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04/30/01 - 05:00pm
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Improving Gnutella's Ping/Pong Scheme

Christopher Rohrs, Lime Peer Technologies LLC (LimeWire)
with ideas from Vincent Falco, Free Peers Inc. (BearShare)

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We propose a revised ping/pong scheme for the Gnutella network. Our scheme helps clients connect to the network more easily, uses a small amount of bandwidth, and is compatible with older clients. The key idea is to cache pongs and send only the best N pongs to a client.

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Gnutella's ping and pong messages serve two functions:

  1. Return IP addresses of other servents so you can establish more connections.
  2. Provide a measure of the horizon size, i.e., the number of hosts and files searchable.

Unfortunately the current ping/pong scheme has two problems. First, it consumes an enormous amount of bandwidth - up to 50% of the total Gnutella messaging bandwidth. Secondly, most returned addresses are not reachable or not accepting incoming connections. For this reason, it is difficult to connect to the Gnutella network.

This document proposes an improved way of achieving the first function. Our method does not introduce any new messages and requires no modifications to the existing ping and pong message formats; it simply changes when they are sent and how they are interpreted. Our scheme has three properties:

  1. Efficiency The amount of bandwidth used for pings/pongs is capped at roughly 100 bytes/sec/connection, even in the presence of an attacker or older clients.
  2. Quality If a host A receives a pong from another host B, B was accepting incoming connections within the last 15 seconds.
  3. Fairness If a host sends a ping and has been playing by the rules, it is guaranteed a pong in response - unless there are really no hosts accepting incoming connections.

Our scheme does not attempt to measure the horizon accurately. As long as a servent receives one pong from each host in its horizon, pongs will consume a lot of bandwidth. As an example, receiving 4000 pongs would require (4000 pongs)(37 bytes/pong)/(1 sec/5000 bytes)=30 seconds on a typical 56kb/sec modem. However, we do suggest some new ways to approximate the horizon in the appendix.

The key idea of our scheme is to cache pongs to avoid broadcasting pings too rapidly. We also introduce a technique called ping multiplexing to avoid additional broadcasts while the cache is filling. Additional refinements include limiting the number of pongs sent in response to a ping, and throttling incoming pings to defend against attackers and old clients. This entire scheme can be implemented easily and efficiently, and we give complete pseudocode at the end of this document.

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Pong Limiting

Pong limiting is an easy way to reduce the number of pongs on the network. First of all, a host should only send a pong with its own address if that host is not firewalled and can currently accept incoming connections. This is critical to our scheme. Remember that we are not trying to provide information about the horizon size; we are only interested in efficiently helping people connect to the network quickly.

Second, a host should only route a fixed number of pongs in response to a ping. If everyone is using the above rule, picking 10 or so pongs should be enough to help hosts connect quickly. The question is which 10 pongs to send back. Pongs with lower hops values are more useful to unconnected clients trying to establish a permanent connection, as these pongs are younger. On the other hand, pongs with higher hops values are more useful to neighbors trying to increase their horizon size through additional connections. Therefore a good approach is to try to distribute hops values equally and to send pongs from a variety of connections. In this case, that might mean sending one pong with a hops value of 1 from connection 1, one pong with a hops value of 2 from connection 2, etc. Clients may also strive to send different pongs to each connection in response to each ping.

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Pong Caching

Pong limiting does not solve the efficiency problem if too many pings are being sent. Consider a single servent A with a stable set of good connections. Now another host B joins A and sends a ping. A broadcasts the ping to all hosts within its horizon and routes the pongs back. Now say that B disconnects and is replaced by another host C. As usual C send a ping to A. Unless a lot of time has elapsed since B sent its ping, the ping from C will travel to the same set of hosts, and A will route the same set of pongs back. So twice as many messages have been sent than necessary. More generally, any two pings that a hosts sees within a small period of time are likely to have the same effect.

We can take advantage of this by caching the most recent pongs and avoiding the broadcast of pings. In the above example, A caches the pongs it saw in response to B's ping and simply sends these back to C - without forwarding C's ping. This is illustrated to the right. Of course A will have to set the GUID of each pong that it sends to C. If every host on the network is caching pongs, the amount of traffic will be greatly reduced.

To ensure that hosts get fresh pongs, it is important that the cache expires every few seconds. To refresh its cache, a host pings all its neighbors every 3 seconds and stores all pongs sent in response. The TTL on this ping is the standard outgoing value, say 5 or 7. Broadcasting a ping every few seconds may sound like a crazy idea, but some quick analysis shows that very little bandwidth is actually used. The trick is to observe that hosts receiving a ping usually respond by simply dipping into their pong caches. In other words, a ping is rarely a true broadcast message.

Let the cache expiration time, in seconds, be T. Let N be the maximum number of pongs sent in response to a ping. Then at most one ping and N pongs are sent per connection per T seconds. Since a ping is 23 bytes and a pong is 37 bytes, the amount of bandwidth used per connection is (23+N*37)/T bytes/sec. Assuming T=3 and N=10, that works out to only 131 bytes/sec/connection. So a typical modem user with 2 connections and a total bandwidth of 5 kbytes/sec will only have to devote 5% of his bandwidth to pings and pongs - an order of magnitude less than the current scheme. Reducing N or increasing T can further decrease bandwidth requirements. Furthermore, no pong will be older than M*T seconds, where M is the maximum allowable TTL. For M=5, that works out to only 15 seconds.

In an earlier version of our scheme, if a host with an empty cache received a ping with TTL i, it refreshed the cache by broadcasting the ping with a TTL of i-1—not M—and storing the results. If the host subsequently received a ping with a higher TTL, it would broadcast that ping immediately. We called this process a “TTL upgrade”. If there is little demand for pongs, the earlier demand-driven scheme is more efficient than our proposed scheme because only a small portion of the network is pinging at any given time. However, if pongs are in demand, it is less efficient because each node may send up to M pings (and N*M pongs) per connection per T seconds. For this reason, our proposed scheme does not use TTL upgrades.

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Ping Multiplexing

The above discussion assumes that hosts reply to a ping instantaneously. Obviously this is not so. The worst case occurs when the caches of all hosts expire at the same time. In this case, every ping results in a “cache miss”, so hosts must wait for pongs to be routed from their originator. If the latency per connection is not significantly smaller than the cache expiration time, a host may receive a pong shortly before its cache expires. For this reason, it is advisable that T be no smaller than 3 seconds. Furthermore, clients implementing message prioritization should make pings and pongs a higher priority message than queries and replies.

Another difficulty arises when two pings come in quick succession. Consider three hosts A, B, and C, connected in a line as shown in the first picture to the right. Assume C is well-connected to the network. A sends a ping to B and B broadcasts it to C. Now before A has received any replies to that ping, a new host D connects to B and sends a ping. Because B's cache is still empty, B must broadcast D's ping if it wishes to respond immediately.

This second broadcast can be avoided through a technique we call ping multiplexing. The basic idea is to “multiplex” many incoming pings into a single outgoing ping per connection. Conversely we “demultiplex” a single incoming pong into multiple outgoing pongs. In the above example, B does not broadcast D’s ping. Instead it waits until it has received pongs from C and then send these along to both A and D. This is illustrated in the last second and third pictures to the right. For the sake of simplicity, this illustration ignores the forwarded ping sent from B to A in response to D’s ping.

To summarize: respond to a ping immediately with cached pongs, then set up information so that later pongs will be routed to the connection as needed. This can be implemented by maintaining two additional pieces of information for each connection: the GUID of the last ping received from that connection and how many pongs the connection still needs. The information is used as follows:

  • When receiving a ping from a connection, store the GUID in the connection. Respond immediately with as many cached pongs as possible, but not more than N. Set the number of pongs the connection still needs appropriately.
  • When receiving a pong from a connection, forward the pong along all connections still needing more pongs, using the GUIDs stored on those connections.

With this implementation, traditional ping routing tables are not needed!

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Dealing with Old Clients

If all clients used the above scheme, at most one ping and M pongs would be sent per connection per T seconds. Unfortunately, new clients will have to deal with old and malicious clients that forward pings at unbounded speeds. For this reason, our scheme limits the rate that incoming pings are accepted; any pings exceeding that rate are dropped. This is implemented by maintaining the time that the last ping was accepted from a connection. Again, we stress that this is solely to defend against old clients and malicious attackers.

It is also wise to treat older clients specially when sending pings and receiving pongs. First, a new client should ping an old client no more than once every 30 seconds or so. The reason is that pings to old clients result in true broadcasts and are harmful to the network. Moreover, older clients will likely return a flood of pongs, consuming a lot of the new client's bandwidth. Second, pongs from older clients should be placed in a special reserve cache. Because these pongs include hosts that cannot accept incoming connections, they should only be used when absolutely necessary. For example, if a host lost all connections shortly after the normal cache expired, the reserve cache could be used to establish new connections.

Luckily we have a way to identify older clients. As discussed at the O’Reilly Conference and on the GDF, clients should handshake by initially sending pings with a marked GUID. The ninth byte of this GUID (i.e., GUID[8] in C or Java) is 0xFF, and the last byte is the protocol version number. (Note that this ping handshaking has nothing to do with the “GNUTELLA CONNECT 0.4” handshake string sent; unfortunately this string must be frozen for the sake of backwards compatibility.) The current protocol version number is 0, which stands for “Gnutella 0.5”. We propose to use a version number of 1 for our ping/pong scheme and call this “Gnutella 0.6”.

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Below is pseudocode that puts all of the above ideas together. In our pseudocode, cache refreshes are triggered when receiving a ping T seconds after the last cache refill. Another implementation is to use a timer to refresh the cache exactly every T seconds. In practice, both will behave nearly the same.

There are some special cases below for dealing with old clients. However, we have omitted some details, such as sending periodic update pings to old clients and using the reserve cache when no new pongs can be found. Also, there is a special case for sending handshake pings and receiving pings from a network crawler.


  • T: both the expire time for cached pongs and the throttle time. Suggested value: 3 seconds.
  • M: the max TTL. Suggested value: 7.
  • N: the max number of pongs to return in response to a ping. Suggested value: 10.

Global variables:

  • CACHE: the pong cache. An M array list, each containing a list of <address, connection> pairs. Associating an address with a connection prevents us from sending a cached pong down the path it came from.
  • NEXT_EXPIRE: the time we will next expire CACHE. At this time, we will also forward pings to all connections.
  • RESERVE_CACHE: the cache of expired pongs and pongs from old clients. Used in case the cache empties and all connections suddenly die.

Maintain the following variables per connection C:

  • ACCEPT_TIME: the time we will next accept a ping from C.
  • ACCEPT_GUID: the GUID of the last ping accepted on C, or null if not seen.
  • NEEDED: an array of size M. NEEDED[i] is the number of pongs with hops value i needed by C.

When establishing a new connection C:

  • If you don’t need any connections and have enough values in RESERVE_CACHE, send C a new ping with TTL 1 for handshaking purposes.
  • Otherwise send C a new ping with TTL=M.

When receiving a ping P on connection C, even if C is a “temporary/reject connection”:

  • Throttle incoming pings to defend against old clients and attackers. If the current time is less than C.ACCEPT_TIME, drop P and return from this method. Otherwise set C.ACCEPT_TIME to be the current time+T.
  • Refresh the cache if necessary, being sure to synchronize properly. If the current time is greater than NEXT_EXPIRE, do the following:
    • Set NEXT_EXPIRE=current time+N.
    • Empty the cache, copying the contents into RESERVE_CACHE.
    • Send a ping with a new GUID and TTL M to all connections to newer clients. [sic]
  • Special case for crawlers: if P.TTL=2 and P.HOPS=0, send pongs with the address and ports of all neighbors. Return from this method.
  • Setup pong demultiplexing tables. Set C.ACCEPT_GUID=P.GUID. For all 0P.TTL, set C.NEEDED[i]=0.
  • Return a pong with my address if I can accept incoming connections right now.
  • Return cached pongs. For all i between 1 and P.TTL, inclusive,
    • Choose NEEDED[i] addresses from CACHE[i] as possible, or as many as possible. Be sure that no address was received from C.
    • Decrement C.NEEDED[i] by the amount chosen.
    • Send the addresses to C in pongs with P.GUID.

When receiving a pong P on connection C:

  • If C is an old client, place in RESERVE_CACHE and return from this method.
  • Add to CACHE[P.HOPS].
  • Route/demultiplex P. For each connection C’ except for C,
    • Check if C’ still needs a pong. If C’.NEEDED[P.HOPS]==0, continue to the next connection.
    • Send P along C’ with GUID given by C’.ACCEPT_GUID.
    • Decrement C’.NEEDED[P.HOPS]
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Appendix: Estimating Horizon Size

Our ping/pong scheme does not provide a way to measure the horizon size. We do acknowledge, however, that there is some value in providing reasonable horizon statistics. This information tells the user whether she is well-connected to the network and may be useful in helping a client establish better connections. Here we outline some ways of measuring the horizon size.

The easiest way is to maintain a large set of all pongs seen, including those from older connections. Eventually this set will contain pongs from most non-firewalled hosts in the horizon. However, this set will grow very slowly, since at most 10 pongs are added per 3 seconds per connection. Furthermore, the client should take care to expire entries that are more than a few minutes old.

A similar approach is to maintain a set of all hosts responding to queries. (Remember that the query reply message includes the address of the host sharing the file.) This also has some problems. First, this scheme only measures those hosts in the horizon that are sharing files, although this is arguably as important as the total horizon size. Secondly this set will also grow slowly since query replies only consume a small percentage of all messages. Finally, it is difficult to measure the number of files being shared without adding extra information to the query hit descriptor.

The best approach is to introduce one or two messages solely for the purpose of communicating horizon size. Assume for simplicity that the Gnutella network is a tree, i.e., there is only one path between any two hosts. A key observation is that the number of hosts reachable from some host with TTL N is the sum of the number of hosts reachable from all its neighbors with TTL N-1. For formally, let H[A, n, B] be the number of hosts within n hops of host A that are reachable through B. Let H’[A, n, B] be the number of hosts within n hops of host A that are not reachable through B. Then for any host A with neighbors N1...Nm,

H[A, n, Ni]=1+H’[Ni, n-1, A]

H’[A, n, Ni]=H[A, n, N1]+…+H[A, n, N(i-1)+H[A, n, N(i+1)]+…+H[A, n, Nm]

H’[A, 0, Ni]=0

Horizon estimation now works through a sort of dynamic programming algorithm. Each host maintains the horizon size per connection, i.e., H[A, n, Ni] for all n and i. Every few seconds or so, hosts calculate their H’ tables from these values, exchange them with neighbors, and use these values to update their H tables. The total horizon size reported to the user is the sum over all i of H[A, n, Ni]. This scheme is accurate, efficient, and uses almost no bandwidth.

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