Preface - Linux Kernel Networking: Implementation and Theory (2014)

Linux Kernel Networking: Implementation and Theory (2014)


This book takes you on a guided, in-depth tour of the current Linux kernel networking implementation and the theory behind it. For almost a decade, no new book about Linux networking has been written. A decade of dynamic and fast-paced Linux kernel development is quite a long time. There are important kernel networking subsystems that are not described in any other book; for example, IPv6, IPsec, Wireless (IEEE 802.11), IEEE 802.15.4, NFC, InfiniBand, and more. There is also very little information on the Web about the implementation details of these subsystems. For all these reasons, I have written this book.

About ten years ago I made my first steps in kernel programming. I was a developer in a startup taking part in a VoIP project for a Linux-based set-top box (STB). There were crashes in the USB stack with some USB cameras, and we had to delve into the code to try to find a solution, because the vendors of that STB did not want to spend time to solve the problem. In fact, it was not that they did not want to, they simply did not know how to. In these days, there was almost no documentation about the USB stack. The Linux Device Drivers book from O’Reilly in those days was only in its second edition (the USB chapter was added only in the third edition). Success in that project was crucial for us as a startup. I had learned much about kernel programming in the process of solving the USB crash. Later on we had a project where a NAT traversal solution was needed. The userspace solution was so heavy that the device quickly crashed. When I suggested a kernel solution, my managers were very skeptical, but they did let me try. The kernel solution proved to be very stable and took much less CPU than the userspace solution. Since then I have taken part in many kernel networking projects. This book is a result of my many years of development and research.

Who This Book Is For

This book is intended for computer professionals, including developers, software architects, designers, project managers, and CTOs, who are working on networking-related projects. These projects can be in a wide range of professional areas, such as communication, data centers, embedded devices, virtualization, security, and more. In addition, students and academy researchers and theorists who deal with networking projects or networking research or operating systems research will find a lot of help in this book.

How This Book Is Structured

In Chapter 1 you will find a general overview of the Linux kernel and the Linux network stack. Other topics in this chapter include the implementation of the network device, the socket buffer, and the Rx and Tx paths. Chapter 1 concludes with a section about the Linux Kernel Networking Development Model.

In Chapter 2 you will learn about netlink sockets, which provide a mechanism for bidirectional communication between userspace and the kernel, and which are used by the networking subsystem as well as by other subsystems. You will also find a section in this chapter about generic netlink sockets, which can be perceived as advanced netlink sockets, and which you will encounter in Chapter 12 and while browsing the kernel networking source code.

In Chapter 3 you will learn about the ICMP protocol, which helps to keep the system behaving correctly by sending error and control messages about the network layer (L3). You will learn about the implementation of the ICMP protocol both in IPv4 and in IPv6.

Chapter 4 delves into the IPv4 protocol—the Internet and modern life cannot be described without it. You will learn about the structure of IPv4 header, about the Rx and Tx path, about IP options, about fragmentation and defragmentation and why they are needed, and about forwarding packets, which is one of the important tasks of IPv4.

Chapters 5 and 6 are devoted to the IPv4 Routing Subsystem. In Chapter 5 you will learn how a lookup in the routing subsystem is performed, how the routing tables are organized, which optimizations are used in the IPv4 routing subsystem and about the removal of the IPv4 routing cache. Chapter 6 discusses advanced routing topics such as Multicast Routing, Policy Routing, and Multipath Routing.

Chapter 7 endeavors to explain the neighbouring subsystem. You will learn about the ARP protocol, which is used in IPv4, and about the the NDISC protocol used in IPv6, and about some of the differences between the two protocols. You will also learn about the Duplicate Address Detection (DAD) mechanism in IPv6.

Chapter 8 discusses the IPv6 protocol, which seems to be the inevitable solution to the shortage of IPv4 addresses. This chapter describes the implementation of IPv6 and discusses topics such as IPv6 addresses, the IPv6 header and extension headers, autoconfiguration in IPv6, Rx path, and forwarding. It also describes the MLD protocol.

Chapter 9 deals with the netfilter subsystem. You will learn about netfilter hooks and how they are registered, about Connection Tracking, about IP tables and Network Address Translation (NAT), and about callback used by Connection Tracking and NAT.

Chapter 10 deals with IPsec, one of the most complex networking subsystems. Topics like the IKE protocol (which is implemented in userspace) and cryptography aspects of IPsec are discussed briefly (full treatment is beyond the scope of the book). You will learn about the XFRM framework, which is the basis of the Linux IPsec subsystem, and about its two most important structures: XFRM policy and XFRM state. The ESP protocol is briefly described, as well as the IPsec Rx path and Tx path in transport mode. The chapter concludes with a section about XFRM lookup and a short section about NAT traversal.

Chapter 11 describes four Layer 4 protocols, starting with the most commonly used protocols, UDP and TCP, and concluding with two newer protocols, SCTP and DCCP.

Chapter 12 deals with wireless in Linux (IEEE 802.11). You will learn about the mac80211 subsystem and its implementation, about various wireless network topologies, about power save mode, and about IEEE 802.11n and packet aggregation. There is also a section devoted to Wireless Mesh networks in this chapter.

Chapter 13 delves into the InfiniBand subsystem, a technology enjoying a rising popularity in datacenters. You will learn about the RDMA stack organization, about addressing in InfiniBand, about the organization of InfiniBand packets, and about the RDMA API.

Chapter 14 concludes the book with a discussion of advanced topics such as Linux namespaces and network namespaces in particular, Busy Poll Sockets, the Bluetooth subsystem, the IEEE 802.15.4 subsystem, the Near Field Communication (NFC) subsystem, the PCI subsystem, and more.

Appendices A, “Linux API,” and C, “Glossary ,” provide complete reference information for many topics dicussed in the book. Appendix B, “Network Administration,” provides information about various tools which you will need while working with Linux kernel networking.


Throughout the book, I’ve kept a consistent style. All code snippets, whether inside text paragraphs or on lines of their own, along with library paths, shell commands, URLs, and other code-related elements, are set in monospaced font, like this. New terms are set off in italics, and other emphasis may be given in bold.