Sep 282014

Buried deep within the network stacks of all major operating systems there are two TCP extensions called Nagle’s Algorithm and Delayed ACKs. Both aim to relieve the pressure on networks (read: the Internet) by changing the way TCP acknowledgements work. This article focuses on the quirks that occur on OS X while doing real-time video editing.

Before we start it is important to note that these extensions are very important and should NOT be disabled:

Please note that while, in certain cases, the current Nagle algorithm can
have a negative performance impact for certain applications, turning OFF the
Nagle algorithm can have a very serious negative impact on the internet. ~Greg Minshall on the ietf-discuss w3.orf mailing list

Furthermore the source of most Nagle’s Algorithm related problems has already been fixed several years ago. Please check out Rolande’s blog [1,2] and the article “TCP Performance problems caused by interaction between Nagle’s Algorithm and Delayed ACK” by Stuart Cheshire for useful background information.

This post is based on problems reported by some of our flow:rage customers using OS X and 10Gbit Ethernet. They reported things like dropped frames in Final Cut Pro 7 or increased render times within Adobe Media Encoder. These issues were sometimes easily reproducible (like encoding a file twice) and sometimes they appeared and disappeared at will. They were caused by the read performance over the network dropping to only a few MBps – writes were not affected and still performed as expected. The graph below illustrates the observed performance drop:


To fix the performance issue it was necessary to disable Nagle’s Algorithm and to switch Delayed ACK to it’s compatibility mode. To do so I used the following Terminal command based on the documentation found in this post. As this is only a temporary change you still have to edit /etc/sysctl.conf for a permanent solution as explained in SmallTree’s KB.

sudo sysctl -w net.inet.tcp.delayed_ack=2

I invested quite a lot of my time in researching and writing down all of this information. I hope this post helps people to understand what Nagle’s Algorithm and Delayed ACKs are used for and that they are generally very important and useful extensions. However there are always exceptions and in this case it looks like 10Gbit Ethernet on OS X is one of those …

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