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Mobile Networks RFCs & Standards

SCTP Multihoming

A look at SCTP multi-homing in practice.

One of the key advantages of SCTP over TCP is the support for Multihoming,

From an application perspective, this enables one “socket”, to be shared across multiple IP Addresses, allowing multiple IP paths and physical NICs.

Through multihoming we can protect against failures in IP Routing and physical links, from a transport layer protocol.

So let’s take a look at how this actually works,

For starters there’s a few ways multihoming can be implemented, ideally we have multiple IPs on both ends (“client” and “server”), but this isn’t always achievable, so SCTP supports partial multi-homing, where for example the client has only one IP but can contact the server on multiple IP Addresses, and visa-versa.

The below image (Courtesy of Wikimedia) shows the ideal scenario, where both the client and the server have multiple IPs they can be reached on.

Arkrishna, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

This would mean a failure of any one of the IP Addresses or the routing between them, would see the other secondary IP Addresses used for Transport, and the application not even necessarily aware of the interruption to the primary IP Path.

The Process

For starters, our SCTP Client/Server will each need to be aware of the IPs that can be used,

This is advertised in the INIT message, sent by the “client” to a “server” when the SCTP session is established.

SCTP INIT sent by the client at 10.0.1.185, but advertising two IPs

In the above screenshot we can see the two IPs for SCTP to use, the primary IP is the first one (10.0.1.185) and also the from IP, and there is just one additional IP (10.0.1.187) although there could be more.

In a production environment you’d want to ensure each of your IPs is in a different subnet, with different paths, hardware and routes.

So the INIT is then responded to by the client with an INIT_ACK, and this time the server advertises it’s IP addresses, the primary IP is the From IP address (10.0.1.252) and there is just one additional IP of 10.0.1.99,

SCTP INIT ACK showing Server’s Multi-homed IP Options

It’s worth noting that according to RFC 4960 Multi-homing is Optional and so is the IP Address Header, if it’s not advertised the sender is single-homed.

Next up we have the cookie exchange, which is used to protect against synchronization attacks, and then our SCTP session is up.

So what happens at this point? How do we know if a path is up and working?

Well the answer is heartbeat messages,

Sent from each of the IPs on the client to each of the IPs on the server, to make sure that there’s a path from every IP, to every other IP.

SCTP Heartbeats from each local IP to each remote IP

This means the SCTP stacks knows if a path fails, for example if the route to IP 10.0.1.252 on the server were to fail, the SCTP stack knows it has another option, 10.0.1.99, which it’s been monitoring.

So that’s multi-homed SCTP in action – While a lot of work has historically been done with LACP for aggregating multiple NICs together, and VRRP for ensuring a host is alive, SCTP handles this in a clean and efficient way.

I’ve attached a PCAP showing multi-homing on a Diameter S6a (HSS) interface between an MME and a HSS.

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