Issues in Buffer Management

                  Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.

                          Eric C. Rosen

                            May 1980

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                                                    Eric C. Rosen

                        Table of Contents

1   Introduction.......................................... 1
2   Overview.............................................. 2
3   General Considerations of Buffer Management........... 3
4   Buffer Management  with  an  Ample  Supply  of
    Buffers............................................... 9
4.1   Buffering for Output............................... 16
4.2   Buffering for Input................................ 18
4.3   Buffering for Generating Control Messages.......... 28
4.4   Buffering Data at the Source Node.................. 29
5   Buffer Management with a Shortage  of  Buffers
  (ARPANET).............................................. 32


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                                                    Eric C. Rosen

1  Introduction

        This note is an abridged  extract  from  BBN  Report  No.

4473,  "ARPANET  Routing  Algorithm  Improvements,  Volume 1", by

Rosen et al.  It discusses the issues of buffer management in the

switches  which  implement  a network and is based on experiences

gained during the evolution of the ARPANET.

        Since the Internet is itself  a  network,  and  hosts  or

gateways  implementing  TCP, IP, and other protocols have similar

buffer management design  decisions,  this  IEN  is  intended  to

distill  some  of  the ARPANET issues and present them to a wider

audience currently grappling with some of the same problems.

        The original report is quite large (500 pages).  This  is

the first of several such extracts we plan to produce to serve as

background for the internet project work.  The report  was  first

published in August 1980.

        Some of the  terminology  used  may  cause  confusion  if

associated  with  internet  work, for example "reassembly".  This

note discusses mechanisms purely internal to the  ARPANET,  which

itself  has  many  similarities to internet and TCP mechanisms in

internet hosts.  The ARPANET IMPs use retransmission, ACKS,  flow

control/windowing,  fragmentation  and  reassembly,  out-of-order

sequencing, and other mechanisms  which  create  a  serial  byte-


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stream service based on a datagram network, much as TCP does.

        The issues to be discussed in these notes  are  at  least

partially applicable to the internet mechanisms, including TCP in

hosts, as well as IP in  gateways,  since  those  mechanisms  are

functionally  similar  in  the  services  they  are  intended  to

implement.   We  propose  no  solutions  here,  such  as   buffer

mechanisms  for TCP implementations, but rather intend to explore

the issues which motivated the IMP implementation in the ARPANET,

to  help  TCP and internet implementors in their similar tasks of

creating an Internet.

        Anyone interested in seeing how the issues raised in this

discussion can be applied to the ARPANET will want to see Chapter

7 of BBN Report No. 4088, as well as Chapter 1.5  of  BBN  Report

No.  4473,  which  are  not  included in this excerpt.  Copies of

those reports are available from the author.

2  Overview

     We will begin by considering, in general, the function of  a

buffer  management scheme in a packet-switching network.  We will

discuss the way in which such a procedure might be designed in an

"ideal"  network,  where there is an ample supply of buffers.  We

will see that, no matter how  many  buffers  there  are,  careful


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buffer management is essential to good performance.  We will then

discuss the way in which procedures designed for an ideal network

need  to  be  modified  for  a network (like the ARPANET and most

other networks) in which  buffer  space  is  a  scarce  resource.

Finally,  we  will  compare the current ARPANET buffer management

procedures to the  procedures  we  develop,  and  will  recommend

changes to the former.

3  General Considerations of Buffer Management

        A network node must execute many different functions  for

which it requires buffers.  Among these functions are:

     1)  Transmitting  packets  on  the  various  output  devices

         (inter-node  trunks or host access lines).  Packets must

         be buffered while queuing for these  devices,  while  in

         transmission  on  these  devices,  and (sometimes) while

         awaiting acknowledgment from the node  or  host  on  the

         other side of the device.

     2)  Receiving packets from the various input devices.

     3)  Reassembling messages so they can be transmitted to  the

         destination host.

     4)  Processing packets.  Packets must be buffered while  the


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         CPU  is  processing  them,  and  they may have to occupy

         buffers while queuing for a busy processor.

     5)  Creating protocol or control messages.  The  IMPs  often

         need to create control messages in order to run the many

         protocols necessary for proper network operation.

It should be clear that, no matter how many buffers  exist  in  a

node,  a  "laissez-faire"  approach  to  buffer management cannot

possibly succeed.   In  a  laissez-faire  approach,  buffers  are

allocated  to  the  various  processes that need them on a first-

come, first-serve basis.  Any process, at any  time,  can  obtain

any number of buffers that are available at that time.  No import

is given to considerations of  fairness  or  of  overall  network

performance.   Therefore, a laissez-faire scheme will be prone to

lock-up.  Suppose, for example, that the output processes in some

node have taken all the buffers.  Then no input can be done.  If,

as is often the case, the  output  processes  cannot  free  their

buffers until an acknowledgment is received from some other node,

and if acknowledgments cannot be received because no buffers  are

available  for  input,  then there is a deadlock, and the buffers

will never be freed.  It is important  to  understand  that  this

sort of deadlock is not caused by a SHORTAGE of buffer space.  No

matter how much buffer space is available, it is always possible,

for  example,  that  the  network will try to utilize some output


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device at a higher capacity than it is capable of handling.  With

a  laissez-faire approach to buffer management, there is no bound

on the number of buffers which may end up holding packets for the

overloaded   device.   The  possibility  of  deadlock  cannot  be

eliminated by adding more buffers.

        This particular sort of deadlock is just one example of a

more general situation.  For the network to perform well, all the

processes in the nodes must be able to run at an  adequate  rate.

This  cannot  be guaranteed unless each process is guaranteed the

resources that it  needs.   Unless  each  process  is  explicitly

prevented from "hogging" resources, other processes may be unable

to run, and the network will not, in general,  be  able  to  give

adequate performance.  It must be understood, of course, that the

buffer supply is not the only resource which must be  managed  in

order  to  prevent hogging.  Similar sorts of deadlocks can occur

if some processes are allowed unrestricted access to CPU  cycles,

thereby  preventing  others  from  ever running at all.  Although

this chapter is primarily concerned only with management  of  the

buffer  space resource, management of the CPU resource is equally

important.  Furthermore, it must not be imagined  that  deadlocks

are  the  only  sort  of  performance degradation against which a

buffer management scheme must protect.  Freedom from deadlocks is

only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition of adequate network


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performance.  A scheme  which  dedicates  some  small  number  of

buffers to each process, while taking a laissez-faire approach to

the large majority of the buffers, may prevent  deadlocks,  since

it  will  permit  each  process  to run at some slow but non-zero

rate.  However, such an approach may not allow all the  processes

to  run  at "adequate" speeds; if some processes are running "too

slowly," then ordinary users of the network may not  be  able  to

distinguish  that  situation  from the situation where there is a

deadlock.  The problem is the general  one  of  "fairness."   The

purpose  of  a  buffer  management  scheme  is  to ensure that no

process gets either more or less  than  its  fair  share  of  the

buffer  resource.   (It  is worth noting that simply specifying a

protocol in some formal language, i.e., in a  way  which  is  not

implementation-specific, and proving it to be deadlock-free, does

not guarantee that the protocol will perform fairly.  Such formal

specifications  almost  never  address  such  important issues as

buffer management or  fairness.   In  fact,  by  abstracting  the

protocol  specification  from implementation considerations, such

issues are only obscured and made easier to overlook.) Of course,

such  notions  as  "adequate  performance," "too slow," and "fair

share"  are  hopelessly  qualitative.   Implementing   a   buffer

management  scheme in an actual network would require giving some

quantitative interpretation to these notions.  The precise way in

which  these  notions  are  quantified would depend on the design


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objectives of the particular network, as well as its  performance

characteristics,  and it would probably require a large degree of

arbitrariness.  This does not mean, though, that the  qualitative

considerations   cannot   guide   the  development  of  a  buffer

management procedure, but only that any such procedure should  be

sufficiently  parameterized  so  that it can be tuned to meet the

PARTICULAR requirements of a PARTICULAR network.

        The considerations raised above do not  mean  that  there

should  be  no  sharing of buffers among processes, but only that

the sharing  should  be  controlled  so  that  considerations  of

fairness  and overall network performance can play a role.  There

is, of course,  a  disadvantage  to  restricting  the  amount  of

sharing of buffers among processes.  If a buffer is available for

process A, but not for process B, then there will  be  situations

in  which a buffer must lie idle, because process A does not need

it, even though process B really has a  use  for  it.   In  these

particular situations, the performance of process B (and possibly

of the whole  node)  may  be  degraded.   The  justification  for

keeping  the  buffer  idle  though  is  that  it is possible that

process A will have a need for the buffer before process B  would

finish  with  it,  and  that  if  such a situation were to arise,

overall performance would be improved by keeping the buffer  idle

until  needed  by  process  A.  The validity of the justification


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depends on the probability that process A really  will  need  the

buffer  before  process  B  would  finish  with it.  This sort of

probability is very difficult to evaluate A PRIORI.  Furthermore,

the  probability  may  change as network conditions change.  This

suggests that we  might  want  to  vary  the  number  of  buffers

reserved   for   particular   processes  as  a  function  of  the

utilization of resources by the various processes.  That is,  the

buffer  management  scheme  may need feedback from a more general

congestion control  scheme  which  can  measure  the  pattern  of

resource  utilization  and  determine whether it is satisfactory.

This is only natural.  The purpose of a congestion control scheme

is  to ensure that the demands placed on resources in the network

do not exceed  the  capacity  of  the  resources,  AND  that  the

resources  are  allocated  to  the demands in the way that yields

best overall network service.  In order to achieve  these  goals,

the  algorithm (or at least the parameters of the algorithm) used

to assign resources to demands may need to change as the  pattern

of  demands  changes.  A buffer management scheme is an algorithm

for assigning one particular kind of resource  (buffers)  to  the

demands  made  on  that  resource.   Hence it is just a part of a

congestion control scheme, and may  need  to  interact  with  the

other parts of the scheme for best overall performance.


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4  Buffer Management with an Ample Supply of Buffers

        If we were designing a new network, with an ample  amount

of  buffer  space,  one of the important desiderata of the buffer

management scheme would be to enable all  output  devices  (i.e.,

hosts  and  inter-node  trunks)  to  run at their rated capacity.

Transmission  of  packets  over  an  output  device  is   usually

controlled  by  means  of a protocol which requires the packet to

remain buffered until a positive acknowledgment is received.  The

number of buffers needed to run such a device at full capacity is

a function both of the transmission speed of the  device  and  of

the time it takes (on the average) for acknowledgments to return,

which itself  is  a  function  of  the  physical  length  of  the

transmission  line  (speed-of-light  propagation  delay)  and the

processing latencies of the device which is receiving the output.

For  each  output  device  it  is  relatively  straightforward to

compute this number  of  buffers,  at  least  approximately.   To

ensure  that  each  output  device  can  always  run at its rated

capacity, the  buffer  management  scheme  must  "dedicate"  that

number of buffers to the particular output device in question.

        It is important to  understand  just  what  it  means  to

"dedicate  N buffers" to a particular device or process.  It does

NOT means that certain physical buffers (i.e., physical areas  of

memory)  are  set  aside  for use only by that process.  It means


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only that the process should always be able to obtain  N  buffers

whenever  it has a need for N buffers.  There is no reason at all

why the same N physical buffers should be used each time.  To see

exactly  what  this  means  in  practice,  we  must  consider the

mechanism whereby a buffer is (logically)  moved  from  a  source

process  to  a  destination process.  At any given time, a buffer

which is not free is considered to be under the control  of  some

process.   When  that process has completed its processing of the

buffer, it must somehow release control of  it.   In  some  cases

(e.g.,  a  packet has been transmitted on an inter-node trunk and

an acknowledgment for it received) the packet  which  is  in  the

buffer  is  no  longer needed at that node, and the buffer can be

freed.  In other cases, however, control of the  buffer  must  be

turned  over to some other process.  An example is a packet which

is under  control  of  the  forwarding  process  of  the  routing

algorithm.   Once  the routing algorithm decides where to forward

the packet, the buffer in which it resides must be turned over to

some  output  process which will ensure its transmission over the

appropriate output device.  Before turning the buffer over to the

next  process,  it  must  be  determined  whether  doing so would

prevent any other process from obtaining the  number  of  buffers

that  have  been  "dedicated" to it.  If so, the buffer cannot be

turned over to that destination process.  If the packet  residing

in  the  buffer  is  under  control  of  some  sort  of  reliable


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transmission procedure (e.g., the  ARPANET's  IMP-IMP  protocol),

the  buffer can simply be freed.  This will not result in loss of

the packet, since the reliable transmission procedure will ensure

that  the  packet  is  seen again, and again, until it is finally

accepted.  This is usually the case in the ARPANET with a  packet

that has been received from a neighboring node.  If the receiving

node discards the packet without sending an acknowledgment to the

transmitting  node, the latter node can usually be relied upon to

send the packet again.  (Note that  this  implies  that,  in  the

ARPANET,   the   receiving   node   cannot   send  an  inter-node

acknowledgment for a packet until that  packet  has  been  turned

over  to  its  final  output  process.)   On the other hand, some

packets may not be under the control of a  reliable  transmission

procedure.   This  may  be the case with control packets that are

created in the node itself and which must be transmitted to  some

other  node  for  reasons  determined  by  some end-end protocol.

Freeing the buffer occupied by such a packet may result  in  loss

of  the  packet.  Since this is undesirable, if the buffer cannot

be given to its destination process, it must be returned  to  the

source process, where it must sit on some queue until some future

time when it can be accepted by the destination process.

        In general, when making the determination as to whether a

buffer  can  be  turned  over  to a particular process, it is not


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sufficient merely to consider the number of  buffers  already  in

control  of  the  destination  process.   One must also take into

consideration the source process of the buffer. After all,  there

may  be  cases  in  which  the source process and the destination

process share a common pool of buffers.  In  such  cases,  buffer

management considerations can never cause the destination process

to refuse the buffer, no matter  how  many  buffers  are  already

under  its  control.   It follows that the correct decision as to

whether a buffer ought to  be  refused  cannot  be  made  without

knowledge  of  its source process.  Also, only by considering the

buffer's source process can it be determined whether or  not  the

buffer,  if  refused,  will be freed.  This is important to know,




will  not  be able to obtain an adequate number of buffers if the

packet is accepted will also be  unable  to  obtain  an  adequate

number  of  buffers  if  the  packet  is  rejected.   After  all,

rejection of the packet will merely cause its buffer to  be  held

in  a  queue somewhere else in the node until it can be accepted.

Since the buffer cannot be freed, it will  not  become  available

for  use  by  any other process, so there is no point in refusing

it.  Rejecting the packet will serve only to increase its  delay,

without  any  countervailing  advantage.   This may mean that the


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number of buffers under the control of a  given  process  exceeds

the  nominal  maximum  which  we  have  decided  to allow to that

process.  The point of the buffer management scheme, however,  is

not  so  much  to prevent a process from obtaining more than some

maximum number of buffers as to ensure that a process can  always

obtain  some  minimum  number  of buffers.  In the situation just

described, holding one process to a  certain  maximum  number  of

buffers  does  not  help any other process to obtain its minimum.

And while moving the  buffer  from  the  source  process  to  the

destination  process  in  this  situation  may  cause  the source

process to have less than  its  minimum  number  of  buffers,  it

cannot  hurt  the performance of the source process, which, after

all, has already finished with its use of the buffer.   There  is

certainly  no  point  in  forcing  a process to keep control of a

buffer with which it  is  finished;  that  could  serve  only  to

degrade overall performance.

        To put the point another way, once the node has committed

itself   not   to  discard  the  packet,  all  buffer  management

considerations are otiose.  Of course, this is not to say that  a

packet  to  which the node is committed ought never to be refused

by any process in the  node,  but  only  that  considerations  of

buffer  management  can  play  no role in the refusal.  There are

many resources other than buffer space  which  may  be  in  short


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supply;  management  of  these  resources  may  well  dictate the

rejection of a packet to which the node is  committed.   However,

the same considerations apply.  A packet should never be rejected

due to resource management  considerations  unless  rejecting  it

will  free  resources  which  would  not  be free were the packet


        Of course, this  principle  may  have  unfortunate  side-

effects  that  must  be controlled.  If two packets are competing

for buffer space, and one of the packets is discardable while the

other  is not, the non-discardable packet has an advantage, since

it cannot be refused.  For example, in the ARPANET, packets which

an  IMP  receives  from  a neighboring IMP are discardable, since

they are controlled by a  reliable  transmission  procedure  (the

IMP-IMP  protocol) and will be retransmitted if dropped.  Packets

received from  a  host,  however,  are  controlled  by  the  1822

protocol,  which  does not provide for retransmissions, and which

in fact assumes that the IMP will not drop a packet once  it  has

fully  received  it.  This fact gives packets received from hosts

an unfair advantage over packets received from  neighboring  IMPs

in  the  competition  for  buffer  space.  This is a particularly

unhappy situation, since it can lead to the violation of  one  of

the  basic  principles of congestion control, namely that packets

already in the  network  should  be  favored  over  packets  just


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entering  the  network.  The correct solution to this problem, of

course, is to refrain from using protocols which force a node  to

treat a packet as non-discardable before all the resources needed

to process that packet have been obtained.   We  will  return  to

this  issue  when  we  discuss  the  particular  case  of  buffer

management in the ARPANET.

        It should also be noted  that  moving  a  buffer  from  a

source  process  to  a destination process typically requires the

mediation of a third process which serves as the Dispatcher.   In

the  ARPANET,  this is the function of the TASK process.  While a

buffer is queued for or being processed by the Dispatcher, it  is

still  considered  to be under the control of the source process,

for purposes of buffer management.  The  reason,  of  course,  is

that  the decision as to whether a particular destination process

must refuse the buffer is independent of whether  the  buffer  is

being  passed to it directly by the source process, or whether it

is being passed to it by the Dispatcher.  Therefore, it makes  no

sense  to  treat  the  Dispatcher  itself  as  a  source process.

Similarly, since the Dispatcher itself can never refuse a buffer,

it  makes  no  sense to treat it as a destination process either.

The use of a dispatching process should  be  transparent  to  the

buffer management scheme.

        Sometimes a buffer may need to be under the  simultaneous


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control  of  two distinct processes in order for its packet to be

processed.  If this is  ever  the  case,  the  buffer  management

scheme  must  ensure  that whenever the buffer can be assigned to

one process, it can also be assigned to the other.  If the buffer

cannot  be  processed unless controlled by both processes, then a

situation where it can be controlled by one process but  not  the

other  makes  no  sense  at  all.   Such a situation would simply

result in a waste of space, by allowing a buffer to  be  occupied

by  a  packet which cannot be processed.  This illustrates a most

important point in the design of a buffer management scheme.  The

purpose  of  buffer  management is to ensure good overall network






4.1  Buffering for Output

        We now consider, in general, which sorts of processes  in

the  network  nodes  need  to  have  buffers  dedicated  to them.

Whenever a particular device is running at close to  its  maximum

capacity  and  the demands on the device vary stochastically, the

device will sometimes  be  overloaded.   That  is,  although  the


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device  is fully utilized during some interval by the presence of

n packets, a larger number of packets destined  for  that  device

will arrive during that interval.  If the device is overloaded in

the steady state, then some sort of congestion control  procedure

must  be  brought  into  effect  to  reduce  the  demand for that

particular device.  We are presently assuming, though,  that  the

device  is  not  overloaded  in  the  steady  state, and that any

intervals of overload are caused by the variance in  the  demand.

In such a situation, it is desirable to smooth the effects of the

temporary overload by  buffering  the  excess  packets.   So  the

buffer management system should allow more buffers to be assigned

to an output device at a given time than are strictly  needed  to

run  that  device  at  full  capacity.  The question is whether a

certain number of excess buffers should be  "dedicated"  to  each

device  (in  the  sense  described  above), or whether the excess

buffers should be in a common pool, sharable among all the output

devices  on  a  first-come, first-served basis.  In this case, it

seems that the buffers  ought  to  be  sharable.   If  all  these

buffers  end up queued to a single output device, no other device

is thereby prevented from  running  at  full  speed,  since  each

device  still has its own supply of dedicated buffers.  Therefore

there is no reason to strictly partition this  additional  buffer



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        One might argue that the number of buffers dedicated to a

particular  device should only be enough to run the device at its

AVERAGE rate, not at its maximum or peak rate.   After  all,  the

purpose  of having a sharable pool of excess buffers is to smooth

the effects of stochastic  peaks.   But  stochastic  peaks  occur

whenever  the  average  utilization  of a device is exceeded, not

necessarily when  its  maximum  utilization  is  exceeded.   This

argument,  however,  ignores  the  fact  that several devices may

exceed their average utilization  at  the  same  time.   If  this

happens,  and  if  there are not enough buffers dedicated to each

device to run it at full speed, then some devices may  be  under-

utilized  while  others  will be over-utilized, which is what the

buffer management scheme ought to try avoid as  far  as  possible

(at least, if the supply of buffers is ample).

4.2  Buffering for Input

        We have yet  to  discuss  the  issue  of  whether  it  is

necessary to dedicate buffers to the input devices, as well as to

the output devices. Packets may arrive at a node  either  from  a

neighboring node, or from a locally-attached host.  Receiving and

processing a packet  requires  a  buffer.   Even  if  all  output

devices  are running at full speed and have their full complement


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of buffers, it is still necessary to dedicate a certain number of

additional  buffers  to  the input devices.  Failure to do so can

result in the stopping of  all  input  whenever  all  the  output

devices  are  fully  utilized.   At first glance, this might seem

like a desirable  effect.   After  all,  there  is  no  point  in

accepting  input  when the output devices are already overloaded;

to do so only  leads  to  congestion.   However,  there  are  two

problems with this argument:

     1)  Not all packets which arrive at a  node  as  input  will

         necessarily  leave the node as output.  Some packets are

         control packets which may cause the  processor  to  take

         some  action  other  than  simply  forwarding the packet

         somewhere else.  The  node  should  always  be  able  to

         process these packets, no matter what the utilization of

         its output devices.

     2)  Packets cannot be processed  instantaneously;  there  is

         always  some  latency.  It may be the case that although

         no output buffers are available at  the  time  a  packet

         arrives, there will be buffers available by the time the

         packet is processed (e.g., by  the  time  the  processor

         determines  which output device to route the packet to).

         If no buffers are available at the time  the  packet  is

         received,  it  has  to  be discarded and re-transmitted,


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         thus  introducing  a   potentially   large   amount   of

         additional   delay.    This   additional  delay  can  be

         eliminated by having a supply of buffers for input.

        These arguments show that there should  be  some  buffers

available  for  input  over and above those which can be used for

output.  We have not yet  dealt  with  the  issues  of  how  many

buffers  there  should  be,  and  whether they should be sharable

among all the input devices.   It  is  sometimes  suggested  that

there  should  be  two buffers dedicated to each input device, to

allow "double  buffering."   However,  this  is  something  of  a

confusion.  The point of double buffering is to allow an input to

be received while the previous input is  being  processed.   This

makes sense if the time it takes to process the previous input is

less than the time it takes to receive the current  input.   Then

by the time the input is received, processing of the previous one

has been completed, and the buffer which held the previous  input

can be re-used to receive the next input, while the current input

is being processed.  The purpose of such a scheme  is  to  ensure

that reception of an input is not delayed by the time it takes to

process the previous input.  It is easy to see though  that  this

scheme  is  not  directly  applicable to a packet-switching node.

There is no way to guarantee that the time needed to process  one

packet  is  less than the time needed to receive the next packet.


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If the processor is busy, so that many packets are queued for it,

and  the  inter-node  trunks run at a high speed, so that packets

are received very rapidly, merely dedicating two  buffers  to  an

input device will not ensure that a buffer is always available to

receive the next packet.

        One might think that this means that a larger  number  of

buffers  must  be  dedicated  to  each input line.  By making the

number large enough, we can make the probability  of  missing  an

input  due  to lack of buffers as small as we like.  But it would

be a mistake to do so.  In general (though not invariably), after

a packet is input and processed, it will be routed to some output

device.  There cannot be a shortage of buffers for  input  unless

either  all  the output devices are heavily loaded (i.e., all the

output-dedicated buffers are in use), or the processor itself  is

overloaded  (so  that many buffers are queued for the processor).

A certain number of input-dedicated buffers are needed to  permit

input  to  flow  smoothly  under  such  situations, as well as to

ensure that control packets can be processed.   However,  if  the

node  is really congested (i.e., either the output devices or the

CPU are overutilized in the steady state), having a large  number

of input buffers will not smooth the flow; it will result only in

larger queues.  The number of input-dedicated buffers  need  only

be  large  enough  to  enable  the  processor  to run at its full


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capacity while the  output  devices  are  also  running  at  full

capacity.  In order for an output device to run at full capacity,

it should always be able to get enough buffers  so  that  it  can

buffer  all  in-flight   packets  for the required period of time

while still having a small queue of packets waiting to  be  sent.

Running  the processor at full speed requires only enough buffers

so that a small number of packets can always be on the queue  for

the  processor.   This does not require a large number of buffers

to be dedicated to input; even  less  does  it  require  a  large

number  of  buffers to be dedicated to a particular input device.

However, as we have pointed out, it does require  SOME  dedicated


        We have now determined that there  need  not  be  a  very

large  number  of  buffers  dedicated  to input.  We have not yet

resolved the question of whether these buffers should be sharable

among  all  the  input  devices,  or  whether a certain number of

buffers should be dedicated to each input device.  To answer this

question  we must determine whether, if the buffers are sharable,

some one input device can monopolize the buffer pool,  preventing

input  from  any  of  the  other devices.  This might well be the

case, for three reasons.  First, one input device might run at  a

higher  speed than the others.  Second, one input device might be

more heavily utilized than the others, or might  receive  shorter


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packets  than  the others.  Third, some artifact of the interrupt

structure of the node might tend to favor  certain  devices  over

others.   (Thus  in the ARPANET, each inter-IMP trunk is serviced

at a  different  priority  level;  naturally,  the  one  that  is

serviced  with  the  highest priority is favored.  This is due to

the interrupt structure of the 316, rather  than  the  software.)

If  any  of these conditions hold, some input devices may be able

to utilize so many buffers  that  the  others  are  slowed  down.

Therefore  a  small number of buffers should be dedicated to each

input device.

        Another reason for dedicating a few buffers to each input

device  is the following.  Certain inputs are processed at a very

high priority level,  without  any  queuing  for  the  processor.

These  inputs  are always control packets, which are not going to

be routed to any output device.  Furthermore, they are only those

few  types  of  control  packets  which  must  be  processed very

quickly.  An example is the line up/down protocol packet  of  the

ARPANET.   When one IMP sends one of these packets to another, it

expects a reply back within a few hundred milliseconds, no matter

how  congested  the  processor  of  the  receiving  IMP  is.  The

receiving IMP must always be able to receive such packets and  to

process  them immediately, without having to queue them.  If this

is not done, the line may be brought down  spuriously,  resulting


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in a significant and needless degradation of network service.  In

order to ensure rapid processing, at least  one  buffer  must  be

dedicated to each input device from which control packets of this

sort may be received.  Furthermore, the use of these  buffers  is

even  more restricted than that of other buffers which are input-

dedicated.  Ordinarily, to say that N buffers  are  dedicated  to

input  is to say that there must always be N buffers which cannot

be given to any  process  which  is  not  input  related.   These

buffers  can,  however,  be queued to the processor (i.e., to the

Dispatcher) after being filled with an  input.   After  all,  the

main  point  of  having  input-dedicated buffers is to enable the

processor to continue to  look  at  inputs  even  if  all  output

devices  are  running  at  full  capacity.   This  goal cannot be

achieved  unless  the  input  buffers  can  be  queued  for   the

processor.   The  point  of this paragraph, on the other hand, is

that there be certain sorts  of  control  packets  which  require

IMMEDIATE processing.  In order to ensure that a buffer is always

available to each input device  to  process  such  packets,  each

input  device should have one buffer dedicated to it which is not

queueable to ANY other process, including the Dispatcher.   Is  a

single  such  buffer enough?  The feasibility of having protocols

which require immediate processing of control packets is  clearly

dependent  on  the  constraint  that such packets be few and far-

between.  Otherwise, there may  just  be  too  many  of  them  to


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process  them  all "immediately," and the protocol will not work.

As long as this constraint is met,  a  single  buffer  should  be


        It must be pointed out that the proper use  of  the  non-

queueable  buffer  is often a matter of some subtlety.  Suppose a

packet is received from some inter-node trunk,  and  that  packet

contains  node-node  acknowledgments  (possibly piggybacked on an

ordinary data packet) for packets that were transmitted  (in  the

opposite  direction)  over  the same trunk.  Suppose further that

after the packet is received, there are no more free  buffers  in

the  nodes.  Clearly, any data in the packet cannot be processed;

doing so would require queuing  the  packet  for  the  processor,

thereby  violating  the  rule  that each input device have a non-

queueable  buffer   dedicated   to   it.    But   what   of   the

acknowledgments  --  should  they  be processed?  In the ARPANET,

received node-node acknowledgments are processed at  the  highest

priority  level,  with  no  queuing.   So  they  CAN be processed

without violating  the  buffer  management  rules  that  we  have

advanced.   Furthermore,  one  might  argue  that  it  is  really

important to process the acknowledgments  as  soon  as  possible.

After  all,  processing  received  acknowledgments  can result in

freeing buffers.  Since, ex hypothesi, there are  very  few  free

buffers  in  the  machine,  processing  the acknowledgments is of


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great importance, and should be done immediately.  This argument,

however, does not hold under all conditions.  When there are very

few free buffers in the node, it may be that a  large  number  of

buffers  are  holding packets which have already been transmitted

on inter-node trunks, and which are awaiting acknowledgment.   In

this  case, processing the acknowledgments as quickly as possible

has a salutary effect on the node's performance.  However,  there

are  other  conditions which may result in a short supply of free

buffers.  Suppose, for example, that the node is CPU-bound, i.e.,

that  the processor is overloaded.  Then one would expect to find

the  majority  of  buffers  queued  for  the  processor.    (This

situation  is  very  common in certain of the more heavily loaded

ARPANET nodes.)  Since these buffers contain packets  which  have

not  yet  been  transmitted out any inter-node trunk, the buffers

cannot  possibly   be   freed   as   a   result   of   processing

acknowledgments.   The  only way to expedite the freeing of these

buffers is to reduce the demand on the processor, especially  the

demand  at  the  higher  priority levels.  Thus the best strategy

here may be to NOT process the acknowledgments, thereby  reducing

the processing load.  Deciding whether a certain packet should be

processed immediately may depend not only on the function of  the

packet,  but  on  the  conditions in the node at that time.  This

shows again that a buffer management scheme is  only  part  of  a

more  general congestion control strategy, and cannot be expected


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to do the whole job by itself.

        It must be  understood,  of  course,  that  although  the

number  of buffers DEDICATED to input may be small, the number of

buffers controlled by the input processes  (i.e.  the  number  of

buffers   containing  input  packets  which  have  not  yet  been

dispatched) may be much larger.  In fact, all  the  buffers  that

are  dedicated  to  output  processes may be under the control of

input processes at some time.  This may seem paradoxical, but  it

is  easy  to see why it is the case.  In general, a packet cannot

be output unless it has first been input.  It makes no  sense  to

refuse to use a buffer for input because one wants to save it for

output -- it will never be used for output unless it is used  for

input first.  Therefore, all buffers must be available for input,

regardless  of  the  number  which  are  "dedicated"   to   other

processes.   (There  is  one  exception  to this rule.  It may be

desirable to save a few buffers for  creating  control  messages,

which,  being  created  in  the  node,  are never actually input.

These buffers would then  be  unavailable  for  input.   This  is

discussed  below  in  greater  detail.)   To restate the point --

while only a small number of buffers  need  to  be  DEDICATED  to

input, a large number of buffers need to be AVAILABLE to input.


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4.3  Buffering for Generating Control Messages

        There are other functions besides input  and  output  for

which buffers are required.  One such function is the creation of

the control messages needed to run the various protocols used  by

the  node.   Every  so  often, the node will have to respond to a

certain event by creating a control packet and transmitting it to

some  destination.   Often  one  node  will contain buffers which

cannot be freed until a control packet from some  other  node  is

received.   If a node cannot create the necessary control packets

because it cannot  get  buffers  for  them,  then  deadlocks  are

possible.    Even   if   deadlocks   are  avoided,  good  network

performance can depend on the timely creation and transmission of

control  packets.   Nodes  which  have  high  buffer  utilization

because they are handling many data packets ought not to be at  a

disadvantage  when  it  comes  to  obtaining  buffers in which to

create control packets.  Indeed, it is just such nodes which  are

most  likely  to  have  the  largest  number  of protocol-imposed

responsibilities, and hence to have the greatest need for buffers

in which to create control messages.  In order to ensure that the

flow of control messages is  not  slowed  by  the  flow  of  data

packets,  each  node  should  have  a supply of buffers dedicated

solely to the function of creating control messages.


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4.4  Buffering Data at the Source Node

        In many packet-switching networks, packets received  from

a  host  are  buffered  at  the  source  node  until  an  end-end

acknowledgment is  received.   (This  is  true  of  single-packet

messages  in  the ARPANET.) An insufficient supply of buffers for

this purpose will hold the throughput  of  the  locally  attached

hosts  to  an  artificially  low level.  Furthermore, the holding

time of a buffer which must await an  end-end  acknowledgment  is

very  long,  relative to the holding time of other buffers.  This

implies that the number of buffers needed to serve  the  function

might be quite large, if an adequate level of throughput is to be

maintained.  A basic principle of congestion  control  in  packet

switching  networks  is  that  packets  which  are already in the

network should not be unduly interfered with by packets which are

entering  the network.  The buffer management scheme we have been

outlining applies this principle by dedicating pools  of  buffers

to  each  output  device  and  to the various protocol functions.

That is, the scheme ensures that  local  inputs  cannot  hog  the

buffer  space at a node, which would result in degrading the flow

of traffic through the node.  There is a question, however, as to

whether  there should be a pool of buffers DEDICATED to buffering

input packets at the source node, or whether this function should

compete  with  other functions for a sharable buffer pool.  Since


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we have already assigned dedicated buffer pools  to  those  other

functions  that  need  them,  the only possible bad result of not

dedicating a pool of buffers for source buffering of local inputs

would  be  that  these other functions would be able to hold down

the throughput  due  to  local  hosts,  by  taking  most  of  the

buffering  for  themselves.  It is sometimes thought that this is

actually a good feature.  That is, if  the  node  is  so  heavily

loaded  with transit traffic and with traffic destined for output

to local hosts, perhaps it is good to reduce the amount of buffer

space  available  for  source  buffering.   After  all,  when the

network is heavily loaded, one does  want  to  reduce  the  input

rate,   and  reducing  the  buffer  space  available  for  source

buffering  of  input  will  have  this  effect.   This  argument,

however,  ignores  fairness  considerations.  In the ARPANET, for

example, there are a few nodes which, because  they  are  on  the

major  cross-country  paths,  have a much greater load of transit

traffic than does the vast majority  of  nodes.   However,  these

nodes  which  are  heavily  loaded with transit traffic also have

local hosts and TIPs.  The users of these local  hosts  and  TIPs

have a right to the same service as is given to users whose local

IMPs do not have a heavy load of transit traffic.  If  the  heavy

load  of transit traffic at these nodes is allowed to get so much

buffer space that the throughput obtainable by the local users is

degraded,  then  users  at these nodes are at a disadvantage with


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respect to users at other nodes.  This is hardly  fair.   If  the

transit  load  at  some node is "too heavy," then ALL users which

are sending traffic through that node should be forced to  reduce

their  input  rate,  not  just the users who happen to be locally

attached to that node.  Of course, this effect cannot be achieved

merely   by  buffer  management.   It  requires  a  more  general

congestion control scheme.  Our  present  point  though  is  that

since  a heavy transit load should not be permitted by itself (in

the absence of instructions from a congestion control scheme)  to

degrade  the  throughput  of  local users, a non-sharable pool of

buffers should be dedicated to the function  of  buffering  local

input while awaiting end-end acknowledgments.  Of course, as long

as the transit traffic at some node must compete with  the  input

traffic  at  that  node  for  some  resource  (even  if  only the

processor), there will always be a  certain  amount  of  "unfair"

interference.  A good buffer management scheme can limit, but not

eliminate, the effect.

        It is important to note that this point can  be  obscured

by   certain   assumptions  of  homogeneity  which  it  is  often

convenient  to  make  when  analyzing  or  simulating  a   buffer

management  system.   When trying to perform such analysis, it is

often convenient to create a network model in which the ratio  of

transit  traffic to input traffic is the same at all nodes.  Once


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one has made that assumption, it is clear that  the  question  of

fairness  will not arise, since all nodes will be equally loaded,

and input at all nodes will be equally  constrained.   Therefore,

if one has made that assumption, it may seem reasonable to design

a buffer management scheme which allows transit traffic  to  lock

out  locally  input traffic entirely.  Assumptions of homogeneity

beg the question of fairness, and in doing so lead to  congestion

control   or   buffer  management  schemes  which  are  seriously


5  Buffer Management with a Shortage of Buffers (ARPANET)

        We have so far been discussing the issues that  arise  in

the  design  of  a  buffer management scheme for a node which has

ample buffer space.  We have argued that good  buffer  management

is  important  for  good  network performance, no matter how many

buffers exist in a node.  Our basic approach has been to dedicate

enough  buffers  to each function which requires them so that all

such functions can be performed at full speed, with  the  minimum

amount of interference from other functions.  The assumption that

there is an "ample" supply of buffer space is just the assumption

that there exist enough buffers to do this.  Any excess amount of

buffers should be sharable among several functions, and should be


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used  to smooth the effects of stochastic peak loads or processor


        We turn now to the issues that  must  be  addressed  when

designing  a  buffer  management scheme for a node which does NOT

have ample buffer  space.   Our  main  interest  will  be  buffer

management  in the 316/516 IMP, which is severely memory-limited.

However, our discussion will also have application to the  design

of  a  buffer  management  scheme  for new networks which are not

expected to be memory-limited.  It is often thought that networks

designed  with  present  technology will always have ample buffer

space, since memory is now one of the cheapest  components  of  a

computer.   This  is  somewhat  of an oversimplification, though.

However cheap memory is, it is always cheaper to have  less.   We

would  not  expect  nodes  to  be designed with arbitrarily large

amounts of buffer space.  Rather, the amount of memory configured

into  a  node  will  generally  be  determined by making a sizing

decision based both on economics and on the design objectives  of

the  node.   Yet  at  the  present  state of the art, making such

sizing decisions is more of an  art  than  a  science,  and  such

decisions   can   easily   be  wrong.   Furthermore,  future  re-

configurations of the network, e.g., adding long-delay or  higher

speed  lines,  can invalidate the original sizing decisions.  Yet

the addressing, mapping, or bus structure  of  the  computer  may


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make  it  difficult or impossible to freely add additional memory

to the initial configuration.  It is never  good  to  assume,  in

network design, that buffer space will always be ample throughout

the life of the network.  For these reasons,  our  discussion  of

buffer management in the ARPANET should have wider application.

        In the ARPANET, each Honeywell 316/516 IMP has between 30

and  35  buffers,  depending on the configuration of the node and

the presence or absence of  various  optional  software  packages

(which,  when  present,  reside  in  an  area of memory otherwise

devoted to buffer space).  This is nowhere  near  the  amount  of

buffers needed to ensure that all processes requiring buffers can

run at full speed.  A sensible approach in  such  a  case  is  to

dedicate  to  each process enough buffers to allow the process to

run at only a fraction of full speed, while making the additional

buffers  sharable.   However,  unless  there  are enough sharable

buffers to enable some of the processes to sometimes run at  full

speed,  the  scheme will prevent any process from EVER running at

full speed, even when there  are  a  sufficient  number  of  idle

buffers.   This  would  be  a very undesirable situation.  With a

severely memory-limited node,  as  in  the  ARPANET,  it  may  be

necessary  to  dedicate  to  a process only the minimum number of

buffers required to ensure that the process can run at all (i.e.,

to   prevent  a  deadlock  situation  in  which  the  process  is


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completely locked out).  THIS MEANS THAT MUCH OF THE  ABILITY  OF


INTERFERENCE BY ANOTHER IS LOST.  The price  for  retaining  that

ability  would  be  to  guarantee slow performance by some of the

processes, even while resources (buffers) lie idle.  Such a price

may be too high to pay.

        To put this point another way, we  must  worry  not  only

about  under-control  of  the  buffer space, but also about over-

control.  If buffer space is under-controlled,  one  process  can

hog  the  buffers,  preventing other processes from getting their

fair share.  If buffer space is over-controlled, then  a  process

may  be  limited  to a particular proportion of the buffer space,

even if granting  it  a  larger  proportion  in  some  particular

situation  may  be  the  best  strategy from the point of view of

overall network performance.   With  ample  buffer  space,  over-

control  is  not generally a problem, since every process can get

as many buffers as  it  needs.   When  buffer  space  is  scarce,

however,  strict  and  inflexible  limitations  on  the amount of

buffer space that can  be  under  the  control  of  a  particular

process  may  result  in no process ever being able to get enough

buffers to perform well.  A loosening  of  the  controls  may  be

necessary  in  such  cases.  As we shall see, the current ARPANET

buffer  management  scheme  suffers  from  over-control  in  some


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        In the ARPANET, the situation is even worse.   There  are

not  enough buffers available to dedicate even the minimum amount

to certain processes.  For example, one  process  which  requires

buffers is the process governing output to a host, of which there

may be four attached to each node.  An ARPANET message may be  up

to 8 packets long (i.e., may occupy up to 8 buffers).  Before any

message can be delivered to a host, all  eight  packets  must  be

present,  so  that the message can be "reassembled."  There is no

point to dedicating fewer than 8 buffers to each host, since that

would  not  guarantee  that  enough  buffer space would always be

available to deliver a message to the host.  On the  other  hand,

one  cannot  dedicate 8 buffers to each of four hosts, since that

would leave no buffers for any other function.  A similar problem

arises  with  respect  to  packets  which must be buffered at the

source node awaiting end-end acknowledgments (RFNMs).  There  can

be  as many as 8 such packets per "connection," where two packets

are considered to be on the same connection if they have the same

source  host,  the  same destination host, and the same priority.

With  four  source  hosts  per  node,  each  of  which   can   be

communicating  with an arbitrary number of destination hosts, the

number of buffers required to  guarantee  maximum  throughput  is

more buffers than exist in the entire node.  However, it is still


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the case that there are  too  few  buffers  to  enable  a  buffer

management  scheme to ensure fairness to both host input and host

output functions. This  means,  of  course,  that  improving  the

buffer  management  scheme  can  increase  the  fairness, but not

optimize it.

        The way the ARPANET deals with this problem is simply  to

lump  together all host input and output functions and dedicate a

single pool of buffers to the combined  set  of  functions.  This

pool  is known as the "Reassembly" pool, and its size varies from

about 18 to 22 buffers,  depending  on  an  IMP's  configuration.

(The  term "reassembly" is very misleading in this context, since

reassembly of packets into messages is only one of many functions

which  must  obtain  buffers  from  the  reassembly  pool.)  This

approach recognizes that there is simply an  insufficient  amount

of  buffering to enable separate pools of buffers to be dedicated

to the separate hosts,  or  even  to  enable  separate  pools  of

buffers to be dedicated separately to input and output functions,

without paying the overly high price of ensuring poor performance

by   some   processes   even   under  conditions  of  low  buffer

utilization.  The main disadvantage of the approach  is  that  it

robs  the  buffer  management  scheme  of  its  ability to ensure

fairness among the various competing functions  that  are  lumped

together.   However,  that is really just the result of having an


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insufficient supply of buffers, and we do  not  see  any  way  of

improving  the situation simply by altering the buffer management

scheme.  Attempting to maximize fairness under  these  conditions

requires a strategy other than partitioning the buffer space. The

scheme in the ARPANET, though, does make an attempt  to  separate

host-related  functions  from  functions  related  solely  to the

operation of the inter-IMP trunks.   Failure  to  separate  host-

related  functions  from  each  other  may  cause different host-

related functions to  interfere  with  each  other.   Failure  to

separate  host-related  functions from operation of the inter-IMP

trunks would enable host-related functions to interfere with  the

node's  store-and-forward  ability,  which  could  be even worse,

since that could make the network more prone to  congestion.   As

we  shall see, however, the ARPANET's buffer management scheme is

not  entirely  successful  in  preventing  interference   between

store-and-forward functions and host-related functions.

        Even though fairness between host input and  host  output

functions   cannot   be  guaranteed  in  the  ARPANET  simply  by

partitioning  the  buffer  space,  there  are  other   sorts   of

procedures  which a buffer management scheme can bring to bear to

help bring about (if not to  guarantee)  fairness.   The  present

buffer  management  scheme  makes no real attempt to "prioritize"

the input and output functions.  That is, if at some given  time,


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buffers are needed for both input and output, the buffers will be

assigned in the order in which they are  requested.   Because  of

the  software  architecture  of  the IMP, this appears to give an

advantage to host input.  The request for  a  buffer  to  hold  a

packet  received  from  a local host is made by the high-priority

routine which services the host-IMP interface.  The request for a

buffer to hold a packet for output to a local host is made either

by the TASK process or by one of the background processes,  which

run  at  lower priority levels.  Furthermore, requests for output

buffers, if not served the first time they are made  (because  of

unavailability of buffers), are put on a queue which is served in

round-robin fashion at the lowest priority level.  Any number  of

requests  for host input buffers can be served between the time a

request for a host output buffer is first queued and the time  it

is  finally  served.   This  seems  to  violate  the principle of

congestion control which  states  that  output-related  functions

should  be  favored  over  input-related functions.  It would not

seem to be a difficult matter for requests for buffer space to be

prioritized  or re-ordered so that buffers are never provided for

input while there are outstanding requests  for  output  buffers.

(Note that this issue of re-ordering the requests would not arise

if there were  ample  buffer  space,  since  in  that  case,  all

functions could be guaranteed sufficient buffering, regardless of

the order in which requests were made.)


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

        This principle, however, would have to  be  applied  with

some care.  In the ARPANET, a request for output buffer space may

be either a request for one buffer (for single  packet  messages)

or a request for eight buffers (for multi-packet messages).  If a

source node has  requested  a  single-packet  allocate  for  some

packet  from  some  destination  node,  it must buffer the packet

until the output buffer  space  is  made  available.   Meanwhile,

other packets from the same source host may still be entering the

network.  On the other hand, if a source node is  waiting  for  a

multi-packet  allocate,  it  does  not  buffer  the  multi-packet

message while waiting.  Rather,  it  stops  all  input  from  the

source  host until the output buffers are allocated.  That is, if

a single-packet request remains unserved, buffer space is used as

the  source  node,  while  input  at  the  source  node continues

unabated.  If a multi-packet request remains unserved,  not  only

is  no buffer space wasted at the source node, but input from the

source host is stopped.  The congestion  control  principle  that

output  should  be  favored  over  input  is  reasonable  because

"output" means that resources already in use will be freed, while

"input" means that resources currently free will be put into use.

Competition between a host input packet and  an  unserved  single

packet  request  is clearly competition between input and output.

However, competition between host input and  an  unserved  multi-

packet  request is more like competition between input at one IMP


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

and input at another.  Hence, prioritization  or  re-ordering  of

requests  for buffers need only be done in the former case.  Even

there, care must be taken to ensure that a large flow  of  single

packet  messages  to  the hosts at one IMP does not prevent those

hosts from ever sending any inputs of their own into the network.

While  output  should be favored over input, output should not be

able to lock out input.  After all, output at one IMP is input at

another.  If output is too much favored over input, the result is

that input at one IMP is  favored  over  input  at  another  IMP.

Therefore,  it is possible that, IN THE ABSENCE OF A GENERAL FLOW

CONTROL PROCEDURE, which would explicitly match IMP-IMP flows  to

the  amount  of  resources  available,  PRIORITIZATION  OF BUFFER

REQUESTS COULD DO AS MUCH HARM AS GOOD.  A full investigation  of

the issues relevant to end-end flow control in the ARPANET is not

within the scope of the present contract, however.

        The 316/516 IMP does not  have  enough  buffer  space  to

ensure transmission over the inter-IMP trunks at the full rate of

50 kbps.  Only the minimum number of buffers necessary to prevent

a  trunk  from being locked out is dedicated to each trunk.  This

minimum number, of course, is  one.   There  is  also  a  maximum

number  of  buffers  which  can  ever be under the control of the

combined trunk output processes.  This number is either  10,  12,

or  14,  depending  on  whether  the  IMP  has 2, 3, or 4 trunks.


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

Furthermore, there is also a minimum number of buffers which  are

available  for  trunk  output,  but  unavailable for host-related

functions.   This  number  (which  includes  the  single   buffer

dedicated  to each output trunk) is either 6, 9, or 12, depending

on whether the IMP has 2, 3, or 4  trunks.   (There  are  certain

exceptions  to  this  rule,  such  as  IMPs which have 16-channel

satellite lines.  See chapter  7  of  BBN  Report  No.  4088  for

details.   There  appears  to  be  no hard and fast rationale for

having chosen these particular numbers.  Rather, they just  "seem

to  work.")   These  buffers,  except  for  the buffers which are

dedicated to particular trunks, are not,  however,  dedicated  to

trunk output; they are also available for other functions that we

will discuss shortly.  The small difference between  the  minimum

and maximum numbers of buffers available for trunk output (either

4, 3, or 2, depending  on  IMP  configuration)  form  a  pool  of

buffers  which  are generally sharable among all the processes in

the IMP, which can get them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

        There is also a maximum number of buffers which can  even

be  under  the  control  of  the  process which runs a PARTICULAR

output trunk.  This number is eight (except for satellite  lines,

for  which  the  number  is  sixteen).  The number eight does not

appear to have been chosen in order to meet  constraints  on  the

buffer management system.  Rather, eight is the number of logical


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

channels maintained by the IMP-IMP protocol.  That is, it is  the

number  of  packets  which  can be in flight simultaneously on an

inter-IMP trunk.  There is no inherent  reason  why  the  maximum

number  of  packets  under  control  of an output trunk (i.e. the

number in-flight at some instant PLUS the number queued  at  that

instant)  should  be  the  same  as the maximum number of packets

which can be  in  flight  simultaneously  on  that  trunk.   This

particular  choice  of number appears to have been made primarily

for ease of programming.

        The ARPANET IMP does contain a pool of buffers  dedicated

to the creation of end-end control messages.  In keeping with the

principle that, when buffers are in severely short supply, only a

minimum  number  should  be dedicated to any particular function,

the size of this pool is one.  Of course, an IMP  may  have  more

than  one  extant  end-end  control  message  at  a  time.   When

additional end-end control messages must  be  created,  they  are

treated  as host-related messages.  That is, to create an end-end

control  message,  a  buffer  from  the  pool  for   host-related

functions  must  be obtained.  This restriction is apparently due

to the fact that after  a  control  message  is  created,  it  is

treated  in some ways as if it were a packet submitted by a host.

That is, after a control message is created, it is  placed  on  a

queue  known  as  the  Reply Queue.  Packets are removed from the


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

Reply Queue by a "Back Host," and submitted to the IMP as if they

came  from  a real host.  A Back Host is a software routine which

runs at the background level of  the  IMP.   Its  purpose  is  to

submit  control  packets as if they were packets from a real host

(though of course, they are submitted at a point which  is  later

in  the IMP's logic than the point where a real host would submit

a packet).  This fact about the software architecture of the  IMP

makes  it appropriate to treat the creation of control packets in

a manner analogous to host input.  If the submission  of  control

packets  were handled differently from the submission of ordinary

host input, then it might not be appropriate to  create  protocol

messages on the same buffer pool as ordinary host messages, since

protocol messages are handled very  differently  and  in  general

have  different  constraints.   (Of  course,  one could raise the

further question as to  whether  the  "back  host"  mechanism  is

appropriate  for  handling control packets.  However, this cannot

be considered here.)

        We have spoken of the need for having a buffer  dedicated

to  input  from  each  inter-node  trunk,  in order to be able to

process  certain  sorts  of  control  messages  which,   although

occurring  relatively infrequently, need to be processed quickly,

with a high degree of responsiveness  (i.e.,  without  having  to

wait  on a queue).  The IMP does indeed dedicate a buffer to each


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

input trunk.  That is, a packet  which  has  just  arrived  on  a

certain  trunk  will not even be queued for the dispatcher (TASK)

if that would result in there being no buffer at all available to

receive  the next input from the trunk.  However, these dedicated

buffers are NOT used for processing those control  packets  which

require  high  responsiveness.   Not  only  are  such buffers not

queued for processing, but the packets in such buffers are  NEVER

processed  at all, they are simply discarded.  Even if the packet

is a line up/down protocol packet, which is ordinarily  processed

immediately by the routine that handles input from the trunks, it

will not be processed if processing it would mean that there is a

period  of  time  when no buffer is available to receive the next

input from that trunk.  Not even the acknowledgments which may be

piggybacked  in  the packet are processed.  Rather, the packet is

simply discarded, and its buffer reused for the next input.   The

apparent  purpose  of  this  procedure is to ensure that there is

never any period of time when a packet can be lost because  there

is no buffer available in which to receive it.  However, although

this procedure does help to avoid packet loss, it  does  this  by

deliberately discarding packets.  From a performance perspective,

there does not seem to be much difference between losing a packet

and  throwing  it  away.  In general, it is not sensible to throw

one packet away so that the next will not be  lost.   Either  the

buffer  dedicated  to an input trunk should be used to ensure the


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

processing of packets which need  high  responsiveness  (such  as

line  up/down  protocol  packets,  routing  updates, and received

IMP-IMP acknowledgments), or there should not  be  any  dedicated

input buffers.  Currently, the dedicated buffers are wasted.  The

worst thing a  buffer  management  scheme  can  do  is  to  waste

buffers, particularly when buffers are a scarce resource.

        The IMP does have a small pool of buffers which cannot be

placed  under  the  control of any host-related process or of any

process which regulates output on  the  inter-IMP  trunks.   (The

size  of  this pool is regulated by the parameter MINF, currently

set to 3.)  These buffers are available only for  the  processing

of  such  high  responsiveness  packets  as routing updates, line

up/down protocol packets, and received  IMP-IMP  acknowledgments,

and  for  the  creation  of  such subnetwork control packets (not

end-end control packets) as  nulls,  routing  updates,  and  line

up/down  protocol  packets.     These buffers are also useful for

mediating processor latency.  They are not, however, dedicated to

the  individual input trunks.  As we have pointed out previously,

it is quite desirable to have such a pool of buffers; this  seems

a good feature of the IMP's buffer management system.

        In BBN Report No. 4088 we pointed out several bugs in the

IMP's buffer management procedure.  One bug was the fact that the

buffers which are dedicated to input from  the  inter-IMP  trunks


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

are   completely  wasted.   This  bug  can  be  fixed  either  by

refraining  from  dedicating  buffers  to  trunk  input,  or   by

processing  the  packets  in  these buffers if (and only if) they

require high responsiveness.  This latter approach would in  some

sense be equivalent to increasing the value of MINF to three plus

the number of trunks, except  that  it  would  also  ensure  some

degree  of  fairness among the input trunks with respect to their

ability to obtain buffers from the MINF pool.  As we have already

discussed,  the  correct way to fix the bug may depend on whether

the IMP is short on buffers or short on CPU cycles.  Some mixture

of  the  two approaches may be needed, since in practice the IMPs

are sometimes short of buffer space and sometimes  short  of  CPU

cycles.   It must also be pointed out that processing of received

acknowledgments  from  a  particular  input  trunk  may  also  be

important  if  the  corresponding  output  trunk  has most of its

logical channels in  use,  even  if  there  are  plenty  of  free

buffers.   After  all, processing of received acknowledgments not

only frees buffers,  but  also  frees  logical  channels,  and  a

shortage  of  unused logical channels can have the same effect in

degrading performance as a shortage of buffers.  In order to pick

the   strategy  which  will  have  the  best  effect  on  network

performance, we will need to design a method  of  determining  in

real  time  which  resource  is  scarcest  in  the  IMP  at  some

particular moment.


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

        We also pointed out several other bugs in BBN Report  No.

4088.   These bugs all have a common source, namely the fact that

when a buffer is moved from a source  process  to  a  destination

process,  the  buffer  management  scheme  takes no notice of the

source process.  In particular, a buffer may be rejected even  if

it cannot be freed.  This not only leads to the bugs we described

in our previous report, but also to the following  sort  of  bug.

Suppose  an IMP has three trunks, and that it has a maximum of 12

buffers which can be under  the  control  of  the  process  which

regulates output to the trunks.  Suppose that there are 8 buffers

queued for output to trunk 1, and 3 to trunk 2,  while  there  is

one  buffer  which  has  already been transmitted on trunk 3, but

which is presently awaiting acknowledgment.  Suppose also that  a

packet  received  from a local host is now ready for transmission

to its destination, and that it is routed out trunk 3.   The  IMP

will  not  permit this packet to be transmitted, since that would

place a 13th buffer under control of the trunk  output  routines.

Thus the buffer will be rejected, even through the trunk is idle,

and the other resources needed  to  transmit  the  packet  (e.g.,

logical   channels)   are  freely  available.   Furthermore,  the

rejected buffer will not be freed.  Refusing  the  buffer  simply

delays  transmission  of  the  packet  without  resulting  in the

freeing of any resource.  Thus  it  has  no  salutary  effect  on

network  performance, and is in fact counter-productive.  This is


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

an example of OVER-CONTROL in the  buffer  management  scheme;  a

buffer  is  prevented  from moving, even though considerations of

general network performance would dictate that it  be  passed  to

the  destination  process  immediately.    This  bug,  as well as

others we have discussed, would be eliminated  if  the  IMP  took

account of the buffer's source process as well as its destination

process.  Then the IMP could adopt a policy of never  refusing  a


would result in the buffer's being freed.

        Even if  the  ARPANET's  buffer  management  scheme  were

modified  to  take account of the criticisms we have been making,

there would still be a major problem with  it.   The  problem  is

that  in  the  competition  for  buffers  to  be used to transmit

packets to a neighboring IMP, packets input from local hosts  are

favored  over  packets  arriving  from  neighboring IMPs, thereby

violating an important principle of congestion control.  Not only

can  host access lines be of higher speeds than inter-IMP trunks,

but the 1822 protocol, which governs host-IMP  access,  does  not

allow  the  IMP  to  drop  a packet it has received.  The IMP-IMP

protocol, on the other hand, does allow a receiving IMP to drop a

packet.   We  have  already pointed out the way in which this can

cause a buffer management scheme to favor the  packets  from  the

local  hosts.   Since  it  is  not  feasible  to  modify the 1822


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

protocol, some other means of eliminating or  at  least  reducing

this favoritism must be developed.

        One way of reducing this favoritism would be to define  a

pool  of buffers reserved exclusively for "transit packets", i.e.

packets whose origin and destination are both  remote.   No  such

buffer  pool  exists  in  the  ARPANET  at  present.  The current

store-and-forward pool can  be  completely  filled  with  locally

originating  packets.   Although  a  locally  originating  packet

requires a buffer from reassembly space when it first enters  the

IMP,  it  is  moved into store-and-forward space as soon as it is

queued to an output trunk.   Since  locally  originating  packets

cannot  be  discarded,  and  hence should never be refused by the

buffer management scheme after they are originally received, this

division  of  the  buffer pool does not prevent host packets from

locking out transit packets entirely.  It does  prevent  all  the

buffers  in the IMP from being devoted to host-related functions,

which is very important if the IMP is to continue to function  as

a  store-and-forward  node  even while handling a large amount of

host traffic.  Note, however, that a pool  dedicated  to  transit

packets  would  have the same effect.  Furthermore, it would have

the additional salutary effect of ensuring a  supply  of  buffers

for transit packets.

        We recommend therefore the elimination of the  store-and-


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

forward  pool,  and  the creation of a transit pool.  The transit

pool would consist of a minimum number of buffers which would  be

dedicated to packets with remote origins and remote destinations.

Locally originating packets would never be placed in the  transit

pool,  but  would remain in the Reassembly pool (which we suggest

renaming the "end-end" pool), even while queued for  transmission

out an inter-IMP trunk.

        It is also desirable to ensure that a certain  number  of

transit  packets  may  always be queued simultaneously to a given

output trunk.  Although the presence of the transit pool prevents

transit  packets  from  being  locked  out  entirely, it does not

prevent them from being locked  out  on  some  particular  output

trunk.   However,  since  every packet queued for an output trunk

must be assigned to a logical channel, this can be  prevented  by

saving  a  certain  number  of logical channels on each trunk for

transit  packets  only.   This  may  require   that   a   locally

originating   packet  with  a  remote  destination  sometimes  be

refused, even though the trunk is idle  and  the  refused  buffer

cannot  be  freed.  However, the reason for refusing in this case

is not buffer management, but  management  of  logical  channels.

Refusing  a  host  packet  (destined to a remote destination) for

reasons of logical channel management WILL result in keeping free

a  logical  channel  that  would  otherwise be occupied.  So even


IEN-182                              Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
                                                    Eric C. Rosen

though no buffer is  freed,  the  packet  can  still  be  refused

without violating any principles of resource management.