Network Working Group Jeffrey Mogul
Request for Comments: 919 Computer Science Department
October 1984 BROADCASTING INTERNET DATAGRAMS
Status of this Memo
We propose simple rules for broadcasting Internet datagrams on local
networks that support broadcast, for addressing broadcasts, and for
how gateways should handle them.
This RFC suggests a proposed protocol for the ARPA-Internet
community, and requests discussion and suggestions for improvements.
Distribution of this memo is unlimited.
This proposal is the result of discussion with several other people,
especially J. Noel Chiappa and Christopher A. Kent, both of whom both
pointed me at important references.
The use of broadcasts, especially on high-speed local area networks,
is a good base for many applications. Since broadcasting is not
covered in the basic IP specification , there is no agreed-upon
way to do it, and so protocol designers have not made use of it. (The
issue has been touched upon before, e.g. , but has not been the
subject of a standard.)
We consider here only the case of unreliable, unsequenced, possibly
duplicated datagram broadcasts (for a discussion of TCP broadcasting,
see .) Even though unreliable and limited in length, datagram
broadcasts are quite useful .
We assume that the data link layer of the local network supports
efficient broadcasting. Most common local area networks do support
broadcast; for example, Ethernet [7, 5], ChaosNet , token ring
networks , etc.
We do not assume, however, that broadcasts are reliably delivered.
(One might consider providing a reliable broadcast protocol as a
layer above IP.) It is quite expensive to guarantee delivery of
broadcasts; instead, what we assume is that a host will receive most
of the broadcasts that are sent. This is important to avoid
excessive use of broadcasts; since every host on the network devotes
at least some effort to every broadcast, they are costly.
When a datagram is broadcast, it imposes a cost on every host that
hears it. Therefore, broadcasting should not be used
indiscriminately, but rather only when it is the best solution to a
Note: some organizations have divided their IP networks into subnets,
for which a standard  has been proposed. This RFC does not cover
the numerous complications arising from the interactions between
subnets and broadcasting; see  for a complete discussion.
Because broadcasting depends on the specific data link layer in use
on a local network, we must discuss it with reference to both
physical networks and logical networks.
The terms we will use in referring to physical networks are, from the
point of view of the host sending or forwarding a broadcast:
Local Hardware Network
The physical link to which the host is attached.
Remote Hardware Network
A physical network which is separated from the host by at least
Collection of Hardware Networks
A set of hardware networks (transitively) connected by gateways.
The IP world includes several kinds of logical network. To avoid
ambiguity, we will use the following terms:
The DARPA Internet collection of IP networks.
One or a collection of several hardware networks that have one
specific IP network number.
3. Why Broadcast?
Broadcasts are useful when a host needs to find information without
knowing exactly what other host can supply it, or when a host wants
to provide information to a large set of hosts in a timely manner.
When a host needs information that one or more of its neighbors might
have, it could have a list of neighbors to ask, or it could poll all
of its possible neighbors until one responds. Use of a wired-in list
creates obvious network management problems (early binding is
inflexible). On the other hand, asking all of one's neighbors is
slow if one must generate plausible host addresses, and try them
until one works. On the ARPANET, for example, there are roughly 65
thousand plausible host numbers. Most IP implementations have used
wired-in lists (for example, addresses of "Prime" gateways.)
Fortunately, broadcasting provides a fast and simple way for a host
to reach all of its neighbors.
A host might also use a broadcast to provide all of its neighbors
with some information; for example, a gateway might announce its
presence to other gateways.
One way to view broadcasting is as an imperfect substitute for
multicasting, the sending of messages to a subset of the hosts on a
network. In practice, broadcasts are usually used where multicasts
are what is wanted; packets are broadcast at the hardware level, but
filtering software in the receiving hosts gives the effect of
For more examples of broadcast applications, see [1, 3].
4. Broadcast Classes
There are several classes of IP broadcasting:
- Single-destination datagram broadcast on the local IP net: A
datagrams is destined for a specific IP host, but the sending
host broadcasts it at the data link layer, perhaps to avoid
having to do routing. Since this is not an IP broadcast, the IP
layer is not involved, except that a host should discard
datagrams not meant for it without becoming flustered (i.e.,
printing an error message).
- Broadcast to all hosts on the local IP net: A distinguished
value for the host-number part of the IP address denotes
broadcast instead of a specific host. The receiving IP layer
must be able to recognize this address as well as its own.
However, it might still be useful to distinguish at higher
levels between broadcasts and non-broadcasts, especially in
gateways. This is the most useful case of broadcast; it allows a
host to discover gateways without wired-in tables, it is the
basis for address resolution protocols, and it is also useful
for accessing such utilities as name servers, time servers,
etc., without requiring wired-in addresses.
- Broadcast to all hosts on a remote IP network: It is
occasionally useful to send a broadcast to all hosts on a
non-local network; for example, to find the latest version of a
hostname database, to bootload a host on an IP network without a
bootserver, or to monitor the timeservers on the IP network.
This case is the same as local-network broadcasts; the datagram
is routed by normal mechanisms until it reaches a gateway
attached to the destination IP network, at which point it is
broadcast. This class of broadcasting is also known as "directed
broadcasting", or quaintly as sending a "letter bomb" .
- Broadcast to the entire Internet: This is probably not useful,
and almost certainly not desirable.
For reasons of performance or security, a gateway may choose not to
forward broadcasts; especially, it may be a good idea to ban
broadcasts into or out of an autonomous group of networks.
5. Broadcast Methods
A host's IP receiving layer must be modified to support broadcasting.
In the absence of broadcasting, a host determines if it is the
recipient of a datagram by matching the destination address against
all of its IP addresses. With broadcasting, a host must compare the
destination address not only against the host's addresses, but also
against the possible broadcast addresses for that host.
The problem of how best to send a broadcast has been extensively
discussed [1, 3, 4, 14, 15]. Since we assume that the problem has
already been solved at the data link layer, an IP host wishing to
send either a local broadcast or a directed broadcast need only
specify the appropriate destination address and send the datagram as
usual. Any sophisticated algorithms need only reside in gateways.
6. Gateways and Broadcasts
Most of the complexity in supporting broadcasts lies in gateways. If
a gateway receives a directed broadcast for a network to which it is
not connected, it simply forwards it using the usual mechanism.
Otherwise, it must do some additional work.
When a gateway receives a local broadcast datagram, there are several
things it might have to do with it. The situation is unambiguous,
but without due care it is possible to create infinite loops.
The appropriate action to take on receipt of a broadcast datagram
depends on several things: the subnet it was received on, the
destination network, and the addresses of the gateway.
- The primary rule for avoiding loops is "never broadcast a
datagram on the hardware network it was received on". It is not
sufficient simply to avoid repeating datagrams that a gateway
has heard from itself; this still allows loops if there are
several gateways on a hardware network.
- If the datagram is received on the hardware network to which it
is addressed, then it should not be forwarded. However, the
gateway should consider itself to be a destination of the
datagram (for example, it might be a routing table update.)
- Otherwise, if the datagram is addressed to a hardware network to
which the gateway is connected, it should be sent as a (data
link layer) broadcast on that network. Again, the gateway
should consider itself a destination of the datagram.
- Otherwise, the gateway should use its normal routing procedure
to choose a subsequent gateway, and send the datagram along to
7. Broadcast IP Addressing - Proposed Standards
If different IP implementations are to be compatible, there must be a
distinguished number to denote "all hosts".
Since the local network layer can always map an IP address into data
link layer address, the choice of an IP "broadcast host number" is
somewhat arbitrary. For simplicity, it should be one not likely to
be assigned to a real host. The number whose bits are all ones has
this property; this assignment was first proposed in . In the few
cases where a host has been assigned an address with a host-number
part of all ones, it does not seem onerous to require renumbering.
The address 255.255.255.255 denotes a broadcast on a local hardware
network, which must not be forwarded. This address may be used, for
example, by hosts that do not know their network number and are
asking some server for it.
Thus, a host on net 36, for example, may:
- broadcast to all of its immediate neighbors by using
- broadcast to all of net 36 by using 184.108.40.206
(Note that unless the network has been broken up into subnets, these
two methods have identical effects.)
If the use of "all ones" in a field of an IP address means
"broadcast", using "all zeros" could be viewed as meaning
"unspecified". There is probably no reason for such addresses to
appear anywhere but as the source address of an ICMP Information
Request datagram. However, as a notational convention, we refer to
networks (as opposed to hosts) by using addresses with zero fields.
For example, 220.127.116.11 means "network number 36" while 18.104.22.168
means "all hosts on network number 36".
7.1. ARP Servers and Broadcasts
The Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) described in  can, if
incorrectly implemented, cause problems when broadcasts are used
on a network where not all hosts share an understanding of what a
broadcast address is. The temptation exists to modify the ARP
server so that it provides the mapping between an IP broadcast
address and the hardware broadcast address.
This temptation must be resisted. An ARP server should never
respond to a request whose target is a broadcast address. Such a
request can only come from a host that does not recognize the
broadcast address as such, and so honoring it would almost
certainly lead to a forwarding loop. If there are N such hosts on
the physical network that do not recognize this address as a
broadcast, then a datagram sent with a Time-To-Live of T could
potentially give rise to T**N spurious re-broadcasts.
1. David Reeves Boggs. Internet Broadcasting. Ph.D. Th., Stanford
University, January 1982.
2. D.D. Clark, K.T. Pogran, and D.P. Reed. "An Introduction to
Local Area Networks". Proc. IEEE 66, 11, pp1497-1516, 1978.
3. Yogan Kantilal Dalal. Broadcast Protocols in Packet Switched
Computer Networks. Ph.D. Th., Stanford University, April 1977.
4. Yogan K. Dalal and Robert M. Metcalfe. "Reverse Path Forwarding
of Broadcast Packets". Comm. ACM 21, 12, pp1040-1048, December
5. The Ethernet, A Local Area Network: Data Link Layer and Physical
Layer Specifications. Version 1.0, Digital Equipment
Corporation, Intel, Xerox, September 1980.
6. Robert Gurwitz and Robert Hinden. IP - Local Area Network
Addressing Issues. IEN-212, Bolt Beranek and Newman, September
7. R.M. Metcalfe and D.R. Boggs. "Ethernet: Distributed Packet
Switching for Local Computer Networks". Comm. ACM 19, 7,
pp395-404, July 1976. Also CSL-75-7, Xerox Palo Alto Research
Center, reprinted in CSL-80-2.
8. Jeffrey Mogul. Internet Subnets. RFC-917, Stanford University,
9. Jeffrey Mogul. Broadcasting Internet Packets in the Presence of
Subnets. RFC-922, Stanford University, October 1984.
10. David A. Moon. Chaosnet. A.I. Memo 628, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, June
11. William W. Plummer. Internet Broadcast Protocols. IEN-10, Bolt
Beranek and Newman, March 1977.
12. David Plummer. An Ethernet Address Resolution Protocol.
RFC-826, Symbolics, September 1982.
13. Jon Postel. Internet Protocol. RFC 791, ISI, September 1981.
14. David W. Wall. Mechanisms for Broadcast and Selective
Broadcast. Ph.D. Th., Stanford University, June 1980.
15. David W. Wall and Susan S. Owicki. Center-based Broadcasting.
Computer Systems Lab Technical Report TR189, Stanford
University, June 1980.