When will a TCP network packet be fragmented at the application layer


When will a TCP packet be fragmented at the application layer? When a TCP packet is sent from an application, will the recipient at the application layer ever receive the packet in two or more packets? If so, what conditions cause the packet to be divided. It seems like a packet won't be fragmented until it reaches the Ethernet (at the network layer) limit of 1500 bytes. But, that fragmentation will be transparent to the recipient at the application layer since the network layer will reassemble the fragments before sending the packet up to the next layer, right?

Best Solution

It will be split when it hits a network device with a lower MTU than the packet's size. Most ethernet devices are 1500, but it can often be smaller, like 1492 if that ethernet is going over PPPoE (DSL) because of the extra routing information, even lower if a second layer is added like Windows Internet Connection Sharing. And dialup is normally 576!

In general though you should remember that TCP is not a packet protocol. It uses packets at the lowest level to transmit over IP, but as far as the interface for any TCP stack is concerned, it is a stream protocol and has no requirement to provide you with a 1:1 relationship to the physical packets sent or received (for example most stacks will hold messages until a certain period of time has expired, or there are enough messages to maximize the size of the IP packet for the given MTU)

As an example if you sent two "packets" (call your send function twice), the receiving program might only receive 1 "packet" (the receiving TCP stack might combine them together). If you are implimenting a message type protocol over TCP, you should include a header at the beginning of each message (or some other header/footer mechansim) so that the receiving side can split the TCP stream back into individual messages, either when a message is received in two parts, or when several messages are received as a chunk.

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