Network Working Group
Request for Comments: 1118
E. Krol
University of Illinois Urbana
September 1989

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Internet

Status of this Memo

This RFC is being distributed to members of the Internet community in order to make available some "hints" which will allow new network participants to understand how the direction of the Internet is set, how to acquire online information and how to be a good Internet neighbor. While the information discussed may not be relevant to the research problems of the Internet, it may be interesting to a number of researchers and implementors. No standards are defined or specified in this memo. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


The hitchhikers guide to the Internet is a very unevenly edited memo and contains many passages which simply seemed to its editors like a good idea at the time. It is an indispensable companion to all those who are keen to make sense of life in an infinitely complex and confusing Internet, for although it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it is always reality that's got it wrong. And remember, DON'T PANIC. (Apologies to Douglas Adams.)

Purpose and Audience

This document assumes that one is familiar with the workings of a non-connected simple IP network (e.g., a few 4.3 BSD systems on an Ethernet not connected to anywhere else). Appendix A contains remedial information to get one to this point. Its purpose is to get that person, familiar with a simple net, versed in the "oral tradition" of the Internet to the point that that net can be connected to the Internet with little danger to either. It is not a tutorial, it consists of pointers to other places, literature, and hints which are not normally documented. Since the Internet is a dynamic environment, changes to this document will be made regularly. The author welcomes comments and suggestions. This is especially true of terms for the glossary (definitions are not necessary).

What is the Internet?

In the beginning there was the ARPANET, a wide area experimental network connecting hosts and terminal servers together. Procedures were set up to regulate the allocation of addresses and to create voluntary standards for the network. As local area networks became more pervasive, many hosts became gateways to local networks. A network layer to allow the interoperation of these networks was developed and called Internet Protocol (IP). Over time other groups created long haul IP based networks (NASA, NSF, states...). These nets, too, interoperate because of IP. The collection of all of these interoperating networks is the Internet.

A few groups provide much of the information services on the Internet. Information Sciences Institute (ISI) does much of the standardization and allocation work of the Internet acting as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). SRI International provides the principal information services for the Internet by operating the Network Information Center (NIC). In fact, after you are connected to the Internet most of the information in this document can be retrieved from the SRI-NIC. Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) provides information services for CSNET (the CIC) and NSFNET (the NNSC), and Merit provides information services for NSFNET (the NIS).

Operating the Internet

Each network, be it the ARPANET, NSFNET or a regional network, has its own operations center. The ARPANET is run by BBN, Inc. under contract from DCA (on behalf of DARPA). Their facility is called the Network Operations Center or NOC. Merit, Inc. operates NSFNET from yet another and completely seperate NOC. It goes on to the regionals having similar facilities to monitor and keep watch over the goings on of their portion of the Internet. In addition, they all should have some knowledge of what is happening to the Internet in total. If a problem comes up, it is suggested that a campus network liaison should contact the network operator to which he is directly connected. That is, if you are connected to a regional network (which is gatewayed to the NSFNET, which is connected to the ARPANET...) and have a problem, you should contact your regional network operations center.


The internal workings of the Internet are defined by a set of documents called RFCs (Request for Comments). The general process for creating an RFC is for someone wanting something formalized to write a document describing the issue and mailing it to Jon Postel

(Postel@ISI.EDU). He acts as a referee for the proposal. It is then commented upon by all those wishing to take part in the discussion (electronically of course). It may go through multiple revisions. Should it be generally accepted as a good idea, it will be assigned a number and filed with the RFCs.

There are two independent categorizations of protocols. The first is the state of standardization which is one of "standard", "draft standard", "proposed", "experimental", or "historic". The second is the status of this protocol which is one of "required", "recommended", "elective", or "not recommended". One could expect a particular protocol to move along the scale of status from elective to required at the same time as it moves along the scale of standardization from proposed to standard.

A Required Standard protocol (e.g., RFC-791, The Internet Protocol) must be implemented on any host connected to the Internet. Recommended Standard protocols are generally implemented by network hosts. Lack of them does not preclude access to the Internet, but may impact its usability. RFC-793 (Transmission Control Protocol) is a Recommended Standard protocol. Elective Proposed protocols were discussed and agreed to, but their application has never come into wide use. This may be due to the lack of wide need for the specific application (RFC-937, The Post Office Protocol) or that, although technically superior, ran against other pervasive approaches. It is suggested that should the facility be required by a particular site, an implementation be done in accordance with the RFC. This insures that, should the idea be one whose time has come, the implementation will be in accordance with some standard and will be generally usable.

Informational RFCs contain factual information about the Internet and its operation (RFC-1010, Assigned Numbers). Finally, as the Internet and technology have grown, some RFCs have become unnecessary. These obsolete RFCs cannot be ignored, however. Frequently when a change is made to some RFC that causes a new one to be issued obsoleting others, the new RFC may only contains explanations and motivations for the change. Understanding the model on which the whole facility is based may involve reading the original and subsequent RFCs on the topic. (Appendix B contains a list of what are considered to be the major RFCs necessary for understanding the Internet).

Only a few RFCs actually specify standards, most RFCs are for information or discussion purposes. To find out what the current standards are see the RFC titled "IAB Official Protocol Standards" (most recently published as RFC-1100).

The Network Information Center (NIC)

The NIC is a facility available to all Internet users which provides information to the community. There are three means of NIC contact: network, telephone, and mail. The network accesses are the most prevalent. Interactive access is frequently used to do queries of NIC service overviews, look up user and host names, and scan lists of NIC documents. It is available by using


on a BSD system, and following the directions provided by a user friendly prompter. From poking around in the databases provided, one might decide that a document named NETINFO:NUG.DOC (The Users Guide to the ARPANET) would be worth having. It could be retrieved via an anonymous FTP. An anonymous FTP would proceed something like the following. (The dialogue may vary slightly depending on the implementation of FTP you are using).

     Connected to
     220 NIC.DDN.MIL FTP Server 5Z(47)-6 at Wed 17-Jun-87 12:00 PDT
     Name ( anonymous
     331 ANONYMOUS user ok, send real ident as password.
     Password: myname
     230 User ANONYMOUS logged in at Wed 17-Jun-87 12:01 PDT, job 15.
     ftp> get netinfo:nug.doc
     200 Port 18.144 at host accepted.
     150 ASCII retrieve of <NETINFO>NUG.DOC.11 started.
     226 Transfer Completed 157675 (8) bytes transferred
     local: netinfo:nug.doc  remote:netinfo:nug.doc
     157675 bytes in 4.5e+02 seconds (0.34 Kbytes/s)
     ftp> quit
     221 QUIT command received. Goodbye.
   (Another good initial document to fetch is NETINFO:WHAT-THE-NIC-

Questions of the NIC or problems with services can be asked of or reported to using electronic mail. The following addresses can be used:

     NIC@NIC.DDN.MIL         General user assistance, document requests
     REGISTRAR@NIC.DDN.MIL   User registration and WHOIS updates
     HOSTMASTER@NIC.DDN.MIL  Hostname and domain changes and updates
     ACTION@NIC.DDN.MIL      SRI-NIC computer operations
     SUGGESTIONS@NIC.DDN.MIL Comments on NIC publications and services

For people without network access, or if the number of documents is large, many of the NIC documents are available in printed form for a small charge. One frequently ordered document for starting sites is a compendium of major RFCs. Telephone access is used primarily for questions or problems with network access. (See appendix B for mail/telephone contact numbers).

The NSFNET Network Service Center

The NSFNET Network Service Center (NNSC), located at BBN Systems and Technologies Corp., is a project of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research under agreement with the National Science Foundation. The NNSC provides support to end-users of NSFNET should they have questions or encounter problems traversing the network.

The NNSC, which has information and documents online and in printed form, distributes news through network mailing lists, bulletins, and online reports. NNSC publications include a hardcopy newsletter, the NSF Network News, which contains articles of interest to network users and the Internet Resource Guide, which lists facilities (such as supercomputer centers and on-line library catalogues) accessible from the Internet. The Resource Guide can be obtained via anonymous ftp to in the directory resource-guide, or by joining the resource guide mailing list (send a subscription request to Resource-Guide-Request@NNSC.NSF.NET.)

Mail Reflectors

The way most people keep up to date on network news is through subscription to a number of mail reflectors (also known as mail exploders). Mail reflectors are special electronic mailboxes which, when they receive a message, resend it to a list of other mailboxes. This in effect creates a discussion group on a particular topic. Each subscriber sees all the mail forwarded by the reflector, and if one wants to put his "two cents" in sends a message with the comments to the reflector.

The general format to subscribe to a mail list is to find the address reflector and append the string -REQUEST to the mailbox name (not the host name). For example, if you wanted to take part in the mailing list for NSFNET reflected by NSFNET-INFO@MERIT.EDU, one sends a request to NSFNET-INFO-REQUEST@MERIT.EDU. This may be a wonderful scheme, but the problem is that you must know the list exists in the first place. It is suggested that, if you are interested, you read the mail from one list (like NSFNET-INFO) and you will probably become familiar with the existence of others. A registration service for mail reflectors is provided by the NIC in the files NETINFO:INTEREST-GROUPS-1.TXT, NETINFO:INTEREST-GROUPS-2.TXT,


The NSFNET-INFO mail reflector is targeted at those people who have a day to day interest in the news of the NSFNET (the backbone, regional network, and Internet inter-connection site workers). The messages are reflected by a central location and are sent as separate messages to each subscriber. This creates hundreds of messages on the wide area networks where bandwidth is the scarcest.

There are two ways in which a campus could spread the news and not cause these messages to inundate the wide area networks. One is to re-reflect the message on the campus. That is, set up a reflector on a local machine which forwards the message to a campus distribution list. The other is to create an alias on a campus machine which places the messages into a notesfile on the topic. Campus users who want the information could access the notesfile and see the messages that have been sent since their last access. One might also elect to have the campus wide area network liaison screen the messages in either case and only forward those which are considered of merit. Either of these schemes allows one message to be sent to the campus, while allowing wide distribution within.

Address Allocation

Before a local network can be connected to the Internet it must be allocated a unique IP address. These addresses are allocated by SRI-NIC. The allocation process consists of getting an application form. Send a message to Hostmaster@NIC.DDN.MIL and ask for the template for a connected address. This template is filled out and mailed back to the hostmaster. An address is allocated and e-mailed back to you. This can also be done by postal mail (Appendix B).

IP addresses are 32 bits long. It is usually written as four decimal numbers separated by periods (e.g., Each number is the value of an octet of the 32 bits. Some networks might choose to organize themselves as very flat (one net with a lot of nodes) and some might organize hierarchically (many interconnected nets with fewer nodes each and a backbone). To provide for these cases, addresses were differentiated into class A, B, and C networks. This classification had to with the interpretation of the octets. Class A networks have the first octet as a network address and the remaining three as a host address on that network. Class C addresses have three octets of network address and one of host. Class B is split two and two. Therefore, there is an address space for a few large nets, a reasonable number of medium nets and a large number of small nets. The high order bits in the first octet are coded to tell the address format. There are very few unallocated class A nets, so a very good case must be made for them. So as a practical matter, one has to choose between Class B and Class C when placing an order. (There are also class D (Multicast) and E (Experimental) formats. Multicast addresses will likely come into greater use in the near future, but are not frequently used yet).

In the past, sites requiring multiple network addresses requested multiple discrete addresses (usually Class C). This was done because much of the software available (notably 4.2BSD) could not deal with subnetted addresses. Information on how to reach a particular network (routing information) must be stored in Internet gateways and packet switches. Some of these nodes have a limited capability to store and exchange routing information (limited to about 700 networks). Therefore, it is suggested that any campus announce (make known to the Internet) no more than two discrete network numbers.

If a campus expects to be constrained by this, it should consider subnetting. Subnetting (RFC-950) allows one to announce one address to the Internet and use a set of addresses on the campus. Basically, one defines a mask which allows the network to differentiate between the network portion and host portion of the address. By using a different mask on the Internet and the campus, the address can be interpreted in multiple ways. For example, if a campus requires two networks internally and has the 32,000 addresses beginning 128.174.X.X (a Class B address) allocated to it, the campus could allocate 128.174.5.X to one part of campus and 128.174.10.X to another. By advertising 128.174 to the Internet with a subnet mask of FF.FF.00.00, the Internet would treat these two addresses as one. Within the campus a mask of FF.FF.FF.00 would be used, allowing the campus to treat the addresses as separate entities. (In reality, you don't pass the subnet mask of FF.FF.00.00 to the Internet, the octet meaning is implicit in its being a class B address).

A word of warning is necessary. Not all systems know how to do subnetting. Some 4.2BSD systems require additional software. 4.3BSD systems subnet as released. Other devices and operating systems vary in the problems they have dealing with subnets. Frequently, these machines can be used as a leaf on a network but not as a gateway within the subnetted portion of the network. As time passes and more systems become 4.3BSD based, these problems should disappear.

There has been some confusion in the past over the format of an IP broadcast address. Some machines used an address of all zeros to mean broadcast and some all ones. This was confusing when machines of both type were connected to the same network. The broadcast address of all ones has been adopted to end the grief. Some systems (e.g., 4.3 BSD) allow one to choose the format of the broadcast address. If a system does allow this choice, care should be taken that the all ones format is chosen. (This is explained in RFC-1009 and RFC-1010).

Internet Problems

There are a number of problems with the Internet. Solutions to the problems range from software changes to long term research projects. Some of the major ones are detailed below:

   Number of Networks

When the Internet was designed it was to have about 50 connected networks. With the explosion of networking, the number is now approaching 1000. The software in a group of critical gateways (called the core gateways) are not able to pass or store much more than that number. In the short term, core reallocation and recoding has raised the number slightly.

   Routing Issues

Along with sheer mass of the data necessary to route packets to a large number of networks, there are many problems with the updating, stability, and optimality of the routing algorithms. Much research is being done in the area, but the optimal solution to these routing problems is still years away. In most cases, the the routing we have today works, but sub-optimally and sometimes unpredictably. The current best hope for a good routing protocol is something known as OSPFIGP which will be generally available from many router manufacturers within a year.

   Trust Issues

Gateways exchange network routing information. Currently, most gateways accept on faith that the information provided about the state of the network is correct. In the past this was not a big problem since most of the gateways belonged to a single administrative entity (DARPA). Now, with multiple wide area networks under different administrations, a rogue gateway somewhere in the net could cripple the Internet. There is design work going on to solve both the problem of a gateway doing unreasonable things and providing enough information to reasonably route data between multiply connected networks (multi-homed networks).

   Capacity & Congestion

Some portions of the Internet are very congested during the busy part of the day. Growth is dramatic with some networks experiencing growth in traffic in excess of 20% per month.

Additional bandwidth is planned, but delivery and budgets might not allow supply to keep up.

Setting Direction and Priority

The Internet Activities Board (IAB), currently chaired by Vint Cerf of NRI, is responsible for setting the technical direction, establishing standards, and resolving problems in the Internet.

The current IAB members are:

           Vinton Cerf          - Chairman
           David Clark          - IRTF Chairman
           Phillip Gross        - IETF Chairman
           Jon Postel           - RFC Editor
           Robert Braden        - Executive Director
           Hans-Werner Braun    - NSFNET Liaison
           Barry Leiner         - CCIRN Liaison
           Daniel Lynch         - Vendor Liaison
           Stephen Kent         - Internet Security

This board is supported by a Research Task Force (chaired by Dave Clark of MIT) and an Engineering Task Force (chaired by Phill Gross of NRI).

The Internet Research Task Force has the following Research Groups:

            Autonomous Networks            Deborah Estrin
            End-to-End Services            Bob Braden
            Privacy                        Steve Kent
            User Interfaces                Keith Lantz

The Internet Engineering Task Force has the following technical areas:

           Applications                    TBD
           Host Protocols                  Craig Partridge
           Internet Protocols              Noel Chiappa
           Routing                         Robert Hinden
           Network Management              David Crocker
           OSI Interoperability            Ross Callon, Robert Hagen
           Operations                      TBD
           Security                        TBD

The Internet Engineering Task Force has the following Working Groups:

ALERTMAN Louis Steinberg

Authentication Jeff Schiller

            CMIP over TCP                  Lee LaBarre
            Domain Names                   Paul Mockapetris
            Dynamic Host Config            Ralph Droms
            Host Requirements              Bob Braden
            Interconnectivity              Guy Almes
            Internet MIB                   Craig Partridge
            Joint Management               Susan Hares
            LAN Mgr MIB                    Amatzia Ben-Artzi
            NISI                           Karen Bowers
            NM Serial Interface            Jeff Case
            NOC Tools                      Bob Enger
            OSPF                           Mike Petry
            Open Systems Routing           Marianne Lepp
            OSI Interoperability           Ross Callon
            PDN Routing Group              CH Rokitansky
            Performance and CC             Allison Mankin
            Point - Point IP               Drew Perkins
            ST and CO-IP                   Claudio Topolcic
            Telnet                         Dave Borman
            User Documents                 Karen Roubicek
            User Services                  Karen Bowers


Routing is the algorithm by which a network directs a packet from its source to its destination. To appreciate the problem, watch a small child trying to find a table in a restaurant. From the adult point of view, the structure of the dining room is seen and an optimal route easily chosen. The child, however, is presented with a set of paths between tables where a good path, let alone the optimal one to the goal is not discernible.

A little more background might be appropriate. IP gateways (more correctly routers) are boxes which have connections to multiple networks and pass traffic between these nets. They decide how the packet is to be sent based on the information in the IP header of the packet and the state of the network. Each interface on a router has an unique address appropriate to the network to which it is connected. The information in the IP header which is used is primarily the destination address. Other information (e.g., type of service) is largely ignored at this time. The state of the network is determined by the routers passing information among themselves. The distribution of the database (what each node knows), the form of the updates, and metrics used to measure the value of a connection, are the parameters which determine the characteristics of a routing protocol.

Under some algorithms, each node in the network has complete knowledge of the state of the network (the adult algorithm). This implies the nodes must have larger amounts of local storage and enough CPU to search the large tables in a short enough time (remember, this must be done for each packet). Also, routing updates usually contain only changes to the existing information (or you spend a large amount of the network capacity passing around megabyte routing updates). This type of algorithm has several problems. Since the only way the routing information can be passed around is across the network and the propagation time is non-trivial, the view of the network at each node is a correct historical view of the network at varying times in the past. (The adult algorithm, but rather than looking directly at the dining area, looking at a photograph of the dining room. One is likely to pick the optimal route and find a bus-cart has moved in to block the path after the photo was taken). These inconsistencies can cause circular routes (called routing loops) where once a packet enters it is routed in a closed path until its time to live (TTL) field expires and it is discarded.

Other algorithms may know about only a subset of the network. To prevent loops in these protocols, they are usually used in a hierarchical network. They know completely about their own area, but to leave that area they go to one particular place (the default gateway). Typically these are used in smaller networks (campus or regional).

Routing protocols in current use:

Static (no protocol-table/default routing)

Don't laugh. It is probably the most reliable, easiest to implement, and least likely to get one into trouble for a small network or a leaf on the Internet. This is, also, the only method available on some CPU-operating system combinations. If a host is connected to an Ethernet which has only one gateway off of it, one should make that the default gateway for the host and do no other routing. (Of course, that gateway may pass the reachability information somehow on the other side of itself.)

One word of warning, it is only with extreme caution that one should use static routes in the middle of a network which is also using dynamic routing. The routers passing dynamic information are sometimes confused by conflicting dynamic and static routes. If your host is on an ethernet with multiple routers to other networks on it and the routers are doing dynamic routing among themselves, it is usually better to take part in the dynamic routing than to use static routes.


RIP is a routing protocol based on XNS (Xerox Network System) adapted for IP networks. It is used by many routers (Proteon, cisco, UB...) and many BSD Unix systems. BSD systems typically run a program called "routed" to exchange information with other systems running RIP. RIP works best for nets of small diameter (few hops) where the links are of equal speed. The reason for this is that the metric used to determine which path is best is the hop-count. A hop is a traversal across a gateway. So, all machines on the same Ethernet are zero hops away. If a router connects connects two networks directly, a machine on the other side of the router is one hop away. As the routing information is passed through a gateway, the gateway adds one to the hop counts to keep them consistent across the network. The diameter of a network is defined as the largest hop-count possible within a network. Unfortunately, a hop count of 16 is defined as infinity in RIP meaning the link is down. Therefore, RIP will not allow hosts separated by more than 15 gateways in the RIP space to communicate.

The other problem with hop-count metrics is that if links have different speeds, that difference is not reflected in the hop- count. So a one hop satellite link (with a .5 sec delay) at 56kb would be used instead of a two hop T1 connection. Congestion can be viewed as a decrease in the efficacy of a link. So, as a link gets more congested, RIP will still know it is the best hop-count route and congest it even more by throwing more packets on the queue for that link.

RIP was originally not well documented in the community and people read BSD code to find out how RIP really worked. Finally, it was documented in RFC-1058.


The routed program, which does RIP for 4.2BSD systems, has many options. One of the most frequently used is: "routed -q" (quiet mode) which means listen to RIP information, but never broadcast it. This would be used by a machine on a network with multiple RIP speaking gateways. It allows the host to determine which gateway is best (hopwise) to use to reach a distant network. (Of course, you might want to have a default gateway to prevent having to pass all the addresses known to the Internet around with RIP.)

There are two ways to insert static routes into routed; the /etc/gateways file, and the "route add" command. Static routes are useful if you know how to reach a distant network, but you are not receiving that route using RIP. For the most part the "route add" command is preferable to use. The reason for this is that the command adds the route to that machine's routing table but does not export it through RIP. The /etc/gateways file takes precedence over any routing information received through a RIP update. It is also broadcast as fact in RIP updates produced by the host without question, so if a mistake is made in the /etc/gateways file, that mistake will soon permeate the RIP space and may bring the network to its knees.

One of the problems with routed is that you have very little control over what gets broadcast and what doesn't. Many times in larger networks where various parts of the network are under different administrative controls, you would like to pass on through RIP only nets which you receive from RIP and you know are reasonable. This prevents people from adding IP addresses to the network which may be illegal and you being responsible for passing them on to the Internet. This type of reasonability checks are not available with routed and leave it usable, but inadequate for large networks.

   Hello (RFC-891)

Hello is a routing protocol which was designed and implemented in a experimental software router called a "Fuzzball" which runs on a PDP-11. It does not have wide usage, but is the routing protocol formerly used on the initial NSFNET backbone. The data transferred between nodes is similar to RIP (a list of networks and their metrics). The metric, however, is milliseconds of delay. This allows Hello to be used over nets of various link speeds and performs better in congestive situations.

One of the most interesting side effects of Hello based networks is their great timekeeping ability. If you consider the problem of measuring delay on a link for the metric, you find that it is not an easy thing to do. You cannot measure round trip time since the return link may be more congested, of a different speed, or even not there. It is not really feasible for each node on the network to have a builtin WWV (nationwide radio time standard) receiver. So, you must design an algorithm to pass around time between nodes over the network links where the delay in transmission can only be approximated. Hello routers do this and in a nationwide network maintain synchronized time within milliseconds. (See also the Network Time Protocol, RFC-1059.)

   Gateway Gateway Protocol (GGP RFC-823)

The core gateways originally used GGP to exchange information among themselves. This is a "distance-vector" algorithm. The new core gateways use a "link-state" algorithm.

   NSFNET SPF (RFC-1074)

The current NSFNET Backbone routers use a version of the ANSI IS- IS and ISO ES-IS routing protocol. This is a "shortest path first" (SPF) algorithm which is in the class of "link-state" algorithms.

   Exterior Gateway Protocol (EGP RFC-904)

EGP is not strictly a routing protocol, it is a reachability protocol. It tells what nets can be reached through what gateway, but not how good the connection is. It is the standard by which gateways exchange network reachability information with the core gateways. It is generally used between autonomous systems. There is a metric passed around by EGP, but its usage is not standardized formally. The metric's value ranges from 0 to 255 with smaller values considered "better". Some implementations consider the value 255 to mean unreachable. Many routers talk EGP so they can be used to interface to routers of different manufacture or operated by different administrations. For example, when a router of the NSFNET Backbone exchanges routing or reachability information with a gateway of a regional network EGP is used.

      So we have regional and campus networks talking RIP among
      themselves and the DDN and NSFNET speaking EGP.  How do they
      interoperate?  In the beginning, there was static routing.  The
      problem with doing static routing in the middle of the network is
      that it is broadcast to the Internet whether it is usable or not.
      Therefore, if a net becomes unreachable and you try to get there,
      dynamic routing will immediately issue a net unreachable to you.
      Under static routing the routers would think the net could be
      reached and would continue trying until the application gave up
      (in 2 or more minutes).  Mark Fedor, then of Cornell, attempted to
      solve these problems with a replacement for routed called gated.

Gated talks RIP to RIP speaking hosts, EGP to EGP speakers, and Hello to Hello'ers. These speakers frequently all live on one Ethernet, but luckily (or unluckily) cannot understand each others ruminations. In addition, under configuration file control it can filter the conversion. For example, one can produce a configuration saying announce RIP nets via Hello only if they are specified in a list and are reachable by way of a RIP broadcast as well. This means that if a rogue network appears in your local site's RIP space, it won't be passed through to the Hello side of the world. There are also configuration options to do static routing and name trusted gateways.

This may sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there is a catch called metric conversion. You have RIP measuring in hops, Hello measuring in milliseconds, and EGP using arbitrary small numbers. The big questions is how many hops to a millisecond, how many milliseconds in the EGP number 3.... Also, remember that infinity (unreachability) is 16 to RIP, 30000 or so to Hello, and 8 to the DDN with EGP. Getting all these metrics to work well together is no small feat. If done incorrectly and you translate an RIP of 16 into an EGP of 6, everyone in the ARPANET will still think your gateway can reach the unreachable and will send every packet in the world your way. Gated is available via anonymous FTP from in directory pub/gated.


All routing across the network is done by means of the IP address associated with a packet. Since humans find it difficult to remember addresses like, a symbolic name register was set up at the NIC where people would say, "I would like my host to be named uiucuxc". Machines connected to the Internet across the nation would connect to the NIC in the middle of the night, check modification dates on the hosts file, and if modified, move it to their local machine. With the advent of workstations and micros, changes to the host file would have to be made nightly. It would also be very labor intensive and consume a lot of network bandwidth. RFC-1034 and a number of others describe Domain Name Service (DNS), a distributed data base system for mapping names into addresses.

We must look a little more closely into what's in a name. First, note that an address specifies a particular connection on a specific network. If the machine moves, the address changes. Second, a machine can have one or more names and one or more network addresses (connections) to different networks. Names point to a something which does useful work (i.e., the machine) and IP addresses point to an interface on that provider. A name is a purely symbolic representation of a list of addresses on the network. If a machine moves to a different network, the addresses will change but the name could remain the same.

Domain names are tree structured names with the root of the tree at the right. For example:

is a machine called "uxc" (purely arbitrary), within the subdomains of the U of I, and "uiuc" (the University of Illinois at Urbana), registered with "edu" (the set of educational institutions).

A simplified model of how a name is resolved is that on the user's machine there is a resolver. The resolver knows how to contact across the network a root name server. Root servers are the base of the tree structured data retrieval system. They know who is responsible for handling first level domains (e.g., 'edu'). What root servers to use is an installation parameter. From the root server the resolver finds out who provides 'edu' service. It contacts the 'edu' name server which supplies it with a list of addresses of servers for the subdomains (like 'uiuc'). This action is repeated with the sub-domain servers until the final subdomain returns a list of addresses of interfaces on the host in question. The user's machine then has its choice of which of these addresses to use for communication.

A group may apply for its own domain name (like 'uiuc' above). This is done in a manner similar to the IP address allocation. The only requirements are that the requestor have two machines reachable from the Internet, which will act as name servers for that domain. Those servers could also act as servers for subdomains or other servers could be designated as such. Note that the servers need not be located in any particular place, as long as they are reachable for name resolution. (U of I could ask Michigan State to act on its behalf and that would be fine.) The biggest problem is that someone must do maintenance on the database. If the machine is not convenient, that might not be done in a timely fashion. The other thing to note is that once the domain is allocated to an administrative entity, that entity can freely allocate subdomains using what ever manner it sees fit.

The Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) Server implements the Internet name server for UNIX systems. The name server is a distributed data base system that allows clients to name resources and to share that information with other network hosts. BIND is integrated with 4.3BSD and is used to lookup and store host names, addresses, mail agents, host information, and more. It replaces the /etc/hosts file or host name lookup. BIND is still an evolving program. To keep up with reports on operational problems, future design decisions, etc., join the BIND mailing list by sending a request to Bind-Request@UCBARPA.BERKELEY.EDU. BIND can also be obtained via anonymous FTP from

There are several advantages in using BIND. One of the most important is that it frees a host from relying on /etc/hosts being up to date and complete. Within the domain, only a few hosts are included in the host table distributed by SRI. The remainder are listed locally within the BIND tables on (the server machine for most of the domain). All are equally reachable from any other Internet host running BIND, or any DNS resolver.

BIND can also provide mail forwarding information for interior hosts not directly reachable from the Internet. These hosts an either be on non-advertised networks, or not connected to an IP network at all, as in the case of UUCP-reachable hosts (see RFC-974). More information on BIND is available in the "Name Server Operations Guide for BIND" in UNIX System Manager's Manual, 4.3BSD release.

There are a few special domains on the network, like NIC.DDN.MIL. The hosts database at the NIC. There are others of the form NNSC.NSF.NET. These special domains are used sparingly, and require ample justification. They refer to servers under the administrative control of the network rather than any single organization. This allows for the actual server to be moved around the net while the user interface to that machine remains constant. That is, should BBN relinquish control of the NNSC, the new provider would be pointed to by that name.

In actuality, the domain system is a much more general and complex system than has been described. Resolvers and some servers cache information to allow steps in the resolution to be skipped. Information provided by the servers can be arbitrary, not merely IP addresses. This allows the system to be used both by non-IP networks and for mail, where it may be necessary to give information on intermediate mail bridges.

What's wrong with Berkeley Unix

University of California at Berkeley has been funded by DARPA to modify the Unix system in a number of ways. Included in these modifications is support for the Internet protocols. In earlier versions (e.g., BSD 4.2) there was good support for the basic Internet protocols (TCP, IP, SMTP, ARP) which allowed it to perform nicely on IP Ethernets and smaller Internets. There were deficiencies, however, when it was connected to complicated networks. Most of these problems have been resolved under the newest release (BSD 4.3). Since it is the springboard from which many vendors have launched Unix implementations (either by porting the existing code or by using it as a model), many implementations (e.g., Ultrix) are still based on BSD 4.2. Therefore, many implementations still exist with the BSD 4.2 problems. As time goes on, when BSD 4.3 trickles through vendors as new release, many of the problems will be resolved. Following is a list of some problem scenarios and their handling under each of these releases.

   ICMP redirects

Under the Internet model, all a system needs to know to get anywhere in the Internet is its own address, the address of where it wants to go, and how to reach a gateway which knows about the Internet. It doesn't have to be the best gateway. If the system is on a network with multiple gateways, and a host sends a packet for delivery to a gateway which feels another directly connected gateway is more appropriate, the gateway sends the sender a message. This message is an ICMP redirect, which politely says, "I'll deliver this message for you, but you really ought to use that gateway over there to reach this host". BSD 4.2 ignores these messages. This creates more stress on the gateways and the local network, since for every packet sent, the gateway sends a packet to the originator. BSD 4.3 uses the redirect to update its routing tables, will use the route until it times out, then revert to the use of the route it thinks is should use. The whole process then repeats, but it is far better than one per packet.


An application (like FTP) sends a string of octets to TCP which breaks it into chunks, and adds a TCP header. TCP then sends blocks of data to IP which adds its own headers and ships the packets over the network. All this prepending of the data with headers causes memory moves in both the sending and the receiving machines. Someone got the bright idea that if packets were long and they stuck the headers on the end (they became trailers), the receiving machine could put the packet on the beginning of a page boundary and if the trailer was OK merely delete it and transfer control of the page with no memory moves involved. The problem is that trailers were never standardized and most gateways don't know to look for the routing information at the end of the block. When trailers are used, the machine typically works fine on the local network (no gateways involved) and for short blocks through gateways (on which trailers aren't used). So TELNET and FTP's of very short files work just fine and FTP's of long files seem to hang. On BSD 4.2 trailers are a boot option and one should make sure they are off when using the Internet. BSD 4.3 negotiates trailers, so it uses them on its local net and doesn't use them when going across the network.


TCP fires off blocks to its partner at the far end of the connection. If it doesn't receive an acknowledgement in a reasonable amount of time it retransmits the blocks. The determination of what is reasonable is done by TCP's retransmission algorithm.

There is no correct algorithm but some are better than others, where worse is measured by the number of retransmissions done unnecessarily. BSD 4.2 had a retransmission algorithm which retransmitted quickly and often. This is exactly what you would want if you had a bunch of machines on an Ethernet (a low delay network of large bandwidth). If you have a network of relatively longer delay and scarce bandwidth (e.g., 56kb lines), it tends to retransmit too aggressively. Therefore, it makes the networks and gateways pass more traffic than is really necessary for a given conversation. Retransmission algorithms do adapt to the delay of the network after a few packets, but 4.2's adapts slowly in delay situations. BSD 4.3 does a lot better and tries to do the best for both worlds. It fires off a few retransmissions really quickly assuming it is on a low delay network, and then backs off very quickly. It also allows the delay to be about 4 minutes before it gives up and declares the connection broken.

Even better than the original 4.3 code is a version of TCP with a retransmission algorithm developed by Van Jacobson of LBL. He did a lot of research into how the algorithm works on real networks and modified it to get both better throughput and be friendlier to the network. This code has been integrated into the later releases of BSD 4.3 and can be fetched anonymously from in directory 4.3.

   Time to Live

The IP packet header contains a field called the time to live (TTL) field. It is decremented each time the packet traverses a gateway. TTL was designed to prevent packets caught in routing loops from being passed forever with no hope of delivery. Since the definition bears some likeness to the RIP hop count, some misguided systems have set the TTL field to 15 because the unreachable flag in RIP is 16. Obviously, no networks could have more than 15 hops. The RIP space where hops are limited ends when RIP is not used as a routing protocol any more (e.g., when NSFnet starts transporting the packet). Therefore, it is quite easy for a packet to require more than 15 hops. These machines will exhibit the behavior of being able to reach some places but not others even though the routing information appears correct.

Solving the problem typically requires kernel patches so it may be difficult if source is not available.

Appendix A - References to Remedial Information


  [1]  Quarterman and Hoskins, "Notable Computer Networks",
       Communications of the ACM, Vol. 29, No. 10, pp. 932-971, October
  [2]  Tannenbaum, A., "Computer Networks", Prentice Hall, 1981.
  [3]  Hedrick, C., "Introduction to the Internet Protocols", Via
       Anonymous FTP from, directory pub/tcp-ip-docs,
       file tcp-ip-intro.doc.
  [4]  Comer, D., "Internetworking with TCP/IP: Principles, Protocols,
       and Architecture", Copyright 1988,  by Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
       Englewood Cliffs, NJ,  07632 ISBN 0-13-470154-2.

Appendix B - List of Major RFCs


This list of key "Basic Beige" RFCs was compiled by J.K. Reynolds. This

is the 30 August 1989 edition of the list.

RFC-768       User Datagram Protocol (UDP)
RFC-791       Internet Protocol (IP)
RFC-792       Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP)
RFC-793       Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)
RFC-821       Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)
RFC-822       Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet Text Messages
RFC-826       Ethernet Address Resolution Protocol
RFC-854       Telnet Protocol
RFC-862       Echo Protocol
RFC-894       A Standard for the Transmission of IP
              Datagrams over Ethernet Networks
RFC-904       Exterior Gateway Protocol
RFC-919       Broadcasting Internet Datagrams
RFC-922       Broadcasting Internet Datagrams in the Presence of Subnets
RFC-950       Internet Standard Subnetting Procedure
RFC-951       Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP)
RFC-959       File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
RFC-966       Host Groups: A Multicast Extension to the Internet Protocol
RFC-974       Mail Routing and the Domain System
RFC-1000      The Request for Comments Reference Guide
RFC-1009      Requirements for Internet Gateways
RFC-1010      Assigned Numbers

RFC-1011      Official Internet Protocols
RFC-1012      Bibliography of Request for Comments 1 through 999
RFC-1034      Domain Names - Concepts and Facilities
RFC-1035      Domain Names - Implementation
RFC-1042      A Standard for the Transmission of IP
              Datagrams over IEEE 802 Networks
RFC-1048      BOOTP Vendor Information Extensions
RFC-1058      Routing Information Protocol
RFC-1059      Network Time Protocol (NTP)
RFC-1065      Structure and Identification of
              Management Information for TCP/IP-based internets
RFC-1066      Management Information Base for Network
              Management of TCP/IP-based internets
RFC-1084      BOOTP Vendor Information Extensions
RFC-1087      Ethics and the Internet
RFC-1095      The Common Management Information
              Services and Protocol over TCP/IP (CMOT)
RFC-1098      A Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
RFC-1100      IAB Official Protocol Standards
RFC-1101      DNS Encoding of Network Names and Other Types
RFC-1112      Host Extensions for IP Multicasting
RFC-1117      Internet Numbers

Note:  This list is a portion of a list of RFC's by topic that may be
retrieved from the NIC under NETINFO:RFC-SETS.TXT (anonymous FTP, of

The following list is not necessary for connection to the Internet, but is useful in understanding the domain system, mail system, and gateways:

RFC-974        Mail Routing and the Domain System
RFC-1009       Requirements for Internet Gateways
RFC-1034       Domain Names - Concepts and Facilities
RFC-1035       Domain Names - Implementation and Specification
RFC-1101       DNS Encoding of Network Names and Other Types

Appendix C - Contact Points for Network Information


Network Information Center (NIC)

DDN Network Information Center
SRI International, Room EJ291
333 Ravenswood Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(800) 235-3155 or (415) 859-3695


NSF Network Service Center (NNSC)

BBN Systems and Technology Corporation
10 Moulton St.
Cambridge, MA 02238
(617) 873-3400


NSF Network Information Service (NIS)

Merit Inc.
University of Michigan
1075 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
(313) 763-4897



CSNET Coordination and Information Center
Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
10 Moulton Street
Cambridge, MA 02238
(617) 873-2777




   autonomous system

A set of gateways under a single administrative control and using compatible and consistent routing procedures. Generally speaking, the gateways run by a particular organization. Since a gateway is connected to two (or more) networks it is not usually correct to say that a gateway is in a network. For example, the gateways that connect regional networks to the NSF Backbone network are run by Merit and form an autonomous system. Another example, the gateways that connect campuses to NYSERNET are run by NYSER and form an autonomous system.

   core gateway

The innermost gateways of the Internet. These gateways have a total picture of the reachability to all networks known to the Internet. They then redistribute reachability information to their neighbor gateways speaking EGP. It is from them your EGP agent (there is one acting for you somewhere if you can reach the core of the Internet) finds out it can reach all the nets on the Internet. Which is then passed to you via Hello, gated, RIP. The core gateways mostly connect campuses to the ARPANET, or interconnect the ARPANET and the MILNET, and are run by BBN.

   count to infinity

The symptom of a routing problem where routing information is passed in a circular manner through multiple gateways. Each gateway increments the metric appropriately and passes it on. As the metric is passed around the loop, it increments to ever increasing values until it reaches the maximum for the routing protocol being used, which typically denotes a link outage.

   hold down

When a router discovers a path in the network has gone down announcing that that path is down for a minimum amount of time (usually at least two minutes). This allows for the propagation of the routing information across the network and prevents the formation of routing loops.

   split horizon

When a router (or group of routers working in consort) accept routing information from multiple external networks, but do not pass on information learned from one external network to any others. This is an attempt to prevent bogus routes to a network from being propagated because of gossip or counting to infinity.


Defense Data Network the collective name for the ARPANET and MILNET. Used frequently because although they are seperate networks the operational and informational foci are the same.

Security Considerations

Security and privacy protection is a serious matter and too often nothing is done about it. There are some known security bugs (especially in access control) in BSD Unix and in some implementations of network services. The hitchhikers guide does not discuss these issues (too bad).

Author's Address

   Ed Krol
   University of Illinois
   195 DCL
   1304 West Springfield Avenue
   Urbana, IL  61801-4399


          (217) 333-7886