Flow Control Using Windowing

TCP implements flow control by taking advantage of the Sequence and Acknowledgment fields in the TCP header, along with another field called the Window field. This Window field implies the maximum number of unacknowledged bytes allowed outstanding at any instant in time. The window starts small and then grows until errors occur. The window then "slides" up and down based on network performance, so it is sometimes called a sliding window. When the window is full, the sender will not send, which controls the flow of data. Figure 6-7 shows windowing with a current window size of 3000. Each TCP segment has 1000 bytes of data.

Figure 6-7 TCP Windowing

Notice that the web server must wait after sending the third segment because the window is exhausted. When the acknowledgment has been received, another window can be sent. Because there have been no errors, the web client grants a larger window to the server, so now 4000 bytes can be sent before an acknowledgment is received by the server. In other words, the Window field is used by the receiver to tell the sender how much data it can send before it must stop and wait for the next acknowledgment. As with other TCP features, windowing is symmetrical—both sides send and receive, and, in each case, the receiver grants a window to the sender using the Window field.

Windowing does not require that the sender stop sending in all cases. If an acknowledgment is received before the window is exhausted, a new window begins and the sender continues to send data until the current window is exhausted. (The term, Positive Acknowledgement and Retransmission [PAR], is sometimes used to describe the error recovery and windowing processes used by TCP.)

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