In data networking and queueing theory, network congestion occurs when a link or node is carrying so much data that its quality of service deteriorates. Typical effects include queueing delay, packet loss or the blocking of new connections. A consequence of these latter two is that incremental increases in offered load lead either only to small increases in network throughput, or to an actual reduction in network throughput.
Network protocols which use aggressive retransmissions to compensate for packet loss tend to keep systems in a state of network congestion even after the initial load has been reduced to a level which would not normally have induced network congestion. Thus, networks using these protocols can exhibit two stable states under the same level of load. The stable state with low throughput is known as congestive collapse.
Modern networks use congestion control and congestion avoidance techniques to try to avoid congestion collapse. These include: exponential backoff in protocols such as 802.11's CSMA/CA and the original Ethernet, window reduction in TCP, and fair queueing in devices such as routers. Another method to avoid the negative effects of network congestion is implementing priority schemes, so that some packets are transmitted with higher priority than others. Priority schemes do not solve network congestion by themselves, but they help to alleviate the effects of congestion for some services. An example of this is 802.1p. A third method to avoid network congestion is the explicit allocation of network resources to specific flows. One example of this is the use of Contention-Free Transmission Opportunities (CFTXOPs) in the ITU-T G.hn standard, which provides high-speed (up to 1 Gbit/s) Local area networking over existing home wires (power lines, phone lines and coaxial cables).
RFC 2914 addresses the subject of congestion control in detail.
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