Filename: 181-optimistic-data-client.txt
Title: Optimistic Data for Tor: Client Side
Author: Ian Goldberg
Created: 2-Jun-2011
Status: Closed


This proposal (as well as its already-implemented sibling concerning the
server side) aims to reduce the latency of HTTP requests in particular
by allowing:
1. SOCKS clients to optimistically send data before they are notified
    that the SOCKS connection has completed successfully
2. OPs to optimistically send DATA cells on streams in the CONNECT_WAIT
3. Exit nodes to accept and queue DATA cells while in the

This particular proposal deals with #1 and #2.

For more details (in general and for #3), see the sibling proposal 174
(Optimistic Data for Tor: Server Side), which has been implemented in


This change will save one OP<->Exit round trip (down to one from two).
There are still two SOCKS Client<->OP round trips (negligible time) and
two Exit<->Server round trips.  Depending on the ratio of the
Exit<->Server (Internet) RTT to the OP<->Exit (Tor) RTT, this will
decrease the latency by 25 to 50 percent.  Experiments validate these
predictions. [Goldberg, PETS 2010 rump session; see ]


Currently, data arriving on the SOCKS connection to the OP on a stream
in AP_CONN_STATE_CONNECT_WAIT is queued, and transmitted when the state
transitions to AP_CONN_STATE_OPEN.  Instead, when data arrives on the
SOCKS connection to the OP on a stream in AP_CONN_STATE_CONNECT_WAIT

- Check to see whether optimistic data is allowed at all (see below).
- Check to see whether the exit node for this stream supports optimistic
  data (according to tor-spec.txt section 6.2, this means that the
  exit node's version number is at least  If you don't
  know the exit node's version number (because it's not in your
  hashtable of fingerprints, for example), assume it does *not* support
  optimistic data.
- If both are true, transmit the data on the stream.

Also, when a stream transitions *to* AP_CONN_STATE_CONNECT_WAIT
(connection_ap_handshake_send_begin), do the above checks, and
immediately send any already-queued data if they pass.

SOCKS clients (e.g. polipo) will also need to be patched to take
advantage of optimistic data.  The simplest solution would seem to be to
just start sending data immediately after sending the SOCKS CONNECT
command, without waiting for the SOCKS server reply.  When the SOCKS
client starts reading data back from the SOCKS server, it will first
receive the SOCKS server reply, which may indicate success or failure.
If success, it just continues reading the stream as normal.  If failure,
it does whatever it used to do when a SOCKS connection failed.

Security implications:

ORs (for sure the Exit, and possibly others, by watching the
pattern of packets), as well as possibly end servers, will be able to
tell that a particular client is using optimistic data.  This of course
has the potential to fingerprint clients, dividing the anonymity set.
The usual kind of solution is suggested:

- There is a boolean consensus parameter UseOptimisticData.
- There is a 3-state (-1, 0, 1) configuration parameter
  UseOptimisticData (or give it a distinct name if you like)
  defaulting to -1.
- If the configuration parameter is -1, the OP obeys the consensus
  value; otherwise, it obeys the configuration parameter.

It may be wise to set the consensus parameter to 1 at the same time as
similar other client protocol changes are made (for example, a new
circuit construction protocol) in order to not further subdivide the
anonymity set.


The current tor-spec has already been updated by proposal 174 to handle
optimistic data.  It says, in part:

    If the exit node does not support optimistic data (i.e. its version
    number is before, then the OP MUST wait for a
    RELAY_CONNECTED cell before sending any data.  If the exit node
    supports optimistic data (i.e. its version number is
    or later), then the OP MAY send RELAY_DATA cells immediately after
    sending the RELAY_BEGIN cell (and before receiving either a

Should the "MAY" be more specific, referring to the consensus
parameters?  Or does the existence of the configuration parameter
override mean it's really "MAY", regardless?


There are compatibility issues, as mentioned above.  OPs MUST NOT send
optimistic data to Exit nodes whose version numbers predate  OPs MAY send optimistic data to Exit nodes whose version
numbers match or follow that value.


My git diff is 42 lines long (+17 lines, -1 line), changing only the two
functions mentioned above (connection_edge_process_inbuf and
connection_ap_handshake_send_begin).  This diff does not, however,
handle the configuration options, or check the version number of the
exit node.

I have patched a command-line SOCKS client (webfetch) to use optimistic
data.  I have not attempted to patch polipo, but I have looked at it a
bit, and it seems pretty straightforward.  (Of course, if and when
polipo is deprecated, whatever else speaks SOCKS to the OP should take
advantage of optimistic data.)

Performance and scalability notes:

OPs may queue a little more data, if the SOCKS client pushes it faster
than the OP can write it out.  But that's also true today after the
SOCKS CONNECT returns success, right?