Network Working Group L-A. Larzon
Request for Comments: 3828 Lulea University of Technology
Category: Standards Track M. DegermarkS. Pink
The University of Arizona
L-E. Jonsson, Ed.
G. Fairhurst, Ed.
University of Aberdeen
July 2004 The Lightweight User Datagram Protocol (UDP-Lite)
Status of this Memo
This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
improvements. Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
and status of this protocol. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.
Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).
This document describes the Lightweight User Datagram Protocol (UDP-
Lite), which is similar to the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) (RFC
768), but can also serve applications in error-prone network
environments that prefer to have partially damaged payloads delivered
rather than discarded. If this feature is not used, UDP-Lite is
semantically identical to UDP.
Third, intermediate layers (i.e., IP and the transport layer
protocols) should not prevent error-tolerant applications from
running well in the presence of such links. IP is not a problem in
this regard, since the IP header has no checksum that covers the IP
payload. The generally available transport protocol best suited for
these applications is UDP, since it has no overhead for
retransmission of erroneous packets, in-order delivery, or error
correction. In IPv4 [RFC-791], the UDP checksum covers either the
entire packet or nothing at all. In IPv6 [RFC-2460], the UDP
checksum is mandatory and must not be disabled. The IPv6 header does
not have a header checksum and it was deemed necessary to always
protect the IP addressing information by making the UDP checksum
A transport protocol is needed that conforms to the properties of
link layers and applications described above [LDP99]. The error-
detection mechanism of the transport layer must be able to protect
vital information such as headers, but also to optionally ignore
errors best dealt with by the application. The set of octets to be
verified by the checksum is best specified by the sending
UDP-Lite provides a checksum with an optional partial coverage. When
using this option, a packet is divided into a sensitive part (covered
by the checksum) and an insensitive part (not covered by the
checksum). Errors in the insensitive part will not cause the packet
to be discarded by the transport layer at the receiving end host.
When the checksum covers the entire packet, which should be the
default, UDP-Lite is semantically identical to UDP.
Compared to UDP, the UDP-Lite partial checksum provides extra
flexibility for applications that want to define the payload as
partially insensitive to bit errors.
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC-2119].
3. Protocol Description
The UDP-Lite header is shown in figure 1. Its format differs from
UDP in that the Length field has been replaced with a Checksum
Coverage field. This can be done since information about UDP packet
length can be provided by the IP module in the same manner as for TCP
0 15 16 31
| Source | Destination |
| Port | Port |
| Checksum | |
| Coverage | Checksum |
: Payload :
Figure 1: UDP-Lite Header Format3.1. Fields
The fields Source Port and Destination Port are defined as in the UDP
specification [RFC-768]. UDP-Lite uses the same set of port number
values assigned by the IANA for use by UDP.
Checksum Coverage is the number of octets, counting from the first
octet of the UDP-Lite header, that are covered by the checksum. The
UDP-Lite header MUST always be covered by the checksum. Despite this
requirement, the Checksum Coverage is expressed in octets from the
beginning of the UDP-Lite header in the same way as for UDP. A
Checksum Coverage of zero indicates that the entire UDP-Lite packet
is covered by the checksum. This means that the value of the
Checksum Coverage field MUST be either 0 or at least 8. A UDP-Lite
packet with a Checksum Coverage value of 1 to 7 MUST be discarded by
the receiver. Irrespective of the Checksum Coverage, the computed
Checksum field MUST include a pseudo-header, based on the IP header
(see below). UDP-Lite packets with a Checksum Coverage greater than
the IP length MUST also be discarded.
The Checksum field is the 16-bit one's complement of the one's
complement sum of a pseudo-header of information collected from the
IP header, the number of octets specified by the Checksum Coverage
(starting at the first octet in the UDP-Lite header), virtually
padded with a zero octet at the end (if necessary) to make a multiple
of two octets [RFC-1071]. Prior to computation, the checksum field
MUST be set to zero. If the computed checksum is 0, it is
transmitted as all ones (the equivalent in one's complement
Since the transmitted checksum MUST NOT be all zeroes, an application
using UDP-Lite that wishes to have no protection of the packet
payload should use a Checksum Coverage value of 8. This differs
from the use of UDP over IPv4 in that the minimal UDP-Lite checksum
always covers the UDP-Lite protocol header, which includes the
Checksum Coverage field.
3.2. Pseudo Header
UDP and UDP-Lite use the same conceptually prefixed pseudo header
from the IP layer for the checksum. This pseudo header is different
for IPv4 and IPv6. The pseudo header of UDP-Lite is different from
the pseudo header of UDP in one way: The value of the Length field of
the pseudo header is not taken from the UDP-Lite header, but rather
from information provided by the IP module. This computation is done
in the same manner as for TCP [RFC-793], and implies that the Length
field of the pseudo header includes the UDP-Lite header and all
subsequent octets in the IP payload.
3.3. Application Interface
An application interface should allow the same operations as for UDP.
In addition to this, it should provide a way for the sending
application to pass the Checksum Coverage value to the UDP-Lite
module. There should also be a way to pass the Checksum Coverage
value to the receiving application, or at least let the receiving
application block delivery of packets with coverage values less than
a value provided by the application.
It is RECOMMENDED that the default behavior of UDP-Lite be set to
mimic UDP by having the Checksum Coverage field match the length of
the UDP-Lite packet and verify the entire packet. Applications that
wish to define the payload as partially insensitive to bit errors
(e.g., error tolerant codecs using RTP [RFC-3550]) should do this by
an explicit system call on the sender side. Applications that wish
to receive payloads that were only partially covered by a checksum
should inform the receiving system by an explicit system call.
The characteristics of the links forming an Internet path may vary
greatly. It is therefore difficult to make assumptions about the
level or patterns of errors that may occur in the corruption
insensitive part of the UDP-Lite payload. Applications that use
UDP-Lite should not make any assumptions regarding the correctness of
the received data beyond the position indicated by the Checksum
Coverage field, and should, if necessary, introduce their own
appropriate validity checks.
3.4. IP Interface
As for UDP, the IP module must provide the pseudo header to the UDP-
Lite protocol module (known as the UDPLite module). The UDP-Lite
pseudo header contains the IP addresses and protocol fields of the IP
header, and also the length of the IP payload, which is derived from
the Length field in the IP header.
The sender IP module MUST NOT pad the IP payload with extra octets,
since the length of the UDP-Lite payload delivered to the receiver
depends on the length of the IP payload.
The Checksum Coverage field is 16 bits and can represent a Checksum
Coverage value of up to 65535 octets. This allows arbitrary checksum
coverage for IP packets, unless they are Jumbograms. For Jumbograms,
the checksum can cover either the entire payload (when the Checksum
Coverage field has the value zero), or else at most the initial 65535
octets of the UDP-Lite packet.
4. Lower Layer Considerations
Since UDP-Lite can deliver packets with damaged payloads to an
application that wishes to receive them, frames carrying UDP-Lite
packets need not be discarded by lower layer protocols when there are
errors only in the insensitive part. For a link that supports
partial error detection, the Checksum Coverage field in the UDP-Lite
header MAY be used as a hint of where errors do not need to be
detected. Lower layers MUST use a strong error detection mechanism
[RFC-3819] to detect at least errors that occur in the sensitive part
of the packet, and discard damaged packets. The sensitive part
consists of the octets between the first octet of the IP header and
the last octet identified by the Checksum Coverage field. The
sensitive part would thus be treated in exactly the same way as for a
Link layers that do not support partial error detection suitable for
UDP-Lite, as described above, MUST detect errors in the entire UDP-
Lite packet, and MUST discard damaged packets [RFC-3819]. The whole
UDP-Lite packet is thus treated in exactly the same way as a UDP
It should be noted that UDP-Lite would only make a difference to an
application if partial error detection, based on the partial checksum
feature of UDP-Lite, is implemented also by link layers, as discussed
above. Partial error detection at the link layer would only make a
difference when implemented over error-prone links.
5. Compatibility with UDP
UDP and UDP-Lite have similar syntax and semantics. Applications
designed for UDP may therefore use UDP-Lite instead, and will by
default receive the same full packet coverage. The similarities also
ease implementation of UDP-Lite, since only minor modifications are
needed to an existing UDP implementation.
UDP-Lite has been allocated a separate IP protocol identifier, 136
(UDPLite), that allows a receiver to identify whether UDP or UDP-Lite
is used. A destination end host that is unaware of UDP-Lite will, in
general, return an ICMP "Protocol Unreachable" or an ICMPv6 "Payload
Type Unknown" error message (depending on the IP protocol type).
This simple method of detecting UDP-Lite unaware systems is the
primary benefit of having separate protocol identifiers.
The remainder of this section provides the rationale for allocating a
separate IP protocol identifier for UDP-Lite, rather than sharing the
IP protocol identifier with UDP.
There are no known interoperability problems between UDP and UDP-Lite
if they were to share the protocol identifier with UDP.
Specifically, there is no case where a potentially problematic packet
is delivered to an unsuspecting application; a UDP-Lite payload with
partial checksum coverage cannot be delivered to UDP applications,
and UDP packets that only partially fill the IP payload cannot be
delivered to applications using UDP-Lite.
However, if the protocol identifier were to have been shared between
UDP and UDP-Lite, and a UDP-Lite implementation was to send a UDP-
Lite packet using a partial checksum to a UDP implementation, the UDP
implementation would silently discard the packet, because a
mismatching pseudo header would cause the UDP checksum to fail.
Neither the sending nor the receiving application would be notified.
Potential solutions to this could have been:
1) explicit application in-band signaling (while not using the
partial checksum coverage option) to enable the sender to learn
whether the receiver is UDP-Lite enabled or not, or
2) use of out-of-band signaling such as H.323, SIP, or RTCP to convey
whether the receiver is UDP-Lite enabled.
Since UDP-Lite has been assigned its own IP protocol identifier,
there is no need to consider this possibility of delivery of a UDP-
Lite packet to an unsuspecting UDP port.
6. Security Considerations
The security impact of UDP-Lite is related to its interaction with
authentication and encryption mechanisms. When the partial checksum
option of UDP-Lite is enabled, the insensitive portion of a packet
may change in transit. This is contrary to the idea behind most
authentication mechanisms: authentication succeeds if the packet has
not changed in transit. Unless authentication mechanisms that
operate only on the sensitive part of packets are developed and used,
authentication will always fail for UDP-Lite packets where the
insensitive part has been damaged.
The IPsec integrity check (Encapsulation Security Protocol, ESP
[RFC-2406], or Authentication Header, AH [RFC-2402]) is applied (at
least) to the entire IP packet payload. Corruption of any bit within
the protected area will then result in the IP receiver discarding the
When IPsec is used with ESP payload encryption, a link can not
determine the specific transport protocol of a packet being forwarded
by inspecting the IP packet payload. In this case, the link MUST
provide a standard integrity check covering the entire IP packet and
payload. UDP-Lite provides no benefit in this case.
Encryption (e.g., at the transport or application levels) may be
used. If a few bits of an encrypted packet are damaged, the
decryption transform will typically spread errors so that the packet
becomes too damaged to be of use. Many encryption transforms today
exhibit this behavior. There exist encryption transforms, and stream
ciphers, which do not cause error propagation. Note that omitting an
integrity check can, under certain circumstances, compromise
confidentiality [Bellovin98]. Proper use of stream ciphers poses its
own challenges [BB01]. In particular, an attacker can cause
predictable changes to the ultimate plaintext, even without being
able to decrypt the ciphertext.
7. IANA Considerations
A new IP protocol number, 136 has been assigned for UDP-Lite. The
name associated with this protocol number is "UDPLite". This ensures
compatibility across a wide range of platforms, since on some
platforms the "-" character may not form part of a protocol entity
8.1. Normative References
[RFC-768] Postel, J., "User Datagram Protocol", STD 6, RFC 768,
[RFC-791] Postel, J., "Internet Protocol", STD 5, RFC 791,
[RFC-793] Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7, RFC
793, September 1981.
[RFC-1071] Braden, R., Borman, D. and C. Partridge, "Computing the
Internet Checksum", RFC 1071, September 1988.
[RFC-2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC-2460] Deering, S. and R. Hinden, "Internet Protocol, Version 6
(IPv6) Specification", RFC 2460, December 1998.
8.2. Informative References
[Bellovin98] Bellovin, S.M., "Cryptography and the Internet", in
Proceedings of CRYPTO '98, August 1988.
[BB01] Bellovin, S. and M. Blaze, "Cryptographic Modes of
Operation for the Internet", Second NIST Workshop on
Modes of Operation, August 2001.
[3GPP] "Technical Specification Group Services and System
Aspects; Quality of Service (QoS) concept and
architecture", TS 23.107 V5.9.0, Technical Specification
3rd Generation Partnership Project, June 2003.
[H.264] Hannuksela, M.M., Stockhammer, T., Westerlund, M. and D.
Singer, "RTP payload Format for H.264 Video", Internet
Draft, Work in Progress, March 2003.
[ILBRC] S.V. Andersen, et. al., "Internet Low Bit Rate Codec",
Work in Progress, March 2003.
[ISO-14496] ISO/IEC International Standard 1446 (MPEG-4),
"Information Technology Coding of Audio-Visual Objects",
[ITU-H.263] "Video Coding for Low Bit Rate Communication," ITU-T
Recommendation H.263, January 1998.
[ITU-H.264] "Draft ITU-T Recommendation and Final Draft
International Standard of Joint Video Specification",
ITU-T Recommendation H.264, May 2003.
[RFC-3819] Karn, Ed., P., Bormann, C., Fairhurst, G., Grossman, D.,
Ludwig, R., Mahdavi, J., Montenegro, G., Touch, J. and
L. Wood, "Advice for Internet Subnetwork Designers", BCP
89, RFC 3819, July 2004.
[RFC-3550] Schulzrinne, H., Casner, S., Frederick, R. and V.
Jacobson, "RTP: A Transport Protocol for Real-Time
Applications", RFC 3550, July 2003.
[RFC-2402] Kent, S. and R. Atkinson, "IP Authentication Header",
RFC 2402, November 1998.
[RFC-2406] Kent, S. and R. Atkinson, "IP Encapsulating Security
Payload (ESP)", RFC 2406, November 1998.
[RFC-3267] Sjoberg, J., Westerlund, M., Lakeaniemi, A. and Q. Xie,
"Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) Payload Format and
File Storage Format for the Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR)
and Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB) Audio Codecs",
RFC 3267, June 2002.
[LDP99] Larzon, L-A., Degermark, M. and S. Pink, "UDP Lite for
Real-Time Multimedia Applications", Proceedings of the
IEEE International Conference of Communications (ICC),
Thanks to Ghyslain Pelletier for significant technical and editorial
comments. Thanks also to Steven Bellovin, Elisabetta Carrara, and
Mats Naslund for reviewing the security considerations chapter, and
to Peter Eriksson for a language review, thereby improving the
clarity of this document.
10. Authors' Addresses
Department of CS & EE
Lulea University of Technology
S-971 87 Lulea, Sweden
Department of Computer Science
The University of Arizona
P.O. Box 210077
Tucson, AZ 85721-0077, USA
The University of Arizona
P.O. Box 210077
Tucson, AZ 85721-0077, USA
S-971 28 Lulea, Sweden
Department of Engineering
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen, AB24 3UE, UK
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