Internet Control Message Protocol

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The Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) is one of the main protocols of the Internet Protocol Suite. It is used by network devices, like routers, to send error messages indicating, for example, that a requested service is not available or that a host or router could not be reached. ICMP can also be used to relay query messages.[1] It is assigned protocol number 1.[2] ICMP[3] differs from transport protocols such as TCP and UDP in that it is not typically used to exchange data between systems, nor is it regularly employed by end-user network applications (with the exception of some diagnostic tools like ping and traceroute).

ICMP for Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is also known as ICMPv4. IPv6 has a similar protocol, ICMPv6.

Technical details[edit]

The Internet Control Message Protocol is part of the Internet Protocol Suite, as defined in RFC 792. ICMP messages are typically used for diagnostic or control purposes or generated in response to errors in IP operations (as specified in RFC 1122). ICMP errors are directed to the source IP address of the originating packet.[1]

For example, every device (such as an intermediate router) forwarding an IP datagram first decrements the time to live (TTL) field in the IP header by one. If the resulting TTL is 0, the packet is discarded and an ICMP Time To Live exceeded in transit message is sent to the datagram's source address.

Although ICMP messages are contained within standard IP packets, ICMP messages are usually processed as a special case, distinguished from normal IP processing, rather than processed as a normal sub-protocol of IP. In many cases, it is necessary to inspect the contents of the ICMP message and deliver the appropriate error message to the application that generated the original IP packet, the one that sent the packet that prompted the sending of the ICMP message.

Many commonly used network utilities are based on ICMP messages. The traceroute command is implemented by transmitting IP datagrams with specially set IP TTL header fields, and looking for ICMP Time to live exceeded in transit (above) and "Destination unreachable" messages generated in response. The related ping utility is implemented using the ICMP "Echo request" and "Echo reply" messages.

ICMP segment structure[edit]

Header[edit]

The ICMP header starts after the IPv4 header and is identified by IP protocol number '1'. All ICMP packets have an 8-byte header and variable-sized data section. The first 4 bytes of the header have fixed format, while the last 4 bytes depend on the type/code of that ICMP packet.[1]

ICMP Header Format
Offsets Octet 0 1 2 3
Octet Bit 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
0 0 Type Code Checksum
4 32 Rest of Header
Type
ICMP type, see Control messages.
Code
ICMP subtype, see Control messages.
Checksum
Error checking data, calculated from the ICMP header and data, with value 0 substituted for this field. The Internet Checksum is used, specified in RFC 1071.
Rest of Header
Four-bytes field, contents vary based on the ICMP type and code.

ICMP error messages contain a data section that includes the entire IPv4 header, plus the first eight bytes of data from the IPv4 packet that caused the error message. The ICMP packet is then encapsulated in a new IPv4 packet.[1]

Control messages[edit]

Notable control messages[4][5]
Type Code Description
0 – Echo Reply[3]:14 0 Echo reply (used to ping)
1 and 2 Reserved
3 – Destination Unreachable[3]:4 0 Destination network unreachable
1 Destination host unreachable
2 Destination protocol unreachable
3 Destination port unreachable
4 Fragmentation required, and DF flag set
5 Source route failed
6 Destination network unknown
7 Destination host unknown
8 Source host isolated
9 Network administratively prohibited
10 Host administratively prohibited
11 Network unreachable for TOS
12 Host unreachable for TOS
13 Communication administratively prohibited
14 Host Precedence Violation
15 Precedence cutoff in effect
4 – Source Quench 0 Source quench (congestion control)
5 – Redirect Message 0 Redirect Datagram for the Network
1 Redirect Datagram for the Host
2 Redirect Datagram for the TOS & network
3 Redirect Datagram for the TOS & host
6 Alternate Host Address
7 Reserved
8 – Echo Request 0 Echo request (used to ping)
9 – Router Advertisement 0 Router Advertisement
10 – Router Solicitation 0 Router discovery/selection/solicitation
11 – Time Exceeded[3]:6 0 TTL expired in transit
1 Fragment reassembly time exceeded
12 – Parameter Problem: Bad IP header 0 Pointer indicates the error
1 Missing a required option
2 Bad length
13 – Timestamp 0 Timestamp
14 – Timestamp Reply 0 Timestamp reply
15 – Information Request 0 Information Request
16 – Information Reply 0 Information Reply
17 – Address Mask Request 0 Address Mask Request
18 – Address Mask Reply 0 Address Mask Reply
19 Reserved for security
20 through 29 Reserved for robustness experiment
30 – Traceroute 0 Information Request
31 Datagram Conversion Error
32 Mobile Host Redirect
33 Where-Are-You (originally meant for IPv6)
34 Here-I-Am (originally meant for IPv6)
35 Mobile Registration Request
36 Mobile Registration Reply
37 Domain Name Request
38 Domain Name Reply
39 SKIP Algorithm Discovery Protocol, Simple Key-Management for Internet Protocol
40 Photuris, Security failures
41 ICMP for experimental mobility protocols such as Seamoby [RFC4065]
42 through 255 Reserved

Source quench[edit]

Source Quench requests that the sender decrease the rate of messages sent to a router or host. This message may be generated if a router or host does not have sufficient buffer space to process the request, or may occur if the router or host buffer is approaching its limit.

Data is sent at a very high speed from a host or from several hosts at the same time to a particular router on a network. Although a router has buffering capabilities, the buffering is limited to within a specified range. The router cannot queue any more data than the capacity of the limited buffering space. Thus if the queue gets filled up, incoming data is discarded until the queue is no longer full. But as no acknowledgement mechanism is present in the network layer, the client does not know whether the data has reached the destination successfully. Hence some remedial measures should be taken by the network layer to avoid these kind of situations. These measures are referred to as source quench. In a source quench mechanism, the router sees that the incoming data rate is much faster than the outgoing data rate, and sends an ICMP message to the clients, informing them that they should slow down their data transfer speeds or wait for a certain amount of time before attempting to send more data. When a client receives this message, it will automatically slow down the outgoing data rate or wait for a sufficient amount of time, which enables the router to empty the queue. Thus the source quench ICMP message acts as flow control in the network layer.

Since research suggested that ICMP Source Quench was an ineffective (and unfair) antidote for congestion, routers' creation of source quench messages was deprecated in 1995 by RFC 1812. Furthermore, forwarding of and any kind of reaction to (flow control actions) source quench messages was deprecated from 2012 by RFC 6633.

Source quench message[3]:9
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 4 Code = 0 Header checksum
unused
IP header and first 8 bytes of original datagram's data

Where:

Type must be set to 4
Code must be set to 0
IP header and additional data is used by the sender to match the reply with the associated request

Redirect[edit]

Redirect requests data packets be sent on an alternative route. ICMP Redirect is a mechanism for routers to convey routing information to hosts. The message informs a host to update its routing information (to send packets on an alternative route). If a host tries to send data through a router (R1) and R1 sends the data on another router (R2) and a direct path from the host to R2 is available (that is, the host and R2 are on the same Ethernet segment), then R1 will send a redirect message to inform the host that the best route for the destination is via R2. The host should then send packets for the destination directly to R2. The router will still send the original datagram to the intended destination.[6] However, if the datagram contains routing information, this message will not be sent even if a better route is available. RFC 1122 states that redirects should only be sent by gateways and should not be sent by Internet hosts.

Redirect message[3]:11
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 5 Code Header checksum
IP address
IP header and first 8 bytes of original datagram's data

Where:

Type must be set to 5.
Code specifies the reason for the redirection, may be one of the following:
Code Description
0 Redirect for Network
1 Redirect for Host
2 Redirect for Type of Service and Network
3 Redirect for Type of Service and Host
IP address is the 32-bit address of the gateway to which the redirection should be sent.
IP header and additional data is included to allow the host to match the reply with the request that caused the redirection reply.

Time exceeded[edit]

Time Exceeded is generated by a gateway to inform the source of a discarded datagram due to the time to live field reaching zero. A time exceeded message may also be sent by a host if it fails to reassemble a fragmented datagram within its time limit.

Time exceeded messages are used by the traceroute utility to identify gateways on the path between two hosts.

Time exceeded message[3]:5
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 11 Code Header checksum
unused
IP header and first 8 bytes of original datagram's data

Where:

Type must be set to 11
Code specifies the reason for the time exceeded message, include the following:
Code Description
0 Time-to-live exceeded in transit.
1 Fragment reassembly time exceeded.
IP header and first 64 bits of the original payload are used by the source host to match the time exceeded message to the discarded datagram. For higher level protocols such as UDP and TCP the 64 bit payload will include the source and destination ports of the discarded packet.

Timestamp[edit]

Timestamp is used for time synchronization. It consists of the originating timestamp.

Timestamp message[3]:15
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 13 Code = 0 Header checksum
Identifier Sequence number
Originate timestamp

Where:

Type must be set to 13
Code must be set to 0
Identifier and Sequence Number can be used by the client to match the timestamp reply with the timestamp request.
Originate timestamp is the number of milliseconds since midnight Universal Time (UT). If a UT reference is not available the most-significant bit can be set to indicate a non-standard time value.

Timestamp reply[edit]

Timestamp Reply replies to a Timestamp message. It consists of the originating timestamp sent by the sender of the Timestamp as well as a receive timestamp and a transmit timestamp.

Timestamp reply message[3]:15
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 14 Code = 0 Header checksum
Identifier Sequence number
Originate timestamp
Receive timestamp
Transmit timestamp

Where:

Type must be set to 14
Code must be set to 0
Identifier and Sequence number can be used by the client to match the reply with the request that caused the reply.
Originate timestamp is the time the sender last touched the message before sending it.
Receive timestamp is the time the echoer first touched it on receipt.
Transmit timestamp is the time the echoer last touched the message on sending it.
All timestamps are in units of milliseconds since midnight UT. If the time is not available in milliseconds or cannot be provided with respect to midnight UT then any time can be inserted in a timestamp provided the high order bit of the timestamp is also set to indicate this non-standard value.

Address mask request[edit]

Address mask request is normally sent by a host to a router in order to obtain an appropriate subnet mask.

Recipients should reply to this message with an Address mask reply message.

Address mask request
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 17 Code = 0 Header checksum
Identifier Sequence number
Address mask

Where:

Type must be set to 17
Code must be set to 0
Address mask can be set to 0

ICMP Address Mask Request may be used as a part of reconnaissance attack to gather information on the target network, therefore ICMP Address Mask Reply is disabled by default on Cisco IOS.[7]

Address mask reply[edit]

Address mask reply is used to reply to an address mask request message with an appropriate subnet mask.

Address mask reply
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 18 Code = 0 Header checksum
Identifier Sequence number
Address mask

Where:

Type must be set to 18
Code must be set to 0
Address mask should be set to the subnet mask

Destination unreachable[edit]

Destination unreachable is generated by the host or its inbound gateway[3] to inform the client that the destination is unreachable for some reason. A Destination Unreachable message may be generated as a result of a TCP, UDP or another ICMP transmission. Unreachable TCP ports notably respond with TCP RST rather than a Destination Unreachable type 3 as might be expected.

The error will not be generated if the original datagram has a multicast destination address. Reasons for this message may include: the physical connection to the host does not exist (distance is infinite); the indicated protocol or port is not active; the data must be fragmented but the 'don't fragment' flag is on.

Destination unreachable message[3]:3
00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 3 Code Header checksum
unused Next-hop MTU
IP header and first 8 bytes of original datagram's data

Where:

Type field (bits 0-7) must be set to 3
Code field (bits 8-15) is used to specify the type of error, and can be any of the following:
Code Description
0 Network unreachable error.
1 Host unreachable error.
2 Protocol unreachable error (the designated transport protocol is not supported).
3 Port unreachable error (the designated protocol is unable to inform the host of the incoming message).
4 The datagram is too big. Packet fragmentation is required but the 'don't fragment' (DF) flag is on.
5 Source route failed error.
6 Destination network unknown error.
7 Destination host unknown error.
8 Source host isolated error.
9 The destination network is administratively prohibited.
10 The destination host is administratively prohibited.
11 The network is unreachable for Type Of Service.
12 The host is unreachable for Type Of Service.
13 Communication administratively prohibited (administrative filtering prevents packet from being forwarded).
14 Host precedence violation (indicates the requested precedence is not permitted for the combination of host or network and port).
15 Precedence cutoff in effect (precedence of datagram is below the level set by the network administrators).
Next-hop MTU field (bits 48-63) contains the MTU of the next-hop network if a code 4 error occurs.
IP header and additional data is included to allow the client to match the reply with the request that caused the destination unreachable reply.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Forouzan, Behrouz A. (2007). Data Communications And Networking (Fourth ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. pp. 621–630. ISBN 0-07-296775-7. 
  2. ^ "Protocol Numbers". Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Retrieved 2011-06-23. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Postel, J. (September 1981). Internet Control Message Protocol. IETF. RFC 792. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc792.
  4. ^ "IANA ICMP Parameters". Iana.org. 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  5. ^ Computer Networking – A Top-Down Approach by Kurose and Ross
  6. ^ "When Are ICMP Redirects Sent?". Cisco Systems. 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  7. ^ "Cisco IOS IP Command Reference, Volume 1 of 4: Addressing and Services, Release 12.3 - IP Addressing and Services Commands: ip mask-reply through ip web-cache". Cisco Systems. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 

External links[edit]