A successful student project - analyzing popular websites

Most computer networking classes in universities include lab sessions and projects that enable students to learn how protocols are used in the real worl. For almost a decade, I’ve asked the students who follow the networking course at UCLouvain to analyze one web site. This project idea was suggested by Gisueppe Di Battista who also teaches computer networking at Roma III university.

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Internet

It is difficult to exactly track the first steps of the networking technology that laid the foundation for today’s Internet, but most experts consider the ARPART as the major ancestor to our current Internet. This network was funded by DARPA, the Advanced Research Project Agency of the US Department of Defense. The first experiments started in the late 1960s with the installation of a few ARPANET nodes in US universities and labs.

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A reminder on passwords

Passwords are used for a wide range of services. Every time I explain passwords to students, I strongly encourage them to never, ever design a software that stores passwords as clear text inside a file. Storing clear text passwords is a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen dozen myriads of websites having their “secure” password file being hacked. Since the publication o Password security: a case history every computer scientist should know that passwords should be hashed before being stored in a file, even if the file is protected by strict permissions. This is the default solution on Unix since the early days and has been adopted by all derivatives.

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As the Internet gets older, it's important for networking students to also study its history

Many network experts consider the beginning of the ARPANet network in the US as the first days of the global network that we call the Internet today. The first ARPANet nodes were installed during the latest months of 1969. The Internet turns 50 this year. At the same time, the first networking researchers agreed to create a working group that later between ACM’s Special Interest Group in Datacommunications (SIGCOMM). Many of the articles that have influenced the development of computer networks and the Internet in particular have been published by ACM SIGCOMM. Computer Communication Review recently published a special issue that includes technical articles that summarise the evolution of computer networks. Several of these articles are particularly interesting for networking students:

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Mapping IP addresses to AS numbers and countries

When network engineers analyze log files, collect packets or observe traceroute data, they sometimes want to know the AS that announces a given IP address. This information can be extracted from BGP routing tables to by using services such as RIPE RIS or RouteViews. There is now an interesting alternative with the https://iptoasn.com website that provides both files containing the mappings between IP addresses and AS numbers and an API to retrieve this mapping.

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Many Internet hosts often phone home

While collecting some DNS packet traces to prepare new DNS exercises for the students, I was surprised to notice that my Linux host was regularly doing DNS requests for [connectivity-check.ubuntu.com]

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If your firewall only allows https, all applications will move to https

Many entreprise networks restrict the applications that users can use by blocking some TCP and UDP ports at the entreprise firewalls. This happens as well in campus networks. To cope with these restrictions, some applications, notably those running on smartphones, have moved to the well known and usually open HTTP or HTTPS ports. Over the years, firewalls have evolved. instad of simply looking at port numbers, most of today’s firewalls inspect the packets exchanged over a connection to ensure that HTTP is used on port 80 and TLS on port 443. If this is not the case, the connection is considered to be suspicious and blocked.

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A Man in the Middle in Kazakhstan

In less than 20 years, Transport Layer Security (TLS) moved from a niche protocol that was only used by banks and e-commerce websites to almost a default solution. Today, a growing fraction of the Internet traffic is encrypted by using TLS or similar protocols. This encryption and the associated authentication improve the security of Internet users since attackers cannot observe or modify the packets that they exchange.

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A closer look at modern Network Interface Cards

Network Interface Cards (NIC) play an important role in the protocol stack since contain all the hardware functions that are required to transmit and receive packets. In the early days, the NICs mainly implemented the physical layer and a fraction of the datalink layer (e.g. CSMA/CD for Ethernet or CSMA/CA for Wi-Fi). Over the years, a variety of functions have been added to the NICs, starting from the computation of the datalink layer checksums and CRCs. Then they have also be capable of fragmentation packets and even splitting large TCP segments in a series of IP packets. Some NICs can offload cryptographic computations for TLS or IPSec and the latest generation of NICs are fully programmables.

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Tracking the deployment of TLS 1.3

Transport Layer Security is a key part of the protocol stack. During the last years, a lot of effort have been invested in creating version 1.3 of this important protocol. TLS 1.3 RFC8446 was published in August 2018. In contrast with some protocols that are specified and then implemented, the TLS 1.3 implementations were written in parallel with the specification work and several operational issues influenced the protocol design. When RFC8446 was published, several TLS 1.3 implementations were available and large companies have quickly deployed it on clients and servers. On server side, RedHat has enabled TLS 1.3 in their latest Linux distribution. On the client side, Apple has enabled TLS 1.3 in March 2019 on both iOS and macOS.

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How do different IPv6 hosts generate their addresses ?

One of the main advantages of IPv6 is that it uses 128 bits long addresses. The 64 high order bits of the address are used to identify the subnet while the low order 64 bits are reserved for the host identifier. This host identifier can be configured manually, allocated by DHCPv6 or auto-configured using the Stateless Address Autoconfiguration (SLAAC). SLAAC evolved over the years. The first versions, RFC1971, RFC2462 RFC4862 mainly computed the low order 64 bits of the address from the MAC address of the endhost. However, this utilisation of a stable identifier raised privacy concerns as a host would use the same low order bits in any IPv6 address that it generates RFC3041. Today’s stack implement the privacy extensions defined in RFC4941 and generate random identifiers that are used as the low order 64 bits of the IPv6 addresses that they generate.

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A closer look at spam

One of the benefits of the Internet is that it lowers the cost of communicating between distant users. Today, anyone takes for granted that it is possible to send an email or an instant message to any other Internet user. All these exchanges can be done at a very low cost, which enabled a wide range of activities that would have not been possible without the Internet. Unfortunately, the ridiculously low cost of sending information to any Internet user has attracted a range of fraudulent users that send unsolicited commercial or phishing messages.

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Details matter in protocol security

Securing network protocols remains a difficult task as illustrated by the KNOB Attack that was recently announced on a wide range of Bluetooth devices. Bluetooth is a widely used short-range wireless technology that is used to connect devices such as keyboard, mouse, headphones to computers. It also used to directly exchange data between mobile devices such as smartphones. It is also possible to use a Bluetooth link to exchange IP packets. The development of Bluetooth started almost thirty years ago and the first devices appeared 20 years ago.

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Strange TCP MSS values

TCP is today the most widely used transport protocol. It was defined in RFC793. It provides a connection-oriented bi-directional bytestream service on top of the unreliable IP layer. A TCP connection always starts with a three-way handshake. During this handshake, the client and the server can use TCP options to negotiate the utilisation of TCP extensions. These TCP options are also used to exchange a key parameter of a TCP connection: the Maximum Segment Size (MSS).

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Some packet captures with recent DNS extensions

The Domain Name System is one of the key protocols in today’s Internet as it allows to map names onto IP addresses. Most networking students probably see DNS as the typical request-response application running over UDP. To retrieve the DNS record corresponding to a given name, a client sends a DNS request to its resolver inside a single UDP packet. DNS was defined in RFC1035. Over the years, the protocol has evolved have several extensions have been added. Several IETF working groups have been targeted around the Domain Name System:

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JMAP, a new protocol to retrieve emails

Email is one of the oldest applications on the Internet. Initially, email was used to deliver emails between two Internet hosts by using the SMTP protocol defined in RFC821 and updated several times after. SMTP is used to exchange emails between servers. With the proliferation of client devices such as PCs, and later laptops or smartphones, several protocols have defined to enable clients to retrieve emails from servers. The most popular are POP and IMAP. These two protocols are classical ASCII-based protocols where clients and servers exchanged commands encoded as one ASCII line over a TCP connection.

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TFO deployment seems to grow

TCP Fast Open is a TCP extension that enables client and servers to place data inside the SYN and SYN+ACK packets during the three-way handshake. This extension has been pushed by google to speedup short transfers. It is defined in RFC7413 and its Linux implementation is described in a nice LWN.net article.

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An IPv6 enabled whiteboard

The large size of the IPv6 addresses enables unexpected use cases and nice demos. Using a Raspberry PI, Markus Klock has designed an open IPv6 board where anyone can write short messages by sending IPv6 ICMP packets. The raspberry listens to IPv6 prefix 2001:6b0:1001:105::/64 and captures any packet sent to this prefix. To write a message on the board, simply encode the ASCII characters as the low order 64 bits of the address that you ping.

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Some ebooks unfortunately disappear

For many readers, ebooks are a simple variant of the traditionnal books that we are used to since Gutenberg and before. As a book owner, I am free to use the book as I want, share it with others, … Unfortunately, many ebooks are different. Companies like Amazon with the kindle, Apple with iBooks, Adobe, Microsoft and others consider that an ebook is a software product that is subject to a license. The ebook license allows you to read the ebook, take notes, … However, these licenses are not always perpetual. In April 2019, Microsoft announced that they stopped their ebook business, probably because it was not profitable enough and planned to stop the licensing servers for their ebooks in July 2019. Microsoft announced some refunds, but all ebook readers are now warned. Their preferred ebook might stop to be available due to a decision of the ebook publisher.

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A simpler way to correctly configure TLS servers

The Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol plays a more and more important role in today’s Internet. It secures wbesites, but also mail servers and a wide range of other services. Like many security protocols, TLS can be configured in very different ways and a minor change in a configuration file might have an important impact on the security of a TLS deployment. Another factor that contributes to the complexity of configuring TLS is that there are different implementations of this protocol that can be integrated in very different web servers. Each web server uses its own configuration file and different web servers use different parameters.

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Documenting the format of robots.txt

In the early days of the web, the google web crawler that crawls public web pages to build the web index used by the search engine received complains from webmasters who did not agree to let google index their website or were concerned by the load that these crawlers put on their infrastructure. To cope with this problem, google engineers developed a simple text file called robots.txt which can be used by webmasters to specify the parts of the web site that can be crawled and by which crawler. Over the years, the robots.txt file evolved, but its format had never been formally specified despite its widespread usage. 25 years later, google fills this gap by releasing an Internet draft that eventually describes the format of this text file. It is likely that the IETF will discuss minor details on this document in the coming years or maybe months before accepting it.

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Do HTTP/2 or QUIC provide better performance than HTTP/1.1 in mobile networks

The performance of the web protocols has been heavily optimised during the last decades. Given the importance of smartphones and mobile data networks, many web sites try to offer the best performance for mobile users. Many factors can influence the performance of web sites. One of the classical benchmark is the Page Load Time (PLT), i.e. the time required to completely dowload a web page. Many studies has analysed the PLT of web sites and proposed techniques to reduce it in specific scenarios. In a recently published paper, a group of researchers led by Mohammad Rajiullah has analysed a large dataset of measurements performed in mobile networks throughout Europe using the MONROE testbed. They summarise their findings in a paper entitled Web Experience in Mobile Networks: Lessons from Two Million Page Visits that they have recently presented at the Web Conference.

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Internet measurements can reveal unexpected results

Measurements always reveal new insights or unexpected results about the system under study. This applies to a wide range of systems including the Internet. Two recent scientific articles provide unexpected results about two very different protocols: ICMP and BGP.

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Recent networking notes

curl is one of the most versatile implementation of a wide range of application-layer networking protocols. It started as an open-source project twenty years ago and is now used on billions of devices. In a recent post on stackoverflow, Daniel Stenberg explains why he developed this project.

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The RFC series turns 50

Most of the Internet protocols have been document in Requests For Comments (RFCs). Initially, these documents were simply a set of notes that were exchanged among networking researchers. The first of these RFCs was published on April 7th, 1969, 50 years ago.

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A nice visualisation of the Internet growth

During the last thirty years, computer networks and the Internet in particular evolved from a niche technology that was only known by few scientists into a mainstream technology that affects a large fraction of our society. Thirty years ago, Ethernet was already deployed in universities and many of them started to be connected to the Internet with bandwidth that would be considered as ridiculous today. In parallel, the number of users who have been able to access the Internet has grown tremedously and the Internet is slowly being considered as important as electricity in many countries.

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Disconnecting an entire country from the Internet

In the early days of the Internet, governments considered it as a strange research experiment and did not really bother to try to understand how it worked. During the last years, governments all over the world have made more and more efforts to try to control its utilization. The numbers of laws that affect the Internet consider to grow and various governments restrict the utilization of the Internet. It is impossible to list all government interferences that affect the Internet, but here are a few notable ones.

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Have you seen f8:e0:79:af:57:eb ?

Wi-Fi and Ethernet adapters contain a unique MAC address that they use to when exchanging frames in the LAN. These addresses are assigned by IEEE to each manufacturer that is supposed to configure each adapter with a unique address. Everytime you use a laptop, smartphone, tablet or Wi-Fi equipped device, it sends frames with its unique MAC address. These MAC addresses do not leave the LAN where they are used, but they are used by services such as DHCP to allocate addresses. Some of these services log the MAC addresses that they have seen for security reasons.

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Five Years at the Edge - Watching Internet from the ISP Network

The Internet is a dynamic system that continuously evolves. This evolution can be observed from several vantage points. A recent article, entitled Five Years at the Edge: Watching Internet from the ISP Network and co-authored by Martino Trevisan and his colleagues from Politechnico di Torino provides an unusual and very interesting perpective on the evolution of Internet traffic. This paper was presented last week at the Conext’2018 and can be downloaded from the conference program page

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A first analysis of a TCP server

Networking students can learn a lot about Internet protocols by analyzing how they are actually deployed. For several years, Computer Science students at UCLouvain have analyzed different websites within their introductory networking course. This project considers several key Internet protocols, DNS, HTTP, TLS and TCP. In this post, we briefly analyze how TCP is used on some web sites as a starting point for these students.

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A first analysis of a TLS server

Networking students can learn a lot about Internet protocols by analyzing how they are actually deployed. For several years, Computer Science students at UCLouvain have analyzed different websites within their introductory networking course. This project considers several key Internet protocols, DNS, HTTP, TLS and TCP. In this post, we briefly analyze how TLS is used on some websites as a starting point for these students.

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A first analysis of an HTTP server

Networking students can learn a lot about Internet protocols by analyzing how they are actually deployed. For several years, Computer Science students at UCLouvain have analyzed different websites within their introductory networking course. This project considers several key Internet protocols, DNS, HTTP, TLS and TCP. In this post, we briefly analyze how HTTP is used on some websites as a starting point for these students.

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A flipped classroom model allows students to better understand BGP

The Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is an important protocol in today’s Internet. As such, it is part of the standard networking textbooks. At UCLouvain, timing constraints force me to explain BGP in two different courses. The students learn the basics of external BGP within the introductory networking course that is mandatory for all CS students. We mainly cover routing policies (customer provider and shared-cost peerings) and the basics of eBGP with the utilisation of the AS-Path and the local-pref attribute. Some students register for the advanced networking course that covers BGP in more details, MPLS, VPNs, multicast and other advanced topics.

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Observing the DNS configuration

During their first networking course, each CS student at UCLouvain writes a four-pages report that analyses the organisation of a popular web site and the optimisations or sometimes the errors that the maintainers of this website have made when configuring their DNS, HTTP, TLS or protocols TCP. This project lasts one month and the students receive every week guidelines and suggestions on how to carry their analysis. Here are a few examples which can be used to bootstrap the DNS analysis of such a website.

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Encrypting Server Name Indication in TLS

A growing fraction of our webservers are now reachable via https instead of http. With the http scheme, all the information is transported in plain, including the HTTP headers, cookies, web pages and other sensitive information. For many years, https, which combines http with Transport Layer Security, has been restricted to sensitive web sites such as those that require a password or e-commerce. During the last five years, the deployment of https changed significantly. Today, Mozilla’s telemetry reports that roughly 80% of the webpages downloaded by firefox users are served over https.

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Discussions on TCP timestamp

The TCP Timestamp option was proposed in RFC1323 in 1992 at the same time as the Window Scale option. There were two motivations for the initial TCP Timestamp option : improving round-trip-time estimation and protecting agains wrapped sequence numbers (PAWS). By adding timestamps to each packets, it becomes easier to estimate round-trip-times, especially when packets are lost because retransmissions of a packet carry different timestamps. The PAWS mechanism is less well understood. It is a direct consequence of the utilisation of 32 bits sequence numbers in TCP. TCP RFC793 was designed under the assumption that the IP layer guarantees that a packet will not live in the network for more than 2 minutes (the Maximum Segment Lifetime). TCP’s reliable transmission can be guaranteed provided that it does not use the same sequence number for different packets within MSL seconds. In 1981, with 32 bits sequence numbers, nobody thought that reusing the same sequence number over 2 minutes would become a problem. Today, this is a reality, even in wide area networks. PAWS RFC7323 solves this problem by using timestamps to detects spurious packets and prevent from problems where old packets are delayed within MSL seconds. It took more than a decade to reach a significant deployment of RFC1323.

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Learning TCP sockets in C

In a previous post, we have described a first INGINIOUS exercise that enables students to check their understanding of the utilisation of the socket API with UDP. This API is more frequently used to interact with TCP. Interacting correctly with TCP is more challenging than interacting correctly with UDP. As TCP provides a reliable, connection-oriented, bystream service, there are several subtleties that the students need to consider to write code that interacts correctly with the TCP socket API.

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Learning UDP sockets in C

Created in the early days of the TCP/IP protocol suite, the socket API remains the standard low-level API to interact with the underlying networking stack. Despite its age, it remains widely used and most networking students are exposed to it during their studies. Although more recent languages and higher-level APIs can simplify the interactions between applications and the networking stack, it remains important for students to understand its operation. At UCLouvain, we aks the students to write a simple transport protocol in C over UDP. This enables them to understand how to parse packets, but also how to manage timers and how to interact with the socket API.

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A closer look at dropbox

Dropbox is a very popular file sharing service. Many users rely on its infrastructure to store large files, perform backups or share files. Like other commercial services such as Apple’s iCloud or Microsoft’s OneDrive, Dropbox uses a proprietary protocol to exchange information between client applications and its servers. The most detailed description of Dropbox’s protocol was published in Inside Dropbox: Understanding Personal Cloud Storage Services. This paper appeared in 2012 and it is unfortunately very likely that Dropbox’s protocols and architecture have evolved since then.

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Running your own ISP

Various types of carreers are possible in the networking business. Some develop new applications, others deploy network services or manage enterprise networks. Most of the people who are active in the field work in established organisations that already have a running network. Some decide to create their own business or their own company. The same happens when considering Internet Service Providers. Most of the existing ISPs were created almost twenty years ago. While it is more difficult to launch an ISP business today that when the Internet was booming, there are still new ISPs that are created from scratch. In a series of two blog posts, Chris Hacken discusses many of the technical bareers that exist in this type of businesses. There are very few documents that describe those business, practical and operational issues.

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Disabling IPv4

A recent post on twitter shared a Swedish website that briefly describes how to disable IPv4 on Windows (see below), Linux and MacOS.

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Eliminating IP Spoofing

When IP routers forward packets, they inspect their destination address to determine the outgoing interface or the next step router towards the packet’s destination. Given this, a simple router does not need to look at the source address of the packets. The source address is mainly used by the destination to send the return packets or by intermediate routers to generate ICMP messages when problems are detected. This assumption was true in the the early days of the Internet and most routers only looked at destination addresses.

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TCP on planes and highspeed trains

Internet protocols continue to be used in a variety of scenarios that go beyond the initial objectives of the TCP/IP protocol suite. Two recent scientific articles provide an insight at the performance of TCP/IP in challenging environments.

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The end of plain DNS ?

The Domain Name System is one on the venerable Internet protocols like IP or TCP. For performance reasons, the DNS protocol is usually used on top of UDP. This enables clients to send their DNS request in a single message to which the servers reply in a single message as well. Both the request and the response are sent in plain text, which raises obvious security and privacy concerns. Many of these are documented in RFC7626. In a recent Usenix Security article, B. Liu et al. revealed that 259 of the 3,047 ASes where they could perform measurements used some form of DNS interception. The IETF has explored several solutions to secure the information exchanged between DNS clients and servers. RFC7858 and [RFC8310] have specified solutions to transport DNS over TLS and DTLS. Some public resolvers already support these extensions. Apparently, Android P also supports it. Geoff Huston published an interesting blog post that compares different DNS securisation techniques.

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How to wire a network ?

There are many ways to wire Ethernet networks. When students create simple labs with a few cables and a few switches and a few hosts, they simply plug any suitable cable and run their experiment. In real networks, a good wiring strategy can help to avoid lots of problems and lost time debugging those problems.

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Animals love computer networks

Networks are composed of cables and equipment whose normal utilisation is sometimes disrupted by animals that view them from a different angle than humans. Fiber optic cables that are laid under the sea to connect continents attract a variety of animals. Sharks can be attracted by the shape of the cable or the magnetic fields that they emit. One of these cable biting sharks has even been stopped by under the sea surveillance cameras…

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The end of plaintext protocols ?

Internet protocols have traditionally been clear-text protocols and many protocols like SMTP or HTTP could be tested by using a simple telnet session. This feature was very handy when testing or debugging protocol implementations. However, it is difficult to implement a correct parser for plaintext protocols and many of these parsers have suffered from bugs. Binary protocols have a more precise syntax and are thus easier to parse at least if they do not contain lots of extensibility. All Internet security protocols including IPSec, TLS or ssh are binary protocols. With the Snowden revelations, the IETF has strongly encouraged the utilisation of security protocols to counter pervasive monitoring as explained in RFC7258.

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Recent TCP pointers

Despite its age, TCP continues to evolve and the existing TCP implementations continue to be improved. Some recent blog posts provide useful information about the evolution of TCP in the wild.

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Unusual File Systems

There is a wide variety of file systems that store files on remote servers. NFS is very popular in the Unix world while Samba allows Windows clients to store files on Unix servers. Besides those regular file systems, some networkers have developed special file systems that use or abuse popular Internet protocols. A first example is pingfs, a filesystem that relies on ICMP request/response packets sent by the popular ping software to “store” information inside the network itself. To store a file, pingfs needs to split it in packets that are sent on a regular basis to remote hosts that return ICMP messages. This file is then “stored” as packets that are flying through the network but the entire file does not reside on a disk somewhere.

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Fixing incorrect IPv6 routing tables

Students have sometimes difficulties to understand how IPv6 static routes work. A typical exam question to check their ability at understanding IPv6 static routes is to prepare a simple network containing static routes that have been incorrectly specified. Here is a simple IPMininet example network with four routers and two hosts:

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Exploring BGP with IPMininet

IPMininet supports various routing protocols. In this post, we use it to study how the Border Gateway Protocol operates in a simple network containing only BGP routers. Our virtual lab contains four routers and four hosts:

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Playing with Ethernet Organisation Unique Identifiers

Ethernet remains the mostly widely used LAN technology. Since the invention of Ethernet in the early 1970s, the only part of the specification that remains unchanged is the format of the addresses. Ethernet was the first Local Area Network technology to introduce 48 bits long addresses. These addresses, sometimes called MAC addresses, are divided in two parts. The high order bits contain an Organisation Unique Identifier which identifies a company or organisation. Any organisation can register a OUI from which it can allocate Ethernet addresses. Most OUIs identify companies selling networking equipment, but there are a few exceptions.

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Exploring static routing with IPMininet

In a previous post we have shown that IPMininet can be used to develop exercises that enable students to explore how IPv6 routers forward packets. We used a simple example with only three routers and very simple static routes. In this post, we build a larger network and introduce different static routes on the main routers. Our IPMininet network contains two hosts and five routers.

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Observing IPv6 link local addresses

Link local addresses play an important role in IPv6 since they enable hosts that are attached to the same subnet to directly exchange packets without requiring any configuration. When an IPv6 host or router boots, the first thing that it tries to do is to create a link-local address for each of its interfaces. It is interesting to observe how those link-local addresses are used in a very simple network.

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Alternatives to man pages

When I discovered Unix as a student, one of its most impressive features was the availability of the entire documentation through the man command. Compared with the other computers that I had use before, this online and searchable documentation was a major change. These Unix computers were also connected to the Internet, but the entire university had a few tens of kilobits per second of bandwidth and the Internet was not as interactive as it is today.

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Experimenting with Mininet and IPv6 routes

When students discover IPv6, they usually start playing with static routes to understand how routing tables are built. At UCL, we’ve used a variety of techniques to let the students understand routing tables. A first approach is to simply use the blackboard and let the students analyse routing tables and explain how packets will be forwarded in a given network. This works well, but students often ask for additional exercises to practice before the exam. Another approach is to use netkit. netkit was designed by researchers at Roma3 University as an experimental learning tool. It relies on User Mode Linux to run a Linux kernels as processes on a virtual machine. Several student labs were provided by the netkit authors. We have used it in the past, but the project does not seem to make progress anymore. A third approach is to use Mininet. Mininet is an emulation framework developed at Stanford University that leverages the namespaces features of recent Linux kernel. With those features, a single Linux kernel can support a variety of routers and hosts interconnected by virtual links. Mininet has been used by various universities as an educational tool, but unfortunately it was designed with IPv4 in mind while Computer Networking : Principles, Protocols and Practice has been focussed on IPv6.

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TCP's initial congestion window

TCP’s initial congestion window is a key performance factor for short TCP connections. For many years, the initial value of the congestion window was set to less than two segments RFC2581. In 2002, RFC3390 proposed to increase this value up to 4 segments. This conservative value was a compromise between a fast startup of the TCP connection and preventing congestion collapse. In 2010, Nandita Dukkipati and her colleagues argued in An Argument for Increasing TCP’s Initial Congestion Window for increasing this initial value and demonstrated its benefits on google servers. After the publication of this article, and a patch to include this modification in the Linux kernel, it took only three years for the IETF to adopt the change in RFC6928.

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We will eventually deprecate IPv4

IPv4 has been a huge success that goes beyond the dreams of its inventors. However, the IPv4 addressing space is far too small to cope with all the needs for Internet connected hosts. IPv6 is slowly replacing IPv4 and deployment continues. The plot below shows the growth in the number of IPv6 browsers worldwide.

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Deploying new TCP options takes time

TCP is an extensible protocol. Since the publication of RFC793, various TCP extensions have been proposed, specified and eventually deployed. When looking at the deployment of TCP extensions, one needs to distinguish between the extensions that provide benefits once implemented on senders and receivers and the implementations that need to be supported by both client and servers to be actually used.

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Even more bandwidth accross the oceans

Fiber optics play a key role in Wide Area Networks. With very small exceptions, most of the links that compose WANs are composed of optical fibers. As the demand for bandwidth continues to grow, network operators and large cloud companies continue to deploy new optical fiber links, both on the ground and accross the oceans. The latest announcement came from Microsoft and Facebook. Together, they have commissioned a new fiber optical link between Virginia Beach, Virginia (USA) and Bilbao, Spain. The landing points chosen for this fiber are a bit unusual since many of the fiber optic cables that cross the Atlantic Ocean land in the UK for obvious geographical reasons. This new cable brings 160 Terabits/sec of capacity and adds diversity to the fiber routes between America and Europe. This diveristy is beneficial against unexpected failures but also against organisations that captures Internet traffic by tapping optical fibers as revealed by Edward Snowden.

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Using public-key crypto remains difficult

Pretty Good Privacy, released in 1991, was probably one of the first software packages to make public-key cryptography available for regular users. Until then, crytography was mainly used by banks, soldiers and researchers. Public-key cryptography is a very powerful technique that plays a key role in securing the Internet. Despite of its importance, we still face issues to deploy it to all Internet users. The recent release of Adobe security team’s private key on a public web page is one example of this difficulty, but by far not the only one.

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Networking notes for readers of Computer Networking - Principles, Protocols and Practice

Networking education has changed a lot during the last twenty years. When a was still a student, before the invention of the web, students learned most from the explanations of their professors and teachning assistants. Additional information was available in scientific librairies, but few students could access it. Today’s students live in a completely different world. Computer networks and the Internet in particular have completely changed our society. Students have access to much more information that I could imagine when I was a student. Wikipedia provides lots of useful information, Internet drafts, RFCs and many scientific articles and open-source software are within the reach of all students provided that they understand the basics that enable them to navigate through this deluge of information.

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Beyond today's add-supported web

The web was designed in the 20th century as a decentralised technique to freely share information. The initial audience for the web protocols were scientific researchers who needed to share scientific documents. HTTP was designed as a stateless protocol and Netscape added HTTP cookies to ease e-commerce. These cookies play a crucial role in today’s ad-supported Internet. They have also enabled companies like Google or Facebook to collect huge amount of data about the browsing habits of almost all Internet users in order to deliver targeted advertisements.

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A 100-hops IPv6 wireless mesh

IPv6 is used for a variety of services. Wireless mesh networks are networks were routers use wireless links between themselves. This blog post describes such a large mesh network and provides several experiments conducted over it.

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