Best Networking Tweaks for Linux

Linux is fast, but with these tips and techniques, you can make it faster when accessing it over a network connection.

A Linux system can be tweaked to a degree Windows users may envy (or fear) especially for networking. Tweaking a Linux box for networking is a bit more mundane than other platforms: there are specific driver settings one can work with but its best flexibility comes from a mix of OS-level modifications and adherence to different RFCs.

ifconfig (interface) txqueuelen #

Speedy Linux
Software buffers for network adapters on Linux start off at a conservative 1000 packets. Network researchers and scientists have mucked around with this, and figured out that we should be using 10,000 for anything decent on a LAN; more if you're running GB or 10GE stuff. Slow interfaces, such as modems and WAN links, can default to 0-100, but don't be afraid to bump it up towards 1000 and see if your performance improves. Bumping up this setting does use memory, so be careful if you're using an embedded router or something (I've used 10,000 on 16MB RAM OpenWRT units, no prob).

You can edit /etc/rc.local, add an "up" command to /etc/networking/interfaces, or whatever your distribution suggests and it's best to put a command like this at startup.

/etc/sysctl.conf

This file governs default behavior for many network and file operation settings on Linux and other *nix-based systems. If you deploy Ubuntu or Fedora systems, you'll notice they will add their own tweaks (usually security or file-oriented) to the file: don't delete those, unless you read up on them, or see any that are contradicted by the suggested additions here...

net.ipv4.tcp_rfc1337=1

net.ipv4.tcp_window_scaling=1

net.ipv4.tcp_workaround_signed_windows=1

net.ipv4.tcp_sack=1

net.ipv4.tcp_fack=1

net.ipv4.tcp_low_latency=1

net.ipv4.ip_no_pmtu_disc=0

net.ipv4.tcp_mtu_probing=1

net.ipv4.tcp_frto=2

net.ipv4.tcp_frto_response=2

net.ipv4.tcp_congestion_control=illinois

1. RFC 1337, TIME-WAIT Assassination Hazards in TCP, a fix written in 1992 for some theoretically-possible failure modes for TCP connections. To this day this RFC still has people confused if it negatively impacts performance or not or is supported by any decent router. Murphy's Law is that the only router that it would even have trouble with, is most likely your own.

2. TCP window scaling tries to avoid getting the network adapter saturated with incoming packets.

3. TCP SACK and FACK refer to options found in RFC 2018 and are also documented back to Linux Kernel 2.6.17 with an experimental "TCP-Peach" set of functions. These are meant to get you your data without excessive losses.

4. The latency setting is 1 if you prefer more packets vs bandwidth, or 0 if you prefer bandwidth. More packets are ideal for things like Remote Desktop and VOIP: less for bulk downloading.

5. I found RFC 2923, which is a good review of PMTU. IPv6 uses PMTU by default to avoid segmenting packets at the router level, but its optional for IPv4. PMTU is meant to inform routers of the best packet sizes to use between links, but its a common admin practice to block ICMP ports that allow pinging, thus breaking this mechanism. Linux tries to use it, and so do I: if you have problems, you have a problem router, and can change the "no" setting to 1. "MTU probing" is also a part of this: 1 means try, and 0 means don't.

6. FRTO is a mechanism in newer Linux kernels to optimize for wireless hosts: use it if you have them; delete the setting, or set to 0, if you don't.

For further study, there's a great IBM article regarding network optimizations: it was my source for some of these settings, as well as following numerous articles on tweaking Linux networking over the years (SpeedGuide has one from 2003).

TCP Congestion Controls

Windows Vista and newer gained Compound TCP as an alternative to standard TCP Reno. Linux Kernel 2.6 has had numerous mechanisms available to it for some time: 2.6.19 defaulted to CUBIC which was supposed to work well over "long links."  My two personal favorites: TCP Westwood + and TCP Illinois. But you can dig in, look at different research papers online, and see what works best for your environment.

1. Make sure your kernel has the correct module: in my example, I use TCP Illinois, which has been compiled with any standard Ubuntu kernel since 2008, and is found as tcp_illinois.

2. Add said kernel module to /etc/modules

3. Change /etc/sysctl.conf to use the non "tcp_" part of your selection.

There you have it -- some of my favorite Linux tweaks for networking. I'm interested in hearing how these worked for you. If you have some of your own, please post a comment and share them with other readers.

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