8.6. Link Control Options

We already encountered the Link Control Protocol (LCP), which is used to negotiate link characteristics and test the link.

The two most important options negotiated by LCP are the Asynchronous Control Character Map and the Maximum Receive Unit. There are a number of other LCP configuration options, but they are far too specialized to discuss here.

The Asynchronous Control Character Map, colloquially called the async map, is used on asynchronous links, such as telephone lines, to identify control characters that must be escaped (replaced by a specific two-character sequence) to avoid them being interpreted by equipment used to establish the link. For instance, you may want to avoid the XON and XOFF characters used for software handshake because a misconfigured modem might choke upon receipt of an XOFF. Other candidates include Ctrl-l (the telnet escape character). PPP allows you to escape any of the characters with ASCII codes 0 through 31 by specifying them in the async map.

The async map is a 32-bit-wide bitmap expressed in hexadecimal. The least significant bit corresponds to the ASCII NULL character, and the most significant bit corresponds to ASCII 31 decimal. These 32 ASCII characters are the control characters. If a bit is set in the bitmap, it signals that the corresponding character must be escaped before it is transmitted across the link.

To tell your peer that it doesn't have to escape all control characters, but only a few of them, you can specify an async map to pppd using the asyncmap option. For example, if only ^S and ^Q (ASCII 17 and 19, commonly used for XON and XOFF) must be escaped, use the following option:

asyncmap 0x000A0000

The conversion is simple as long as you can convert binary to hex. Lay out 32 bits in front of you. The right-most bit corresponds to ASCII 00 (NULL), and the left-most bit corresponds to ASCII 32 decimal. Set the bits corresponding to the characters you want escaped to one, and all others to zero. To convert that into the hexadecimal number pppd expects, simply take each set of 4 bits and convert them into hex. You should end up with eight hexadecimal figures. String them all together and preprend “0x” to signify it is a hexadecimal number, and you are done.

Initially, the async map is set to 0xffffffff—that is, all control characters will be escaped. This is a safe default, but is usually much more than you need. Each character that appears in the async map results in two characters being transmitted across the link, so escaping comes at the cost of increased link utilization and a corresponding performance reduction.

In most circumstances, an async map of 0x0 works fine. No escaping is performed.

The Maximum Receive Unit (MRU), signals to the peer the maximum size of HDLC frames we want to receive. Although this may remind you of the Maximum Transfer Unit (MTU) value, these two have little in common. The MTU is a parameter of the kernel networking device and describes the maximum frame size the interface is able to transmit. The MRU is more of an advice to the remote end not to generate frames larger than the MRU; the interface must nevertheless be able to receive frames of up to 1,500 bytes.

Choosing an MRU is therefore not so much a question of what the link is capable of transferring, but of what gives you the best throughput. If you intend to run interactive applications over the link, setting the MRU to values as low as 296 is a good idea, so that an occasional larger packet (say, from an FTP session) doesn't make your cursor “jump.” To tell pppd to request an MRU of 296, you give it the option mru 296. Small MRUs, however, make sense only if you have VJ header compression (it is enabled by default), because otherwise you'd waste a large amount of your bandwidth just carrying the IP header for each datagram.

pppd also understands a couple of LCP options that configure the overall behavior of the negotiation process, such as the maximum number of configuration requests that may be exchanged before the link is terminated. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, you should leave these options alone.

Finally, there are two options that apply to LCP echo messages. PPP defines two messages, Echo Request and Echo Response. pppd uses this feature to check if a link is still operating. You can enable this by using the lcp-echo-interval option together with a time in seconds. If no frames are received from the remote host within this interval, pppd generates an Echo Request and expects the peer to return an Echo Response. If the peer does not produce a response, the link is terminated after a certain number of requests are sent. This number can be set using the lcp-echo-failure option. By default, this feature is disabled altogether.