Random Early Detection Gateways for Congestion Avoidance

S. Floyd, V. Jacobson, “Random Early Detection Gateways for Congestion Avoidance,” IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, (August 1993). [PDF]


Random Early Detection or RED detects impending congestion based on average queue size and notifies connections of congestion through binary feedback by dropping packets or by marking bits in headers. To this end, RED uses two thresholds: once the average queue size exceeds the minimum threshold, RED starts marking/dropping packets with a probability that is a function of the average queue size; when it exceeds the maximum threshold RED marks all the incoming packets. The authors argue against packet dropping as long as there is responsiveness to notifications from the connections, and they resort to dropping as an extreme measure. They also promote use of FCFS/FIFO scheduling over FQ citing the lower overhead for not having to save per-flow states.

The RED gateway consists of two separate algorithms: one for determining the average queue size that determines the maximum allowable burstiness, and the other calculates the probability of marking packets when the average queue size is between the minimum and maximum threshold. The authors leave the decision of determining the thresholds to the system designers’ choice of desired average queue size; however, as rules of thumb they advise to set the minimum threshold sufficiently high to maximize network power (the ratio of throughput to delay) and to set the maximum threshold twice as high as the minimum to avoid global synchronization and oscillation. Through observation and probabilistic calculation, it is shown that packet dropping probability should be calculated as a uniformly distributed random variable. The reason behind this selection is that in order to have a constant average queue size, packets should be marked in uniform intervals not in clusters.

Interesting features of RED include TCP-compatibility, avoidance of global synchronization through randomization, and ability to maintain an upper-bound on average queue size (which also allows RED to better handle bursty traffic). Moreover, RED does not discriminate between different classes of connections, and there is no reward for being within the fair share. RED does not provide explicit action mechanism against misbehaving users; instead the authors argue that misbehaving connections face higher probability for their packets being dropped/marked since they have more packets in the queue than the rest.

The authors back up their claims through simulation and provide mathematical bounds on the average queue size as well as the two thresholds. They also provide a so-called fast version of their control algorithm, which is supposed to useful for in-router implementation due to reduced operations.


The main contribution of this paper is the use of randomization/probabilistic analysis in a clever way (i.e., in conjunction with two different thresholds) that by itself obviates some of the nagging problems of other solutions (e.g., bias against bursty traffic, global synchronization etc.). The paper itself could be shorter though.

This paper promotes FCFS saying that it shares delay among connections and reduces delay for particular connection, which is completely different from the FQ thought process. However, the method described for identifying misconducting connections end-up being stateful, even though they shunned FQ due to its use of states (which they use to find out offenders and to ensure min-max fairness). The definition of fairness is vague, and it is not clear whether they strive for min-max fairness (no explicit mentioning; but since they are using FCFS underneath, its unlikely).

RED leaves too many parameters to the system administrators, and it is quite sensitive to those parameters. Tuning these parameters not only have made their simulation results not-so-reliable (you can check only that many variations!), but also they can potentially create problems in its realistic deployment (too many options to chose from; on the other hand, multiple knobs allow fine-tuning when in good hands).

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