Multipath TCP

During the IETF 75 meeting in Stockholm, there was this multipath tcp BOF (“start-up meeting” sort of) on Thursday morning that I visited.

Multipath TCP (shortened to MPTCP at times) is basically an idea to make everything look like TCP for both end points, but allow for additional TCP paths to get added and allow packets to get routed over any of the added flows to overcome congestion and to select the routes where it flows “best”. The socket API would remain unmodified in both ends. The individual TCP paths would all look and work like regular TCP streams for the rest of the network. It is basically a way to introduce these new fancy features without breaking compatibility. Of course a big point of that is to keep functionality over NATs or other middle-boxes. (See full description.)

The guys holding the BOF had already presented a fairly detailed draft how it could be designed both one-ended and with multiple adresses,  but could also boast with an already written implementation that was even demoed live in front of the audience.

The term ‘path’ is basically used for a pair of address+port sets. I would personally rather call it “flow” or “stream” or something, as we cannot really control that the paths are separate from each other as those are entirely in the hands of those who route the IP packets to the destination.

They stressed that their goals here included:

  • perform no worse than TCP would on the best of the single TCP paths
  • be no harder on the network than a single TCP flow would be, not even for single bottlenecks (network and bottleneck fairness)
  • allow resource pooling over multiple TCP paths

A perfect use-case for this is hosts with multiple interfaces. Like a mobile phone with 3G and wifi, as it could have a single TCP connection using paths over both interfaces, and it could even change paths along the way when you move to handover to new wifi access-points or when you plug in your Ethernet cable or whatever. Kind of like a solution to the mobile ip concept with roaming that was never made to actually work in the past.

The multipath tcp mailinglist is already quite active, and it didn’t take long until possible flaws in the backwards compatibility have been discovered and are being discussed. Like if you use TCP to verify that a particular link is alive, MPTCP may in fact break that as the proposal is currently written.

What struck me as an interesting side-effect of this concept, is that if implemented it will separate packets from the same original stream further from each other and possibly make snooping on plain-text TCP traffic harder. Like in the case where you monitor traffic going through a router or similar.

I host

Sara Golemon, the founder and former maintainer of libssh2, pointed over the main site to my server the other day and now my previously unofficial libssh2 web site suddenly turned out to be the only and official one.

The plan is now to get the web contents push into a separate git repo to allow all libssh2’ers to modify it.

I’m also open and interested in feedback and ideas on how to improve the web site in whatever kind of way you think. Consider the current site mostly a placeholder for the info we have. How can we make it better?


HTTP cookies IETF working group

So finally (remember I mentioned this list when it was created back in January 2009) an IETF http-state working group was created, with the following description:

The HTTP State Management Mechanism (Cookies) was original created by Netscape Communications in their Netscape cookie specification, from which a formal specification followed (RFC 2109, RFC 2965). Due to years of implementation and extension, several ambiguities have become evident, impairing interoperability and the ability to easily implement and use HTTP State Management Mechanism.

I’m on the list from the start and I hope to be able to contribute some of my cookie experiences and knowledge to aid the document to actually end up with something useful. The ambition, while it was “toned down” somewhat since the initial posts of the mailing lists, is still fairly high I would claim:

The working group will refine RFC2965 to:

  • Incorporate errata and updates
  • Clarify conformance requirements
  • Remove known ambiguities where they affect interoperability
  • Clarify existing methods of extensibility
  • Remove or deprecate those features that are not widely implemented and also unduly affect interoperability
  • Add features that are already widely implemented or have a critical mass of support
  • Where necessary, add implementation advice
  • Document the security properties of HTTP State Management Mechanism and its associated mechanisms for common applications

In doing so, it should consider:

  • Implementer experience
  • Demonstrated use of HTTP State Management Mechanism
  • Impact on existing implementations and deployments
  • Ability to achieve broad implementation.
  • Ability to address broader use cases than may be contemplated by the original authors.

The Working Group’s specification deliverables are:

  • A document that is suitable to supersede RFC 2965
  • A document cataloging the security properties of HTTP State Management Mechanism

I think this is a scope that is manageable enough to actually have a chance to succeed and its planning is quite similar to that of the IETF httpbis group. Still, RFC2965 lists a huge pile of stuff that has never been implemented by anyone and even though it was a while since I did read that spec I also expect it to lack several things existing cookie parsers and senders already use. The notorious IE httpOnly is an example I can think of right now.