9.2. Simple, classless Queueing Disciplines

As said, with queueing disciplines, we change the way data is sent. Classless queueing disciplines are those that, by and large accept data and only reschedule, delay or drop it.

These can be used to shape traffic for an entire interface, without any subdivisions. It is vital that you understand this part of queueing before we go on the the classful qdisc-containing-qdiscs!

By far the most widely used discipline is the pfifo_fast qdisc - this is the default. This also explains why these advanced features are so robust. They are nothing more than 'just another queue'.

Each of these queues has specific strengths and weaknesses. Not all of them may be as well tested.

9.2.1. pfifo_fast

This queue is, as the name says, First In, First Out, which means that no packet receives special treatment. At least, not quite. This queue has 3 so called 'bands'. Within each band, FIFO rules apply. However, as long as there are packets waiting in band 0, band 1 won't be processed. Same goes for band 1 and band 2.

The kernel honors the so called Type of Service flag of packets, and takes care to insert 'minimum delay' packets in band 0.

Do not confuse this classless simple qdisc with the classful PRIO one! Although they behave similarly, pfifo_fast is classless and you cannot add other qdiscs to it with the tc command. Parameters & usage

You can't configure the pfifo_fast qdisc as it is the hardwired default. This is how it is configured by default:


Determines how packet priorities, as assigned by the kernel, map to bands. Mapping occurs based on the TOS octet of the packet, which looks like this:

   0     1     2     3     4     5     6     7
|                 |                       |     |
|   PRECEDENCE    |          TOS          | MBZ |
|                 |                       |     |

The four TOS bits (the 'TOS field') are defined as:

Binary Decimcal  Meaning
1000   8         Minimize delay (md)
0100   4         Maximize throughput (mt)
0010   2         Maximize reliability (mr)
0001   1         Minimize monetary cost (mmc)
0000   0         Normal Service

As there is 1 bit to the right of these four bits, the actual value of the TOS field is double the value of the TOS bits. Tcpdump -v -v shows you the value of the entire TOS field, not just the four bits. It is the value you see in the first column of this table:

TOS     Bits  Means                    Linux Priority    Band
0x0     0     Normal Service           0 Best Effort     1
0x2     1     Minimize Monetary Cost   1 Filler          2
0x4     2     Maximize Reliability     0 Best Effort     1
0x6     3     mmc+mr                   0 Best Effort     1
0x8     4     Maximize Throughput      2 Bulk            2
0xa     5     mmc+mt                   2 Bulk            2
0xc     6     mr+mt                    2 Bulk            2
0xe     7     mmc+mr+mt                2 Bulk            2
0x10    8     Minimize Delay           6 Interactive     0
0x12    9     mmc+md                   6 Interactive     0
0x14    10    mr+md                    6 Interactive     0
0x16    11    mmc+mr+md                6 Interactive     0
0x18    12    mt+md                    4 Int. Bulk       1
0x1a    13    mmc+mt+md                4 Int. Bulk       1
0x1c    14    mr+mt+md                 4 Int. Bulk       1
0x1e    15    mmc+mr+mt+md             4 Int. Bulk       1

Lots of numbers. The second column contains the value of the relevant four TOS bits, followed by their translated meaning. For example, 15 stands for a packet wanting Minimal Monetary Cost, Maximum Reliability, Maximum Throughput AND Minimum Delay. I would call this a 'Dutch Packet'.

The fourth column lists the way the Linux kernel interprets the TOS bits, by showing to which Priority they are mapped.

The last column shows the result of the default priomap. On the command line, the default priomap looks like this:

1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 0, 0 , 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1

This means that priority 4, for example, gets mapped to band number 1. The priomap also allows you to list higher priorities (> 7) which do not correspond to TOS mappings, but which are set by other means.

This table from RFC 1349 (read it for more details) tells you how applications might very well set their TOS bits:

TELNET                   1000           (minimize delay)
	Control          1000           (minimize delay)
        Data             0100           (maximize throughput)

TFTP                     1000           (minimize delay)

	Command phase    1000           (minimize delay)
        DATA phase       0100           (maximize throughput)

Domain Name Service
	UDP Query        1000           (minimize delay)
	TCP Query        0000
	Zone Transfer    0100           (maximize throughput)

NNTP                     0001           (minimize monetary cost)

	Errors           0000
	Requests         0000 (mostly)
	Responses        <same as request> (mostly)


The length of this queue is gleaned from the interface configuration, which you can see and set with ifconfig and ip. To set the queue length to 10, execute: ifconfig eth0 txqueuelen 10

You can't set this parameter with tc!

9.2.2. Token Bucket Filter

The Token Bucket Filter (TBF) is a simple qdisc that only passes packets arriving at a rate which is not exceeding some administratively set rate, but with the possibility to allow short bursts in excess of this rate.

TBF is very precise, network- and processor friendly. It should be your first choice if you simply want to slow an interface down!

The TBF implementation consists of a buffer (bucket), constantly filled by some virtual pieces of information called tokens, at a specific rate (token rate). The most important parameter of the bucket is its size, that is the number of tokens it can store.

Each arriving token collects one incoming data packet from the data queue and is then deleted from the bucket. Associating this algorithm with the two flows -- token and data, gives us three possible scenarios:

  • The data arrives in TBF at a rate that's equal to the rate of incoming tokens. In this case each incoming packet has its matching token and passes the queue without delay.

  • The data arrives in TBF at a rate that's smaller than the token rate. Only a part of the tokens are deleted at output of each data packet that's sent out the queue, so the tokens accumulate, up to the bucket size. The unused tokens can then be used to send data a a speed that's exceeding the standard token rate, in case short data bursts occur.

  • The data arrives in TBF at a rate bigger than the token rate. This means that the bucket will soon be devoid of tokens, which causes the TBF to throttle itself for a while. This is called an 'overlimit situation'. If packets keep coming in, packets will start to get dropped.

The last scenario is very important, because it allows to administratively shape the bandwidth available to data that's passing the filter.

The accumulation of tokens allows a short burst of overlimit data to be still passed without loss, but any lasting overload will cause packets to be constantly delayed, and then dropped.

Please note that in the actual implementation, tokens correspond to bytes, not packets. Parameters & usage

Even though you will probably not need to change them, tbf has some knobs available. First the parameters that are always available:

limit or latency

Limit is the number of bytes that can be queued waiting for tokens to become available. You can also specify this the other way around by setting the latency parameter, which specifies the maximum amount of time a packet can sit in the TBF. The latter calculation takes into account the size of the bucket, the rate and possibly the peakrate (if set).


Size of the bucket, in bytes. This is the maximum amount of bytes that tokens can be available for instantaneously. In general, larger shaping rates require a larger buffer. For 10mbit/s on Intel, you need at least 10kbyte buffer if you want to reach your configured rate!

If your buffer is too small, packets may be dropped because more tokens arrive per timer tick than fit in your bucket.


A zero-sized packet does not use zero bandwidth. For ethernet, no packet uses less than 64 bytes. The Minimum Packet Unit determines the minimal token usage for a packet.


The speedknob. See remarks above about limits!

If the bucket contains tokens and is allowed to empty, by default it does so at infinite speed. If this is unacceptable, use the following parameters:


If tokens are available, and packets arrive, they are sent out immediately by default, at 'lightspeed' so to speak. That may not be what you want, especially if you have a large bucket.

The peakrate can be used to specify how quickly the bucket is allowed to be depleted. If doing everything by the book, this is achieved by releasing a packet, and then wait just long enough, and release the next. We calculated our waits so we send just at peakrate.

However, due to de default 10ms timer resolution of Unix, with 10.000 bits average packets, we are limited to 1mbit/s of peakrate!


The 1mbit/s peakrate is not very useful if your regular rate is more than that. A higher peakrate is possible by sending out more packets per timertick, which effectively means that we create a second bucket!

This second bucket defaults to a single packet, which is not a bucket at all.

To calculate the maximum possible peakrate, multiply the configured mtu by 100 (or more correctly, HZ, which is 100 on Intel, 1024 on Alpha). Sample configuration

A simple but *very* useful configuration is this:

# tc qdisc add dev ppp0 root tbf rate 220kbit latency 50ms burst 1540

Ok, why is this useful? If you have a networking device with a large queue, like a DSL modem or a cable modem, and you talk to it over a fast device, like over an ethernet interface, you will find that uploading absolutely destroys interactivity.

This is because uploading will fill the queue in the modem, which is probably *huge* because this helps actually achieving good data throughput uploading. But this is not what you want, you want to have the queue not too big so interactivity remains and you can still do other stuff while sending data.

The line above slows down sending to a rate that does not lead to a queue in the modem - the queue will be in Linux, where we can control it to a limited size.

Change 220kbit to your uplink's *actual* speed, minus a few percent. If you have a really fast modem, raise 'burst' a bit.

9.2.3. Stochastic Fairness Queueing

Stochastic Fairness Queueing (SFQ) is a simple implementation of the fair queueing algorithms family. It's less accurate than others, but it also requires less calculations while being almost perfectly fair.

The key word in SFQ is conversation (or flow), which mostly corresponds to a TCP session or a UDP stream. Traffic is divided into a pretty large number of FIFO queues, one for each conversation. Traffic is then sent in a round robin fashion, giving each session the chance to send data in turn.

This leads to very fair behaviour and disallows any single conversation from drowning out the rest. SFQ is called 'Stochastic' because it doesn't really allocate a queue for each session, it has an algorithm which divides traffic over a limited number of queues using a hashing algorithm.

Because of the hash, multiple sessions might end up in the same bucket, which would halve each session's chance of sending a packet, thus halving the effective speed available. To prevent this situation from becoming noticeable, SFQ changes its hashing algorithm quite often so that any two colliding sessions will only do so for a small number of seconds.

It is important to note that SFQ is only useful in case your actual outgoing interface is really full! If it isn't then there will be no queue on your linux machine and hence no effect. Later on we will describe how to combine SFQ with other qdiscs to get a best-of-both worlds situation.

Specifically, setting SFQ on the ethernet interface heading to your cable modem or DSL router is pointless without further shaping! Parameters & usage

The SFQ is pretty much self tuning:


Reconfigure hashing once this many seconds. If unset, hash will never be reconfigured. Not recommended. 10 seconds is probably a good value.


Amount of bytes a stream is allowed to dequeue before the next queue gets a turn. Defaults to 1 maximum sized packet (MTU-sized). Do not set below the MTU! Sample configuration

If you have a device which has identical link speed and actual available rate, like a phone modem, this configuration will help promote fairness:

# tc qdisc add dev ppp0 root sfq perturb 10
# tc -s -d qdisc ls
qdisc sfq 800c: dev ppp0 quantum 1514b limit 128p flows 128/1024 perturb 10sec 
 Sent 4812 bytes 62 pkts (dropped 0, overlimits 0) 

The number 800c: is the automatically assigned handle number, limit means that 128 packets can wait in this queue. There are 1024 hashbuckets available for accounting, of which 128 can be active at a time (no more packets fit in the queue!) Once every 10 seconds, the hashes are reconfigured.

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