Linux Tips

The Dogfood Principle page covers the settings on the servers, which run Linux.

Some people note that in some bufferbloat experiments we set the transmit queue length (txqueuelen) to zero on Linux.

Note that this is at best a short term hack to reduce pain, and the wrong answer in general, and on some hardware will cause your system to go completely catatonic. On others (notably some of the “smartest” which generally aren’t but that’s another story) it IS the right thing…

Please, please, don’t just blindly go twisting knobs without understanding what you are doing… and we’ve mostly settled on fq_codel as being the best answer yet, see the Bloat-videos page for some details on that.

So the remainder of this web page is very old… and we haven’t actually updated the main bufferbloat web servers to any huge extent lately, we’re running the Yurtlab instead, (and we are doing several large scale test deployments…)

… so for historical reasons… read on…

There are many potential places where buffers may hide today. These include (at least):

  1. the Linux transmit queue (which txqueuelen controls)
  2. device drivers themselves may hide one or more packets (e.g. the Libertas driver) internally, which simplified its implementation
  3. Most current hardware has very large DMA ring buffers, often allowing for up to 4096 packets/queue in the hardware itself; in the drivers we’ve examined, the default size seems to be in the 200-300 packet range (also true on some Mac and Windows ethernet drivers we’ve played width).
  4. Sometimes the hardware itself may also have packet buffers buried in them. Again, from OLPC, the wireless module there has 4 packets of buffering hidden out in the device.
    (?) encryption buffers.
  5. Old hardware often has very limited buffering in the drivers and hardware; this is part of the history as to how we got to where we are.

Some buffering is necessary for your network stack to work properly. The only reason txqueuelen could be set to zero from 1000 was that that hardware was known to have additional 256 packets of buffering in the Intel wireless and ethernet drivers the tests were run on. Normally, for classification to be able to work, we’d like to have the Linux transmit queue set to some reasonable (small value), so that we can play nice traffic games of various sorts.

Now the question is: how much buffering is “enough”?

And the answer is, unfortunately, not simple. The buffering that should be present depends upon the bandwidth (which may vary by orders of magnitude) and the delay (which is anywhere from 10ms to a couple hundred if you are going around the world). The rule of thumb has been the bandwidth delay product, where the delay has been presumed to be around 100ms. And it also depends on workload. The rub is that ethernet spans 3 orders of magnitude in bandwidth, and on wireless, it’s even worse, where moving your laptop a few inches can change your performance by orders of magnitude.

What a server system’s buffering needs on 1G or 10G networks is very different than what you will need on an 802.11g network (which at best runs about 20Mbps, and often runs much more slowly). But right now, the knobs, for historical reasons, were often set to maximize bandwidth performance for such server systems without regard to latency under load on computers in most people’s homes.

So whatever we set these knob(s) to, it is guaranteed to be wrong much of the time for some systems. At best, until we have better tools at hand, we can mitigate our pain a bit by twisting the knobs to something that may make more sense for the environment where you are running most of the time, and some of our default values in our operating systems and device drivers may need tuning in the short term to the bandwidth. So some short term mitigation is possible by being slightly more clever.

The real long term solution, however, is AQM (active queue management) in the most general sense: the buffering at all layers of the system needs proper integration and management (not just router queues), and it needs to be very dynamic in nature: ergo the interest we have in eBDP, SFB, algorithms and we hope RED Light soon. We need to signal the end points to slow down appropriately. And getting the operating systems to manage both their buffering in concert with the underlying device drivers and hardware is why this is going to be an interesting problem (as in the Chinese curse).

Loaded guns can hurt if you aim them at your foot and pull the trigger. So please do be careful, and think…

These sysctl settings can be stored in the main /etc/sysctl.conf file, or in a file in the /etc/sysctl.d directory.


Note that there is still some broken ECN CPE (e.g. home router) equipment out there; if you have problems in some environments, please let us know.

Set the size of the ring buffer for the network interface

NOTE: THIS HACK IS NO LONGER NEEDED on many ethernet drivers in Linux 3.3, which has Byte Queue Limits instead, which does a far better job.

In modern devices, the dma tx queue often defaults to settings suitable for transmission on a pure GigE (or faster) network.

If your network has significant bottlenecks (such as a 3Mbit home gateway or wireless), this is the most important knob to twist to reduce your bufferbloat.

Once data hits the dma tx queue, it cannot be controlled or shaped. In many cases ethtool is not supported, however, if you can, reduce these buffers to the bare minimum for good performance. Few devices support going as low as this:

ethtool -G eth0 tx 4
ethtool -G wlan0 tx 4

But many can get to 20 or below.

You can observe your existing settings with:

ethtool -g eth0
ethtool -g wlan0

Reduce transmit queue length

NOTE: with codel, this is no longer needed either.

This is a separate setting for each network interface. Examples:

ifconfig wlan0 txqueuelen 16
ifconfig eth0 txqueuelen 50

(50 is the default transmit queue length on FreeBSD.)

Assuming your dma tx queue is under control, you can also Traffic Shaping|shape the traffic using an appropriate qdisc, and have a larger txqueuelen.

More Adventures

Note: the debloat-testing kernel is not in use at present. We may resurrect it soon.

If you want to start running a recent Linux kernel with eBDP, SFB, and start more serious testing of such attacks on the problem, then you are a customer of the debloat-testing kernel tree maintained by John Linville.

This tree has a (possibly frequently changing) set of kernel patches that start to attack the bufferbloat problem in less naive ways. We hope to get more automated builds for multiple distro’s going soon (help gratefully appreciated!). In the very short term, if you don’t mind dead puppies (like your laptop) you may find this Ubuntu 10.10 kernel (64 bit) useful). Note that this kernel is also built preempt, as Dave likes to do music. Additionally, you might like something more graceful to set your wireless queue length to something more sensible for that kernel; a Debian /etc/networks/if-up.d wlan script for this is available.


Home Router Puzzle Piece One – Fun with your switch

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Bufferbloat Related Projects

Congestion Control Blog
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Flent Network Test Suite
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Network Performance Related Resources

Jim Gettys' Blog - The chairman of the Fjord
Toke's Blog - Karlstad University's work on bloat
Voip Users Conference - Weekly Videoconference mostly about voip
Candelatech - A wifi testing company that "gets it".