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In this section, we review the key characteristics of several datalink layer technologies. We discuss in more detail the technologies that are widely used today. A detailed survey of all datalink layer technologies would be outside the scope of this book.
Many point-to-point datalink layers [#flapb]_ have been developed, starting in the 1960s. In this section, we focus on the protocols that are often used to transport IP packets between hosts or routers that are directly connected by a point-to-point link. This link can be a dedicated physical cable, a leased line through the telephone network or a dial-up connection with modems on the two communicating hosts.
The first solution to transport IP packets over a serial line was proposed in :rfc:`1055` and is known as `Serial Line IP` (SLIP). SLIP is a simple character stuffing technique applied to IP packets. SLIP defines two special characters : `END` (decimal 192) and `ESC` (decimal 219). `END` appears at the beginning and at the end of each transmitted IP packet and the sender adds `ESC` before each `END` character inside each transmitted IP packet. SLIP only supports the transmission of IP packets and it assumes that the two communicating hosts/routers have been manually configured with each other's IP address. SLIP was mainly used over links offering bandwidth of often less than 20 Kbps. On such a low bandwidth link, sending 20 bytes of IP header followed by 20 bytes of TCP header for each TCP segment takes a lot of time. This initiated the development of a family of compression techniques to efficiently compress the TCP/IP headers. The first header compression technique proposed in :rfc:`1144` was designed to exploit the redundancy between several consecutive segments that belong to the same TCP connection. In all these segments, the IP addresses and port numbers are always the same. Furthermore, fields such as the sequence and acknowledgment numbers do not change in a random way. :rfc:`1144` defined simple techniques to reduce the redundancy found in successive segments. The development of header compression techniques continued and there are still improvements being developed now :rfc:`5795`.
While SLIP was implemented and used in some environments, it had several limitations discussed in :rfc:`1055`. The `Point-to-Point Protocol` (PPP) was designed shortly after and is specified in :rfc:`1548`. PPP aims to support IP and other network layer protocols over various types of serial lines. PPP is in fact a family of three protocols that are used together :
The `Point-to-Point Protocol` defines the framing technique to transport network layer packets.
The `Link Control Protocol` that is used to negotiate options and authenticate the session by using username and password or other types of credentials
The `Network Control Protocol` that is specific for each network layer protocol. It is used to negotiate options that are specific for each protocol. For example, IPv4's NCP :rfc:`1548` can negotiate the IPv4 address to be used, the IPv4 address of the DNS resolver. IPv6's NCP is defined in :rfc:`5072`.
The PPP framing :rfc:`1662` was inspired by the datalink layer protocols standardized by ITU-T and ISO. A typical PPP frame is composed of the fields shown in the figure below. A PPP frame starts with a one byte flag containing `01111110`. PPP can use bit stuffing or character stuffing depending on the environment where the protocol is used. The address and control fields are present for backward compatibility reasons. The 16 bit Protocol field contains the identifier [#fpppid]_ of the network layer protocol that is carried in the PPP frame. `0x002d` is used for an IPv4 packet compressed with :rfc:`1144` while `0x002f` is used for an uncompressed IPv4 packet. `0xc021` is used by the Link Control Protocol, `0xc023` is used by the Password Authentication Protocol (PAP). `0x0057` is used for IPv6 packets. PPP supports variable length packets, but LCP can negotiate a maximum packet length. The PPP frame ends with a Frame Check Sequence. The default is a 16 bits CRC, but some implementations can negotiate a 32 bits CRC. The frame ends with the `01111110` flag.
PPP frame format
PPP played a key role in allowing Internet Service Providers to provide dial-up access over modems in the late 1990s and early 2000s. ISPs operated modem banks connected to the telephone network. For these ISPs, a key issue was to authenticate each user connected through the telephone network. This authentication was performed by using the `Extensible Authentication Protocol` (EAP) defined in :rfc:`3748`. EAP is a simple, but extensible protocol that was initially used by access routers to authenticate the users connected through dial-up lines. Several authentication methods, starting from the simple username/password pairs to more complex schemes have been defined and implemented. When ISPs started to upgrade their physical infrastructure to provide Internet access over `Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines` (ADSL), they tried to reuse their existing authentication (and billing) systems. To meet these requirements, the IETF developed specifications to allow PPP frames to be transported over other networks than the point-to-point links for which PPP was designed. Nowadays, most ADSL deployments use PPP over either ATM :rfc:`2364` or Ethernet :rfc:`2516`.
`LAPB <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LAPB>`_ and `HDLC <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDLC>`_ were widely used datalink layer protocols.
The IANA maintains the registry of all assigned PPP protocol fields at : http://www.iana.org/assignments/ppp-numbers
Ethernet was designed in the 1970s at the Palo Alto Research Center [Metcalfe1976]_. The first prototype [#fethernethistory]_ used a coaxial cable as the shared medium and 3 Mbps of bandwidth. Ethernet was improved during the late 1970s and in the 1980s, Digital Equipment, Intel and Xerox published the first official Ethernet specification [DIX]_. This specification defines several important parameters for Ethernet networks. The first decision was to standardize the commercial Ethernet at 10 Mbps. The second decision was the duration of the `slot time`. In Ethernet, a long `slot time` enables networks to span a long distance but forces the host to use a larger minimum frame size. The compromise was a `slot time` of 51.2 microseconds, which corresponds to a minimum frame size of 64 bytes.
The third decision was the frame format. The experimental 3 Mbps Ethernet network built at Xerox used short frames containing 8 bit source and destination addresses fields, a 16 bit type indication, up to 554 bytes of payload and a 16 bit CRC. Using 8 bit addresses was suitable for an experimental network, but it was clearly too small for commercial deployments. Although the initial Ethernet specification [DIX]_ only allowed up to 1024 hosts on an Ethernet network, it also recommended three important changes compared to the networking technologies that were available at that time. The first change was to require each host attached to an Ethernet network to have a globally unique datalink layer address. Until then, datalink layer addresses were manually configured on each host. [DP1981]_ went against that state of the art and noted "`Suitable installation-specific administrative procedures are also needed for assigning numbers to hosts on a network. If a host is moved from one network to another it may be necessary to change its host number if its former number is in use on the new network. This is easier said than done, as each network must have an administrator who must record the continuously changing state of the system (often on a piece of paper tacked to the wall !). It is anticipated that in future office environments, hosts locations will change as often as telephones are changed in present-day offices.`" The second change introduced by Ethernet was to encode each address as a 48 bits field [DP1981]_. 48 bit addresses were huge compared to the networking technologies available in the 1980s, but the huge address space had several advantages [DP1981]_ including the ability to allocate large blocks of addresses to manufacturers. Eventually, other LAN technologies opted for 48 bits addresses as well [IEEE802]_ . The third change introduced by Ethernet was the definition of `broadcast` and `multicast` addresses. The need for `multicast` Ethernet was foreseen in [DP1981]_ and thanks to the size of the addressing space it was possible to reserve a large block of multicast addresses for each manufacturer.
The datalink layer addresses used in Ethernet networks are often called MAC addresses. They are structured as shown in the figure below. The first bit of the address indicates whether the address identifies a network adapter or a multicast group. The upper 24 bits are used to encode an Organization Unique Identifier (OUI). This OUI identifies a block of addresses that has been allocated by the secretariat [#foui]_ that is responsible for the uniqueness of Ethernet addresses to a manufacturer. Once a manufacturer has received an OUI, it can build and sell products with one of the 16 million addresses in this block.
The original 10 Mbps Ethernet specification [DIX]_ defined a simple frame format where each frame is composed of five fields. The Ethernet frame starts with a preamble (not shown in the figure below) that is used by the physical layer of the receiver to synchronize its clock with the sender's clock. The first field of the frame is the destination address. As this address is placed at the beginning of the frame, an Ethernet interface can quickly verify whether it is the frame recipient and if not, cancel the processing of the arriving frame. The second field is the source address. While the destination address can be either a unicast or a multicast/broadcast address, the source address must always be a unicast address. The third field is a 16 bits integer that indicates which type of network layer packet is carried inside the frame. This field is often called the `EtherType`. Frequently used `EtherType` values [#fethertype]_ include `0x0800` for IPv4, `0x86DD` for IPv6 [#fipv6ether]_ and `0x806` for the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP).
The fourth part of the Ethernet frame is the payload. The minimum length of the payload is 46 bytes to ensure a minimum frame size, including the header of 512 bits. The Ethernet payload cannot be longer than 1500 bytes. This size was found reasonable when the first Ethernet specification was written. At that time, Xerox had been using its experimental 3 Mbps Ethernet that offered 554 bytes of payload and :rfc:`1122` required a minimum MTU of 572 bytes for IPv4. 1500 bytes was large enough to support these needs without forcing the network adapters to contain overly large memories. Furthermore, simulations and measurement studies performed in Ethernet networks revealed that CSMA/CD was able to achieve a very high utilization. This is illustrated in the figure below based on [SH1980]_, which shows the channel utilization achieved in Ethernet networks containing different numbers of hosts that are sending frames of different sizes.
Impact of the frame length on the maximum channel utilisation [SH1980]_