Using Short Hierarchical IP Addresses at Edge Networks

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Author Haoyu Song 
Last updated 2020-10-20
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Network Working Group                                            H. Song
Internet-Draft                                    Futurewei Technologies
Intended status: Experimental                           October 20, 2020
Expires: April 23, 2021

         Using Short Hierarchical IP Addresses at Edge Networks


   To mitigate the IPv6 header overhead in edge networks, this draft
   proposes to use short hierarchical addresses excluding the network
   prefix within edge networks.  An edge network can be organized into a
   hierarchical architecture containing one or more levels of networks.
   The border routers for each hierarchical level are responsible for
   address augmenting and pruning.  Specifically, the top-level border
   routers convert the internal IP header to and from the standard IPv6
   header.  This draft presents an incrementally deployable scheme
   allowing packet header to be effectively compressed in edge networks
   without affecting the network interoperability.

Requirements Language

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP
   14 [RFC2119][RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
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   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
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   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 23, 2021.

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2020 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
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   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
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   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Short Hierarchical Address in Edge Networks . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.1.  Edge Network Hierarchy  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.2.  Address Fields  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.3.  Router Roles and Function . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   3.  Deployment and Interoperability Consideration . . . . . . . .   9
     3.1.  Control Plane . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     3.2.  Data Plane  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
     3.3.  Using NAT for the edge network  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   4.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   5.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   6.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   7.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     7.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     7.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12

1.  Introduction

   Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G introduce to the Internet a huge
   number of addressable entities (e.g., sensors, machines, vehicles,
   and robots).  The transition to IPv6 is inevitable.  While the
   128-bit address of IPv6 was considered large enough and future-proof,
   the long IP addresses inflate the packet header size. 80% of a basic
   IPv6 header is consumed by addresses.

   In IoT networks, thing-to-thing communication through wireless
   connections is dominant, which presents several distinct
   characteristics. (1) The communication pattern is often frequent
   short-message exchanges (e.g., industry robots and networked
   vehicles). (2) The communication is usually energy sensitive (e.g.,

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   battery-powered sensors). (3) The communication often requires low
   latency (e.g., industry control). (4) The precious wireless channels
   demand high bandwidth utilization (e.g., ZigBee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi,
   and 5G).  These characteristics render a large header overhead
   unfavorable and even prohibitive.

   The address overhead also takes its toll on Data Center Networks
   (DCN), especially when large scale containers are deployed, the east-
   west traffic is dominant, and the prevailing communications are
   comprised of short messages (e.g., key-value pairs) and conducted
   through virtual switches.

   On the other hand, in IoT and DCN, most communications happen between
   adjacent and related entities.  It is a good practice to locally
   confine communication, computing, and storage due to performance,
   efficiency, and security considerations, as advocated by Edge
   Computing.  Such a communication pattern provides an opportunity to
   mitigate the IPv6 header overhead problem due to the long addresses.

   When an IPv6 address block is allocated to an edge network, all the
   entities in the edge network share the same address prefix.  When
   these entities communicate with each other, they can ignore the
   common prefix.  Only when they needs to communicate with entities
   outside of the edge network, the full addresses are needed.  However,
   even in this case, the entities in the edge network do not need to
   know the prefix.  It is sufficient for the gateway routers at the
   network border to manipulate the addresses (i.e., augmenting or
   pruning the address) to meet the address requirement.

   Following this line of thought, an edge network can be further
   partitioned into multiple hierarchical levels, which supports
   flexible sub-networking.  The result is that an end entity needs to
   maintain an even shorter address as its identifier.  For
   communication cross network levels, the address manipulation is done
   at each gateway router on the path recursively.

2.  Short Hierarchical Address in Edge Networks

2.1.  Edge Network Hierarchy

   In this draft, we define an edge network as a stub network with an
   assigned IPv6 address block which does not support traffic transit
   service.  In this sense, a data center network in cloud can also be
   considered as an edge network.  An edge network usually falls under a
   single network administration domain.

   The address block assigned to an edge network is identified by a
   prefix P.  The remaining s = 128-length(P) bits can be used to assign

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   addresses to the entities in this network.  A key observation is: the
   entities in this network do not need to be aware of P's length and
   value at all.  We can further partition the edge network into
   multiple hierarchical levels, making a tree architecture.  The root
   represents the entire edge network.  Each other node represents a
   lower level network occupying a sub address space owned by its parent
   node.  A leaf node represents a lowest level network.  We name the
   root level network the L_0 network.  Its children are all L_1
   networks, and so on so forth.

   The network hierarchy partitions the s-bit address into multiple
   sections.  Assume an entity is in an L_n network.  The s-bit address
   is partitioned into n+1 sections.  The entity only needs to keep the
   last section of the s-bit address as its ID.  The gateways routers
   for each level of network maintain one section of the s-bit address.
   Specifically, the gateway routers of L_i (i>0) keep the i-th section
   of the s-bit address, and the gateway routers of L_0 keep the
   assigned IPv6 address block prefix P.

   Figure 1 shows an edge network example, in which are three network
   levels.  The edge network A is assigned a 96-bit IPv6 address prefix
   (2001:0db8:ac10:fe01::0001), which means it owns a 32-bit address
   space.  In this space, two L_1 networks are created: B with a 16-bit
   prefix (0xaaaa) and C with a 24-bit prefix (0xcccccc).  Note that the
   prefixes at the same level must not overlap in order to guarantee
   entities in the edge network are uniquely addressable.  Network B
   contains two entities x and y, and Network C contains one entity z.
   In network B, an L_2 network C is created with a 8-bit prefix (0xbb).
   In this example, an entity in C or D (e.g., m and z) only need to
   keep a 8-bit address, an entity in B but not in D (e.g., x and y)
   needs to keep a 16-bit address, and an entity in A but not in B and C
   needs to keep a 32-bit address.  Each entity in A still logically
   owns a unique IPv6 address (e.g., the IPv6 address of the entity m in
   D with ID of 5 is 2001:0db8:ac10:fe01::0001:aaaa:bb05), although the
   entity m is only aware of its local ID (0x05).

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                               | L0:A | 2001:0db8:ac10:fe01::0001/96
                                 |  |
                          +------+  +-------+
                          |                 |
                      +---+--+           +--+---+
                (x,y) | L1:B | aaaa/16   | L1:C | cccccc/24
                      +---+--+           +------+
                          |                (z)
                  (m) | L2:D | bb/8

                   Figure 1: A Hierarchical Edge Network

2.2.  Address Fields

   The edge networks adopting the short and variable size address scheme
   need a new type of IP header, which is referred as IPvn in this
   draft.  Apart from the IP version, the major difference between IPvn
   and IPv6 headers is the address fields.  IPvn replaces IPv6's 128-bit
   source address field and 128-bit destination address field with the
   four fields shown in Figure 2.

                   | SAL        | DAL        |
                   | SA  (variable length)   |
                   | DA  (variable length)   |

                       Figure 2: IPvn Address Fields

   The Source Address Length (SAL) and the Destiantion Address Length
   (DAL) fields have fixed length, while the Source Address (SA) and the
   Destination Address (DA) fields are variable length.  To simplify the
   implementation, SA and DA are preferred to be byte-aligned.  It is
   possible to define the length of address in the unit of byte, nibble,
   or bit.  Each has its own pros and cons.  The unit of byte can help
   reduce the size of the SAL/DAL but results in coarse network
   granularity which might be inefficient in address allocation.  For
   example, a 3-bit SAL/DAL is enough to encode 8 possible address
   lengths (one to eight bytes) for networks.  In this design, each

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   higher level network's address space expands 256 times.  On the other
   extreme, the unit of bit allows fine network granularity but requires
   more space for SAL/DAL.  For example, 6-bit SAL and DAL can support
   an address length up to 64 bits (8 bytes) and each higher level
   network is only twice larger.  With a few bits, it is also possible
   to design a more sophisticated encoding scheme that supports variable
   address length steps and adapts to the ideal network sizes at
   different levels.

   Assuming SA and DA are 2 bytes each, and SAL and DAL are 4 bits each,
   the address fields are only 5 bytes in total.  Comparing to IPv6, the
   size of the address fields reduces 84%.

2.3.  Router Roles and Function

   In the edge network hierarchy, each network has one or more Level
   Gateway Routers (LGR) which are responsible for forwarding packets in
   or out of this network.  The LGRs are the only interface between a
   network and its parent network.

   A network can be in a single L2 domain, which means all the entities
   in this network (excluding those in its child networks) and all the
   network devices (including the LGRs to the parent network and the
   child networks) are L2 reachable.  A network can also be a pure L3
   network in which no L2 device is allowed.  Each entity in a network
   is directly connected to either an LGR or some internal routers named
   Intra-Level Router (ILR) which is solely responsible for packet
   forwarding within the network.  In this case, the entities need to
   partially participate in the routing process (e.g., advertising its

   The scale of an intra-level network can be used to guide the L2/L3
   selection.  Small networks prefer the L2-based solution and large
   networks prefer the L3-based solution.  In the higher level networks,
   since the number of entities is usually small, it is free to choose
   between L2 or L3-based solution.  The leaf level networks are usually

   Unlike IPv4 and IPv6, the address related fields in IPvn header can
   be modified by LGRs.  An LGR of a network keeps a prefix that can
   augment the SAs from this network to an address in the parent
   network.  If an LGR needs to forward an internal packet outside
   (i.e., DAL>SAL), it augments the packet's SA and updates its SAL
   accordingly.  Reversely, if an LGR receives a packet from the parent
   network destined for the child network it serves as a gateway(i.e.,
   the parent network prefix matches the DA's prefix), it strips off the
   parent network prefix from the packet's DA and updates its DAL

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   In contrast, within an L3-based level network, ILRs do not modify the
   address fields.  An ILR can decide the packet forwarding direction by
   examining the DAL.  If DAL > SAL, the packet needs to be forwarded to
   an LGR of this network; otherwise, the packet needs to be forwarded
   within the current network, and possibly into a lower-level child

   The LGR of the top-level network (i.e., the L0 network) is special.
   In addition to the address manipulation, it is also responsible for
   converting the internal IP header to and from the standard IPv6
   header to support the Internet interoperability.  We name such a
   router IP Translator (IPT).

   We use the edge network shown in Figure 1 to illustrate some packet
   forwarding examples.  The details for the involved entities are
   summarized in Figure 3.  In the IPvn packet header, we use 4 bits to
   encode the address length.  In particular, 0b0000 is used to indicate
   the address is 16 bytes long (i.e., a complete IPv6 address).

    |Entity| ID   |Length|Level|Network|   Prefix   |
    | x    |0x0001|      |     |       |            |
    +------+------|2bytes| 1   |   B   |0xaaaa/16   |
    | y    |0x0002|      |     |       |            |
    | z    |0x01  |1byte | 1   |   C   |0xcccccc/24 |
    | m    |0x08  |1byte | 2   |   D   |0xbb/8      |

                 Figure 3: Forward within a network level

   The first example in Figure 4 shows how packets are forwarded from x
   to y within the network B.  In this case, the source address and
   destination address have the same length.

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    +-----------------+ +-----------------+ +-----------------+
    |  IPvn Header    | | IPvn Header     | | IPvn Header     |
    +--------+--------+ +--------+--------+ +--------+--------+
    |SAL:0x2 |DAL:0x2 | |SAL:0x2 |DAL:0x2 | |SAL:0x2 |DAL:0x2 |
    +--------+--------+ +--------+--------+ +--------+--------+
    |SA: 0x0001       | |SA: 0x0001       | |SA: 0x0001       |
    +-----------------+ +-----------------+ +-----------------+
    |DA: 0x0002       | |DA: 0x0002       | |DA: 0x0002       |
    +-----------------+ +-----------------+ +-----------------+
        Entity x   ------>   ILR in B  ------>   Entity y

              Figure 4: Forward within a network in the edge

   The second example in Figure 5 shows how packets are forwarded from x
   in B to z in C.  At LGR of B, the source address is augmented, and at
   the LGR of C, the destination address is pruned.  Since x and z's
   nearest common ancestor network is A, so the packets never need to
   leave network A, so A's prefix is oblivious throughout the

 +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+
 |  IPvn Header  | |  IPvn Header  | |  IPvn Header  | |  IPvn Header  |
 +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+
 |SAL:0x2|DAL:0x4| |SAL:0x4|DAL:0x4| |SAL:0x4|DAL:0x1| |SAL:0x4|DAL:0x1|
 +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+
 |SA: 0x0001     | |SA: 0xaaaa0001 | |SA: 0xaaaa0001 | |SA: 0xaaaa0001 |
 +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+
 |DA: 0xcccccc01 | |DA: 0xcccccc01 | |DA: 0x01       | |DA: 0x01       |
 +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+
     Entity x  ----->  LGR of B   ----->  LGR of C  ----->  Entity z

             Figure 5: Forward to another network in the edge

   The last example in Figure 6 shows how packets are forwarded from x
   in B to a host in IPv6 domain.  In the IPT of A, the IP header is
   converted to an IPv6 header.

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 +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+ +---------------+
 |  IPvn Header  | |  IPvn Header  | |  IPv6 Header  | |  IPv6 Header  |
 +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ +---------------+ +---------------+
 |SAL:0x2|DAL:0x0| |SAL:0x4|DAL:0x0| |SA: 2001:0db8  | |SA: 2001:0db8  |
 +-------+-------+ +-------+-------+ |    ac10:fe01: | |    ac10:fe01: |
 |SA: 0x0001     | |SA: 0xaaaa0001 | |    0000:0001: | |    0000:0001: |
 +---------------+ +---------------+ |    aaaa:0001  | |    aaaa:0001  |
 |DA: 2001:0db8: | |DA: 2001:0db8: | +---------------+ +---------------+
 |    85a3:0000: | |    85a3:0000: | |DA: 2001:0db8: | |DA: 2001:0db8: |
 |    0000:8a2e: | |    0000:8a2e: | |    85a3:0000: | |    85a3:0000: |
 |    0370:7334  | |    0370:7334  | |    0000:8a2e: | |    0000:8a2e: |
 +---------------+ +---------------+ |    0370:7334  | |    0370:7334  |
                                     +---------------+ +---------------+

     Entity x   ----->  LGR of B  ----->  IPT of A  ----->  Entity n

                 Figure 6: Forward out of the edge network

3.  Deployment and Interoperability Consideration

3.1.  Control Plane

   Within the edge networks where IPvn is applied, all the control plane
   functions and protocols need to be modified or redesigned due to the
   hierarchical network architecture of IPvn.  Fortunately, the updates
   are often incremental and the results are usually simpler than their
   counterparts in IPv4 and IPv6.  We briefly discuss a few essential
   protocols that enables the operation of IPvn.

   DHCP:  An entity can be manually configured or dynamically acquire
      its address when booting up.  Each network in the edge network
      hierarchy may contain a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)
      server responsible for assigning addresses (or IDs) to the
      entities in the same network.  The protocol is almost identical to
      that for IPv4 and IPv6, except that the assigned address length is
      adaptive to the allocated network size.

   DNS:  For an entity to acquire the address of a peer entity in order
      to initiate a communication, Domain Name System (DNS) is the
      prominent approach but with a new service model.  Any network in
      the hierarchy can provide name service.  Each entity is configured
      with the address of the closest DNS server on the path to the root
      network.  The hierarchical network architecture allows a scoped
      domain name service.  That is, a name registered in a network is
      only valid in this network and its child networks.  It is possible
      that a same name is registered in two networks and one network is
      the other's ancestor.  Such name conflict is not a bug but a

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      feature for name reuse, which is transparent to the name query
      process.  In this case, the name resolved from the closer DNS
      server is used.

      Each network may contain a DNS server (the notation is only
      logical.  The actual implementation may follow the same
      hierarchical and distributed architecture of today's DNS).  Each
      DNS server knows the nearest DNS server in a higher level network
      and the nearest DNS servers in lower level networks.  This
      essentially organizes the DNS servers in the same tree structure
      as the hierarchical network.  Each named entity in a network is
      registered with the DNS server that covers its scope, which is
      basically a subtree.

      We have several methods to populate the name to support the scoped
      name queries, each with different storage and performance trade-
      off: 1) register the name in all the DNS servers in its scope
      (i.e., all the subtree nodes); 2) recursively register the name in
      every parent DNS server until the scope root; and 3) register the
      name only in the DNS server in its scope root.  The address for a
      name returned by a DNS server is on a "need-to-know" basis.  In a
      network, if the address's prefix matches the query's address
      prefix, the prefix is removed.  This can be easily done by the
      original or the relay DNS servers.  If a query cannot be resolved
      by the DNS server in the L0 network, the query, after the IP
      protocol translation is done, exits the IPvn domain and enters
      into the IPv4/IPv6 domain to a public DNS server.  When the
      response comes back and enters the edge network, the result can be
      cached by the DNS servers on the path.

   ARP:  In a L2-based network, the operation of Address Resolution
      Protocol (ARP) or Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP) is almost
      identical to that for IPv4 and IPv6.  In an L2- based network,
      each immediate entity should be configured with a default gateway
      address to its parent network.  If no default gateway is
      configured, a network LGR should be configured as an ARP proxy to
      respond to all internal ARP requests for addresses out of the
      network.  Similarly, the LGRs to any child network of this network
      are also needed to be configured as ARP proxy to response all ARP
      requests for addresses in that network.  Due to the multi-homing
      gateway routers, an ARP request may receive multiple responses.
      It is up to the requester to determine which one to cache.

   Routing Protocol:  The entire edge network may belong to a single AS,
      so the interior gateway routing protocols (IGP) such as OSPF and
      IS-IS can be used.  Other child networks in this network can be
      considered OSPF stub areas or IS-IS levels.  A simpler way is that
      each network run an independent instance of OSPF or IS-IS.

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      Specially, an LGR at a network border runs two OSPF/IS-IS
      instances: one for the upper-level network and the other for the
      lower-level network.  The hierarchical architecture solves the
      routing protocol scalability issue, and simplifies the protocol
      implementation by removing unnecessary features.  The clean
      routing scope helps to secure the infrastructure and troubleshoot
      the networks.

3.2.  Data Plane

   IPvn Socket for End Entities:  To enable IPvn as a new network layer
      protocol in end entities, we need to add the protocol
      implementation in the OS Kernel and allow applications to invoke
      the socket API using the address family parameter AF_INETN.  The
      L4-L7 protocol stack and the application logic remains the same,
      allowing direct communication between entities in IPvn domain and
      in IPv4/IPv6 domain.

   Forwarding Table Lookups in Networks:  The short hierarchical address
      simplifies the router forwarding table structure in L3-based
      networks.  A forwarding table only contains the addresses to local
      entities and the prefixes to the child networks.  Since there is
      no nested prefixes, the Longest Prefix Matching (LPM) is not
      necessary.  The small number of unique prefix lengths allows the
      prefixes to be grouped on lengths and each group to be implemented
      as a hash table.  A lookup can search all the hash tables in
      parallel, and at most one table can result a positive match.  This
      design avoids the use of expensive TCAM or other complex trie-
      based algorithms.

      An LGR between an L_i network and an L_(i+1) network has two types
      of interfaces: one faces the L_i network and the other faces the
      L_(i+1) network.  One LGR may serve more than one L_(i+1) network.
      Hence, an LGR may contain multiple logical forwarding tables, with
      each for a network.  For a packet in LGR, once its target network
      is determined and the address related fields are processed, the
      proper forwarding table can be searched.

3.3.  Using NAT for the edge network

   To expand the address space of the edge network, the IPT of the edge
   network can also support functions similar to NAT.  In this case, the
   edge network is assigned one or more public IPv4/IPv6 addresses.  The
   entities in IPvn domain use private addresses.  The IPT maintains the
   mapping table between the private address and public address.

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4.  Security Considerations

   The addressing scheme and architecture allow a securer edge network.

5.  IANA Considerations

   The proposal requires to use a new IP version and define a new IP
   header which can be converted to/from an equivalent IPv6 header.

6.  Acknowledgments

   We acknowledge the technical contributions, suggestions and comments
   from Yingzhe Qu, Zhaobo Zhang, James Guichard, Toerless Eckert,
   Stewart Bryant, and Michael McBride.

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <>.

7.2.  Informative References

   [RFC7775]  Ginsberg, L., Litkowski, S., and S. Previdi, "IS-IS Route
              Preference for Extended IP and IPv6 Reachability",
              RFC 7775, DOI 10.17487/RFC7775, February 2016,

Author's Address

   Haoyu Song
   Futurewei Technologies
   Santa Clara


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