RFC1546: Host Anycasting Service

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Network Working Group                                       C. Partridge
Request for Comments: 1546                                     T. Mendez
Category: Informational                                      W. Milliken
                                                           November 1993

                        Host Anycasting Service

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  This memo
   does not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of
   this memo is unlimited.


   This RFC describes an internet anycasting service for IP.  The
   primary purpose of this memo is to establish the semantics of an
   anycasting service within an IP internet.  Insofar as is possible,
   this memo tries to be agnostic about how the service is actually
   provided by the internetwork.  This memo describes an experimental
   service and does not propose a protocol.  This memo is produced by
   the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF).


   There are a number of situations in networking where a host,
   application, or user wishes to locate a host which supports a
   particular service but, if several servers support the service, does
   not particularly care which server is used.  Anycasting is a
   internetwork service which meets this need.  A host transmits a
   datagram to an anycast address and the internetwork is responsible
   for providing best effort delivery of the datagram to at least one,
   and preferably only one, of the servers that accept datagrams for the
   anycast address.

   The motivation for anycasting is that it considerably simplifies the
   task of finding an appropriate server.  For example, users, instead
   of consulting a list of archie servers and choosing the closest
   server, could simply type:

                             telnet archie.net

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RFC 1546                Host Anycasting Service            November 1993

   and be connected to the nearest archie server.  DNS resolvers would
   no longer have to be configured with the IP addresses of their
   servers, but rather could send a query to a well-known DNS anycast
   address.  Mirrored FTP sites could similarly share a single anycast
   address, and users could simply FTP to the anycast address to reach
   the nearest server.

Architectural Issues

   Adding anycasting to the repertoire of IP services requires some
   decisions to be made about how to balance the architectural
   requirements of IP with those of anycasting.  This section discusses
   these architectural issues.

   The first and most critical architectural issue is how to balance
   IP's stateless service with the desire to have an anycast address
   represent a single virtual host.  The best way to illustrate this
   problem is with a couple of examples.  In both of these examples, two
   hosts (X and Y) are serving an anycast address and another host (Z)
   is using the anycast address to contact a service.

   In the first example, suppose that Z sends a UDP datagram addressed
   to the anycast address.  Now, given that an anycast address is
   logically considered the address of a single virtual host, should it
   be possible for the datagram to be delivered to both X and Y?  The
   answer to this question clearly has to be yes, delivery to both X and
   Y is permissible.  IP is allowed to duplicate and misroute datagrams
   so there clearly are scenarios in which a single datagram could be
   delivered to both X and Y.  The implication of this conclusion is
   that the definition of anycasting in an IP environment is that IP
   anycasting provides best effort delivery of an anycast datagram to
   one, but possibly more than one, of the hosts that serve the
   destination anycast address.

   In the second example, suppose that Z sends two datagrams addressed
   to the anycast address.  The first datagram gets delivered to X.  To
   which host (X or Y) does the second datagram get delivered?  It would
   be convenient for stateful protocols like TCP if all of a
   connection's datagrams were delivered to the same anycast address.
   However, because IP is stateless (and thus cannot keep track of where
   earlier datagrams were delivered) and because one of the goals of
   anycasting is to support replicated services, it seems clear that the
   second datagram can be delivered to either X or Y.  Stateful
   protocols will have to employ some additional mechanism to ensure
   that later datagrams are sent to the same host.  Suggestions for how
   to accomplish this for TCP are discussed below.

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   After considering the two examples, it seems clear that the correct
   definition of IP anycasting is a service which provides a stateless
   best effort delivery of an anycast datagram to at least one host, and
   preferably only one host, which serves the anycast address.  This
   definition makes clear that anycast datagrams receive the same basic
   type of service as IP datagrams.  And while the definition permits
   delivery to multiple hosts, it makes clear that the goal is delivery
   to just one host.

Anycast Addresses

   There appear to be a number of ways to support anycast addresses,
   some of which use small pieces of the existing address space, others
   of which require that a special class of IP addresses be assigned.

   The major advantage of using the existing address space is that it
   may make routing easier.  As an example, consider a situation where a
   portion of each IP network number can be used for anycasting.  I.e.,
   a site, if it desires, could assign a set of its subnet addresses to
   be anycast addresses.  If, as some experts expect, anycast routes are
   treated just like host routes by the routing protocols, the anycast
   addresses would not require special advertisement outside the site --
   the host routes could be folded in with the net route.  (If the
   anycast addresses is supported by hosts outside the network, then
   those hosts would still have be advertised using host routes).  The
   major disadvantages of this approach are (1) that there is no easy
   way for stateful protocols like TCP to discover that an address is an
   anycast address, and (2) it is more difficult to support internet-
   wide well-known anycast address.  The reasons TCP needs to know that
   an address is an anycast address is discussed in more detail below.
   The concern about well-known anycast addresses requires a bit of
   explanation.  The idea is that the Internet might establish that a
   particular anycast address is the logical address of the DNS server.
   Then host software could be configured at the manufacturer to always
   send DNS queries to the DNS anycast address.  In other words,
   anycasting could be used to support autoconfiguration of DNS

   The major advantages of using a separate class of addresses are that
   it is easy to determine if an address is an anycast address and
   well-known anycast addresses are easier to support.  The key
   disadvantage is that routing may be more painful, because the routing
   protocols may have to keep track of more anycast routes.

   An intermediate approach is to take part of the current address space
   (say 256 Class C addresses) and make the network addresses into
   anycast addresses (and ignore the host part of the class C address).
   The advantage of this approach is that it makes anycast routes look

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   like network routes (which are easier for some routing protocols to
   handle).  The disadvantages are that it uses the address space
   inefficiently and so more severely limits the number of anycast
   addresses that can be supported.

   In the balance it seems wiser to use a separate class of addresses.
   Carving anycast addresses from the existing address space seems more
   likely to cause problems in situations in which either applications
   mistakenly fail to recognize anycast addresses (if anycasts are part
   of each site's address space) or use the address space inefficiently
   (if network addresses are used as anycast addresses).  And the
   advantages of using anycast addresses for autoconfiguration seem
   compelling.  So this memo assumes that anycast addresses will be a
   separate class of IP addresses (not yet assigned).  Since each
   anycast address is a virtual host address and the number of
   anycasting hosts seems unlikely to be larger than the number of
   services offered by protocols like TCP and UDP, the address space
   could be quite small, perhaps supporting as little as 2**16 different

Transmission and Reception of Anycast Datagrams

   Historically, IP services have been designed to work even if routers
   are not present (e.g., on LANs without routers).  Furthermore, many
   in the Internet community have historically felt that hosts should
   not have to participate in routing protocols to operate.  (See, for
   instance, page 7 of STD 3, RFC 1122). To provide an anycasting
   service that is consistent with these traditions, the handling of
   anycast addresses varies slightly depending on the type of network on
   which datagrams with anycast addresses are sent.

   On a shared media network, such as an Ethernet and or Token Ring, it
   must be possible to transmit an anycast datagram to a server also on
   the same network without consulting a (possibly non-existent) router.
   There are at least two ways this can be done.

   One approach is to ARP for the anycast address.  Servers which
   support the anycast address can reply to the ARP request, and the
   sending host can transmit to the first server that responds.  This
   approach is reminiscent of the ARP hack (RFC 1027) and like the ARP
   hack, requires ARP cache timeouts for the anycast addresses be kept
   small (around 1 minute), so that if an anycast server goes down,
   hosts will promptly flush the ARP entry and query for other servers
   supporting the anycast address.

   Another approach is for hosts to transmit anycast datagrams on a
   link-level multicast address.  Hosts which serve an anycast address
   would be expected to listen to the link-level multicast address for

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   datagrams destined for their anycast address.  By multicasting on the
   local network, there is no need for a router to route the anycast
   datagrams.  One merit of this approach is that if there are multiple
   servers and one goes down, the others will still receive any
   requests.  Another possible advantage is that, because anycast ARP
   entries must be quickly timed out, the multicasting approach may be
   less traffic intensive than the ARP approach because in the ARP
   approach, transmissions to an anycast address are likely to cause a
   broadcast ARP, while in the multicast approach, transmissions are
   only to a select multicast group.  An obvious disadvantage is that if
   there are multiple servers on a network, they will all receive the
   anycast message, when delivery to only one server was desired.

   On point-to-point links, anycast support is simpler.  A single copy
   of the anycast datagram is forwarded along the appropriate link
   towards the anycast destination.

   When a router receives an anycast datagram, the router must decide if
   it should forward the datagram, and if so, transmits one copy of the
   datagram to the next hop on the route.  Note that while we may hope
   that a router will always know the correct next hop for an anycast
   datagram and will not have to multicast anycast datagrams on a local
   network, there are probably situations in which there are multiple
   servers on a local network, and to avoid sending to one that has
   recently crashed, routers may wish to send anycast datagrams on a
   link-level multicast address.  Because hosts may multicast any
   datagrams, routers should take care not to forward a datagram if they
   believe that another router will also be forwarding it.

   Hosts which wish to receive datagrams for a particular anycast
   address will have to advertise to routers that they have joined the
   anycast address.  On shared media networks, the best mechanism is
   probably for a host to periodically multicast information about the
   anycast addresses it supports (possibly using an enhanced version of
   IGMP).  The multicast messages ensure that any routers on the network
   hear that the anycast address is supported on the local subnet and
   can advertise that fact (if appropriate) to neighboring routers.
   Note that if there are no routers on the subnet, the multicast
   messages would simply simply ignored.  (The multicasting approach is
   suggested because it seems likely to be simpler and more reliable
   than developing a registration protocol, in which an anycast server
   must register itself with each router on its local network).

   On point-to-point links, a host can simply advertise its anycast
   addresses to the router on the other end of the link.

   Observe that the advertisement protocols are a form of routing
   protocol and that it may make sense to simply require anycast servers

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   to participate (at least partly) in exchanges of regular routing

   When a host receives an IP datagram destined for an anycast address
   it supports, the host should treat the IP datagram just as if it was
   destined for one of the host's non-anycast IP addresses.  If the host
   does not support the anycast address, it should silently discard the

   Hosts should accept datagrams with an anycast source address,
   although some transport protocols (see below) may refuse to accept

How UDP and TCP Use Anycasting

   It is important to remember that anycasting is a stateless service.
   An internetwork has no obligation to deliver two successive packets
   sent to the same anycast address to the same host.

   Because UDP is stateless and anycasting is a stateless service, UDP
   can treat anycast addresses like regular IP addresses.  A UDP
   datagram sent to an anycast address is just like a unicast UDP
   datagram from the perspective of UDP and its application.  A UDP
   datagram from an anycast address is like a datagram from a unicast
   address.  Furthermore, a datagram from an anycast address to an
   anycast address can be treated by UDP as just like a unicast datagram
   (although the application semantics of such a datagram are a bit

   TCP's use of anycasting is less straightforward because TCP is
   stateful.  It is hard to envision how one would maintain TCP state
   with an anycast peer when two successive TCP segments sent to the
   anycast peer might be delivered to completely different hosts.

   The solution to this problem is to only permit anycast addresses as
   the remote address of a TCP SYN segment (without the ACK bit set).  A
   TCP can then initiate a connection to an anycast address.  When the
   SYN-ACK is sent back by the host that received the anycast segment,
   the initiating TCP should replace the anycast address of its peer,
   with the address of the host returning the SYN-ACK.  (The initiating
   TCP can recognize the connection for which the SYN-ACK is destined by
   treating the anycast address as a wildcard address, which matches any
   incoming SYN-ACK segment with the correct destination port and
   address and source port, provided the SYN-ACK's full address,
   including source address, does not match another connection and the
   sequence numbers in the SYN-ACK are correct.)  This approach ensures
   that a TCP, after receiving the SYN-ACK is always communicating with
   only one host.

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Applications and Anycasting

   In general, applications use anycast addresses like any other IP
   address.  The only worrisome application use of anycasting is
   applications which try to maintain stateful connections over UDP and
   applications which try to maintain state across multiple TCP
   connections.  Because anycasting is stateless and does not guarantee
   delivery of multiple anycast datagrams to the same system, an
   application cannot be sure that it is communicating with the same
   peer in two successive UDP transmissions or in two successive TCP
   connections to the same anycast address.

   The obvious solutions to these issues are to require applications
   which wish to maintain state to learn the unicast address of their
   peer on the first exchange of UDP datagrams or during the first TCP
   connection and use the unicast address in future conversations.

Anycasting and Multicasting

   It has often been suggested that IP multicasting can be used for
   resource location, so it is useful to compare the services offered by
   IP multicasting and IP anycasting.

   Semantically, the difference between the two services is that an
   anycast address is the address of a single (virtual) host and that
   the internetwork will make an effort to deliver anycast datagrams to
   a single host.  There are two implications of this difference.
   First, applications sending to anycast addresses need not worry about
   managing the TTLs of their IP datagrams.  Applications using
   multicast to find a service must balance their TTLs to maximize the
   chance of finding a server while minimizing the chance of sending
   datagrams to a large number of servers it does not care about.
   Second, making a TCP connection to an anycast address makes perfectly
   good sense, while the meaning of making a TCP connection to a
   multicast address are unclear.  (A TCP connection to a multicast
   address is presumably trying to establish a connection to multiple
   peers simultaneously, which TCP is not designed to support).

   From a practical perspective, the major difference between anycasting
   and multicasting is that anycasting is a special use of unicast
   addressing while multicasting requires more sophisticated routing
   support.  The important observation is that multiple routes to an
   anycast address appear to a router as multiple routes to a unicast
   destination, and the router can use standard algorithms to choose to
   the best route.

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RFC 1546                Host Anycasting Service            November 1993

   Another difference between the two approaches is that resource
   location using multicasting typically causes more datagrams to be
   sent.  To find a server using multicasting, an application is
   expected to transmit and retransmit a multicast datagram with
   successively larger IP TTLs.  The TTL is initially kept small to try
   to limit the number of servers contacted.  However, if no servers
   respond, the TTL must be increased on the assumption that the
   available servers (if any) were farther away than was reachable with
   the initial TTL.  As a result, resource location using multicasting
   causes one or more multicast datagrams to be sent towards multiple
   servers, with some datagrams' TTLs expiring before reaching a server.
   With anycasting, managing the TTL is not required and so (ignoring
   the case of loss) only one datagram need be sent to locate a server.
   Furthermore, this datagram will follow only a single path.

   A minor difference between the two approaches is that anycast may be
   less fault tolerant than multicast.  When an anycast server fails,
   some datagrams may continue to be mistakenly routed to the server,
   whereas if the datagram had been multicast, other servers would have
   received it.

Related Work

   The ARPANET AHIP-E Host Access Protocol described in RFC 878 supports
   logical addressing which allows several hosts to share a single
   logical address.  This scheme could be used to support anycasting
   within a PSN subnet.

Security Considerations

   There are at least two security issues in anycasting, which are
   simply mentioned here without suggested solutions.

   First, it is clear that malevolent hosts could volunteer to serve an
   anycast address and divert anycast datagrams from legitimate servers
   to themselves.

   Second, eavesdropping hosts could reply to anycast queries with
   inaccurate information.  Since there is no way to verify membership
   in an anycast address, there is no way to detect that the
   eavesdropping host is not serving the anycast address to which the
   original query was sent.

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RFC 1546                Host Anycasting Service            November 1993


   This memo has benefitted from comments from Steve Deering, Paul
   Francis, Christian Huitema, Greg Minshall, Jon Postel, Ram
   Ramanathan, and Bill Simpson.  However, the authors are solely
   responsible for any dumb ideas in this work.

Authors' Addresses

   Craig Partridge
   Bolt Beranek and Newman
   10 Moulton St
   Cambridge MA 02138

   EMail: craig@bbn.com

   Trevor Mendez
   Bolt Beranek and Newman
   10 Moulton St
   Cambridge MA 02138

   EMail: tmendez@bbn.com

   Walter Milliken
   Bolt Beranek and Newman
   10 Moulton St
   Cambridge MA 02138

   EMail: milliken@bbn.com

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