US 6246683 Receive processing with network protocol bypass

ABSTRACT – An adapter is provided with intelligence that allows it to separate the header parts of a packet being received from the payload it carries, and in most cases move the payload directly into a destination buffer at the application layer or file system layer. Copies by the intermediate layers of the protocol stack are bypassed, reducing the number of times that the payload of a communication must be copied by the host system. At the network interface, a plurality of packets is received, and the payload of each is bypassed directly into the target destination buffer. The network interface device identifies the packets which are in the sequence of packets carrying payload to be stored in the target buffer by the flow specification carried with such packets. Also, the packets carrying data payload for the file include a sequence number or other identifier by which the network interface is able to determine the offset within the target buffer to which the packet is to be stored.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to processing of data in communication networks, and more particularly to the process of receiving a plurality of packets of data which relate to a common block of data, and efficiently providing such data to an application.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Network communications are often described with respect to layers of network protocols. According to a standard description, the layers include the physical layer, the datalink layer, the network layer (also called routing layer), the transport layer, and the application layer. Thus modem communication standards, such as the Transport Control Protocol TCP, the Internet Protocol IP, and IEEE 802 standards, can be understood as organizing the tasks necessary for data communications into layers. There are a variety of types of protocols that are executed at each layer according to this model. The particular protocols utilized at each layer are mixed and matched in order to provide so called protocol stacks or protocol suites for operation of a given communication channel.

The protocol stacks typically operate in a host system which includes a network adapter comprised of hardware that provides a physical connection to a network medium, and software instructions referred to as medium access control MAC drivers for managing the communication between the adapter hardware and the protocol stack in the host system. The adapter generally includes circuitry and connectors for communication over a communication medium, and translates the data to and from the digital form used by the protocol stack and the MAC driver, and a form that may be transmitted over the communication medium.

Generally according to this model, processes at the application layer, including applications and file systems, rely on the lower layers of the communication protocol stack for transferring the data between stations in the network. The application layer requests services from the protocol stack which includes transport layer, network layer and datalink layer processes distributed between the MAC driver and other components of the stack. In a similar way, data which is received across the network is passed up the protocol stack to the application layer at which actual work on the data involved is accomplished.

In current implementations, received packets are generally moved sequentially into host buffers allocated by the MAC driver for the adapter, as they arrive. These buffers are then provided to the host protocol stack, which generally copies them once or twice to internal buffers of its own before the payload data finally gets copied to the application or the file system buffer. This sequential passing of the data up the protocol stack is required so that the processes in the particular protocol suite are able to individually handle the tasks necessary according to the protocol at each layer. However, these multiple copies of the data hurt performance of the system. In particular, the CPU of the computer is used for each copy of the packet, and a significant load is placed on the memory subsystem in the computer. With technologies like gigabit Ethernet, and other technology in which the data rates of the physical layer of the network is increasing, these copy operations may become an important limiting factor in improving performance of personal computer architectures to levels approaching the capability of the networks to which they are connected.

Accordingly, it is desirable to provide techniques which avoid one or more of these copies of the packets as they pass up the protocol stacks. By eliminating multiple copies of the packet, the raw performance of the receiving end station can be increased, and the scalability of the receive process can be improved.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to the present invention, an adapter is provided with intelligence that allows it to separate the header parts of a packet being received from the payload it carries, and in most cases move the payload directly into a destination buffer at a higher layer, such as the application layer. Thus reducing the number of times that the payload of a communication must be copied by the host system.

Accordingly, the invention can be characterized as a method for transferring data on a network from the data source to an application executing in an end station. The application operates according to a multi-layer network protocol which includes a process for generating packet control data (e.g. headers) for packets according to the multi-layer network protocol. Packets are received at the network interface in a sequence carrying respective data payloads from the data source. Upon receiving a packet, the control data of the packet is read in the network interface, and if the packet belongs to a flow specification subject of the bypass, the data payload of the packet is transferred to a buffer assigned by a layer higher in the stack, preferably by the application or file system, bypassing one or more intermediate buffers of the protocol stack.

Typically, to initiate the process of receiving a plurality of packets which make up a block of data for a particular application, the process involves establishing a connection between the end station and the source of data, such as a file server on a network, for example according to the TCP/IP protocol suite. A request is transmitted from the application through the network interface which asks for transfer of the data from the data source. The request and the protocol suite provide a flow specification to identify the block of data and an identifier of the target buffer. At the network interface, the plurality of packets is received, and their control fields, such as TCP/IP headers, are read. If they fall within the set up flow specification, the payloads are bypassed directly into the target buffer. The network interface device identifies the packets which are in the sequence of packets carrying payload to be stored in the target buffer by the control data in headers carried with such packets. Also, according to a preferred aspect of the invention, the packets carrying data payload for the block of data include a sequence number or other identifier by which the network interface is able to determine the offset within the target buffer to which the payload of the packet is to be stored. In this case, the flow specification includes a range of sequence numbers for the block of data, such as by a starting number and a length number.

According to yet another aspect of the invention, the network protocol executed by the protocol stack includes TCP/IP, and the process for requesting the transfer of a file from a data source involves issuing a read request according to higher layer protocol, such as the READ RAW SMB (server message block) command specified according to the Common Internet File System protocol (See, paragraph 3.9.35 of CIFS/1.0 draft dated Jun. 13, 1996) executed in Windows platforms. The target buffer is assigned by the host application using an interface like WINSOCK, or a file system, in a preferred system. In alternatives, the target buffer is assigned by a transport layer process like TCP, to provide for bypassing of a copy in a network layer process like IP.

Accordingly, the present invention provides a technique by which the performance and scalability of a network installation, like a TCP/IP installation, can be improved, especially for high physical layer speeds of 100 megabits per second or higher. Also, the invention is extendable to other protocol stacks in which a read bypass operation could be executed safely.

Other aspects and advantages of the present invention can be seen upon review of the figures, the detailed description and the claims which follow.

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