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SubjectRe: [RFC PATCH RESEND] tcp: avoid F-RTO if SACK and timestamps are disabled
On Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 11:42:43AM +0300, Ilpo Järvinen wrote:
> On Wed, 13 Jun 2018, Yuchung Cheng wrote:
> > On Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 9:55 AM, Michal Kubecek <> wrote:
> > >
> > > When F-RTO algorithm (RFC 5682) is used on connection without both SACK and
> > > timestamps (either because of (mis)configuration or because the other
> > > endpoint does not advertise them), specific pattern loss can make RTO grow
> > > exponentially until the sender is only able to send one packet per two
> > > minutes (TCP_RTO_MAX).
> > >
> > > One way to reproduce is to
> > >
> > > - make sure the connection uses neither SACK nor timestamps
> > > - let tp->reorder grow enough so that lost packets are retransmitted
> > > after RTO (rather than when high_seq - snd_una > reorder * MSS)
> > > - let the data flow stabilize
> > > - drop multiple sender packets in "every second" pattern
> Hmm? What is deterministically dropping every second packet for a
> particular flow that has RTOs in between?

AFAIK the customer we managed to push to investigate the primary source
of the packet loss identified some problems with their load balancing
solution but I don't have more details. For the record, the loss didn't
last through the phase of RTO growing exponentially (so that there were
no lost retransmissions) but did last long enough to drop at least 20
packets. With the exponential growth, that was enough for RTO to reach
TCP_RTO_MAX (120s) and make the connection essentially stalled.

Actually, it doesn't need to be exactly "every second". As long as you
don't lose two consecutive segments (which would allow you to fall back
in step (2a)), you can have more than one received segments between them
and get the same issue.

> Years back I was privately contacted by somebody from a middlebox vendor
> for a case with very similar exponentially growing RTO due to the FRTO
> heuristic. It turned out that they didn't want to send dupacks for
> out-of-order packets because they wanted to keep the TCP side of their
> deep packet inspection middlebox primitive. He claimed that the middlebox
> doesn't need to send dupacks because there could be such a TCP
> implementation that too doesn't do them either (not that he had anything
> to point to besides their middlebox ;-)), which according to him was
> not required because of his intepretation of RFC793 (IIRC). ...Nevermind
> anything that has occurred since that era.
> ...Back then, I also envisioned in that mail exchange with him that a
> middlebox could break FRTO by always forcing a drop on the key packet
> FRTO depends on. Ironically, that is exactly what is required to trigger
> this issue? Sure, every a heuristic can be fooled if a deterministic (or
> crafted) pattern is introduced to defeat that particular heuristic.

OK, let me elaborate a bit more about the background. Within last few
months, we had six different reports of TCP stalls (typically for NFS
connections alternating between idle period and bulk transfers) which
started after an upgrade from SLE11 (with 3.0 kernel) to SLE12 SP2 or
SP3 (both 4.4 kernel).

Two of them were analysed down to the NAS on the other side which was
sending SACK blocks violating the RFC in two different ways - as
described in thread "TCP one-by-one acking - RFC interpretation

Three of them do not seem to show any apparent RFC violation and the
problem is only in RTO doubling with each retransmission while there are
no usable replies that could be used for RTT estimate (in the absence of
both SACK and timestamps).

For the sake of completeness, there was also one report from two days
ago which looked almost the same but in the end it turned out that in
this case, SLES (with Firefox) was the receiver and sender was actually
Windows 2016 server with Microsoft IIS.

> I'd prefer that networks "dropping every second packet" of a flow to be
> fixed rather than FRTO?

Yes, that was my first reaction that their primary focus should be the
lossy network. However, it's not behaving like this all the time, the
periods of loss are relatively short - but long enough to trigger the
"RTO loop".

> In addition, one could even argue that the sender is sending whole the
> time with lower and lower rate (given the exponentially increasing RTO)
> and still gets losses, so that a further rate reduction would be the
> correct action. ...But take this intuitive reasoning with some grain of
> salt (that is, I can see reasons myself to disagree with it :-)).

As I explained above, the loss was over by the time of first RTO
retransmission. I should probably have made that clear in the commit

> > > - either there is no new data to send or acks received in response to new
> > > data are also window updates (i.e. not dupacks by definition)
> Can you explain what exactly do you mean with this "no new data to send"
> condition here as F-RTO is/should not be used if there's no new data to
> send?!?

AFAICS RFC 5682 is not explicit about this and offers multiple options.
Anyway, this is not essential and in most of the customer provided
captures, it wasn't the case.

> ...Or, why is the receiver going against SHOULD in RFC5681:
> "A TCP receiver SHOULD send an immediate duplicate ACK when an out-
> of-order segment arrives."
> ? ...And yes, I know there's this very issue with window updates masking
> duplicate ACKs in Linux TCP receiver but I was met with some skepticism
> on whether fixing it is worth it or not.

Normally, we would have timestamps (and even SACK). Without them, you
cannot reliably recognize a dupack with changed window size from
a spontaneous window update.

> > Acked-by: Yuchung Cheng <>
> >
> > Thanks for the patch (and packedrill test)! I would encourage
> > submitting an errata to F-RTO RFC about this case.
> Unless there's a convincing explination how such a drop pattern would
> occur in real world except due to serious brokeness/misconfiguration on
> network side (that should not be there), I'm not that sure it's exactly
> what erratas are meant for.

As explained above, this commit was not inspired by some theoretical
study trying to find dark corner cases, it was result of investigation
of reports from multiple customer encountering the problem in
real-life. Sure, there was always something bad, namely SACK/timestamps
being disabled and network losing packets, but the effect (one packet
per two minutes) is so disastrous that I believe it should be handled.

Michal Kubecek

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