Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
3.2. Discussion

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3.2. Discussion

3.2. Discussion

The implementation of a protocol must be robust. Each implementation must expect to interoperate with others created by different individuals. While the goal of this specification is to be explicit about the protocol there is the possibility of differing interpretations. In general, an implementation must be conservative in its sending behavior, and liberal in its receiving behavior. That is, it must be careful to send well-formed datagrams, but must accept any datagram that it can interpret (e.g., not object to technical errors where the meaning is still clear).

The basic internet service is datagram oriented and provides for the fragmentation of datagrams at gateways, with reassembly taking place at the destination internet protocol module in the destination host. Of course, fragmentation and reassembly of datagrams within a network or by private agreement between the gateways of a network is also allowed since this is transparent to the internet protocols and the higher-level protocols. This transparent type of fragmentation and reassembly is termed "network-dependent" (or intranet) fragmentation and is not discussed further here.

Internet addresses distinguish sources and destinations to the host level and provide a protocol field as well. It is assumed that each protocol will provide for whatever multiplexing is necessary within a host.


To provide for flexibility in assigning address to networks and allow for the large number of small to intermediate sized networks the interpretation of the address field is coded to specify a small number of networks with a large number of host, a moderate number of networks with a moderate number of hosts, and a large number of networks with a small number of hosts. In addition there is an escape code for extended addressing mode.

Address Formats:

      High Order Bits   Format                           Class
      ---------------   -------------------------------  -----
            0            7 bits of net, 24 bits of host    a
            10          14 bits of net, 16 bits of host    b
            110         21 bits of net,  8 bits of host    c
            111         escape to extended addressing mode
A value of zero in the network field means this network. This is only used in certain ICMP messages. The extended addressing mode is undefined. Both of these features are reserved for future use.

The actual values assigned for network addresses is given in "Assigned Numbers" [9].

The local address, assigned by the local network, must allow for a single physical host to act as several distinct internet hosts. That is, there must be a mapping between internet host addresses and network/host interfaces that allows several internet addresses to correspond to one interface. It must also be allowed for a host to have several physical interfaces and to treat the datagrams from several of them as if they were all addressed to a single host.

Address mappings between internet addresses and addresses for ARPANET, SATNET, PRNET, and other networks are described in "Address Mappings" [5].

Fragmentation and Reassembly

The internet identification field (ID) is used together with the source and destination address, and the protocol fields, to identify datagram fragments for reassembly.

The More Fragments flag bit (MF) is set if the datagram is not the last fragment. The Fragment Offset field identifies the fragment location, relative to the beginning of the original unfragmented datagram. Fragments are counted in units of 8 octets. The fragmentation strategy is designed so than an unfragmented datagram has all zero fragmentation information (MF = 0, fragment offset = 0). If an internet datagram is fragmented, its data portion must be broken on 8 octet boundaries.

This format allows 2**13 = 8192 fragments of 8 octets each for a total of 65,536 octets. Note that this is consistent with the the datagram total length field (of course, the header is counted in the total length and not in the fragments).

When fragmentation occurs, some options are copied, but others remain with the first fragment only.

Every internet module must be able to forward a datagram of 68 octets without further fragmentation. This is because an internet header may be up to 60 octets, and the minimum fragment is 8 octets.

Every internet destination must be able to receive a datagram of 576 octets either in one piece or in fragments to be reassembled.

The fields which may be affected by fragmentation include:

      (1) options field
      (2) more fragments flag
      (3) fragment offset
      (4) internet header length field
      (5) total length field
      (6) header checksum
If the Don't Fragment flag (DF) bit is set, then internet fragmentation of this datagram is NOT permitted, although it may be discarded. This can be used to prohibit fragmentation in cases where the receiving host does not have sufficient resources to reassemble internet fragments.

One example of use of the Don't Fragment feature is to down line load a small host. A small host could have a boot strap program that accepts a datagram stores it in memory and then executes it.

The fragmentation and reassembly procedures are most easily described by examples. The following procedures are example implementations.

General notation in the following pseudo programs: "=<" means "less than or equal", "#" means "not equal", "=" means "equal", "<-" means "is set to". Also, "x to y" includes x and excludes y; for example, "4 to 7" would include 4, 5, and 6 (but not 7).

An Example Fragmentation Procedure

The maximum sized datagram that can be transmitted through the next network is called the maximum transmission unit (MTU).

If the total length is less than or equal the maximum transmission unit then submit this datagram to the next step in datagram processing; otherwise cut the datagram into two fragments, the first fragment being the maximum size, and the second fragment being the rest of the datagram. The first fragment is submitted to the next step in datagram processing, while the second fragment is submitted to this procedure in case it is still too large.


        FO    -  Fragment Offset
        IHL   -  Internet Header Length
        DF    -  Don't Fragment flag
        MF    -  More Fragments flag
        TL    -  Total Length
        OFO   -  Old Fragment Offset
        OIHL  -  Old Internet Header Length
        OMF   -  Old More Fragments flag
        OTL   -  Old Total Length
        NFB   -  Number of Fragment Blocks
        MTU   -  Maximum Transmission Unit
        IF TL =< MTU THEN Submit this datagram to the next step
             in datagram processing ELSE IF DF = 1 THEN discard the
        datagram ELSE
        To produce the first fragment:
        (1)  Copy the original internet header;
        (2)  OIHL <- IHL; OTL <- TL; OFO <- FO; OMF <- MF;
        (3)  NFB <- (MTU-IHL*4)/8;
        (4)  Attach the first NFB*8 data octets;
        (5)  Correct the header:
             MF <- 1;  TL <- (IHL*4)+(NFB*8);
             Recompute Checksum;
        (6)  Submit this fragment to the next step in
             datagram processing;
        To produce the second fragment:
        (7)  Selectively copy the internet header (some options
             are not copied, see option definitions);
        (8)  Append the remaining data;
        (9)  Correct the header:
             IHL <- (((OIHL*4)-(length of options not copied))+3)/4;
             TL <- OTL - NFB*8 - (OIHL-IHL)*4);
             FO <- OFO + NFB;  MF <- OMF;  Recompute Checksum;
        (10) Submit this fragment to the fragmentation test; DONE.
In the above procedure each fragment (except the last) was made the maximum allowable size. An alternative might produce less than the maximum size datagrams. For example, one could implement a fragmentation procedure that repeatly divided large datagrams in half until the resulting fragments were less than the maximum transmission unit size.

An Example Reassembly Procedure

For each datagram the buffer identifier is computed as the concatenation of the source, destination, protocol, and identification fields. If this is a whole datagram (that is both the fragment offset and the more fragments fields are zero), then any reassembly resources associated with this buffer identifier are released and the datagram is forwarded to the next step in datagram processing.

If no other fragment with this buffer identifier is on hand then reassembly resources are allocated. The reassembly resources consist of a data buffer, a header buffer, a fragment block bit table, a total data length field, and a timer. The data from the fragment is placed in the data buffer according to its fragment offset and length, and bits are set in the fragment block bit table corresponding to the fragment blocks received.

If this is the first fragment (that is the fragment offset is zero) this header is placed in the header buffer. If this is the last fragment ( that is the more fragments field is zero) the total data length is computed. If this fragment completes the datagram (tested by checking the bits set in the fragment block table), then the datagram is sent to the next step in datagram processing; otherwise the timer is set to the maximum of the current timer value and the value of the time to live field from this fragment; and the reassembly routine gives up control.

If the timer runs out, the all reassembly resources for this buffer identifier are released. The initial setting of the timer is a lower bound on the reassembly waiting time. This is because the waiting time will be increased if the Time to Live in the arriving fragment is greater than the current timer value but will not be decreased if it is less. The maximum this timer value could reach is the maximum time to live (approximately 4.25 minutes). The current recommendation for the initial timer setting is 15 seconds. This may be changed as experience with this protocol accumulates. Note that the choice of this parameter value is related to the buffer capacity available and the data rate of the transmission medium; that is, data rate times timer value equals buffer size (e.g., 10Kb/s X 15s = 150Kb).


        FO    -  Fragment Offset
        IHL   -  Internet Header Length
        MF    -  More Fragments flag
        TTL   -  Time To Live
        NFB   -  Number of Fragment Blocks
        TL    -  Total Length
        TDL   -  Total Data Length
        BUFID -  Buffer Identifier
        RCVBT -  Fragment Received Bit Table
        TLB   -  Timer Lower Bound
        (1)  BUFID <- source|destination|protocol|identification;
        (2)  IF FO = 0 AND MF = 0
        (3)     THEN IF buffer with BUFID is allocated
        (4)             THEN flush all reassembly for this BUFID;
        (5)          Submit datagram to next step; DONE.
        (6)     ELSE IF no buffer with BUFID is allocated
        (7)             THEN allocate reassembly resources
                             with BUFID;
                             TIMER <- TLB; TDL <- 0;
        (8)          put data from fragment into data buffer with
                     BUFID from octet FO*8 to
                                         octet (TL-(IHL*4))+FO*8;
        (9)          set RCVBT bits from FO
                                        to FO+((TL-(IHL*4)+7)/8);
        (10)         IF MF = 0 THEN TDL <- TL-(IHL*4)+(FO*8)
        (11)         IF FO = 0 THEN put header in header buffer
        (12)         IF TDL # 0
        (13)          AND all RCVBT bits from 0
                                             to (TDL+7)/8 are set
        (14)            THEN TL <- TDL+(IHL*4)
        (15)                 Submit datagram to next step;
        (16)                 free all reassembly resources
                             for this BUFID; DONE.
        (17)         TIMER <- MAX(TIMER,TTL);
        (18)         give up until next fragment or timer expires;
        (19) timer expires: flush all reassembly with this BUFID; DONE.
In the case that two or more fragments contain the same data either identically or through a partial overlap, this procedure will use the more recently arrived copy in the data buffer and datagram delivered.


The choice of the Identifier for a datagram is based on the need to provide a way to uniquely identify the fragments of a particular datagram. The protocol module assembling fragments judges fragments to belong to the same datagram if they have the same source, destination, protocol, and Identifier. Thus, the sender must choose the Identifier to be unique for this source, destination pair and protocol for the time the datagram (or any fragment of it) could be alive in the internet.

It seems then that a sending protocol module needs to keep a table of Identifiers, one entry for each destination it has communicated with in the last maximum packet lifetime for the internet.

However, since the Identifier field allows 65,536 different values, some host may be able to simply use unique identifiers independent of destination.

It is appropriate for some higher level protocols to choose the identifier. For example, TCP protocol modules may retransmit an identical TCP segment, and the probability for correct reception would be enhanced if the retransmission carried the same identifier as the original transmission since fragments of either datagram could be used to construct a correct TCP segment.

Type of Service

The type of service (TOS) is for internet service quality selection. The type of service is specified along the abstract parameters precedence, delay, throughput, and reliability. These abstract parameters are to be mapped into the actual service parameters of the particular networks the datagram traverses.

Precedence. An independent measure of the importance of this datagram.

Delay. Prompt delivery is important for datagrams with this indication.

Throughput. High data rate is important for datagrams with this indication.

Reliability. A higher level of effort to ensure delivery is important for datagrams with this indication.

For example, the ARPANET has a priority bit, and a choice between "standard" messages (type 0) and "uncontrolled" messages (type 3), (the choice between single packet and multipacket messages can also be considered a service parameter). The uncontrolled messages tend to be less reliably delivered and suffer less delay. Suppose an internet datagram is to be sent through the ARPANET. Let the internet type of service be given as:

      Precedence:    5
      Delay:         0
      Throughput:    1
      Reliability:   1
In this example, the mapping of these parameters to those available for the ARPANET would be to set the ARPANET priority bit on since the Internet precedence is in the upper half of its range, to select standard messages since the throughput and reliability requirements are indicated and delay is not. More details are given on service mappings in "Service Mappings" [8].

Time to Live

The time to live is set by the sender to the maximum time the datagram is allowed to be in the internet system. If the datagram is in the internet system longer than the time to live, then the datagram must be destroyed.

This field must be decreased at each point that the internet header is processed to reflect the time spent processing the datagram. Even if no local information is available on the time actually spent, the field must be decremented by 1. The time is measured in units of seconds (i.e. the value 1 means one second). Thus, the maximum time to live is 255 seconds or 4.25 minutes. Since every module that processes a datagram must decrease the TTL by at least one even if it process the datagram in less than a second, the TTL must be thought of only as an upper bound on the time a datagram may exist. The intention is to cause undeliverable datagrams to be discarded, and to bound the maximum datagram lifetime.

Some higher level reliable connection protocols are based on assumptions that old duplicate datagrams will not arrive after a certain time elapses. The TTL is a way for such protocols to have an assurance that their assumption is met.


The options are optional in each datagram, but required in implementations. That is, the presence or absence of an option is the choice of the sender, but each internet module must be able to parse every option. There can be several options present in the option field.

The options might not end on a 32-bit boundary. The internet header must be filled out with octets of zeros. The first of these would be interpreted as the end-of-options option, and the remainder as internet header padding.

Every internet module must be able to act on every option. The Security Option is required if classified, restricted, or compartmented traffic is to be passed.


The internet header checksum is recomputed if the internet header is changed. For example, a reduction of the time to live, additions or changes to internet options, or due to fragmentation. This checksum at the internet level is intended to protect the internet header fields from transmission errors.

There are some applications where a few data bit errors are acceptable while retransmission delays are not. If the internet protocol enforced data correctness such applications could not be supported.


Internet protocol errors may be reported via the ICMP messages [3].

Next: 3.3. Interfaces

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
3.2. Discussion