Network Working Group                                      J.  Mogul
Request For Comments: 1063                                   C. Kent
                                                        C. Partridge
                                                       K. McCloghrie
                                                           July 1988

                        IP MTU Discovery Options


   A pair of IP options that can be used to learn the minimum MTU of a
   path through an internet is described, along with its possible uses.
   This is a proposal for an Experimental protocol.  Distribution of
   this memo is unlimited.


   Although the Internet Protocol allows gateways to fragment packets
   that are too large to forward, fragmentation is not always desirable.
   It can lead to poor performance or even total communication failure
   in circumstances that are surprisingly common.  (For a thorough
   discussion of this issue, see [1]).

   A datagram will be fragmented if it is larger than the Maximum
   Transmission Unit (MTU) of some network along the path it follows.
   In order to avoid fragmentation, a host sending an IP datagram must
   ensure that the datagram is no larger than the Minimum MTU (MINMTU)
   over the entire path.

   It has long been recognized that the methods for discovering the
   MINMTU of an IP internetwork path are inadequate.  The methods
   currently available fall into two categories: (1) choosing small MTUs
   to avoid fragmentation or (2) using additional probe packets to
   discover when fragmentation will occur.  Both methods have problems.

   Choosing MTUs requires a balance between network utilization (which
   requires the use of the largest possible datagram) and fragmentation
   avoidance (which in the absence of knowledge about the network path
   encourages the use of small, and thus too many, datagrams).  Any
   choice for the MTU size, without information from the network, is
   likely to either fail to properly utilize the network or fail to
   avoid fragmentation.

   Probe packets have the problem of burdening the network with

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RFC 1063                IP MTU Discovery Options               July 1988

   unnecessary packets.  And because network paths often change during
   the lifetime of a TCP connection, probe packets will have to be sent
   on a regular basis to detect any changes in the effective MINMTU.

   Implementors sometimes mistake the TCP MSS option as a mechanism for
   learning the network MINMTU.  In fact, the MSS option is only a
   mechanism for learning about buffering capabilities at the two TCP
   peers.  Separate provisions must be made to learn the IP MINMTU.

   In this memo, we propose two new IP options that, when used in
   conjunction will permit two peers to determine the MINMTU of the
   paths between them.  In this scheme, one option is used to determine
   the lowest MTU in a path; the second option is used to convey this
   MTU back to the sender (possibly in the IP datagram containing the
   transport acknowledgement to the datagram which contained the MTU
   discovery option).


   Probe MTU Option (Number 11)


              |00001011|00000100|   2 octet value |


      This option always contains the lowest MTU of all the networks
      that have been traversed so far by the datagram.

      A host that sends this option must initialize the value field to
      be the MTU of the directly-connected network.  If the host is
      multi-homed, this should be for the first-hop network.

      Each gateway that receives a datagram containing this option must
      compare the MTU field with the MTUs of the inbound and outbound
      links for the datagram.  If either MTU is lower than the value in
      the MTU field of the option, the option value should be set to the
      lower MTU.  (Note that gateways conforming to RFC-1009 may not
      know either the inbound interface or the outbound interface at the
      time that IP options are processed.  Accordingly, support for this
      option may require major gateway software changes).

      Any host receiving a datagram containing this option should
      confirm that value of the MTU field of the option is less than or
      equal to that of the inbound link, and if necessary, reduce the

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      MTU field value, before processing the option.

      If the receiving host is not able to accept datagrams as large as
      specified by the value of the MTU field of the option, then it
      should reduce the MTU field to the size of the largest datagram it
      can accept.

   Reply MTU Option (Number 12)


              |00001100|00000100|   2 octet value |


      This option is used to return the value learned from a Probe MTU
      option to the sender of the Probe MTU option.


   Note that there are two superficially similar problems in choosing
   the size of a datagram.  First, there is the restriction [2] that a
   host not send a datagram larger than 576 octets unless it has
   assurance that the destination is prepared to accept a larger
   datagram.  Second, the sending host should not send a datagram larger
   than MINMTU, in order to avoid fragmentation.  The datagram size
   should normally be the minimum of these two lower bounds.

   In the past, the TCP MSS option [3] has been used to avoid sending
   packets larger than the destination can accept.  Unfortunately, this
   is not the most general mechanism; it is not available to other
   transport layers, and it cannot determine the MINMTU (because
   gateways do not parse TCP options).

   Because the MINMTU returned by a probe cannot be larger than the
   maximum datagram size that the destination can accept, this IP option
   could, in theory, supplant the use of the TCP MSS option, providing
   an economy of mechanism.  (Note however, that some researchers
   believe that the value of the TCP MSS is distinct from the path's
   MINMTU.  The MSS is the upper limit of the data size that the peer
   will accept, while the MINMTU represents a statement about the data
   size supported by the path).

   Note that a failure to observe the MINMTU restriction is not normally
   fatal; fragmentation will occur, but this is supposed to work.  A
   failure to observe the TCP MSS option, however, could be fatal

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RFC 1063                IP MTU Discovery Options               July 1988

   because it might lead to datagrams that can never be accepted by the
   destination.  Therefore, unless and until the Probe MTU option is
   universally implemented, at least by hosts, the TCP MSS option must
   be used as well.


   Who Sends the Option

      There are at least two ways to implement the MTU discovery scheme.
      One method makes the transport layer responsible for MTU
      discovery; the other method makes the IP layer responsible for MTU
      discovery.  A host system should support one of the two schemes.

   Transport Discovery

      In the transport case, the transport layer can include the Probe
      MTU option in an outbound datagram.  When a datagram containing
      the Probe MTU option is received, the option must be passed up to
      the receiving transport layer, which should then acknowledge the
      Probe with a Reply MTU option in the next return datagram.  Note
      that because the options are placed on unreliable datagrams, the
      original sender will have to resend Probes (possibly once per
      window of data) until it receives a Reply option.  Also note that
      the Reply MTU option may be returned on an IP datagram for a
      different transport protocol from which it was sent (e.g., TCP
      generated the probe but the Reply was received on a UDP datagram).

   IP Discovery

      A better scheme is to put MTU discovery into the IP layer, using
      control mechanisms in the routing cache.  Whenever an IP datagram
      is sent, the IP layer checks in the routing cache to see if a
      Probe or Reply MTU option needs to be inserted in the datagram.
      Whenever a datagram containing either option is received, the
      information in those options is placed in the routing cache.

      The basic working of the protocol is somewhat complex.  We trace
      it here through one round-trip.  Implementors should realize that
      there may be cases where both options are contained in one
      datagram.  For the purposes of this exposition, the sender of the
      probe is called the Probe-Sender and the receiver, Probe-Receiver.

      When the IP layer is asked to send a Probe MTU option (see the
      section below on when to probe), it makes some record in the
      routing cache that indicates the next IP datagram to Probe-
      Receiver should contain the Probe MTU option.

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      When the next IP datagram to Probe-Receiver is sent, the Probe MTU
      option is inserted.  The IP layer in Probe-Sender should continue
      to send an occasional Probe MTU in subsequent datagrams until a
      Reply MTU option is received.  It is strongly recommended that the
      Probe MTU not be sent in all datagrams but only at such a rate
      that, on average, one Probe MTU will be sent per round-trip
      interval.  (Another way of saying this is that we would hope that
      only one datagram in a transport protocol window worth of data has
      the Probe MTU option set).  This mechanism might be implemented by
      sending every Nth packet, or, in those implementations where the
      round-trip time estimate to the destination is cached with the
      route, once every estimated RTT.

      When a Probe MTU option is received by Probe-Receiver, the
      receiving IP should place the value of this option in the next
      datagram it sends back to Probe-Sender.  The value is then
      discarded.  In other words, each Probe MTU option causes the Reply
      MTU option to be placed in one return datagram.

      When Probe-Sender receives the Reply MTU option, it should check
      the value of the option against the current MINMTU estimate in the
      routing cache.  If the option value is lower, it becomes the new
      MINMTU estimate.  If the option value is higher, Probe-Sender
      should be more conservative about changing the MINMTU estimate.
      If a route is flapping, the MINMTU may change frequently.  In such
      situations, keeping the smallest MINMTU of various routes in use
      is preferred.  As a result, a higher MINMTU estimate should only
      be accepted after a lower estimate has been permitted to "age" a
      bit.  In other words, if the probe value is higher than the
      estimated MINMTU, only update the estimate if the estimate is
      several seconds old or more.  Finally, whenever the Probe-Sender
      receives a Reply MTU option, it should stop retransmitting probes
      to Probe-Receiver.

      A few additional issues complicate this discussion.

      One problem is setting the default MINMTU when no Reply MTU
      options have been received.  We recommend the use of the minimum
      of the supported IP datagram size (576 octets) and the connected
      network MTU for destinations not on the local connected network,
      and the connected network MTU for hosts on the connected network.

      The MINMTU information, while kept by the Internet layer, is in
      fact, only of interest to the transport and higher layers.
      Accordingly, the Internet layer must keep the transport layer
      informed of the current value of the estimated MINMTU.
      Furthermore, minimal transport protocols, such as UDP, must be
      prepared to pass this information up to the transport protocol

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      It is expected that there will be a transition period during which
      some hosts support this option and some do not.  As a result,
      hosts should stop sending Probe MTU options and refuse to send any
      further options if it does not receive either a Probe MTU option
      or Reply MTU option from the remote system after a certain number
      of Probe MTU options have been sent.  In short, if Probe-Sender
      has sent several probes but has gotten no indication that Probe-
      Receiver supports MTU probing, then Probe-Sender should assume
      that Probe-Receiver does not support probes.  (Obviously, if
      Probe-Sender later receives a probe option from Probe-Receiver, it
      should revise its opinion.)

      Implementations should not assume that routes to the same
      destination that have a different TOS have the same estimated
      MINMTU.  We recommend that the MTU be probed separately for each

   Respecting the TCP MSS

      One issue concerning TCP MSS is that it is usually negotiated
      assuming an IP header that contains no options.  If the transport
      layer is sending maximum size segments, it may not leave space for
      IP to fit the options into the datagram.  Thus, insertion of the
      Probe MTU or Reply MTU option may violate the MSS restriction.
      Because, unlike other IP options, the MTU options can be inserted
      without the knowledge of the transport layer, the implementor must
      carefully consider the implications of adding options to an IP

      One approach is to reserve 4 bytes from the MINMTU reported to the
      transport layer; this will allow the IP layer to insert at least
      one MTU option in every datagram (it can compare the size of the
      outgoing datagram with the MINMTU stored in the route cache to see
      how much room there actually is).  This is simple to implement,
      but does waste a little bandwidth in the normal case.

      Another approach is to provide a means for the IP layer to notify
      the transport layer that space must be reserved for sending an
      option; the transport layer would then make a forthcoming segment
      somewhat smaller than usual.

   When a Probe Can Be Sent

      A system that receives a Probe MTU option should always respond
      with a Reply MTU option, unless the probe was sent to an IP or LAN
      broadcast address.

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RFC 1063                IP MTU Discovery Options               July 1988

      A Probe MTU option should be sent in any of the following

         (1) The MINMTU for the path is not yet known;

         (2) A received datagram suffers a fragmentation re-assembly
             timeout. (This is a strong hint the path has changed;
             send a probe to the datagram's source);

         (3) An ICMP Time Exceeded/Fragmentation Reassembly Timeout is
             received (this is the only message we will get that
             indicates fragmentation occurred along the network path);

         (4) The transport layer requests it.

      Implementations may also wish to periodically probe a path, even
      if there is no indication that fragmentation is occurring.  This
      practice is perfectly reasonable; if fragmentation and reassembly
      is working perfectly, the sender may never get any indication that
      the path MINMTU has changed unless a probe is sent.  We recommend,
      however, that implementations send such periodic probes sparingly.
      Once every few minutes, or once every few hundred datagrams is
      probably sufficient.

      There are also some scenarios in which the Probe MTU should not be
      sent, even though there may be some indication of an MINMTU

         (1) Probes should not be sent in response to the receipt of
             a probe option.  Although the fact that the remote peer
             is probing indicates that the MINMTU may have changed,
             sending a probe in response to a probe causes a continuous
             exchange of probe options.

         (2) Probes must not be sent in response to fragmented
             datagrams except when the fragmentation reassembly
             of the datagram fails.  The problem in this case is
             that the receiver has no mechanism for informing the remote
             peer that fragmentation has occurred, unless fragmentation
             reassembly fails (in which case an ICMP message is sent).
             Thus, a peer may use the wrong MTU for some time before
             discovering a problem.  If we probe on fragmented
             datagrams, we may probe, unnecessarily, for some time
             until the remote peer corrects its MTU.

         (3) For compatibility with hosts that do not implement the
             option, no Probe MTU Option should be sent more than
             ten times without receiving a Reply MTU Option or a

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             Probe MTU Option from the remote peer.  Peers which
             ignore probes and do not send probes must be treated
             as not supporting probes.

         (4) Probes should not be sent to an IP or LAN broadcast

         (5) We recommend that Probe MTUs not be sent to other hosts
             on the directly-connected network, but that this feature
             be configurable.  There are situations (for example, when
             Proxy ARP is in use) where it may be difficult to determine
             which systems are on the directly-connected network.  In
             this case, probing may make sense.


   We present here a somewhat more concrete description of how an IP-
   layer implementation of MTU probing might be designed.

   First, the routing cache entries are enhanced to store seven
   additional values:

      MINMTU: The current MINMTU of the path.

      ProbeRetry: A timestamp indicating when the next probe
                  should be sent.

      LastDecreased: A timestamp showing when the MTU was
                     last decreased.

      ProbeReply: A bit indicating a Reply MTU option should be

      ReplyMTU: The value to go in the Reply MTU option.

      SupportsProbes: A bit indicating that the remote peer
                      can deal with probes (always defaults to

      ConsecutiveProbes: The number of probes sent without
                         the receipt of a Probe MTU or Reply
                         MTU option.

   There are also several configuration parameters; these should be
   configurable by appropriate network management software; the values
   we suggest are "reasonable":

      Default_MINMTU: The default value for the MINMTU field of the

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                      routing cache entry, to be used when the real
                      MINMTU is unknown.  Recommended value: 576.

      Max_ConsecutiveProbs: The maximum number of probes to send
                            before assuming that the destination does
                            not support the probe option.
                            Recommended value: 10.

      ProbeRetryTime: The time (in seconds) to wait before retrying
                      an unanswered probe.  Recommended value:
                      60 seconds, or 2*RTT if the the RTT is available
                      to the IP layer.

      ReprobeInterval: The time to wait before sending a probe after
                       receiving a successful Reply MTU, in order to
                       detect increases in the route's MINMTU.
                       Recommended value: 5 times the ProbeRetryTime.

      IncreaseInterval: The time to wait before increasing the MINMTU
                        after the value has been decreased, to prevent
                        flapping.  Recommended value: same as

   When a new route is entered into the routing cache, the initial
   values should be set as follows:

      MINMTU = Default_MINMTU

      ProbeRetry = Current Time

      LastDecreased = Current Time - IncreaseInterval

      ProbeReply = false

      SupportsProbes = true

      ConsecutiveProbes = 0

   This initialization is done before attempting to send the first
   packet along this route, so that the first packet will contain a
   Probe MTU option.

   Whenever the IP layer sends a datagram on this route it checks the
   SupportsProbes bit to see if the remote system supports probing.  If
   the SupportsProbes bit is set, and the timestamp in ProbeRetry is
   less than or equal to the current time, a Probe option should be sent
   in the datagram, and the ProbeRetry field incremented by

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RFC 1063                IP MTU Discovery Options               July 1988

   Whether or not the Probe MTU option is sent in a datagram, if the
   ProbeReply bit is set, then a Reply MTU option with the value of the
   ReplyMTU field is placed in the outbound datagram.  The ProbeReply
   bit is then cleared.

   Every time a Probe option is sent, the ConsecutiveProbes value should
   be incremented.  If this value reaches Max_ConsecutiveProbes, the
   SupportsProbe bit should be cleared.

   When an IP datagram containing the Probe MTU option is received, the
   receiving IP sets the ReplyMTU to the Probe MTU option value and sets
   the ProbeReply bit in its outbound route to the source of the
   datagram.  The SupportsProbe bit is set, and the ConsecutiveProbes
   value is reset to 0.

   If an IP datagram containing the Reply MTU option is received, the IP
   layer must locate the routing cache entry corresponding to the source
   of the Reply MTU option; if no such entry exists, a new one (with
   default values) should be created.  The SupportsProbe bit is set, and
   the ConsecutiveProbes value is reset to 0.  The ProbeRetry field is
   set to the current time plus ReprobeInterval.

   Four cases are possible when a Reply MTU option is received:

      (1) The Reply MTU option value is less than the current
          MINMTU: the MINMTU field is set to the new value, and
          the LastDecreased field is set to the current time.

      (2) The Reply MTU option value is greater than the
          current MINMTU and the LastDecreased field plus
          IncreaseInterval is less than the current time: set the
          ProbeRetry field to LastDecreased plus IncreaseInterval,
          but do not change MINMTU.

      (3) The Reply MTU option value is greater than the
          current MINMTU and the LastDecreased field plus
          IncreaseInterval is greater than the current time: set
          the MINMTU field to the new value.

      (4) The Reply MTU option value is equal to the current
          MINMTU: do nothing more.

   Whenever the MTU field is changed, the transport layer should be
   notified, either by an upcall or by a change in a shared variable
   (which may be accessed from the transport layer by a downcall).

   If a fragmentation reassembly timeout occurs, if an ICMP Time
   Exceeded/Fragmentation Reassembly Timeout is received, or if the IP

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RFC 1063                IP MTU Discovery Options               July 1988

   layer is asked to send a probe by a higher layer, the ProbeRetry
   field for the appropriate routing cache entry is set to the current
   time.  This will cause a Probe option to be sent with the next
   datagram (unless the SupportsProbe bit is turned off).


   We suggest that the following parameters be made available to local
   applications and remote network management systems:

      (1) The number of probe retries to be made before determining
          a system is down.  The value of 10 is certain to be wrong
          in some situations.

      (2) The frequency with which probes are sent.  Systems may
          find that more or less frequent probing is more cost

      (3) The default MINMTU used to initialize routes.

      (4) Applications should have the ability to force a probe
          on a particular route.  There are cases where a probe
          needs to be sent but the sender doesn't know it.  An
          operator must be able to cause a probe in such situations.
          Furthermore, it may be useful for applications to "ping"
          for the MTU.


   [1]  Kent, C. and J. Mogul, "Fragmentation Considered
        Harmful", Proc. ACM SIGCOMM '87, Stowe, VT, August 1987.

   [2]  Postel, J., Ed., "Internet Protocol", RFC-791,
        USC/Information Sciences Institute, Marina del Rey, CA,
        September 1981.

   [3]  Postel, J., Ed., "Transmission Control Protocol", RFC-793,
        USC/Information Sciences Institute, Marina del Rey, CA,
        September 1981.

   [4]  Postel, J., "The TCP Maximum Segment Size and Related Topics",
        RFC-879, USC/Information Sciences Institute, Marina del Rey,
        CA, November 1983.

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