3. Traditional Elements of Traffic Control

3.1. Shaping

Shapers delay packets to meet a desired rate.

Shaping is the mechanism by which packets are delayed before transmission in an output queue to meet a desired output rate. This is one of the most common desires of users seeking bandwidth control solutions. The act of delaying a packet as part of a traffic control solution makes every shaping mechanism into a non-work-conserving mechanism, meaning roughly: "Work is required in order to delay packets."

Viewed in reverse, a non-work-conserving queuing mechanism is performing a shaping function. A work-conserving queuing mechanism (see PRIO) would not be capable of delaying a packet.

Shapers attempt to limit or ration traffic to meet but not exceed a configured rate (frequently measured in packets per second or bits/bytes per second). As a side effect, shapers can smooth out bursty traffic [4]. One of the advantages of shaping bandwidth is the ability to control latency of packets. The underlying mechanism for shaping to a rate is typically a token and bucket mechanism. See also Section 2.7, “Tokens and buckets” for further detail on tokens and buckets.

3.2. Scheduling

Schedulers arrange and/or rearrange packets for output.

Scheduling is the mechanism by which packets are arranged (or rearranged) between input and output of a particular queue. The overwhelmingly most common scheduler is the FIFO (first-in first-out) scheduler. From a larger perspective, any set of traffic control mechanisms on an output queue can be regarded as a scheduler, because packets are arranged for output.

Other generic scheduling mechanisms attempt to compensate for various networking conditions. A fair queuing algorithm (see SFQ) attempts to prevent any single client or flow from dominating the network usage. A round-robin algorithm (see WRR) gives each flow or client a turn to dequeue packets. Other sophisticated scheduling algorithms attempt to prevent backbone overload (see GRED) or refine other scheduling mechanisms (see ESFQ).

3.3. Classifying

Classifiers sort or separate traffic into queues.

Classifying is the mechanism by which packets are separated for different treatment, possibly different output queues. During the process of accepting, routing and transmitting a packet, a networking device can classify the packet a number of different ways. Classification can include marking the packet, which usually happens on the boundary of a network under a single administrative control or classification can occur on each hop individually.

The Linux model (see Section 4.3, “filter) allows for a packet to cascade across a series of classifiers in a traffic control structure and to be classified in conjunction with policers (see also Section 4.5, “policer”).

3.4. Policing

Policers measure and limit traffic in a particular queue.

Policing, as an element of traffic control, is simply a mechanism by which traffic can be limited. Policing is most frequently used on the network border to ensure that a peer is not consuming more than its allocated bandwidth. A policer will accept traffic to a certain rate, and then perform an action on traffic exceeding this rate. A rather harsh solution is to drop the traffic, although the traffic could be reclassified instead of being dropped.

A policer is a yes/no question about the rate at which traffic is entering a queue. If the packet is about to enter a queue below a given rate, take one action (allow the enqueuing). If the packet is about to enter a queue above a given rate, take another action. Although the policer uses a token bucket mechanism internally, it does not have the capability to delay a packet as a shaping mechanism does.

3.5. Dropping

Dropping discards an entire packet, flow or classification.

Dropping a packet is a mechanism by which a packet is discarded.

3.6. Marking

Marking is a mechanism by which the packet is altered.

This is not fwmark. The iptables target MARK and the ipchains--mark are used to modify packet metadata, not the packet itself.

Traffic control marking mechanisms install a DSCP on the packet itself, which is then used and respected by other routers inside an administrative domain (usually for DiffServ).

[4] This smoothing effect is not always desirable, hence the HTB parameters burst and cburst.