Segmentation and Checksumming Offload

I suggest looking at the original post here. This is just a compilation (not too much :)) of the original. I decided to let the original text, because it’s well written and clear with a good example to explain Segmentation and Checksumming Offload.

“[…] Common operations for offloading are segmentation and checksum calculations. That is, instead of the OS using the CPU to segment TCP packets, it allows the NIC to use its own processor to perform the segmentation. This saves on the CPU and importantly cuts down on the bus communications to/from the NIC. However offloading doesn’t change what is sent over the network. In other words, offloading to the NIC can produce performance gains inside your computer, but not across the network. 

(That’s because the total frames sent to the network would be the same in number and size in the end. Also, the performance gain comes, because the application data only needs to traverse network stack once and a lot of savings may come from data segmentation. This is called TSO (TCP Segmentation Offload) for TCP segments. Moreover, Linux kernel also supports a more generic way for offloading processor. This is called GSO (Generic Segmentation Offload))

“[…] Consider the figure below illustrating the normal flow of data through a TCP/IP stack without offloading. Lets assume the application data is 7,300 Bytes. TCP breaks this into five segments. Why five? The Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) of Ethernet is 1500 Bytes. If we subtract the 20 Byte IP header and 20 Byte TCP header there is 1460 Bytes remaining for data in a TCP segment (this is the TCP Maximum Segment Size (MSS)). 7,300 Bytes can be conveniently segmented into five maximum sized TCP segments.

Wireshark capturing in the stack

After IP adds a header to the TCP segments the resulting IP datagrams are sent one-by-one to the “Ethernet layer”. Note that TCP/IP are part of operating system, while most functionality of Ethernet is implemented on the NIC. However network drivers (lets consider them part of the OS) also perform some of the Ethernet functionality. The network driver creates/receives Ethernet frames. So in the above example, assuming segmentation offloading is not used, the 7,300 Bytes of application data is segmented into 5 TCP/IP packets containing 1460 Bytes of data each. The network driver encapsulates each IP datagram in an Ethernet frame and sends the frames to the NIC. It is these Ethernet frames that Wireshark (and other packet capture software, like tcpdump) captures. The NIC then sends the frames, one-by-one, over the network.

Now consider when segmentation offloading is used (as in the figure below). The OS does not segment the application data, but instead creates one large TCP/IP packet and sends that to the driver. The TCP and IP headers are in fact template headers. The driver creates a single Ethernet frame (which is captured by Wireshark) and sends it to the NIC. Now the NIC performs the segmentation. It uses the template headers to create 5 Ethernet frames with real TCP/IP/Ethernet headers. The 5 frames are then sent over the network

Wireshark capturing in the stack

The result: although the same 5 Ethernet frames are sent over the network, Wireshark captures different data depending on the use of segmentation offloading.


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