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A Survey of the Stream Control

Transmission Protocol
Sivadon Chaisiri
Parallel and Distributed Computing Centre (PDCC)
School of Computer Engineering
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Email: siva0020@ntu.edu.sg Matriculation Number: G0703431D

Abstract—This paper represents a survey of the Stream Con- oriented, reliable end-to-end communication like TCP. While
trol Transmission Protocol (SCTP) which has more advantages today TCP supports functions required by most popular ap-
than the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) in the TCP/IP plications on the Internet, it has some disadvantages. Later,
transport layer. Due to the original limitation of TCP, SCTP
is designed for the improvement. Currently, IETF offers SCTP SCTP was introduced.
as a general-purpose protocol for Internet applications. This Initially, SCTP was standardized by the Signaling Trans-
survey shows main features of SCTP such as multistreaming port (SIGTRAN) working group of the Internet Engineering
and multihoming which can be applied for many applications Task Force (IETF) for supporting Signaling System 7 (SS7)
to avoid head-of-line blocking , to increase high throughput
messages, a set of telephony protocols, over IP networks [1],
of data transfer, and to offer high-availability communications.
Furthermore, some examples of applications using SCTP are [2]. The SS7 transport requires reliable and timely delivery.
introduced. Moreover, the analysis studies of SCTP performance Absolutely, TCP was also evaluated for the transport; however,
are also included. Finally, some comments on SCTP are suggested it has several limitations presented later.
for further improvement. Basically, SCTP was derived many functions from TCP, but
I. BACKGROUND K NOWLEDGE SCTP enhances more improvements. Currently, SCTP is of-
The TCP/IP model is introduced for using in the Internet fered by IETF as a common transport layer protocol like TCP
and other similar networks. It provides the layered architecture and UDP. Two major features of SCTP are multistreaming and
which has less complexity than the standard OSI model. The multihoming as discussed next.
TCP/IP model composes of link layer, Internet layer, transport
layer, and application layer [17]. The link and the Internet A. Multihoming
layers provide only hop-to-hop protocols, while the upper ones
SCTP is designed to enable fault resilience during network
provide end-to-end protocols. This survey mainly focuses on
failures. In SCTP terminology, a term association is compa-
the transport layer that provides services for communications
rable to a TCP connection. One endpoint of association can
between two or more end-point application. Main service
bind to one or more IP address. For example, an endpoint
functions provided by the transport layer are flow control,
registers two IP addresses over two different links/paths (one
error detection / recovery, congestion avoidance, and reliable
address per one link independently), wired link and wireless
delivery. Originally, the model introduced two core protocols,
link. When setting up an association, the endpoint chooses the
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram
wired link as the primary path. If the wired link is down, it can
Protocol (UDP), for handling two different types of commu-
transparently reroute to the available wireless link and continue
nications, connection-oriented communication respectively.
its ongoing activity over the same opening association. The
UDP [18] does not add anything to the underlying layers
multihoming feature allows high availability communications
except to offer end-to-end communications. Although UDP
by reusing redundant links. The multihoming mechanism is
is connectionless, unreliable protocol; it produces a minimum
not supported in TCP.
overhead and can be greatly applied for some applications
which do not concern much reliability. Fig. 1 illustrates an association consisting of two redundant
UDP is useful; however, it is not suitable for many ap- links in which endpoint has two network interfaces (i.e.,
plications running on the Internet. The link and the Internet eth0 and eth1), the former is for the 802.3x wired Ethernet
layers might not offer reliable communications; so TCP [19] network and the latter one is for 802.11x wireless network.
is designed as a connection-oriented, reliable protocol. TCP The sender selects the eth0 as the primary interface to transfer
provides services that guarantee the reliable delivery such as data to the receiver, illustrated in Fig. 1(a). At some point
flow control, error control, and congestion control. of time, the receiver’s line is down. Then the multihoming
mechanism transparently switches to the wireless network
II. I NTRODUCTION TO SCTP (shifting to the sender’s and the receiver’s eth1 interfaces) to
The Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP) [20] is continue the holding communication without reestablishing a
the latest TCP/IP transport protocol offering a connection- new association, shown in Fig. 1(b).
Fig. 1. An association consisting of two redundant links/paths: the sender is choosing the wired network (a) the wired network is down (b).

Fig. 2. An example of head-of-line blocking occurred when B2 is lost. Fig. 3. An SCTP association consisting of five streams.

B. Multistreaming without affecting to the entire association. In Fig. 3, if Stream


Multistreaming can multiplex data from the application 3 is in the HOL blocking state, other four streams have no
layer onto a single association. A data segment (or chunk [2], effects to this Stream 3.
[13]) is transferred in a stream. One association can carry
one or more stream. Each stream independently transports C. Comparison of TCP and STCP
each different set of segments. If a segment of one stream A comparison of TCP and SCTP based on [1] is illustrated
is lost, segments belonging to other streams are not affected in Table I. The first row shows that SCTP supports the
and continuing their transfer. multihoming capability, while TCP cannot support this feature.
TCP is conformed to strongly strict ordered delivery, so The second row in Table I shows the multistreaming capability.
it causes a head-of-line (HOL) blocking in some cases for A multistreaming-like function can be implemented on TCP
making sure that the data will be arrived at the destination by establishing multiple connections, but it can waste many
as the accurate orders. If a packet is lost, sequencing packets resources and much overhead for maintaining these connec-
are queued up in the receiver buffer for reordering until the tions. SCTP supports the real multistreaming on a single one
lost packet is resent from the sender. This blocking increases association with less overhead.
a packet transfer delay. The next comparison in the third row shows how different
In Fig. 2. illustrates an instance when the sender has 2 between TCP and SCTP is, when setting up new connections
data, A and B, sending to the receiver. Each data consists / associations. When setting up a new connection, TCP uses a
of 3 segments equally. The sender is transmitting both data three-way handshake, as shown in Fig. 4(a). A new connection
over a single TCP connection. At some point of time, the on the server is established, when receiving an INIT message
receiver’s buffer kept four data segments including A2, B1, A1, from the client. In this way, TCP is vulnerable to a denial of
and A3 for later correcting their order before delivering to its service (DoS) attack called SYN flooding attack; an attacker
application. When B2 is lost during transmission, it causes the continuously sends many bogus SYN messages to the server.
HOL blocking to wait for retransmission of B2. Although the After receiving a SYN message, the server allocates some
entire data A is arrived, it cannot be sequenced and delivered memory space for a new connection. Finally, at some point
to the application. of time the server’s free memory will be exhausted to offer
SCTP avoids the HOL blocking, where each stream carries non-attacker clients.
only its segment concurrently and independently [9]. The HOL SCTP avoids the SYN flooding attack by following a four-
blocking can be found within the scope of individual streams way handshake, as shown in Fig. 4(b). A new association is
TABLE I
C OMPARISON OF TCP AND SCTP

TCP SCTP
Multihoming support Not Supported Supported
Multistreaming per stream By multiple TCP connnections By a single one association
Setup connections/associations Three-way handshake Four-way handshake
Shutdown connections/associations Four-way handshake Three-way handshake
Half-open support Supported Not supported
Ordered delivery Strict ordered Ordered within a stream
Unordered delivery Not supported Supported
Message boundary Stream-oriented Message-oriented
Selective Acknowledgement Option Mandatory
Keep alive heartbeat Not support Supported

receiving the client’s INIT, which can avoid the attack.


The fourth row in Table I relates to a shutdown mechiansm.
When an endpoint engages a shutdown process, it can keep
the connection alive, also called the half-open, for receiving
further incoming data from another side. TCP supports this
half-open connection via a four-way handshake shutdown;
while SCTP does not support the half-open by using a three-
way handshake shutdown, as compared in the fifth row.
Both TCP and SCTP supports reliable ordered delivery
mode, as presented in the sixth row. TCP only supports strict
ordered, while SCTP supports ordering delivery per a stream.
Moreover, SCTP offers unreliable, unordered delivery mode
like UDP; while TCP does not support this mode, as noted
in the seventh row. Furthermore, SCTP also provides partially
ordered mode or partial reliability communication, which one
association consists of both ordered delivery and unordered
delivery modes; either of them is assigned for a stream. The
partial reliability mode is useful for applications requiring both
modes at the same time. For example, an association carries
three distinct contents including image, text, and video; which
both image and text require ordered delivery, while the video
is compromised to transfer with the unordered mode.
The next row presents the fact that TCP is a stream- (or
byte-) oriented protocol in which data represent as a series of
bytes, implied that the data has no boundary. So application
developers have to specify scopes of such sequenced bytes
as boundary messages. In comparison, SCTP is a message-
oriented protocol. The SCTP transport layer treats data re-
ceived from the above application layer as messages. As long
as there is a sufficient buffer at the receiver, a whole individual
Fig. 4. Setup connections/assoications: TCP three-way handshake (a), and message can be delivered to the receiver without combining
SCTP four-way handshake (b).
itself to another message.
The ninth row in Table I relates to a selective acknowledge-
ment (SACK) mechanism. This mechanism is used for a fast
established after the client got the server’s INIT ACK and retransmission that speeds up loss detection and also increases
then returned the COOKIE ECHO back to the server. The bandwidth utilization. SACK is supported in TCP as an option
INIT ACK message includes the cookie information (e.g., [21], while SACK is mandatory in SCTP. An old mechanism
IP addresses of endpoints, stream number, etc.), which the using in TCP is a cumulative acknowledgement scheme, this
client must return the COOKIE ECHO back to the server. induces a sender either to learn about lost packets in each
So the server does not maintain an association state, although roundtrip time, or to retransmit segments which just have been
accurately got by its receivers. SACK allows the receivers to which introduces overhead. In addition, overhead incurs for
inform their senders about all arrived correct segments; hence each file transfer due to sending a control command.
the senders just transmit only the lost ones. Instead of using TCP, Ladha and Amer [3] introduce ap-
The last row in Table I refers to the keep-alive mechanism plying SCTP multistreaming for FTP. They introduce three
used to detect unreachable or idled hosts during communica- implementations as follows
tions. A host uses a keep-alive message to probe its other 1) FTP over SCTP by keeping the same semantics of the
connected hosts. If a connected host does not response to classic FTP. This way mimics the FTP which means one
the message in threshold duration, this host is assumed as an SCTP association for the control flow and the other one
unreachable one. TCP supports this mechanism as an option, for the data flow.
while it is mandatory in SCTP. 2) FTP over SCTP with multistreaming feature to combine
both control and data flows together into a same asso-
D. Summary of SCTP Features ciation.
Based on a list of SCTP features presented in [2], this 3) FTP over SCTP with multistreaming and command
summary shows interesting features of SCTP as follows pipelining. The additional command pipelining avoids
• Message-oriented protocol. SCTP is the message-oriented
unnecessary reduction of congestion window size (cwnd)
protocol, while TCP is the stream-oriented protocol. for a multiple file transfer.
• Multihoming support. This feature offers high-availability Their experiments have done by comparing the new 3 ways
to applications. Moreover, the multihoming also induces and the original FTP over TCP by observing transmission
a concurrent multipath transmission, as discussed in the time and percent of loss possibility. The results show that
next section. all SCTP versions perform much less loss packets and much
• Avoiding HOL blocking. The SCTP multistreaming is faster transfer. The implementation with command pipelining
used to encounter HOL blocking. is the best one. The next better one is FTP over SCTP with
• Three delivery modes support. SCTP supports ordered only multistreaming. Though the first implementation is not
delivery, unordered delivery, and partially ordered modes. changed from TCP much, SCTP can outperform TCP. The
• Selective acknowledgement support. SACK is mandatory more efficient congestion control and the robustness (e.g., error
in SCTP. recovery) of SCTP are the reasons.
• Heartbeat keep-alive mechanism. This mechanism is
B. Web Applications
mandatory in SCTP.
• DoS protection. As mentioned early, the three-way hand-
Web applications such as Internet web browsers generally
shake of SCTP can protect the SYN attack found in TCP. use HTTP over TCP to retrieve data over the Internet [16].
The evolution of web contents introduces more variety of data
III. A PPLICATION U SINIG SCTP presented on a single web page or once retrieval. The contents
can be HTML text, images, video, audio, and any executable
A usage of SCTP was introductorily proposed for signaling scripts/programs such as Java Applets, ActiveX and Flash.
transport applications such as VoIP. Currently it is determined A various kinds of web contents could be transferred to a
in the wider range of applications, as presented by [1], [3], client in a single one TCP connection, but this way induces a
[4], [5], [6], [7] as some instances. This section presents HOL blocking. On one hand, an individual bundle of content
some examples of applications using SCTP which include file can be delivered independently to present on a client; which
transfer, web applications, high availability servers, parallel content arrives the client first, then it presents first. Many
transmission or concurrent multipath transmission, and multi- web applications establish multiple TCP connections; each
streaming over mobile devices with limited memory. one transfers a bundle of content. This method concurrently
delivers and presents more content to a client, but it consumes
A. File Transfer Applications
much resource due to multiple established connections.
File transfer protocol (FTP) [15] is a protocol used to Fu and Atiquzzaman [1] introduce to use the multistreaming
transfer files from one host to another host. This protocol is mechanism to transfer many web contents in parallel fashion,
widely used in the Internet. Originally, FTP is implemented one bundle of content per one stream. In [4], Y. J. Lee and
by TCP. Although TCP offers the reliable transfer for FTP M. Atiquzzaman apply HTTP over STCP; however, this work
connections, it induces so much overhead. The first main did not cover a usage of multistreaming. They compare the
overhead comes from the nature of FTP which consists of two object transfer latency between HTTP over SCTP and HTTP
separate control and data flows. These two flows produce extra over SCTP during the slow start phase of a congestion control.
overhead. Moreover, the control flow is venerable to timeouts They conclude that the latency of the HTTP over SCTP is less
because of its control commands. than HTTP over TCP by 11%.
Furthermore, FTP over TCP also has one limitation on
the data flow which is non-persistent that introducing much C. High Availability Servers
overhead. For example, when a client needs to transfer a file, The SCTP multihoming feature can be applied for any ap-
even request a list if directories; a connection must be setup plications requiring high availability, such as high availability
servers (HA servers), by using the redundancy of links, as throughputs by avoiding HOL blocking at the receiver. This
shown in Fig 2. This feature does not appear in both UDP and implies that SCTP can work well on such devices which have
TCP as mentioned. A host is multihomed when it has two or less memory and battery-power.
more network interface. Each interface binds an IP address to
its individual link. The multihoming mechanism selects a link IV. P ERFORMANCE E VALUATION OF SCTP
(e.g., the most reliable and fastest link) as primary. When the This section represents performance evaluation studies of
primary link is down, the mechanism reuses another redundant SCTP. They reveal some experiments and measurements to
link. An example of HA servers can be database servers and show that SCTP can be efficiently applied for Internet applica-
application servers which offer critical functions (e.g., banking tions due to acceptable results. The first study studies an event
and financial services). Another application is mobile devices whenever TCP and SCTP concurrently share the same network
including multiple network interfaces. For example, a mobile resources. Then the study of throughput performed by SCTP is
device with two network interfaces (i.e., 802.11b and GPRS) explored. Next, the observation of HOL blocking induced by
can switch to one of these two links, when one link is down. SCTP is presented. Finally, the study of a congestion control
D. Concurrent Multipath Transmission mechanism over SCTP multistreaming is introduced.

One powerful function provided by the multihoming feature A. Two Competing Protocol Instances
is the concurrent multipath transfer (CMT). CMT increases
SCTP congestion control is designed similar to that of TCP
high throughput of transmission by distributing data to mul-
with a goal that is to assure that SCTP will not behave more
tiple paths simultaneously. TCP can offer a kind of parallel
aggressively than TCP or SCTP traffic will consume more
transfer by creating multiple TCP connections. This way
network resources than TCP traffic.
increases throughput in high bandwidth networks. The transfer
Jungmaier et at. [12] evaluate how SCTP performs in a
must be done along the same path to a receiver, while CMT
network, when competing with TCP. When loading packets
utilizes multiple different paths concurrently. Some examples
with different sizes, they show that SCTP traffic has the
of CMT applications can be file download accelerators, Inter-
similar throughput controlled by the congestion decision of
net web browsers, load-balancing server farms, and parallel
TCP connections as general TCP traffic; if the transport
computing programs.
protocol of some applications was changed from TCP to
Iyengar et al. [5] introduce algorithms to implement CMT
SCTP, the performance of other TCP applications would not
to avoid three negative side-effects of CMP which are (1)
be affected. They present that SCTP is neither more nor less
unnecessary fast retransmission by a senders; (2) overly con-
aggressive than TCP. Finally, they conclude that TCP and
servative cwnd growth at a sender; and (3) increased traffic
SCTP connections share resources fairly and SCTP will not
of acknowledgement (ACK) due to fewer delay ACKs by
degrade the performance of existing TCP traffic. This can be
a receiver. They conclude that CMT also enhances fault
implied that SCTP can be a general purpose protocol like TCP.
resilience for transmission. An original SCTP has to explicit
In addition, Afzal et al. [11] also present the same conclusion
probe to gather about path information. If the probe is done
taht SCTP and TCP perform similar behavior in term of delay
infrequently or an association is idled for a while, a host
in a single flow and competing network traffic.
may be not aware of an unreachable path. CMT is able
to counter this limitation, because it simultaneously utilizes B. Throughput
multiple paths in which those paths are implicitly probed.
Perotto et al. [6] offer an issue of CMT implementation Islam and Kara [13] analyze the throughput of the SCTP
plugged to the original SCTP. They implement two SCTP multihoming mechanism by focusing on different data chunk’s
implementations, SBPP-SCTP and W-SCTP which support sizes. Their experimental results show that SCTP gain higher
CMT. Their experimental results show that SBPP-SCTP and throughput during large data chunks transmission, because
W-SCTP increase much more throughputs than the original the SCTP multihoming lets a sender to retransmit lost data
unsupported-CMT SCTP. chunks via another redundant path which reduces the chance
of missing retransmitted ones (or lessening the possibility
E. Mobile Devices with Limited Buffer Size of packet loss), and causes rarely loss in the throughput
An amount of data that can be sent by a sender, over either during large chunks transmission. They summarize that SCTP
TCP or SCTP, is limited by a cwnd size and its receiver’s increases the throughput due to the progressive congestion
buffer size. If a destination host does not have much available control mechanism such as SACK, limited transmit, and
buffer, it can reject to keep incoming data. appropriate byte counting, as presented as follows
Atiquzzaman and Ivancic [7] propose to use SCTP mul- • As mentioned before, SACK is mandatory in SCTP. This
tistreaming for small-memory devices, especially mobile de- mechanism avoids the problems found in the cumulative
vices with limited buffer size such as wireless, satellite, and acknowledgement using in TCP.
radio devices. Their simulation shows that SCTP performs • The limited transmit mechanism allows a sender to use
more efficient than TCP. They present that the multistreaming a fast retransmit algorithm when recovering lost chunks,
can reduce the requirement of the receiver’s buffer and increase rather than using a high cost retransmission timeout.
• SCTP increases cwnd size by counting a number of B. Performance Issues
acknowledged bytes instead of a number of SACK This issue discusses two topics. The former topic relates to
messages. This is the appropriate byte counting which the multistreaming mechanism, and the later one presents an
prevents slow increment of cwnd size found during large issue of CMT provided by the multihoming mechanism.
chunks transmission. The multistreaming offers an application to create multi-
Afzal et al. [11] observe the SCTP congestion control on ple streams. Each stream consumes an endpoint’s resources.
the transmission throughput during different loss probability is If there are so many streams inside an association, many
generated. They also found that SCTP takes higher throughput resources can be much more consumed. This side-effect is
than TCP due to the progressive congestion control. significant for devices with limited capability such as mobile
As mentioned in the previous section, CMT [5], [6] is devices. One way that we can encounter this problem is to
introduced by leveraging the SCTP multihoming mechanism turn off one or more idled stream, when it is not in use for
which is able to transfer multiple data over different paths a while. In the other hand, every stream may be not utilized
concurrently. In this way, CMT over SCTP can increase much at the same time, which some of them can be turned-on only
more throughputs and take less latency. when its application needs.
CMT provided by SCTP is an interesting solution for
C. Head-of-Line Blocking
increasing the transmission throughput; however, this method
Grinnemo et al. [9] have conducted an experimental study increases a bottleneck at a receiver’s side to reorder received
on HOL blocking in SCTP. They study on the impact of HOL data from multiple paths. This problem can be solved by new
blocking of the ordered delivery mode and also the unordered models of processors such as multi-core or SMT processors,
delivery mode. They found that although HOL blocking is which multiple threads can reorder the data receiving from
happened during the reliable delivery, this produces only a many paths concurrently. To improve by software, this issue
marginal impact on the transmission delay. When testing the is one open topic for research.
same sample on the unreliable delivery, they observe that the
improvements are in the range of 0% to 18% in average C. Security Issues
message transmission delay. Although SCTP can protect the SYN flooding attack (a type
of DoS), SCTP and TCP cannot avoid a distributed denial of
D. Congestion Control over Multiple Streams service (DDoS) attack. DDoS is an attack method controlling
Seo et al. [8] observes an SCTP congestion control in multiple attackers located over the Internet to flood messages
terms of fairness among streams within SCTP associations, to a same target concurrently. This type of attack can be
when initiating the multistreaming feature. They found that a protected by some methods presented in [14].
multistreaming application with only one congestion control
per one association (named global congestion control) does VI. C ONCLUSION
not give the fairness for every stream. If a single lost data SCTP can be applied for Internet applications like general-
chunk is incurred inside a specific stream, the congestion purposed protocols such as UDP and TCP. Due to its re-
control reduces cwnd size of the whole path affecting to every liable, connection-oriented communication; SCTP provides
stream. They suggest using a stream congestion control that functions like TCP. Multihoming and multistreaming are its
each stream is managed by a particular congestion control sep- major features which can highly increase both robustness and
arately and independently. This mechanism can offer fairness performance for data communications.
among streams. In this survey, some SCTP applications are introduced
such as file transfer applications, web applications, concurrent
V. C OMMENTS ON I MPROVEMENTS multipath transmission, high-availability servers and mobile
This section introduces comments on future improvements applications with limited memory.
of SCTP. There are three issues -implementation, performance, The survey also presents the performance evaluation studies
and security. of SCTP protocols. The results of studies show that SCTP has
more advantages than TCP which are less delay, less packet
A. Implementation Issues loss, less HOL blocking, more efficient congestion control,
There are a small number of widely, commonly used imple- and higher throughput of data transfer.
mentations of SCTP. Most of them are provided for a specific In the last discussion, the survey shows three issues for
platform, especially Linux operating systems. This could be a further improvements of SCTP - implementation, performance,
gap between application developers and SCTP. Some of them, and security issues. The implementation makes a gap between
both commercial and open-source, are introduced in [1]. developers and SCTP due to the small number of widely and
More open-source versions of SCTP libraries and SDKs commonly used development libraries. The next issues relate
with supporting many useful SCTP functions should be de- to SCTP performance including multistreaming performance
veloped as developers’ options. SCTP should be provided for and CMT performance. The last issues discuss the DDoS
common platforms, not only Linux, such as Windows, Ma- which can be happened in SCTP, but a number of solutions are
cOSX, Google’s Android, Symbian, and Java virtual machine. explored for defending this problem. Some simple solutions
are also introduced for further improvements of these issues;
however, they are still the open issues in which we need to
find out appropriate solutions.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This survey is a part of the course Computer Networks
(EE6108) under School of Electrical and Electronic Engineer-
ing, Nanyang Technological University. The author would like
to thanks all professors and instructors of this course.
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