TCP-Estimated round-trip test

In an attempt to evaluate different methods for measuring the performance of a TCP/IP connection, I’ve bumped into FreeBSD‘s getsockopt(TCP_INFO) system call, cloned from a similar call invented by Linux, which kindly returns interesting data about the current TCP connection.

I was mainly interested about round-trip time (RTT, called tcpi_rtt) and its standard deviation, mistakenly called tcpi_rttvar even though it’s not a variance.

I’ve written a small proof-of-concept tool accessible at http://eu.org:4500/ to display operating system information retrieved from the current HTTP access. The page currently runs on a FreeBSD 9-CURRENT machine; feel free to try it out, it works either in IPv4 or IPv6. Here’s a sample as of today:

This experimental page displays raw system TCP estimates, in microseconds.

Address: 2a01:e35:8b50:2c40::4
Estimated round-trip time: 15437
Estimated standard deviation: 27937

Note that the measures are very rough. First, the real resolution is about 1 millisecond (one kernel tick), not 1 microsecond. Then, several RTT samples are smoothed into the provided values, with a bigger weight for more recent samples. I left the actual values obtained from the kernel, for clarity, even though giving them up to a 1 microsecond resolution is somewhat misleading.

Then, of course, the results also depend on the number of samples, which tends to be low: the above page waits for the client HTTP headers to be fully received, then emits its own headers in reply, then waits for one second to give some time for the TCP ack(s) to come back, then displays the then-current estimations.

The results are probably sufficient for TCP’s internal needs, but they may differ wildly from real RTT values. Plus, the real RTT value depends on packet size, which TCP doesn’t seem to take into account. The above example is taken from my local network and displays over 15 ms for the RTT, whereas the real RTT is well below 1 ms (0.23 min, 0.4 average with 0.01 standard deviation, according to ping). The results are not always wildly up, I’ve noticed the opposite effect from a remote mobile phone displaying ~100 ms whereas the ping time was more like ~200 ms…

Feel free to use it and add comments below.

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