Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia Dead Gateway Detection

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The IP layer MUST be able to detect the failure of a "next- hop" gateway that is listed in its route cache and to choose an alternate gateway (see Section

Dead gateway detection is covered in some detail in RFC-816 [IP:11]. Experience to date has not produced a complete algorithm which is totally satisfactory, though it has identified several forbidden paths and promising techniques.


If an implementation does not include an adequate mechanism for detecting a dead gateway and re-routing, a gateway failure may cause datagrams to apparently vanish into a "black hole". This failure can be extremely confusing for users and difficult for network personnel to debug.

The dead-gateway detection mechanism must not cause unacceptable load on the host, on connected networks, or on first-hop gateway(s). The exact constraints on the timeliness of dead gateway detection and on acceptable load may vary somewhat depending on the nature of the host's mission, but a host generally needs to detect a failed first-hop gateway quickly enough that transport-layer connections will not break before an alternate gateway can be selected.

Passing advice from other layers of the protocol stack complicates the interfaces between the layers, but it is the preferred approach to dead gateway detection. Advice can come from almost any part of the IP/TCP architecture, but it is expected to come primarily from the transport and link layers. Here are some possible sources for gateway advice:

Note that positive advice that is given for every datagram received may cause unacceptable overhead in the implementation.

While advice might be passed using required arguments in all interfaces to the IP layer, some transport and application layer protocols cannot deduce the correct advice. These interfaces must therefore allow a neutral value for advice, since either always-positive or always-negative advice leads to incorrect behavior.

There is another technique for dead gateway detection that has been commonly used but is not recommended. This technique depends upon the host passively receiving ("wiretapping") the Interior Gateway Protocol (IGP) datagrams that the gateways are broadcasting to each other. This approach has the drawback that a host needs to recognize all the interior gateway protocols that gateways may use (see [INTRO:2]). In addition, it only works on a broadcast network.

At present, pinging (i.e., using ICMP Echo messages) is the mechanism for gateway probing when absolutely required. A successful ping guarantees that the addressed interface and its associated machine are up, but it does not guarantee that the machine is a gateway as opposed to a host. The normal inference is that if a Redirect or other evidence indicates that a machine was a gateway, successful pings will indicate that the machine is still up and hence still a gateway. However, since a host silently discards packets that a gateway would forward or redirect, this assumption could sometimes fail. To avoid this problem, a new ICMP message under development will ask "are you a gateway?"


The following specific algorithm has been suggested:

Note that the size of Tr is inversely related to the amount of advice available. Tr should be large enough to insure that:

Since the recommended algorithm is concerned with the gateways pointed to by route cache entries, rather than the cache entries themselves, a two level data structure (perhaps coordinated with ARP or similar caches) may be desirable for implementing a route cache.

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Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia Dead Gateway Detection