[NKP-0009] NKN Transport layer

I end up with designing and implementing (in Go) at the same time. Lots of the initial designs have been changed if they don’t work well in real tests. You can find the current implementation at the session branch of https://github.com/nknorg/nkn-sdk-go/ (there might be force push to this branch in the future). It has been well tested with tens of GBs of data.

Design Principle

The session mode is designed to natively work with multiple concurrent path to greatly enhance reliability and performance. The number of concurrent path should be configurable. Arbitrary failure of any but not all path should not affect the correctness and completeness of data transmitted (but may affect the performance).

The two participates of a session should negotiate the window size and the concurrent path to use with each other to make sure as few packets are wasted as possible.

The two participates of a session should be able to know whether each other is online or not when session is established. (The next one is to be decided and might be related to NKP-0019) After session is established, they should be able to know if each other is still online and session is still active using optional keepalive message.

Protobuf Change

A new payload type SESSION is added:

enum PayloadType {
  BINARY = 0;
  TEXT = 1;
  ACK = 2;
  SESSION = 3;

When payload type is session, field pid will be treated as session id and should be unique per address pair, and field reply_to_pid should always be set to zero value (i.e. not set).

A new pb message SessionData is added:

message Packet {
  uint32 sequence_id = 1;
  bytes data = 2;
  repeated uint32 ack_start_seq = 3;
  repeated uint32 ack_seq_count = 4;
  uint64 bytes_read = 5;
  repeated string client_ids = 6;
  uint32 window_size = 7;
  uint32 mtu = 8;
  bool close = 9;
  bool handshake = 10;

A few notes:

  • sequence_id of data packet starts with 1 to avoid using the zero value of protobuf. sequence_id is circular, so the next value after max_uint_32 is 1.
  • For ack packet, either ack_start_seq or ack_seq_count could be pb zero value, but not both. If both of them have non zero value (length > 0), then their length must be identical. If ack_start_seq has zero value but ack_seq_count has non zero value, then ack_start_seq will be filled with an array with the same length as ack_seq_count, but value all equals 1. If ack_seq_count has zero value but ack_start_seq has non zero value, then ack_seq_count will be filled with an array with the same length as ack_start_seq, but value all equals 1. The length of ack_start_seq and ack_seq_count should not be greater than 32. After ack_start_seq and ack_seq_count are filled, they represent a few ranges of sequence id to be acknowledged, where ack_start_seq represents the start sequence id of each range, and ack_seq_count represents the number of consecutive sequence id to be acknowledged.

There will be multiple types of SessionData depending on session state and which fields are (not) protobuf zero value:

  1. handshake packet: handshake is not zero value.
  2. data packet: when session is in established state and sequence_id is not zero value.
  3. ack packet: when session is in established state and ack_start_seq, ack_seq_count are not zero value. Typically ack packet will also have bytes_read set to non zero value.
  4. bytes read update packet: only bytes_read is not zero value. Note that other types of packet may also have bytes_read set to non zero value.
  5. close packet: close is not zero value.

Create Clients

We use the multiclient protocol to create a series of nkn clients with different identifier prefix __i__ where i is integer starts with 0. For example, a nkn address id.pk will be converted to __0__.id.pk, __1__.id.pk, __2__.id.pk, etc. User may optionally choose to keep the original identifier (identifier prefix “”) and include client with original address id.pk into the clients to use.

Establish a Session

When Alice wants to initialize (dial) a session with Bob, she creates a session using default or user configured value and puts the session in session map. Then she creates a handshake packet, which is a SessionData packet with the following fields:

  • handshake: set to true.
  • client_ids: a list of identifier prefix Alice will use, e.g. ["", "__0__", "__1__", "__2__", …]
  • window_size: Alice’s session receive window size in bytes (last unread received - first unread received)
  • mtu: Alice’s session receive mtu

The Payload containing the handshake packet will have payload type set to session, and pid set to 8 random bytes. The pid should be unique for a given remote address, otherwise packets will be treated as the same session.

At this time Alice does not know which identifier prefix Bob will use yet, so Alice will send the packet to Bob’s based NKN address + an identifier prefix list. The list might be configured when user calls dialing method, while by default all identifier prefix Alice is using will be used.

When Bob receives the handshake packet, he first checks if the session id (pid of Payload message) of the remote (Alice’s) address exists. If session does not exist, a new session will be created, and the following fields will be adjusted based on Alice’s handshake packet:

  • a list of virtual connections where len(connections) = min(len(local identifier prefix list), len(remote identifier prefix list)), and i-th connection will use i-th local identifier prefix and i-th remote identifier prefix.
  • send window size will be min(local send window size, remote receive window size)
  • send mtu will be min(local send mtu, remote receive mtu)

After session is created, it will be hold in a queue until user called accept method to indicate that user wants to accept a session. Then the first session in queue will be taken out, send back to Alice a handshake packet with the same fields and Bob’s value using ALL connections of the session (to enhance reliability). The session will be marked as established on Bob’s side, returned to user and become ready to use.

When Alice receives back the handshake packet from Bob, she will find the session from session map and handle the handshake packet in the same way as Bob. Then the session is marked as established on Alice’s side, returned to user and become ready to use.

Send Data

When a session is established, it’s fully duplex and both side handle send and receive concurrently. For simplicity, we will assume Alice sends data while Bob receives. The other direction works the same way.

Each session maintains a sliding window as send window, which keeps track of the ack status of a consecutive sequence id list and the packet data if the packet has not been acknowledged. The size of the window is defined by the total size of data sent + size of data in send buffer - total size of data read by receiver. In other words, it’s the max size of receiver’s receive buffer usage if receiver does not read any data from the session since now.

Each session has two modes: stream mode or non stream mode. This should be predefined on both side (NOT negotiated during session handshake) because it affects how session read and write works. In stream mode, data passed in by session write method might be split into multiple packets or merged into one packets, so there is no max length requirement on write data length or read buffer size. In non-stream mode, data passed through session write method will be send by a single packet and will not be split or merged. So the data length cannot be greater than negotiated mtu, and read buffer size should be greater than negotiated mtu.

When Alice calls session write method, it waits for available send window space. In stream mode, it waits for any send window, and if the available size is not enough for whole data, it append partial data first, and wait for the rest until all data are put into send buffer. In non-stream mode, it waits until the whole data fits into available send window.

When send window is available, data are first appended into send buffer (a byte array whose size equals session mtu). In stream mode, buffer will be flushed (send by NKN client) when it’s full, and also at a fixed time interval. In non-stream mode, send buffer will be flushed whenever data is put into buffer.

When data is put into send buffer, it uses len(data) space of the send window. The send window will slide forward only when receiving acknowledgement that more bytes are read by receiver. When window slide forward, it will slide until the first sequence id in window is unacknowledged.

When send buffer is flushed, one (and only one) random available connection (connection availability defined later) will fetch the job and send data to the connection remote address. If no connection is availability, flush will wait until one become availability.

Connections serve as the workers that send the packets. As mentioned earlier, each connection has a fixed local client and remote client address. In addition, each connection independently maintains and updates a conn send window (but the unit is packets, NOT bytes) and retransmission timeout (rto) because different connections might have very different stats. Conn send window is defined by number of packets sent by this conn, but has not been acknowledged yet. Packets in a conn send window does NOT need to be consecutive.

A conn has the following send loop: when conn has available send window space, it first try to get a packet from session resend queue, which is shared by all connections of the session. If no packet needs to be resent, it become available for sending new packet and will try to send data from session send buffer. If either of these two data are available, it sends the data, increment conn send window used, and record the sent time.

A conn has the following check timeout loop: when a packet is sent for more than rto time but has not received ack, it will be considered timeout, and the packet will be put into the session resend queue. Also, conn send window will be halved, but cannot be smaller than min conn send window size.

When a session receives an ack, it will pass it to all connections. Each conn will check if he has sent the packet. If conn has sent the packet and it has not been timeout, conn send window size will be increment by 1, but cannot be greater than max conn send window size. Also, regardless of whether the packet is timeout or not, conn send window will recover by 1; conn will compute the round trip time (rtt) since sent the packet, and update conn rto using:

rto = rto + tanh((3 * rtt - rto) / 1000ms) * 100ms

but rto cannot be greater than max conn rto. This formula tries to fix rto at 3 * rtt, exponentially approaching 3 * rtt when diff(rto, 3 * rtt) is small for fast correction, and linearly approach when diff(rto, 3 * rtt) is large to avoid too much change caused by outlier.

The rational behind this formula is that, because NKN client to client connection is an overlay connection, and each hop is already transmitting data using TCP, thus having flow control, congestion control, etc. The only thing we need to do is using a proper conn send window, and estimate timeout using measured rtt. I also tried Jacobson/Karels algorithm but it leads to quite a lot “timeout”, (I think) because that latency is already affected by TCP connections along the way, so the assumption of of the algorithm no longer holds. Similarly, for the conn send window, we choose exponentially increase and decrease because instead of using it for congestion control, we use it to avoid dispatching too much workload to congested connections and thus affect session throughput. I also tried TCP-like linear increase and exponentially decrease but it works not so well either.

Receive Data

When any of Bob’s clients receives a NKN packet, he first checks if payload type is session. If so it will be handled as session packet, otherwise non-session packet. For the session packet, if it’s an unknown (remote addr, session id) combo (not found in session map), then it will be treated as a new session: a session will be created and stored in session map. When session is created or get from session map, the received packet will be passed to session for handling, with the following order:

  • If session is already closed, return error.
  • If SessionData.close is true, handle it as close packet (will be described later).
  • If session has not been established, and the sequence_id, ack_start_seq, ack_seq_count field are all pb zero value, then handle it as handshake packet (as described before).
  • If session is already established, and either ack_start_seq or ack_seq_count have non zero value, then handle it as ack packet (as described before). After handling ack packet, the packet might still be handled as data packet if the next condition is met.
  • If session is already established, and sequence_id is not zero value, then handle it as data packet (will be described later)

When Bob handles a data packet, he checks if data size is less than mtu, and puts the data in receive window if sequence id is not earlier than window start seq, data not received yet, and receive window is not full. If the data sequence id equals the first receive window start sequence id, data become available for user to read. Regardless of whether sequence id is earlier than window start seq, Bob should send back ack packet to Alice for the sequence id. Ack should be sent back using the same connection that receives data. To reduce ack packet count, connection should not send ack immediately. Instead, each conn should buffer ack that needs to be sent, aggregate ack greedily into as few packets as possible (as long as the requirements in protobuf section is satisfied), and send ack on a regularly basis (less frequent than data flush interval).

Each ack packet should also include bytes_read field which is set to the current session bytes read, which increases when user call session read and data is removed from receive buffer. In addition, if some bytes are read but no bytes_read is sent to sender for a while (e.g. receiver calls read after receive window if full), then receiver should send a packet containing only bytes_read field to inform sender about bytes read update. Such a packet should be sent by all available connection to ensure delivery.

Close Session

Either party of a session can close a session by sending a close message using all connections available to increase reliability. Before sending close message and closing the session, packets in send buffer should be sent at best effort. The other party who received close packet should also flush send buffer at best effort.

1 Like

hi @yilun,

i scanned the proposal quickly, it’s great to see this proposal which is surely a good foundation for what most networking apps need - reliable, ordered packet transfer that does retries in case of packet drops etc.

I am sure this mentioned system would be good if its available in all sdks, maybe it can be even part of the go code and sdks like js sdk or java sdk will just call the go core function if that’s possible technically.

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You probably haven’t noticed but it’s already part of the go sdk (not merged into master branch yet, gomobile branch has the latest code). The gomobile branch even works on iOS/Android by using gomobile to compile it to Objective-C and Java library.

There are some examples in the repo about how to use it. Basically it’s compatible with net.Conn interface. We also created a simple tunnel that can tunnel tcp traffic through nkn client: https://github.com/nknorg/nkn-tunnel

Note: it’s in dev stage so there might be breaking changes :slight_smile:


And I am also working on implementing this in Java SDK. It’s half way there, but nothing is public yet. I will publish this as soon as its finished to allow for some larger testing with cross-language SDKs.

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great thanks

This NKP has been implemented in NKN SDK

Java SDK has session functionality implemented now, feel free to test and report bugs (using github)

It is this release: https://github.com/nknorg/nkn-java-sdk/releases/tag/0.2.3

There has been massive rewrite, including breaking API changes. All the code examples are updated accordingly. Feel free to test and report everything. It will get merged after a while to master if there are no serious issues found in the meantime.

@zero24x There is an example file, which works as general TCP/IP proxy over NKN as well, if you want to have a look at that.