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RFC 9221

An Unreliable Datagram Extension to QUIC

Pages: ~9
Proposed Standard

Top   ToC   RFCv3-9221
T. Pauly
E. Kinnear
Apple Inc.
D. Schinazi
Google LLC
March 2022

An Unreliable Datagram Extension to QUIC


This document defines an extension to the QUIC transport protocol to add support for sending and receiving unreliable datagrams over a QUIC connection.

Status of This Memo

This is an Internet Standards Track document.
This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has received public review and has been approved for publication by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.
Information about the current status of this document, any errata, and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2022 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the document authors. All rights reserved.
This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal Provisions Relating to IETF Documents ( in effect on the date of publication of this document. Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect to this document. Code Components extracted from this document must include Revised BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as described in the Revised BSD License.
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1.  Introduction

The QUIC transport protocol [RFC 9000] provides a secure, multiplexed connection for transmitting reliable streams of application data. QUIC uses various frame types to transmit data within packets, and each frame type defines whether the data it contains will be retransmitted. Streams of reliable application data are sent using STREAM frames.
Some applications, particularly those that need to transmit real-time data, prefer to transmit data unreliably. In the past, these applications have built directly upon UDP [RFC 0768] as a transport and have often added security with DTLS [RFC 6347]. Extending QUIC to support transmitting unreliable application data provides another option for secure datagrams with the added benefit of sharing the cryptographic and authentication context used for reliable streams.
This document defines two new DATAGRAM QUIC frame types that carry application data without requiring retransmissions.

1.1.  Specification of Requirements

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC 2119] [RFC 8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.
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2.  Motivation

Transmitting unreliable data over QUIC provides benefits over existing solutions:
  • Applications that want to use both a reliable stream and an unreliable flow to the same peer can benefit by sharing a single handshake and authentication context between a reliable QUIC stream and a flow of unreliable QUIC datagrams. This can reduce the latency required for handshakes compared to opening both a TLS connection and a DTLS connection.
  • QUIC uses a more nuanced loss recovery mechanism than the DTLS handshake. This can allow loss recovery to occur more quickly for QUIC data.
  • QUIC datagrams are subject to QUIC congestion control. Providing a single congestion control for both reliable and unreliable data can be more effective and efficient.
These features can be useful for optimizing audio/video streaming applications, gaming applications, and other real-time network applications.
Unreliable QUIC datagrams can also be used to implement an IP packet tunnel over QUIC, such as for a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Internet-layer tunneling protocols generally require a reliable and authenticated handshake followed by unreliable secure transmission of IP packets. This can, for example, require a TLS connection for the control data and DTLS for tunneling IP packets. A single QUIC connection could support both parts with the use of unreliable datagrams in addition to reliable streams.
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3.  Transport Parameter

Support for receiving the DATAGRAM frame types is advertised by means of a QUIC transport parameter (name=max_datagram_frame_size, value=0x20). The max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter is an integer value (represented as a variable-length integer) that represents the maximum size of a DATAGRAM frame (including the frame type, length, and payload) the endpoint is willing to receive, in bytes.
The default for this parameter is 0, which indicates that the endpoint does not support DATAGRAM frames. A value greater than 0 indicates that the endpoint supports the DATAGRAM frame types and is willing to receive such frames on this connection.
An endpoint MUST NOT send DATAGRAM frames until it has received the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter with a non-zero value during the handshake (or during a previous handshake if 0-RTT is used). An endpoint MUST NOT send DATAGRAM frames that are larger than the max_datagram_frame_size value it has received from its peer. An endpoint that receives a DATAGRAM frame when it has not indicated support via the transport parameter MUST terminate the connection with an error of type PROTOCOL_VIOLATION. Similarly, an endpoint that receives a DATAGRAM frame that is larger than the value it sent in its max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter MUST terminate the connection with an error of type PROTOCOL_VIOLATION.
For most uses of DATAGRAM frames, it is RECOMMENDED to send a value of 65535 in the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter to indicate that this endpoint will accept any DATAGRAM frame that fits inside a QUIC packet.
The max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter is a unidirectional limit and indication of support of DATAGRAM frames. Application protocols that use DATAGRAM frames MAY choose to only negotiate and use them in a single direction.
When clients use 0-RTT, they MAY store the value of the server's max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter. Doing so allows the client to send DATAGRAM frames in 0-RTT packets. When servers decide to accept 0-RTT data, they MUST send a max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter greater than or equal to the value they sent to the client in the connection where they sent them the NewSessionTicket message. If a client stores the value of the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter with their 0-RTT state, they MUST validate that the new value of the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter sent by the server in the handshake is greater than or equal to the stored value; if not, the client MUST terminate the connection with error PROTOCOL_VIOLATION.
Application protocols that use datagrams MUST define how they react to the absence of the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter. If datagram support is integral to the application, the application protocol can fail the handshake if the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter is not present.
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4.  Datagram Frame Types

DATAGRAM frames are used to transmit application data in an unreliable manner. The Type field in the DATAGRAM frame takes the form 0b0011000X (or the values 0x30 and 0x31). The least significant bit of the Type field in the DATAGRAM frame is the LEN bit (0x01), which indicates whether there is a Length field present: if this bit is set to 0, the Length field is absent and the Datagram Data field extends to the end of the packet; if this bit is set to 1, the Length field is present.
DATAGRAM frames are structured as follows:
  Type (i) = 0x30..0x31,
  [Length (i)],
  Datagram Data (..),
DATAGRAM frames contain the following fields:
A variable-length integer specifying the length of the Datagram Data field in bytes. This field is present only when the LEN bit is set to 1. When the LEN bit is set to 0, the Datagram Data field extends to the end of the QUIC packet. Note that empty (i.e., zero-length) datagrams are allowed.
Datagram Data:
The bytes of the datagram to be delivered.
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5.  Behavior and Usage

When an application sends a datagram over a QUIC connection, QUIC will generate a new DATAGRAM frame and send it in the first available packet. This frame SHOULD be sent as soon as possible (as determined by factors like congestion control, described below) and MAY be coalesced with other frames.
When a QUIC endpoint receives a valid DATAGRAM frame, it SHOULD deliver the data to the application immediately, as long as it is able to process the frame and can store the contents in memory.
Like STREAM frames, DATAGRAM frames contain application data and MUST be protected with either 0-RTT or 1-RTT keys.
Note that while the max_datagram_frame_size transport parameter places a limit on the maximum size of DATAGRAM frames, that limit can be further reduced by the max_udp_payload_size transport parameter and the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) of the path between endpoints. DATAGRAM frames cannot be fragmented; therefore, application protocols need to handle cases where the maximum datagram size is limited by other factors.

5.1.  Multiplexing Datagrams

DATAGRAM frames belong to a QUIC connection as a whole and are not associated with any stream ID at the QUIC layer. However, it is expected that applications will want to differentiate between specific DATAGRAM frames by using identifiers, such as for logical flows of datagrams or to distinguish between different kinds of datagrams.
Defining the identifiers used to multiplex different kinds of datagrams or flows of datagrams is the responsibility of the application protocol running over QUIC. The application defines the semantics of the Datagram Data field and how it is parsed.
If the application needs to support the coexistence of multiple flows of datagrams, one recommended pattern is to use a variable-length integer at the beginning of the Datagram Data field. This is a simple approach that allows a large number of flows to be encoded using minimal space.
QUIC implementations SHOULD present an API to applications to assign relative priorities to DATAGRAM frames with respect to each other and to QUIC streams.

5.2.  Acknowledgement Handling

Although DATAGRAM frames are not retransmitted upon loss detection, they are ack-eliciting ([RFC 9002]). Receivers SHOULD support delaying ACK frames (within the limits specified by max_ack_delay) in response to receiving packets that only contain DATAGRAM frames, since the sender takes no action if these packets are temporarily unacknowledged. Receivers will continue to send ACK frames when conditions indicate a packet might be lost, since the packet's payload is unknown to the receiver, and when dictated by max_ack_delay or other protocol components.
As with any ack-eliciting frame, when a sender suspects that a packet containing only DATAGRAM frames has been lost, it sends probe packets to elicit a faster acknowledgement as described in Section 6.2.4 of RFC 9002.
If a sender detects that a packet containing a specific DATAGRAM frame might have been lost, the implementation MAY notify the application that it believes the datagram was lost.
Similarly, if a packet containing a DATAGRAM frame is acknowledged, the implementation MAY notify the sender application that the datagram was successfully transmitted and received. Due to reordering, this can include a DATAGRAM frame that was thought to be lost but, at a later point, was received and acknowledged. It is important to note that acknowledgement of a DATAGRAM frame only indicates that the transport-layer handling on the receiver processed the frame and does not guarantee that the application on the receiver successfully processed the data. Thus, this signal cannot replace application-layer signals that indicate successful processing.

5.3.  Flow Control

DATAGRAM frames do not provide any explicit flow control signaling and do not contribute to any per-flow or connection-wide data limit.
The risk associated with not providing flow control for DATAGRAM frames is that a receiver might not be able to commit the necessary resources to process the frames. For example, it might not be able to store the frame contents in memory. However, since DATAGRAM frames are inherently unreliable, they MAY be dropped by the receiver if the receiver cannot process them.

5.4.  Congestion Control

DATAGRAM frames employ the QUIC connection's congestion controller. As a result, a connection might be unable to send a DATAGRAM frame generated by the application until the congestion controller allows it [RFC 9002]. The sender MUST either delay sending the frame until the controller allows it or drop the frame without sending it (at which point it MAY notify the application). Implementations that use packet pacing (Section 7.7 of RFC 9002) can also delay the sending of DATAGRAM frames to maintain consistent packet pacing.
Implementations can optionally support allowing the application to specify a sending expiration time beyond which a congestion-controlled DATAGRAM frame ought to be dropped without transmission.
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6.  Security Considerations

The DATAGRAM frame shares the same security properties as the rest of the data transmitted within a QUIC connection, and the security considerations of [RFC 9000] apply accordingly. All application data transmitted with the DATAGRAM frame, like the STREAM frame, MUST be protected either by 0-RTT or 1-RTT keys.
Application protocols that allow DATAGRAM frames to be sent in 0-RTT require a profile that defines acceptable use of 0-RTT; see Section 5.6 of RFC 9001.
The use of DATAGRAM frames might be detectable by an adversary on path that is capable of dropping packets. Since DATAGRAM frames do not use transport-level retransmission, connections that use DATAGRAM frames might be distinguished from other connections due to their different response to packet loss.
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7.  IANA Considerations

7.1.  QUIC Transport Parameter

This document registers a new value in the "QUIC Transport Parameters" registry maintained at <>.
Parameter Name:
RFC 9221

7.2.  QUIC Frame Types

This document registers two new values in the "QUIC Frame Types" registry maintained at <>.
Frame Name:
RFC 9221
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8.  References

8.1.  Normative References

S. Bradner, "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,
B. Leiba, "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, May 2017,
J. Iyengar, and M. Thomson, "QUIC: A UDP-Based Multiplexed and Secure Transport", RFC 9000, DOI 10.17487/RFC9000, May 2021,
M. Thomson, and S. Turner, "Using TLS to Secure QUIC", RFC 9001, DOI 10.17487/RFC9001, May 2021,
J. Iyengar, and I. Swett, "QUIC Loss Detection and Congestion Control", RFC 9002, DOI 10.17487/RFC9002, May 2021,

8.2.  Informative References

J. Postel, "User Datagram Protocol", STD 6, RFC 768, DOI 10.17487/RFC0768, August 1980,
E. Rescorla, and N. Modadugu, "Datagram Transport Layer Security Version 1.2", RFC 6347, DOI 10.17487/RFC6347, January 2012,
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The original proposal for this work came from Ian Swett.
This document had reviews and input from many contributors in the IETF QUIC Working Group, with substantive input from Nick Banks, Lucas Pardue, Rui Paulo, Martin Thomson, Victor Vasiliev, and Chris Wood.
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Authors' Addresses

Tommy Pauly

Apple Inc.
One Apple Park Way
Cupertino   CA   95014
United States of America

Eric Kinnear

Apple Inc.
One Apple Park Way
Cupertino   CA   95014
United States of America

David Schinazi

Google LLC
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View   CA   94043
United States of America
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