. Sometimes it's slow start or another aspect of congestion control, sometimes it is outdated things like the nagle algorithm.

Well, Google is back at it with this slide set. (PDF)

They make the argument for increasing the initial cwnd. More provocatively, they argue that the Web has already done so in a defacto way by going to aggressive numbers of independent parallel HTTP connections (where you essentially get new cwnd credits just for opening a new TCP stream). Clever argument. Maybe you want to pace the data after 3 or 4 packets based on the RTT of the handshake - so you don't overrun any buffers un-necessarily.

Frankly, this kind of thing can be implemented on the server side without ever telling the peer. It would make some sense for Google to just do this for a few different values of cwnd on a tiny fraction of their traffic and see if the packet loss rates change and then publish that.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Channel 2000

Posts about finding embedded linux in strange places are pretty common these days - but I couldn't resist this one.

Flipping channels tonight put me on channel 2000 of my Time-Warner Digital Cable, and this was the signal:

Forgive the snapshot.

But is that Red Hat 9 (not FC 9), running 2.4.24 ?

Is that my cable box? Its a standard cable company motorola DVR, which is a lot newer than 2.4.24, but it wouldn't be surprising to see MOT basing an embedded project off an old kernel. Of course, the TV is inherently networked - if not necessarily IP networked, and this kind of abandoned legacy code could be entertaining.

Of course, it might not be the cable box at all - it might just be some kind of generating equipment gone bad - and the video signal ended up on channel 2000. Not sure what is supposed to be there - I wasn't aware there were any 4 digit channels on my system.