In this chapter we take a general look at how to build reliable data-transport layers on top of unreliable lower layers. This is achieved through a retransmit-on-timeout policy; that is, if a packet is transmitted and there is no acknowledgment received during the timeout interval then the packet is resent. As a class, protocols where one side implements retransmit-on-timeout are known as ARQ protocols, for Automatic Repeat reQuest.
In addition to reliability, we also want to keep as many packets in transit as the network can support. The strategy used to achieve this is known as sliding windows. It turns out that the sliding-windows algorithm is also the key to managing congestion; we return to this in 13 TCP Reno and Congestion Management.
The End-to-End principle, 12.1 The End-to-End Principle, suggests that trying to achieve a reliable transport layer by building reliability into a lower layer is a misguided approach; that is, implementing reliability at the endpoints of a connection – as is described here – is in fact the correct mechanism.