Internet DRAFT - draft-thaler-multipath


Internet Engineering Task Force                               D. Thaler
INTERNET-DRAFT                                                Microsoft
Expires July 2000                                              C. Hopps
                                                          Merit Network
                                                        7 February 2000

      Multipath Issues in Unicast and Multicast Next-Hop Selection

Status of this Memo

This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with all
provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

This document is an Internet Draft.  Internet Drafts are working
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Copyright Notice

Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2000).  All Rights Reserved.

1.  Introduction

Various routing protocols, including OSPF [1] and ISIS, explicitly allow
"Equal-Cost Multipath" routing.  Some router implementations also allow
equal-cost multipath usage with RIP and other routing protocols.  Using
equal-cost multipath means that if multiple equal-cost routes to the

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same destination exist, they can be discovered and used to provide load
balancing among redundant paths.

The effect of multipath routing on a forwarder is that the forwarder
potentially has several next-hops for any given destination and must use
some method to choose which next-hop should be used for a given data
packet.  This memo summarizes current practices, problems, and

2.  Concerns

Several router implementations allow multipath forwarding.  This is
sometimes done naively via round-robin, where each packet matching a
given destination route is forwarded using the subsequent next-hop, in a
round-robin fashion.  This does provide a form of load balancing, but
there are several problems with approaches such as round-robin or

Variable Path MTU
     Since each of the redundant paths may have a different MTU, this
     means that the overall path MTU can change on a packet-by-packet
     basis, negating the usefulness of path MTU discovery.

Variable Latencies
     Since each of the redundant paths may have a different latency
     involved, having packets take separate paths can cause packets to
     always arrive out of order, increasing delivery latency and
     buffering requirements.

     Packet reordering causes TCP to believe that loss has taken place
     when packets with higher sequence numbers arrive before an earlier
     one.   When three or more packets are received before a "late"
     packet, TCP enters a mode called "fast-retransmit" [6] which
     consumes extra bandwidth (which could potentially cause more loss,
     decreasing throughput) as it attempts to unnecessarily retransmit
     the delayed packet(s).  Hence, reordering can be detrimental to
     network performance.

     Common debugging utilities such as ping and traceroute are much
     less reliable in the presence of multiple paths and may even

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     present completely wrong results.

In multicast routing, the problem with multiple paths is that multicast
routing protocols prevent loops and duplicates by constructing a single
tree to all receivers of the same group address.  Multicast routing
protocols deployed today (DVMRP, PIM-DM, PIM-SM) [2] construct shortest-
path trees rooted at either the source, or another router known as a
Core or Rendezvous Point.  Hence, the way they ensure that duplicates
will not arise is that a given tree must use only a single next-hop
towards the root of the tree.

3.  Requirements

In the remainder of this document, we will use the term "flow" to
represent the granularity at which the router keeps state (if at all)
for classes of traffic.  The exact definition of a flow may depend on
the actual implementation.  For example, a flow might be identified
solely by destination address, or it might be identified by (source
address, destination address, protocol id) triplet.  Hence "flow" is not
necessarily synonymous with the term "microflow" as used in RFC 2474
[7], which also includes port numbers.  Indeed, including transport-
layer information in the next-hop selection process can actually be
problematic.  For example, if packets are fragmented, the transport-
layer information may not be available in every packet.  Furthermore,
having the choice of path depend on transport-layer fields may negate
the benefit of caching information such as MTU for use in subsequent
connections between the same endpoints.

All of the problems outlined in the previous section arise when packets
in the same unicast or multicast "flow" are split among multiple paths.
The natural solution is therefore to ensure that packets for the same
flow always use the same path.

Two additional features are desirable:

Minimal disruption
     When multipath is used, meaning that multiple routes contribute
     valid next-hops, the chances are higher of routes being added and
     deleted from consideration than when only the "best" route is used
     (in which case metric changes in alternate routes have no effect on
     traffic paths).  Since a higher number of routes may actually be
     used for forwarding when multipath is in use, the potential for
     packet reordering and packet loss due to route flaps can be much

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     greater than when not using multipath.  Hence, it is desirable to
     minimize the number of active flows affected by the addition or
     deletion of another next-hop.

Fast implementation
     The amount of additional computation required to forward a packet
     should be small.  For example, when doing round-robin, this
     computation might consist of incrementing (modulo the number of
     next-hops) a next-hop index.

4.  Solutions

We now provide three possible methods for improving the performance of
multipath and then discuss their applicability to unicast and multicast

Modulo-N Hash
     To select a next-hop from the list of N next-hops, the router
     performs a modulo-N hash over the packet header fields that
     identify a flow.  This has the advantage of being fast, at the
     expense of (N-1)/N of all flows changing paths whenever a next-hop
     is added or removed.

     The router first selects a key by performing a hash over the packet
     header fields that identify the flow.  The N next-hops have been
     assigned unique regions in the hash function's output space. By
     comparing the hash value against region boundaries the router can
     determine which region the hash value belongs to and thus which
     next-hop to use.  This method has the advantage of only affecting
     flows near the region boundaries (or thresholds) when next-hops are
     added or removed.  For ECMP hash-threshold's lookup can be done
     with a simple division (hash_value / fixed_region_size).  When a
     next-hop is added or removed, between 1/4 and 1/2 of all flows
     change paths. An analysis of this method can be found in [3].

Highest Random Weight (HRW)
     The router computes a key for EACH next-hop by performing a hash
     over the packet header fields that identify the flow, as well as
     over the address of the next-hop.  The router then chooses the

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     next-hop with the highest resulting key value [4].  This has the
     advantage of minimizing the number of flows affected by a next-hop
     addition or deletion (only 1/N of them), but is approximately N
     times as expensive as a modulo-N hash.

The applicability of these three alternatives depends on (at least) two
factors: whether the forwarder maintains per-flow state, and how
precious CPU is to a multipath forwarder.

Some routers may maintain per-flow state for reasons other than for
supporting multipath.  For example, routers typically keep per-flow
state for multicast flows so that they can maintain the list of
interfaces to which packets in the flow should be copied.

If per-flow state is maintained in a multipath forwarder, then
computation of the next-hop can be done by the router at state creation
time.  This entails no additional computations at packet forwarding time
compared with normal forwarding to a single next-hop, since the next-hop
is precomputed.  In this case, any method can be used, including round-
robin, random, modulo-N, hash-threshold or HRW.  Hash functions such as
modulo-N, hash-threshold and HRW are better if the forwarder state may
be deleted for any reason during the lifetime of a flow since subsequent
next-hop computations by the router will always select the same path.
This also improves the usefulness of debugging utilities such as
traceroute.  Finally, to maximize the stability of paths (and hence the
usefulness of traceroute, etc.), the use of HRW is recommended over the
other methods mentioned herein.

If per-flow state is not maintained by the forwarder, then using
multiple next-hops requires that the next-hop be calculated at packet
arrival time.  When CPU is more precious than stability of flow paths,
hash-threshold is recommended over the other methods mentioned herein.

4.1.  Unicast Forwarding

Depending on the implementation, unicast forwarding may or may not keep
per-flow state.  We recommend that where forwarder implementations keep
flow state, routers should use HRW at state creation time (and next-hop
deletion time) to select the next-hop, and that forwarders without per-
flow state use hash-threshold.

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4.2.  Multicast Forwarding

Today's multicast forwarding engines use a cache of forwarding entries
indexed by group (or group prefix) and source (or source prefix).  This
means that today's multicast forwarder's always keep per-flow state,
although for some multicast routing protocols, the "flow" may be fairly
coarse (e.g., traffic from all sources to the same destination).  Since
per-flow state is kept by the forwarder, it is recommended that the
router always use HRW to select the next-hop.

Routers using explicit-joining protocols such as PIM-SM [5] should thus
use the multipath information when determining to which neighbor a join
message should be sent.  For example, when multiple next-hops exist for
a given Rendezvous Point (RP) toward which a (*,G) Join should be sent,
it is recommended that HRW be used to select the next-hop to use for
each group.

5.  Applicability

The algorithms discussed above (except round-robin) all rely on some
form of hash function.  Equal flow distribution is achieved when the
hash function is uniformly distributed.  Since the commonly used hash
functions only become uniformly distributed when the number of inputs is
relatively large, these algorithms are more applicable to routers used
to route many flows, than in, for example, a small business setting.

6.  Redundant Parallel Links

A related problem occurs when multiple parallel links are used between
the same pair of routers.  A common solution is to bundle the two links
together into a "super"-link when is then used for routing.  For
multicast forwarding, this results in the two links being reduced to a
single next-hop (over the combined link) which can be used to prevent
duplicates.  When a unicast or multicast packet is queued to the
combined link, some method, such as those discussed earlier, is still
required to determine the physical link on which to transmit the packet.
If the parallel links are identical, then most of the concerns discussed
in this document are avoided with the combined link.  The exception is
packet reordering, which can still occur with round-robin, adversely
affecting TCP.

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7.  Security Considerations

This document discusses issues with various methods of choosing a next-
hop from among multiple valid next-hops.  As such, it does not directly
impact the security of the Internet infrastructure or its applications.

One issue that is worth mentioning, however, is that when next-hop
selection is predictable, an attacker can synthesize traffic that will
all hash the same, making it possible to launch a denial-of-service
attack that overloads a particular path.  Since a special case of this
is when the same (single) next-hop is always selected, such an attack is
easiest when multipath is not being used.  Introducing multipath routing
can make such an attack more difficult; the more unpredictable the hash
is, the harder it becomes to conduct a denial-of-service attack against
any single link.

8.  References

[1]  Moy, J., "OSPF Version 2", RFC 2178, July 1997.

[2]  Maufer, T., "Deploying IP Multicast in the Enterprise", Prentice-
     Hall, 1998.

[3]  Hopps, C., "Analysis of an Equal-Cost Multi-Path Algorithm",, Work
     in progress, January 2000.

[4]  Thaler, D., and C.V. Ravishankar, "Using Name-Based Mappings to
     Increase Hit Rates", IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, February

[5]  Estrin, D., Farinacci, D., Helmy, A., Thaler, D., Deering, S.,
     Handley, M., Jacobson, V., Liu, C., Sharma, P., and L. Wei,
     "Protocol Independent Multicast-Sparse Mode (PIM-SM): Protocol
     Specification", RFC 2362, June 1998.

[6]  Allman, M., Paxson, V., and W. Stevens, "TCP Congestion Control",
     RFC 2581, April 1999.

[7]  Nichols, K., Blake, S., Baker, F., and D. Black., "Definition of
     the Differentiated Services Field (DS Field) in the IPv4 and IPv6
     Headers", RFC 2474, December 1998.

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9.  Authors' Addresses

    Dave Thaler
    One Microsoft Way
    Redmond, WA  98052
    Phone: +1 425 703 8835

    Christian E. Hopps
    Merit Network
    4251 Plymouth Road, Suite C.
    Ann Arbor, MI  48105
    Phone: +1 734 936 0291

10.  Full Copyright Statement

Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2000).  All Rights Reserved.

This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
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The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
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This document and the information contained herein is provided on an "AS

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