Filename: 168-reduce-circwindow.txt
Title: Reduce default circuit window
Author: Roger Dingledine
Created: 12-Aug-2009
Status: Rejected

0. History

1. Overview

  We should reduce the starting circuit "package window" from 1000 to
  101. The lower package window will mean that clients will only be able
  to receive 101 cells (~50KB) on a circuit before they need to send a
  'sendme' acknowledgement cell to request 100 more.

  Starting with a lower package window on exit relays should save on
  buffer sizes (and thus memory requirements for the exit relay), and
  should save on queue sizes (and thus latency for users).

  Lowering the package window will induce an extra round-trip for every
  additional 50298 bytes of the circuit. This extra step is clearly a
  slow-down for large streams, but ultimately we hope that a) clients
  fetching smaller streams will see better response, and b) slowing
  down the large streams in this way will produce lower e2e latencies,
  so the round-trips won't be so bad.

2. Motivation

  Karsten's torperf graphs show that the median download time for a 50KB
  file over Tor in mid 2009 is 7.7 seconds, whereas the median download
  time for 1MB and 5MB are around 50s and 150s respectively. The 7.7
  second figure is way too high, whereas the 50s and 150s figures are
  surprisingly low.

  The median round-trip latency appears to be around 2s, with 25% of
  the data points taking more than 5s. That's a lot of variance.

  We designed Tor originally with the goal of maximizing
  throughput. We figured that would also optimize other network properties
  like round-trip latency. Looks like we were wrong.

3. Design

  Wherever we initialize the circuit package window, initialize it to
  101 rather than 1000. Reducing it should be safe even when interacting
  with old Tors: the old Tors will receive the 101 cells and send back
  a sendme ack cell. They'll still have much higher deliver windows,
  but the rest of their deliver window will go unused.

  You can find the patch at arma/circwindow. It seems to work.

3.1. Why not 100?

  Tor 0.0.0 through have a bug where they only send the sendme
  ack cell after 101 cells rather than the intended 100 cells.

  Once is obsolete we can change it back to 100 if we like. But
  hopefully we'll have moved to some datagram protocol long before becomes obsolete.

3.2. What about stream packaging windows?

  Right now the stream packaging windows start at 500. The goal was to
  set the stream window to half the circuit window, to provide a crude
  load balancing between streams on the same circuit. Once we lower
  the circuit packaging window, the stream packaging window basically
  becomes redundant.

  We could leave it in -- it isn't hurting much in either case. Or we
  could take it out -- people building other Tor clients would thank us
  for that step. Alas, people building other Tor clients are going to
  have to be compatible with current Tor clients, so in practice there's
  no point taking out the stream packaging windows.

3.3. What about variable circuit windows?

  Once upon a time we imagined adapting the circuit package window to
  the network conditions. That is, we would start the window small,
  and raise it based on the latency and throughput we see.

  In theory that crude imitation of TCP's windowing system would allow
  us to adapt to fill the network better. In practice, I think we want
  to stick with the small window and never raise it. The low cap reduces
  the total throughput you can get from Tor for a given circuit. But
  that's a feature, not a bug.

4. Evaluation

  How do we know this change is actually smart? It seems intuitive that
  it's helpful, and some smart systems people have agreed that it's
  a good idea (or said another way, they were shocked at how big the
  default package window was before).

  To get a more concrete sense of the benefit, though, Karsten has been
  running torperf side-by-side on exit relays with the old package window
  vs the new one. The results are mixed currently -- it is slightly faster
  for fetching 40KB files, and slightly slower for fetching 50KB files.

  I think it's going to be tough to get a clear conclusion that this is
  a good design just by comparing one exit relay running the patch. The
  trouble is that the other hops in the circuits are still getting bogged
  down by other clients introducing too much traffic into the network.

  Ultimately, we'll want to put the circwindow parameter into the
  consensus so we can test a broader range of values once enough relays
  have upgraded.

5. Transition and deployment

  We should put the circwindow in the consensus (see proposal 167),
  with an initial value of 101. Then as more exit relays upgrade,
  clients should seamlessly get the better behavior.

  Note that upgrading the exit relay will only affect the "download"
  package window. An old client that's uploading lots of bytes will
  continue to use the old package window at the client side, and we
  can't throttle that window at the exit side without breaking protocol.

  The real question then is what we should backport to 0.2.1. Assuming
  this could be a big performance win, we can't afford to wait until
  0.2.2.x comes out before starting to see the changes here. So we have
  two options as I see them:
  a) once clients in 0.2.2.x know how to read the value out of the
  consensus, and it's been tested for a bit, backport that part to
  b) if it's too complex to backport, just pick a number, like 101, and
  backport that number.

  Clearly choice (a) is the better one if the consensus parsing part
  isn't very complex. Let's shoot for that, and fall back to (b) if the
  patch turns out to be so big that we reconsider.