LWIG Working Group C. Gomez
Internet-Draft UPC/i2CAT
Intended status: Best Current Practice J. Crowcroft
Expires: May 4, 2017 University of Cambridge
October 31, 2016

TCP over Constrained-Node Networks


This document provides a profile for the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) over Constrained-Node Networks (CNNs). The overarching goal is to offer simple measures to allow for lightweight TCP implementation and suitable operation in such environments.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The Internet Protocol suite is being used for connecting Constrained-Node Networks (CNNs) to the Internet, enabling the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) [RFC7228]. In order to meet the requirements that stem from CNNs, the IETF has produced a suite of protocols specifically designed for such environments [I-D.ietf-lwig-energy-efficient].

At the application layer, the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) was developed over UDP [RFC7252]. However, the integration of some CoAP deployments with existing infrastructure is being challenged by middleboxes such as firewalls, which may limit and even block UDP-based communications. This the main reason why a CoAP over TCP specification is being developed [I-D.tschofenig-core-coap-tcp-tls].

On the other hand, other application layer protocols not specifically designed for CNNs are also being considered for the IoT space. Some examples include HTTP/2 and even HTTP/1.1, both of which run over TCP by default [RFC7540][RFC2616], and the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) [RFC 6120]. TCP is also used by non-IETF application-layer protocols in the IoT space such as MQTT and its lightweight variants [MQTTS].

This document provides a profile for TCP over CNNs. The overarching goal is to offer simple measures to allow for lightweight TCP implementation and suitable operation in such environments.

1.1. Conventions used in this document

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL","SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119]

2. Characteristics of CNNs relevant for TCP

Constrained nodes are characterized by significant limitations on processing, memory, and energy resources [RFC7228]. The first two dimensions pose constraints on the complexity and on the memory footprint of the protocols that constrained nodes can support. The latter requires techniques to save energy, such as radio duty-cycling in wireless devices [I-D.ietf-lwig-energy-efficient], as well as minimization of the number of messages transmitted/received (and their size).

Constrained nodes often use physical/link layer technologies that have been characterized as 'lossy'. Many such technologies are wireless, therefore exhibiting a relatively high bit error rate. However, some wired technologies used in the CNN space are also lossy (e.g. Power Line Communication). Transmission rates of CNN radio or wired interfaces are typically low (e.g. below 1 Mbps).

Some CNNs follow the star topology, whereby one or several hosts are linked to a central device that acts as a router connecting the CNN to the Internet. CNNs may also follow the multihop topology [RFC6606].

3. Scenario

The main scenario for use of TCP over CNNs comprises a constrained device and an unconstrained device that communicate over the Internet using TCP, possibly traversing a middlebox (e.g. a firewall, NAT, etc.). Figure 1 illustrates such scenario. Note that the scenario is asymmetric, as the unconstrained device will typically not suffer the severe constraints of the constrained device. The unconstrained device is expected to be mains-powered, to have high amount of memory and processing power, and to be connected to a resource-rich network.

        o     o <--------- TCP communication ------>  |               |
       o     o                                        |               |
          o     o                                     | Unconstrained |    
    o        o               +-----------+            |    device     |
        o     o   o  ------  | Middlebox |  -------   |               |
         o   o               +-----------+            |  (e.g. cloud) |
       o    o  o                                      |               |
   constrained devices


Figure 1: TCP communication between a constrained device and an unconstrained device, traversing a middlebox.

Assuming that a majority of constrained devices will correspond to sensor nodes, the amount of data traffic sent by constrained devices (e.g. sensor node measurements) is expected to be higher than the amount of data traffic in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, constrained devices may receive requests (to which they may respond), commands (for configuration purposes and for constrained devices including actuators) and relatively infrequent firmware/software updates.

4. TCP over CNNs

4.1. TCP connection initiation

In the constrained device to unconstrained device scenario illustrated above, a TCP connection is typically initiated by the constrained device, in order for this device to support possible sleep periods to save energy.

4.2. Maximum Segment Size (MSS)

Some link layer technologies in the CNN space are characterized by a short data unit payload size, e.g. up to a few tens or hundreds of bytes. For example, the maximum frame size in IEEE 802.15.4 is 127 bytes.

6LoWPAN defined an adaptation layer to support IPv6 over IEEE 802.15.4 networks. The adaptation layer includes a fragmentation mechanism, since IPv6 requires the layer below to support an MTU of 1280 bytes [RFC2460], while IEEE 802.15.4 lacked fragmentation mechanisms. 6LoWPAN defines an IEEE 802.15.4 link MTU of 1280 bytes [RFC4944]. Other technologies, such as Bluetooth LE [RFC7668], ITU-T G.9959 [RFC7428] or DECT-ULE [I-D.ietf-6lo-dect-ule], also use 6LoWPAN-based adaptation layers in order to enable IPv6 support. These technologies do support link layer fragmentation. By exploiting this functionality, the adaptation layers that enable IPv6 over such technologies also define an MTU of 1280 bytes.

For devices using technologies with a link MTU of 1280 bytes (e.g. defined by a 6LoWPAN-based adaptation layer), in order to avoid IP layer fragmentation, the TCP MSS must not be set to a value greater than 1220 bytes in CNNs. (Note: IP version 6 is assumed.) In any case, the TCP MSS must not be set to a value leading to an IPv6 datagram size exceeding 1280 bytes.

If a link layer technology used by a constrained device offers a link layer MTU greater than 1280 bytes, it is still useful to set the MSS so that IPv6 datagram size does not exceed 1280 bytes, in order to avoid issues due to Internet links that do not support greater MTUs.

4.3. Window Size

This document recommends that constrained devices advertise a TCP window size of one MSS, and also transmit at most one MSS of unacknowledged data. This value for receive and send window is appropriate for simple message exchanges in the CNN space, reduces implementation complexity and memory requirements, and reduces overhead (see section 4.7).

A TCP window size of one MSS follows the same rationale as the default setting for NSTART in [RFC7252], leading to equivalent operation when CoAP is used over TCP.

For devices that can afford greater TCP window size, it may be useful to use window sizes of at least five MSSs, in order to allow Fast Retransmit and Fast Recovery [RFC5681].

4.4. RTO estimation

Traditionally, TCP has used the well known RTO estimation algorithm defined in [RFC6298]. However, experimental studies have shown that another algorithm such as the RTO estimator defined in [I-D.ietf-core-cocoa] (hereinafter, CoCoA RTO) outperforms state-of-art algorithms designed as improvements to RFC 6298 for TCP, in terms of packet delivery ratio, settling time after a burst of messages, and fairness (the latter is specially relevant in multihop networks connected to the Internet through a single device, such as a 6LoWPAN Border Router (6LBR) configured as a RPL root) [Commag]. In fact, CoCoA RTO has been designed specifically considering the challenges of CNNs, in contrast with the RFC 6298 RTO.

TBD: devise approaches for use of CoCoA for TCP by constrained devices, as currently its use would conflict with several TCP MUSTs (RFC 6298, Karn algorithm, etc.). If the unconstrained device is dedicated for communication with constrained devices, CoCoA would be suitable as well.

4.5. TCP connection lifetime

4.5.1. Long TCP connection lifetime

In CNNs, in order to minimize message overhead, a TCP connection should be kept open as long as the two TCP endpoints have more data to exchange or it is envisaged that further segment exchanges will take place within an interval of two hours since the last segment has been sent. A greater interval may be used in scenarios where applications exchange data infrequently.

TCP keep-alive messages [RFC1122] may be supported by a server, to check whether a TCP connection is active, in order to release state of inactive connections. This may be useful for servers running on memory-constrained devices.

Since the keep-alive timer may not be set to a value lower than two hours [RFC1122], TCP keep-alive messages are not useful to guarantee that filter state records in middleboxes such as firewalls will not be deleted after an inactivity interval typically in the order of a few minutes [RFC6092]. In scenarios where such middleboxes are present, alternative measures to avoid early deletion of filter state records (which might lead to frequent establishment of new TCP connections between the two involved endpoints) include increasing the initial value for the filter state inactivity timers (if possible), and using application layer heartbeat messages.

4.5.2. Short TCP connection lifetime

A different approach to addressing the problem of traversing middleboxes that perform early filter state record deletion relies on using TCP Fast Open (TFO) [RFC7413]. In this case, instead of trying to maintain a TCP connection for long time, possibly short-lived connections can be opened between two endpoints while incurring low overhead. In fact, TFO allows data to be carried in SYN (and SYN-ACK) packets, and to be consumed immediately by the receceiving endpoint, thus reducing overhead compared with the traditional three-way handshake required to establish a TCP connection.

For security reasons, TFO requires the TCP endpoint that will open the TCP connection (which in CNNs will typically be the constrained device) to request a cookie from the other endpoint. The cookie, with a size of 4 or 16 bytes, is then included in SYN packets of subsequent connections. The cookie needs to be refreshed (and obtained by the client) after a certain amount of time. Nevertheless, TFO is more efficient than frequently opening new TCP connections (by using the traditional three-way handshake) for transmitting new data, as long as the cookie update rate is well below the data new connection rate.

4.6. Explicit congestion notification

Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) [RFC3168] may be used in CNNs. ECN allows a router to signal in the IP header of a packet that congestion is arising, for example when queue size reaches a certain threshold. If such a packet encapsulates a TCP data packet, an ECN-enabled TCP receiver will echo back the congestion signal to the TCP sender by setting a flag in its next TCP ACK. The sender triggers congestion control measures as if a packet loss had happened. In that case, when the congestion window of a TCP sender has a size of one segment, the TCP sender resets the retransmit timer, and will only be able to send a new packet when the retransmit timer expires [RFC3168]. Effectively, the TCP sender reduces at that moment its sending rate from 1 segment per Round Trip Time (RTT) to 1 segment per default RTO.

ECN can reduce packet losses, since congestion control measures can be applied earlier than after the reception of three duplicate ACKs (if the TCP sender window is large enough) or upon TCP sender RTO expiration [RFC2884]. Therefore, the number of retries decreases, which is particularly beneficial in CNNs, where energy and bandwidth resources are typically limited. Furthermore, latency and jitter are also reduced.

ECN is particularly appropriate in CNNs, since in these environments transactional type interactions are a dominant traffic pattern. As transactional data size decreases, the probability of detecting congestion by the presence of three duplicate ACKs decreases. In contrast, ECN can still activate congestion control measures without requiring three duplicate ACKs.

4.7. TCP options

A TCP implementation needs to support options 0, 1 and 2 [RFC793]. A TCP implementation for a constrained device that uses a single-MSS TCP receive or transmit window size will benefit from not supporting, and ignoring if received, the following TCP options: Window scale [RFC1323], TCP Timestamps [RFC1323], Selective Acknowledgements (SACK) and SACK-Permitted [RFC2018]. Other TCP options SHOULD NOT be used, in keeping with the principle of lightweight operation.

Other TCP options should not be supported by a constrained device, in keeping with the principle of lightweight implementation and operation.

If a device, with less severe memory and processing constraints, can afford advertising a TCP window size of several MSSs, it may support the SACK option to improve performance. SACK allows a data receiver to inform the data sender of non-contiguous data blocks received, thus a sender (having previously sent the SACK-Permitted option) can avoid performing unnecessary retransmissions, saving energy and bandwidth, as well as reducing latency. The receiver supporting SACK will need to manage the reception of possible out-of-order received segments, requiring sufficient buffer space.

SACK adds 8*n+2 bytes to the TCP header, where n denotes the number of data blocks received, up to 4 blocks. For a low number of out-of- order segments, the header overhead penalty of SACK is compensated by avoiding unnecessary retransmissions.

4.8. Delayed Acknowledgments

A device that advertises a single-MSS receive window needs to avoid use of delayed ACKs in order to avoid contributing unnecessary delay (of up to 500 ms) to the RTT [RFC5681].

Since traffic over CNNs is expected to be mostly of transactional type, with transaction size typically below one MSS, delayed ACKs are not recommended for TCP over CNNs. (Note: delayed ACKs could be useful to reduce the number of ACKs in bulk transfer type of traffic, e.g. for firmware/software updates; however, it is assumed that these will be infrequent in comparison with transactional type exchanges.)

4.9. Explicit loss notifications

There has been a significant body of research on solutions capable of explicitly indicating whether a TCP segment loss is due to corruption, in order to avoid activation of congestion control mechanisms [ETEN] [RFC2757]. While such solutions may provide significant improvement, they have not been widely deployed and remain as experimental work. In fact, as of today, the IETF has not standardized any such solution.

5. Security Considerations

If TFO is used, the security considerations of RFC 7413 apply.

6. Acknowledgments

Carles Gomez has been funded in part by the Spanish Government (Ministerio de Educacion, Cultura y Deporte) through the Jose Castillejo grant CAS15/00336. Part of his contribution to this work has been carried out during his stay as a visiting scholar at the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.

The authors appreciate the feedback received for this document. The following folks provided comments that helped improve the document: Carsten Bormann, Zhen Cao, Wei Genyu, Michael Scharf, Ari Keranen, Abhijan Bhattacharyya, Andres Arcia-Moret, Yoshifumi Nishida, Joe Touch, Fred Baker, Nik Sultana, Simon Brummer.

7. Annex. TCP implementations for constrained devices

This section overviews the main features of TCP implementations for constrained devices.

7.1. uIP

uIP is a TCP/IP stack, targetted for 8 and 16-bit microcontrollers. uIP has been deployed with Contiki and the Arduino Ethernet shield. A code size of ~5 kB (which comprises checksumming, IP, ICMP and TCP) has been reported for uIP [Dunk].

uIP provides a global buffer for incoming packets, of single-packet size. A buffer for outgoing data is not provided. In case of a retransmission, an application must be able to reproduce the same packet that had been transmitted.

The MSS is announced via the MSS option on connection establishment and the receive window size (of one MSS) is not modified during a connection. Stop-and-wait operation is used for sending data. Among other optimizations, this allows to avoid sliding window operations, which use 32-bit arithmetic extensively and are expensive on 8-bit CPUs.

7.2. lwIP

lwIP is a TCP/IP stack, targetted for 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers. lwIP has a total code size of ~14 kB to ~22 kB (which comprises memory management, checksumming, network interfaces, IP, ICMP and TCP), and a TCP code size of ~9 kB to ~14 kB [Dunk].

In contrast with uIP, lwIP decouples applications from the network stack. lwIP supports a TCP transmission window greater than a single segment, as well as buffering of incoming and outcoming data. Other implemented mechanisms comprise slow start, congestion avoidance, fast retransmit and fast recovery. SACK and Window Scale are not implemented.

7.3. RIOT


8. References

8.1. Normative References

[RFC1122] Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Communication Layers", STD 3, RFC 1122, DOI 10.17487/RFC1122, October 1989.
[RFC1323] Jacobson, V., Braden, R. and D. Borman, "TCP Extensions for High Performance", RFC 1323, DOI 10.17487/RFC1323, May 1992.
[RFC2018] Mathis, M., Mahdavi, J., Floyd, S. and A. Romanow, "TCP Selective Acknowledgment Options", RFC 2018, DOI 10.17487/RFC2018, October 1996.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997.
[RFC2460] Deering, S. and R. Hinden, "Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) Specification", RFC 2460, DOI 10.17487/RFC2460, December 1998.
[RFC2616] Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter, L., Leach, P. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, DOI 10.17487/RFC2616, June 1999.
[RFC2757] Montenegro, G., Dawkins, S., Kojo, M., Magret, V. and N. Vaidya, "Long Thin Networks", RFC 2757, DOI 10.17487/RFC2757, January 2000.
[RFC2884] Hadi Salim, J. and U. Ahmed, "Performance Evaluation of Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) in IP Networks", RFC 2884, DOI 10.17487/RFC2884, July 2000.
[RFC3168] Ramakrishnan, K., Floyd, S. and D. Black, "The Addition of Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) to IP", RFC 3168, DOI 10.17487/RFC3168, September 2001.
[RFC4944] Montenegro, G., Kushalnagar, N., Hui, J. and D. Culler, "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over IEEE 802.15.4 Networks", RFC 4944, DOI 10.17487/RFC4944, September 2007.
[RFC5681] Allman, M., Paxson, V. and E. Blanton, "TCP Congestion Control", RFC 5681, DOI 10.17487/RFC5681, September 2009.
[RFC6092] Woodyatt, J., "Recommended Simple Security Capabilities in Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) for Providing Residential IPv6 Internet Service", RFC 6092, DOI 10.17487/RFC6092, January 2011.
[RFC6298] Paxson, V., Allman, M., Chu, J. and M. Sargent, "Computing TCP's Retransmission Timer", RFC 6298, DOI 10.17487/RFC6298, June 2011.
[RFC6606] Kim, E., Kaspar, D., Gomez, C. and C. Bormann, "Problem Statement and Requirements for IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Network (6LoWPAN) Routing", RFC 6606, DOI 10.17487/RFC6606, May 2012.
[RFC7228] Bormann, C., Ersue, M. and A. Keranen, "Terminology for Constrained-Node Networks", RFC 7228, DOI 10.17487/RFC7228, May 2014.
[RFC7252] Shelby, Z., Hartke, K. and C. Bormann, "The Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)", RFC 7252, DOI 10.17487/RFC7252, June 2014.
[RFC7413] Cheng, Y., Chu, J., Radhakrishnan, S. and A. Jain, "TCP Fast Open", RFC 7413, DOI 10.17487/RFC7413, December 2014.
[RFC7428] Brandt, A. and J. Buron, "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over ITU-T G.9959 Networks", RFC 7428, DOI 10.17487/RFC7428, February 2015.
[RFC7540] Belshe, M., Peon, R. and M. Thomson, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol Version 2 (HTTP/2)", RFC 7540, DOI 10.17487/RFC7540, May 2015.
[RFC7668] Nieminen, J., Savolainen, T., Isomaki, M., Patil, B., Shelby, Z. and C. Gomez, "IPv6 over BLUETOOTH(R) Low Energy", RFC 7668, DOI 10.17487/RFC7668, October 2015.

8.2. Informative References

[Commag] A. Betzler, C. Gomez, I. Demirkol, J. Paradells, "CoAP Congestion Control for the Internet of Things", IEEE Communications Magazine, June 2016.
[Dunk] A. Dunkels, "Full TCP/IP for 8-Bit Architectures", 2003.
[ETEN] R. Krishnan et al, "Explicit transport error notification (ETEN) for error-prone wireless and satellite networks", Computer Networks 2004.
[I-D.ietf-6lo-dect-ule] Mariager, P., Petersen, J., Shelby, Z., Logt, M. and D. Barthel, "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over DECT Ultra Low Energy", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-6lo-dect-ule-07, October 2016.
[I-D.ietf-core-cocoa] Bormann, C., Betzler, A., Gomez, C. and I. Demirkol, "CoAP Simple Congestion Control/Advanced", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-core-cocoa-00, October 2016.
[I-D.ietf-lwig-energy-efficient] Gomez, C., Kovatsch, M., Tian, H. and Z. Cao, "Energy-Efficient Features of Internet of Things Protocols", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-lwig-energy-efficient-05, October 2016.
[I-D.tschofenig-core-coap-tcp-tls] Bormann, C., Lemay, S., Technologies, Z. and H. Tschofenig, "A TCP and TLS Transport for the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)", Internet-Draft draft-tschofenig-core-coap-tcp-tls-05, November 2015.
[MQTTS] U. Hunkeler, H.-L. Truong, A. Stanford-Clark, "MQTT-S: A Publish/Subscribe Protocol For Wireless Sensor Networks", 2008.

Authors' Addresses

Carles Gomez UPC/i2CAT C/Esteve Terradas, 7 Castelldefels, 08860 Spain EMail: carlesgo@entel.upc.edu
Jon Crowcroft University of Cambridge JJ Thomson Avenue Cambridge, CB3 0FD United Kingdom EMail: jon.crowcroft@cl.cam.ac.uk