TRANSMISSION CONTROL PROTOCOL
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Information Processing Techniques Office
1400 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Information Sciences Institute
University of Southern California
4676 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, California 90291
This document describes the DoD Standard Transmission Control Protocol
(TCP). There have been eight earlier editions of the ARPA TCP
specification on which this standard is based, and the present text
draws heavily from them. There have been many contributors to this work
both in terms of concepts and in terms of text. This edition
incorporates the addition of security, compartmentation, and precedence
concepts into the TCP specification.
Replaces: IENs 124, 112,
81, 55, 44, 40, 27, 21, 5
TRANSMISSION CONTROL PROTOCOL
The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is intended for use as a highly
reliable host-to-host protocol between hosts in packet-switched computer
communication networks, and especially in interconnected systems of such
This document describes the functions to be performed by the
Transmission Control Protocol, the program that implements it, and its
interface to programs or users that require its services.
Computer communication systems are playing an increasingly important
role in military, government, and civilian environments. This
document primarily focuses its attention on military computer
communication requirements, especially robustness in the presence of
communication unreliability and availability in the presence of
congestion, but many of these problems are found in the civilian and
government sector as well.
As strategic and tactical computer communication networks are
developed and deployed, it is essential to provide means of
interconnecting them and to provide standard interprocess
communication protocols which can support a broad range of
applications. In anticipation of the need for such standards, the
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering has
declared the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) described herein to
be a basis for DoD-wide inter-process communication protocol
TCP is a connection-oriented, end-to-end reliable protocol designed to
fit into a layered hierarchy of protocols which support multi-network
applications. The TCP provides for reliable inter-process
communication between pairs of processes in host computers attached to
distinct but interconnected computer communication networks. Very few
assumptions are made as to the reliability of the communication
protocols below the TCP layer. TCP assumes it can obtain a simple,
potentially unreliable datagram service from the lower level
protocols. In principle, the TCP should be able to operate above a
wide spectrum of communication systems ranging from hard-wired
connections to packet-switched or circuit-switched networks.
TCP is based on concepts first described by Cerf and Kahn in . The
TCP fits into a layered protocol architecture just above a basic
Internet Protocol  which provides a way for the TCP to send and
receive variable-length segments of information enclosed in internet
datagram "envelopes". The internet datagram provides a means for
addressing source and destination TCPs in different networks. The
internet protocol also deals with any fragmentation or reassembly of
the TCP segments required to achieve transport and delivery through
multiple networks and interconnecting gateways. The internet protocol
also carries information on the precedence, security classification
and compartmentation of the TCP segments, so this information can be
communicated end-to-end across multiple networks.
| higher-level |
| TCP |
| internet protocol |
Much of this document is written in the context of TCP implementations
which are co-resident with higher level protocols in the host
computer. As a practical matter, many computer systems will be
connected to networks via front-end computers which house the TCP and
internet protocol layers, as well as network specific software. The
TCP specification describes an interface to the higher level protocols
which appears to be implementable even for the front-end case, as long
as a suitable host-to-front end protocol is implemented.
The TCP is intended to provide a reliable process-to-process
communication service in a multinetwork environment. The TCP is
intended to be a host-to-host protocol in common use in multiple
1.3. About this Document
This document represents a specification of the behavior required of
any TCP implementation, both in its interactions with higher level
protocols and in its interactions with other TCPs. The rest of this
section offers a very brief view of the protocol interfaces and
operation. Section 2 summarizes the philosophical basis for the TCP
design. Section 3 offers both a detailed description of the actions
required of TCP when various events occur (arrival of new segments,
user calls, errors, etc.) and the details of the formats of TCP
The TCP interfaces on one side to user or application processes and on
the other side to a lower level protocol such as Internet Protocol.
The interface between an application process and the TCP is
illustrated in reasonable detail. This interface consists of a set of
calls much like the calls an operating system provides to an
application process for manipulating files. For example, there are
calls to open and close connections and to send and receive letters on
established connections. It is also expected that the TCP can
asynchronously communicate with application programs. Although
considerable freedom is permitted to TCP implementors to design
interfaces which are appropriate to a particular operating system
environment, a minimum functionality is required at the TCP/user
interface for any valid implementation.
The interface between TCP and lower level protocol is essentially
unspecified except that it is assumed there is a mechanism whereby the
two levels can asynchronously pass information to each other.
Typically, one expects the lower level protocol to specify this
interface. TCP is designed to work in a very general environment of
interconnected networks. The lower level protocol which is assumed
throughout this document is the Internet Protocol .
As noted above, the primary purpose of the TCP is to provide reliable,
securable logical circuit or connection service between pairs of
processes. To provide this service on top of a less reliable internet
communication system requires facilities in the following areas:
Basic Data Transfer
Precedence and Security
The basic operation of the TCP in each of these areas is described in
the following paragraphs.
Basic Data Transfer:
The TCP is able to transfer a continuous stream of octets in each
direction between its users by packaging some number of octets into
segments for transmission through the internet system. In this
stream mode, the TCPs decide when to block and forward data at their
For users who desire a record-oriented service, the TCP also permits
the user to submit records, called letters, for transmission. When
the sending user indicates a record boundary (end-of-letter), this
causes the TCPs to promptly forward and deliver data up to that
point to the receiver.
The TCP must recover from data that is damaged, lost, duplicated, or
delivered out of order by the internet communication system. This
is achieved by assigning a sequence number to each octet
transmitted, and requiring a positive acknowledgment (ACK) from the
receiving TCP. If the ACK is not received within a timeout
interval, the data is retransmitted. At the receiver, the sequence
numbers are used to correctly order segments that may be received
out of order and to eliminate duplicates. Damage is handled by
adding a checksum to each segment transmitted, checking it at the
receiver, and discarding damaged segments.
As long as the TCPs continue to function properly and the internet
system does not become completely partitioned, no transmission
errors will affect the users. TCP recovers from internet
communication system errors.
TCP provides a means for the receiver to govern the amount of data
sent by the sender. This is achieved by returning a "window" with
every ACK indicating a range of acceptable sequence numbers beyond
the last segment successfully received. For stream mode, the window
indicates an allowed number of octets that the sender may transmit
before receiving further permission. For record mode, the window
indicates an allowed amount of buffer space the sender may consume,
this may be more than the number of data octets transmitted if there
is a mismatch between letter size and buffer size.
To allow for many processes within a single Host to use TCP
communication facilities simultaneously, the TCP provides a set of
addresses or ports within each host. Concatenated with the network
and host addresses from the internet communication layer, this forms
a socket. A pair of sockets uniquely identifies each connection.
That is, a socket may be simultaneously used in multiple
The binding of ports to processes is handled independently by each
Host. However, it proves useful to attach frequently used processes
(e.g., a "logger" or timesharing service) to fixed sockets which are
made known to the public. These services can then be accessed
through the known addresses. Establishing and learning the port
addresses of other processes may involve more dynamic mechanisms.
The reliability and flow control mechanisms described above require
that TCPs initialize and maintain certain status information for
each data stream. The combination of this information, including
sockets, sequence numbers, and window sizes, is called a connection.
Each connection is uniquely specified by a pair of sockets
identifying its two sides.
When two processes wish to communicate, their TCP's must first
establish a connection (initialize the status information on each
side). When their communication is complete, the connection is
terminated or closed to free the resources for other uses.
Since connections must be established between unreliable hosts and
over the unreliable internet communication system, a handshake
mechanism with clock-based sequence numbers is used to avoid
erroneous initialization of connections.
Precedence and Security:
The users of TCP may indicate the security and precedence of their
communication. Provision is made for default values to be used when
these features are not needed.
2.1. Elements of the Internetwork System
The internetwork environment consists of hosts connected to networks
which are in turn interconnected via gateways. It is assumed here
that the networks may be either local networks (e.g., the ETHERNET) or
large networks (e.g., the ARPANET), but in any case are based on
packet switching technology. The active agents that produce and
consume messages are processes. Various levels of protocols in the
networks, the gateways, and the hosts support an interprocess
communication system that provides two-way data flow on logical
connections between process ports.
We specifically assume that data is transmitted from host to host
through means of a set of networks. When we say network, we have in
mind a packet switched network (PSN). This assumption is probably
unnecessary, since a circuit switched network or a hybrid combination
of the two could also be used; but for concreteness, we explicitly
assume that the hosts are connected to one or more packet switches of
The term packet is used generically here to mean the data of one
transaction between a host and a packet switch. The format of data
blocks exchanged between the packet switches in a network will
generally not be of concern to us.
Hosts are computers attached to a network, and from the communication
network's point of view, are the sources and destinations of packets.
Processes are viewed as the active elements in host computers (in
accordance with the fairly common definition of a process as a program
in execution). Even terminals and files or other I/O devices are
viewed as communicating with each other through the use of processes.
Thus, all communication is viewed as inter-process communication.
Since a process may need to distinguish among several communication
streams between itself and another process (or processes), we imagine
that each process may have a number of ports through which it
communicates with the ports of other processes.
2.2. Model of Operation
Processes transmit data by calling on the TCP and passing buffers of
data as arguments. The TCP packages the data from these buffers into
segments and calls on the internet module to transmit each segment to
the destination TCP. The receiving TCP places the data from a segment
into the receiving user's buffer and notifies the receiving user. The
TCPs include control information in the segments which they use to
ensure reliable ordered data transmission.
The model of internet communication is that there is an internet
protocol module associated with each TCP which provides an interface
to the local network. This internet module packages TCP segments
inside internet datagrams and routes these datagrams to a destination
internet module or intermediate gateway. To transmit the datagram
through the local network, it is embedded in a local network packet.
The packet switches may perform further packaging, fragmentation, or
other operations to achieve the delivery of the local packet to the
destination internet module.
At a gateway between networks, the internet datagram is "unwrapped"
from its local packet and examined to determine through which network
the internet datagram should travel next. The internet datagram is
then "wrapped" in a local packet suitable to the next network and
routed to the next gateway, or to the final destination.
A gateway is permitted to break up an internet datagram into smaller
internet datagram fragments if this is necessary for transmission
through the next network. To do this, the gateway produces a set of
internet datagrams; each carrying a fragment. Fragments may be broken
into smaller ones at intermediate gateways. The internet datagram
fragment format is designed so that the destination internet module
can reassemble fragments into internet datagrams.
A destination internet module unwraps the segment from the datagram
(after reassembling the datagram, if necessary) and passes it to the
This simple model of the operation glosses over many details. One
important feature is the type of service. This provides information
to the gateway (or internet module) to guide it in selecting the
service parameters to be used in traversing the next network.
Included in the type of service information is the precedence of the
datagram. Datagrams may also carry security information to permit
host and gateways that operate in multilevel secure environments to
properly segregate datagrams for security considerations.
2.3. The Host Environment
The TCP is assumed to be a module in a time sharing operating system.
The users access the TCP much like they would access the file system.
The TCP may call on other operating system functions, for example, to
manage data structures. The actual interface to the network is
assumed to be controlled by a device driver module. The TCP does not
call on the network device driver directly, but rather calls on the
internet datagram protocol module which may in turn call on the device
Though it is assumed here that processes are supported by the host
operating system, the mechanisms of TCP do not preclude implementation
of the TCP in a front-end processor. However, in such an
implementation, a host-to-front-end protocol must provide the
functionality to support the type of TCP-user interface described
The TCP/user interface provides for calls made by the user on the TCP
to OPEN or CLOSE a connection, to SEND or RECEIVE data, or to obtain
STATUS about a connection. These calls are like other calls from user
programs on the operating system, for example, the calls to open, read
from, and close a file.
The TCP/internet interface provides calls to send and receive
datagrams addressed to TCP modules in hosts anywhere in the internet
system. These calls have parameters for passing the address, type of
service, precedence, security, and other control information.
2.5. Relation to Other Protocols
The following diagram illustrates the place of the TCP in the protocol
+------+ +-----+ +-----+ +-----+
|Telnet| | FTP | |Voice| ... | | Application Level
+------+ +-----+ +-----+ +-----+
| | | |
+-----+ +-----+ +-----+
| TCP | | RTP | ... | | Host Level
+-----+ +-----+ +-----+
| | |
| Internet Protocol | Gateway Level
| Local Network Protocol | Network Level
It is expected that the TCP will be able to support higher level
protocols efficiently. It should be easy to interface higher level
protocols like the ARPANET Telnet  or AUTODIN II THP to the TCP.
2.6. Reliable Communication
A stream of data sent on a TCP connection is delivered reliably and in
order at the destination.
Transmission is made reliable via the use of sequence numbers and
acknowledgments. Conceptually, each octet of data is assigned a
sequence number. The sequence number of the first octet of data in a
segment is the sequence number transmitted with that segment and is
called the segment sequence number. Segments also carry an
acknowledgment number which is the sequence number of the next
expected data octet of transmissions in the reverse direction. When
the TCP transmits a segment, it puts a copy on a retransmission queue
and starts a timer; when the acknowledgment for that data is received,
the segment is deleted from the queue. If the acknowledgment is not
received before the timer runs out, the segment is retransmitted.
An acknowledgment by TCP does not guarantee that the data has been
delivered to the end user, but only that the receiving TCP has taken
the responsibility to do so.
To govern the flow of data into a TCP, a flow control mechanism is
employed. The the data receiving TCP reports a window to the sending
TCP. This window specifies the number of octets, starting with the
acknowledgment number that the data receiving TCP is currently
prepared to receive.
2.7. Connection Establishment and Clearing
To identify the separate data streams that a TCP may handle, the TCP
provides a port identifier. Since port identifiers are selected
independently by each operating system, TCP, or user, they might not
be unique. To provide for unique addresses at each TCP, we
concatenate an internet address identifying the TCP with a port
identifier to create a socket which will be unique throughout all
networks connected together.
A connection is fully specified by the pair of sockets at the ends. A
local socket may participate in many connections to different foreign
sockets. A connection can be used to carry data in both directions,
that is, it is "full duplex".
TCPs are free to associate ports with processes however they choose.
However, several basic concepts seem necessary in any implementation.
There must be well-known sockets which the TCP associates only with
the "appropriate" processes by some means. We envision that processes
may "own" ports, and that processes can only initiate connections on
the ports they own. (Means for implementing ownership is a local
issue, but we envision a Request Port user command, or a method of
uniquely allocating a group of ports to a given process, e.g., by
associating the high order bits of a port name with a given process.)
A connection is specified in the OPEN call by the local port and
foreign socket arguments. In return, the TCP supplies a (short) local
connection name by which the user refers to the connection in
subsequent calls. There are several things that must be remembered
about a connection. To store this information we imagine that there
is a data structure called a Transmission Control Block (TCB). One
implementation strategy would have the local connection name be a
pointer to the TCB for this connection. The OPEN call also specifies
whether the connection establishment is to be actively pursued, or to
be passively waited for.
A passive OPEN request means that the process wants to accept incoming
connection requests rather than attempting to initiate a connection.
Often the process requesting a passive OPEN will accept a connection
request from any caller. In this case a foreign socket of all zeros
is used to denote an unspecified socket. Unspecified foreign sockets
are allowed only on passive OPENs.
A service process that wished to provide services for unknown other
processes could issue a passive OPEN request with an unspecified
foreign socket. Then a connection could be made with any process that
requested a connection to this local socket. It would help if this
local socket were known to be associated with this service.
Well-known sockets are a convenient mechanism for a priori associating
a socket address with a standard service. For instance, the
"Telnet-Server" process might be permanently assigned to a particular
socket, and other sockets might be reserved for File Transfer, Remote
Job Entry, Text Generator, Echoer, and Sink processes (the last three
being for test purposes). A socket address might be reserved for
access to a "Look-Up" service which would return the specific socket
at which a newly created service would be provided. The concept of a
well-known socket is part of the TCP specification, but the assignment
of sockets to services is outside this specification.
Processes can issue passive OPENs and wait for matching calls from
other processes and be informed by the TCP when connections have been
established. Two processes which issue calls to each other at the
same time are correctly connected. This flexibility is critical for
the support of distributed computing in which components act
asynchronously with respect to each other.
There are two cases for matching the sockets in the local request and
an incoming segment. In the first case, the local request has fully
specified the foreign socket. In this case, the match must be exact.
In the second case, the local request has left the foreign socket
unspecified. In this case, any foreign socket is acceptable as long
as the local sockets match.
If there are several pending passive OPENs (recorded in TCBs) with the
same local socket, an incoming segment should be matched to a request
with the specific foreign socket in the segment, if such a request
exists, before selecting a request with an unspecified foreign socket.
The procedures to establish and clear connections utilize synchronize
(SYN) and finis (FIN) control flags and involve an exchange of three
messages. This exchange has been termed a three-way hand shake .
A connection is initiated by the rendezvous of an arriving segment
containing a SYN and a waiting TCB entry created by a user OPEN
command. The matching of local and foreign sockets determines when a
connection has been initiated. The connection becomes "established"
when sequence numbers have been synchronized in both directions.
The clearing of a connection also involves the exchange of segments,
in this case carrying the FIN control flag.
2.8. Data Communication
The data that flows on a connection may be thought of as a stream of
octets, or as a sequence of records. In TCP the records are called
letters and are of variable length. The sending user indicates in
each SEND call whether the data in that call completes a letter by the
setting of the end-of-letter parameter.
The length of a letter may be such that it must be broken into
segments before it can be transmitted to its destination. We assume
that the segments will normally be reassembled into a letter before
being passed to the receiving process. A segment may contain all or a
part of a letter, but a segment never contains parts of more than one
letter. The end of a letter is marked by the appearance of an EOL
control flag in a segment. A sending TCP is allowed to collect data
from the sending user and to send that data in segments at its own
convenience, until the end of letter is signaled then it must send all
unsent data. When a receiving TCP has a complete letter, it must not
wait for more data from the sending TCP before passing the letter to
the receiving process.
There is a coupling between letters as sent and the use of buffers of
data that cross the TCP/user interface. Each time an end-of-letter
(EOL) flag is associated with data placed into the receiving user's
buffer, the buffer is returned to the user for processing even if the
buffer is not filled. If a letter is longer than the user's buffer,
the letter is passed to the user in buffer size units, the last of
which may be only partly full. The receiving TCP's buffer size may be
communicated to the sending TCP when the connection is being
The TCP is responsible for regulating the flow of segments on the
connections, as a way of preventing itself from becoming saturated or
overloaded with traffic. This is done using a window flow control
mechanism. The data receiving TCP reports to the data sending TCP a
window which is the range of sequence numbers of data octets that data
receiving TCP is currently prepared to accept.
TCP also provides a means to communicate to the receiver of data that
at some point further along in the data stream than the receiver is
currently reading there is urgent data. TCP does not attempt to
define what the user specifically does upon being notified of pending
urgent data, but the general notion is that the receiving process
should take action to read through the end urgent data quickly.
2.9. Precedence and Security
The TCP makes use of the internet protocol type of service field and
security option to provide precedence and security on a per connection
basis to TCP users. Not all TCP modules will necessarily function in
a multilevel secure environment, some may be limited to unclassified
use only, and others may operate at only one security level and
compartment. Consequently, some TCP implementations and services to
users may be limited to a subset of the multilevel secure case.
TCP modules which operate in a multilevel secure environment should
properly mark outgoing segments with the security, compartment, and
precedence. Such TCP modules should also provide to their users or
higher level protocols such as Telnet or THP an interface to allow
them to specify the desired security level, compartment, and
precedence of connections.
2.10. Robustness Principle
TCP implementations should follow a general principle of robustness:
be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from
3. FUNCTIONAL SPECIFICATION
3.1. Header Format
TCP segments are sent as internet datagrams. The Internet Protocol
header carries several information fields, including the source and
destination host addresses . A TCP header follows the internet
header, supplying information specific to the TCP protocol. This
division allows for the existence of host level protocols other than
TCP Header Format
0 1 2 3
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
| Source Port | Destination Port |
| Sequence Number |
| Acknowledgment Number |
| Data | |U|A|E|R|S|F| |
| Offset| Reserved |R|C|O|S|Y|I| Window |
| | |G|K|L|T|N|N| |
| Checksum | Urgent Pointer |
| Options | Padding |
| data |
TCP Header Format
Note that one tick mark represents one bit position.
Source Port: 16 bits
The source port number.
Destination Port: 16 bits
The destination port number.
Sequence Number: 32 bits
The sequence number of the first data octet in this segment (except
when SYN is present).
Acknowledgment Number: 32 bits
If the ACK control bit is set this field contains the value of the
next sequence number the sender of the segment is expecting to
receive. Once a connection is established this is always sent.
Data Offset: 4 bits
The number of 32 bit words in the TCP Header. This indicates where
the data begins. The TCP header including options is an integral
number of 32 bits long.
Reserved: 6 bits
Reserved for future use. Must be zero.
Control Bits: 8 bits (from left to right):
URG: Urgent Pointer field significant
ACK: Acknowledgment field significant
EOL: End of Letter
RST: Reset the connection
SYN: Synchronize sequence numbers
FIN: No more data from sender
Window: 16 bits
The number of data octets beginning with the one indicated in the
acknowledgment field which the sender of this segment is willing to
Checksum: 16 bits
The checksum field is the 16 bit one's complement of the one's
complement sum of all 16 bit words in the header and text. If a
segment contains an odd number of header and text octets to be
checksummed, the last octet is padded on the right with zeros to
form a 16 bit word for checksum purposes. The pad is not
transmitted as part of the segment. While computing the checksum,
the checksum field itself is replaced with zeros.
The checksum also covers a 96 bit pseudo header conceptually
prefixed to the TCP header. This pseudo header contains the Source
Address, the Destination Address, the Protocol, and TCP length.
This gives the TCP protection against misrouted segments. This
information is carried in the Internet Protocol and is transferred
across the TCP/Network interface in the arguments or results of
calls by the TCP on the IP.
| Source Address |
| Destination Address |
| zero | PTCL | TCP Length |
The TCP Length is the TCP header plus the data length in octets
(this is not an explicitly transmitted quantity, but is computed
from the total length, and the header length).
Urgent Pointer: 16 bits
This field communicates the current value of the urgent pointer as a
positive offset from the sequence number in this segment. The
urgent pointer points to the sequence number of the octet following
the urgent data. This field should only be interpreted in segments
with the URG control bit set.
Options may occupy space at the end of the TCP header and are a
multiple of 8 bits in length. All options are included in the
checksum. An option may begin on any octet boundary. There are two
cases for the format of an option:
Case 1: A single octet of option-kind.
Case 2: An octet of option-kind, an octet of option-length, and
the actual option-data octets.
The option-length counts the two octets of option-kind and
option-length as well as the option-data octets.
Note that the list of options may be shorter than the data offset
field might imply. The content of the header beyond the
End-of-Option option should be header padding (i.e., zero).
A TCP must implement all options.
Currently defined options include (kind indicated in octal):
Kind Length Meaning
---- ------ -------
0 - End of option list.
1 - No-Operation.
100 - Reserved.
105 4 Buffer Size.
Specific Option Definitions
End of Option List
This option code indicates the end of the option list. This
might not coincide with the end of the TCP header according to
the Data Offset field. This is used at the end of all options,
not the end of each option, and need only be used if the end of
the options would not otherwise coincide with the end of the TCP
This option code may be used between options, for example, to
align the beginning of a subsequent option on a word boundary.
There is no guarantee that senders will use this option, so
receivers must be prepared to process options even if they do
not begin on a word boundary.
|01000101|00000100| buffer size |