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Traffic shaping is a bandwidth management technique used on computer networks which delays some or all datagrams to bring them into compliance with a desired traffic profile.[1][2] Traffic shaping is used to optimize or guarantee performance, improve latency, or increase usable bandwidth for some kinds of packets by delaying other kinds. It is often confused with traffic policing, the distinct but related practice of packet dropping and packet marking.[3]

The most common type of traffic shaping is application-based traffic shaping.[4][failed verification] In application-based traffic shaping, fingerprinting tools are first used to identify applications of interest, which are then subject to shaping policies. Some controversial cases of application-based traffic shaping include bandwidth throttling of peer-to-peer file sharing traffic. Many application protocols use encryption to circumvent application-based traffic shaping.

Another type of traffic shaping is route-based traffic shaping. Route-based traffic shaping is conducted based on previous-hop or next-hop information.[5]


If a link becomes utilized to the point where there is a significant level of congestion, latency can rise substantially. Traffic shaping can be used to prevent this from occurring and keep latency in check. Traffic shaping provides a means to control the volume of traffic being sent into a network in a specified period (bandwidth throttling), or the maximum rate at which the traffic is sent (rate limiting), or more complex criteria such as generic cell rate algorithm. This control can be accomplished in many ways and for many reasons; however traffic shaping is always achieved by delaying packets.

Traffic shaping is commonly applied at the network edges to control traffic entering the network, but can also be applied by the traffic source (for example, computer or network card[6]) or by an element in the network.


Traffic shaping is sometimes applied by traffic sources to ensure the traffic they send complies with a contract which may be enforced in the network by a policer.

Shaping is widely used for network traffic engineering, and appears in domestic ISPs' networks as one of several Internet Traffic Management Practices (ITMPs).[7] Some ISPs may use traffic shaping to limit resources consumed by peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent.[8]

Data centers use traffic shaping to maintain service level agreements for the variety of applications and the many tenants hosted as they all share the same physical network.[9]

Audio Video Bridging includes an integral traffic-shaping provision defined in IEEE 802.1Qav.

Nodes in an IP network which buffer packets before sending on a link which is at capacity produce an unintended traffic shaping effect. This can appear across, for example, a low bandwidth link, a particularly expensive WAN link or satellite hop.


A traffic shaper works by delaying metered traffic such that each packet complies with the relevant traffic contract. Metering may be implemented with, for example, the leaky bucket or token bucket algorithms (the former typically in ATM and the latter in IP networks). Metered packets or cells are then stored in a FIFO buffer, one for each separately shaped class, until they can be transmitted in compliance with the associated traffic contract. Transmission may occur immediately (if the traffic arriving at the shaper is already compliant), after some delay (waiting in the buffer until its scheduled release time) or never (in case of packet loss).

Overflow conditionEdit

All traffic shaper implementations have a finite buffer, and must cope with the case where the buffer is full. A simple and common approach is to drop traffic arriving while the buffer is full a strategy known as tail drop and which results in traffic policing as well as shaping. A more sophisticated implementation could apply a dropping algorithm such as random early detection.

Traffic classificationEdit

Simple traffic shaping schemes shape all traffic uniformly. More sophisticated shapers first classify traffic. Traffic classification categorises traffic (for example, based on port number or protocol). Different classes can then be shaped separately to achieve a desired effect.

Self-limiting sourcesEdit

A self-limiting source produces traffic which never exceeds some upper bound, for example media sources which cannot transmit faster than their encoded rate allows.[10] Self-limiting sources shape the traffic they generate to a greater or lesser degree. Congestion control mechanisms can also affect traffic shaping of sorts - for example TCP's window mechanism implements a variable rate constraint related to bandwidth-delay product.

TCP Nice, a modified version of TCP developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, allows applications to request that certain TCP connections be managed by the operating system as near zero-cost background transfers, or nice flows. Such flows interfere only minimally with foreground (non-nice) flows, while reaping a large fraction of spare network bandwidth.[11]

Relationship to bandwidth managementEdit

Traffic shaping is a specific technique and one of several which combined constitute bandwidth management.[12]

ISPs and traffic managementEdit

Traffic shaping is of interest especially to internet service providers (ISPs). Their high-cost, high-traffic networks are their major assets, and as such, are the focus of their attentions. They sometimes use traffic shaping to optimize the use of their network, sometimes by shaping traffic according to their assessment of importance and thus discouraging use of certain applications.[13]

Benefits to the ISPEdit

To ISPs, mere protocol identification (classification) gives the intangible yet significant benefit of seeing what internet traffic is flowing through the network. From this they can see which subscribers are doing what on their network and can target services to the subscriber base they have attracted. However, as time progresses, more and more protocols are using tunneling and encryption to defeat these methods. Also, many protocols are very difficult or impossible to detect. In such cases, per-client shaping is more effective. By establishing policies based on the IP or IP grouping of a client, ISPs ensure that end users cannot defeat shaping by disguising protocols or encrypting their traffic.

In addition, intelligent shaping schemes can guarantee a particular Quality of Service (often measured in jitter, packet loss, and latency) for an application or a user while still allowing other traffic to use all remaining bandwidth. This allows ISPs to offer differentiated services and to upsell existing services to subscribers (such as offering minimum-latency computer gaming for an additional fee on top of basic internet).

More importantly, shaping allows ISPs to tier their services using software, reducing their costs and increasing the menu of products they can offer.

For Wireless ISPs, particularly those who use Wifi-based protocols, congestive collapse is a serious problem. Due to the unfortunate nature of Wifi when several stations are all trying to access a single access point at once, once the load is past roughly 95% channel load, the throughput starts to drop dramatically. Whilst the channel stays at the same usage (roughly 99%), the throughput just gets slower and slower due to the number of retries. TCP performance may be greatly impacted by the long delay over the wireless link caused by the congestion at the access point. A long delay can cause expiration of the TCP RTO timer at the sender's side and then force TCP into slow-start. On the other hand, if the long delay is experienced on the ACK path, it could cause the so-called "ACK compression", which will disturb the synchronization between the TCP sender and the TCP receiver. Multiple compressed ACKs if passing through the wireless access point all together can clock-out the same amount of large packets from the TCP sender and all of them may arrive at the wireless bottleneck in a short time and further worsen the congestion there. Therefore, traffic shaping should be seriously considered on a WISP in order to avoid these possible performance impacts.


Most companies with remote offices are now connected via a Wide area network (WAN). Applications tend to become centrally hosted at the head office and remote offices are expected to pull data from central databases and server farms. As applications become more hungry in terms of bandwidth and prices of dedicated circuits being relatively high in most areas of the world, instead of increasing the size of their WAN circuits, companies feel the need to properly manage their circuits to make sure business-oriented traffic gets priority over best-effort traffic. Traffic shaping is thus a good means for companies to avoid purchasing additional bandwidth while properly managing these resources.

Alternatives to traffic shaping in this regards are application acceleration and WAN optimization and compression, which are fundamentally different from traffic shaping. Traffic shaping defines bandwidth rules whereas application acceleration using multiple techniques like a TCP Performance Enhancing Proxy. WAN optimization and compression (WOC) on the other hand would use compression and differential algorithms and techniques to compress data streams or send only differences in file updates. The latter is quite effective for chatty protocols like CIFS.

Traffic shaping detectionEdit

There are several methods to detect and measure traffic shaping. Some well-known methods include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ IETF RFC 2475 "An Architecture for Differentiated Services" section - Internet standard definition of "Shaper"
  2. ^ ITU-T Recommendation I.371: Traffic control and congestion control in B-ISDN Section 7.2.7 defines traffic shaping as a traffic control mechanism which "alters the traffic characteristics of a stream of cells on a VCC or a VPC to achieve a desired modification of those traffic characteristics, in order to achieve better network efficiency whilst meeting the QoS objectives or to ensure conformance at a subsequent interface. ... Shaping modifies traffic characteristics of a cell flow with the consequence of increasing the mean cell transfer delay."
  3. ^ "Cisco Tech Notes: Comparing Traffic Policing and Traffic Shaping for Bandwidth Limiting. Document ID: 19645". Cisco Systems. Aug 10, 2005. Retrieved 2014-03-08. Graphs illustrate differences in typical output
  4. ^ "Detecting BitTorrent Blocking" (PDF). ACM Internet Measurement Conference 2008. October 2008. doi:10.1145/1452520.1452523. ISBN 978-1-60558-334-1.
  5. ^ Ascertaining the Reality of Network Neutrality Violation in Backbone ISPs, ACM HotNets 2008
  6. ^ IEEE INFOCOM 2001. Arsenic: a user-accessible gigabit Ethernet interface Pratt, I., Fraser, K., Computer Laboratory, Cambridge University; Twentieth Annual Joint Conference of the IEEE Computer and Communications Societies. Proceedings 2001 Volume 1, pages: 67-76 vol.1. Describes a gigabit Ethernet NIC with transmit traffic shaping.
  7. ^ Review of the Internet traffic management practices of Internet service providers (Telecom. Reg. Policy CRTC 2009-657) Canadian telecomms regulator CRTC ruling relating to traffic shaping usage by domestic ISPs.
  8. ^ "HOW TO BYPASS INTERNET CENSORSHIP". FLOSS Manuals. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  9. ^ M. Noormohammadpour, C. S. Raghavendra, "Datacenter Traffic Control: Understanding Techniques and Trade-offs," IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials, vol. PP, no. 99, pp. 1-1.
  10. ^ Helzer, Josh; Xu, Lisong (2009-02-27), Congestion Control for Multimedia Streaming with Self-Limiting Sources (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-27
  11. ^ Venkataramani, Arun; Kokku, Ravi; Dahlin, Mike. "TCP Nice: Self-tuning Network Support for Background Applications". CiteSeerX Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ ATM Forum Traffic Management Specification, Version 4.0 Approved Specification 0056.00, Section 5.5, Traffic Shaping
  13. ^ CNet: Is Comcast's BitTorrent filtering violating the law? Analysis of Comcast's impersonation techniques for limiting BitTorrent usage.
  • "Deploying IP and MPLS QoS for Multiservice Networks: Theory and Practice" by John Evans, Clarence Filsfils (Morgan Kaufmann, 2007, ISBN 0-12-370549-5)
  • "Peer-to-Peer File Sharing: The Impact of File Sharing on Service Provider Networks", Sandvine Incorporated, copyright 2002

External linksEdit