THE CATENET MODEL FOR
The Catenet Model for Internetworking
The term "catenet" was introduced by L. Pouzin in 1974 in his
early paper on packet network interconnection . The U.S.
DARPA research project on this subject has adopted the term to
mean roughly "the collection of packet networks which are
connected together." This is, however, not a sufficiently
explicit definition to determine, for instance, whether a new
network is in conformance with the rules for network
interconnection which make the catenet function as confederation
of co-operating networks. This paper attempts to define the
objectives and limitations of the ARPA-internetworking project
and to make explicit the catenet model on which the
internetworking strategy is based.
The basic objective of this project is to establish a model and a
set of rules which will allow data networks of widely varying
internal operation to be interconnected, permitting users to
access remote resources and to permit intercomputer communication
across the connected networks.
One motivation for this objective is to permit the internal
technology of a data network to be optimized for local operation
but also permit these locally optimized nets to be readily
interconnected into an organized catenet. The term "local" is
used in a loose sense, here, since it means "peculiar to the
particular network" rather than "a network of limited geographic
extent." A satellite-based network such as the ARPA packet
satellite network therefore has "local" characteristics (e.g.,
broadcast operation) even though it spans many thousands of
square miles geographically speaking.
A second motivation is to allow new networking technology to be
introduced into the existing catenet while remaining functionally
compatible with existing systems. This allows for the phased
introduction of new and obsolescence of old networks without
requiring a global simultaneous change.
One of the first questions which must be settled in a project of
this sort is "what types of data networks should be included in
the catenet model?" The answer to this question is rooted in the
basic functionality of each candidate network. Each network is
assumed to support the attachment of a collection of programmable
computers. Our essential assumption is that any participating
data network can carry a datagram containing no less than 1000
bits of data not including a local network header containing
local control information. Furthermore, it is assumed that the
participating network allows switched access so that any source
computer can quickly enter datagrams for successive and different
destination computers with little or no delay (i.e., on the order
of tens of milliseconds or less switching time).
Under these assumptions, we can readily include networks which
offer "datagram" interfaces to subscribing host computers. That
is, the switching is done by the network based on a destination
address contained in each datagram passing across the host to
The assumptions do not rule our virtual circuit interface
networks, nor do they rule out very fast digital circuit
switching networks. In these cases, the important functionality
is still that a datagram can be carried over a real or virtual
circuit from source to destination computer, and that the
switching delay is below a few tens of milliseconds.
An important administrative assumption is that the format of an
internet datagram can be commonly agreed, along with a common
internet addressing plan. The basic assumption regarding
datagram transport within any particular network is that the
datagram will be carried, embedded in one or more packets, or
frames, across the network. If fragmentation and reassembly of
datagrams occurs within a network it is invisible for purposes of
the catenet model. Provision is also made in the datagram format
for the fragmentation of datagrams into smaller, but identically
structured datagrams which can be carried independently across
any particular network. No a priori position is taken regarding
the choice between internal (invisible) fragmentation and
reassembly or external (visible) fragmentation. This is left to
each network to decide. We will return to the topic of datagram
format and addressing later.
It is very important to note that it is explicitly assumed that
datagrams are not necessarily kept in the same sequence on
exiting a network as when they entered. Furthermore, it is
assumed that datagrams may be lost or even duplicated within the
network. It is left up to higher level protocols in the catenet
model to recover from any problems these assumptions may
introduce. These assumptions do not rule out data networks which
happen to keep datagrams in sequence.
It is also assumed that networks are interconnected to each other
by means of a logical "gateway." As the definition of the
gateway concept unfolds, we will see that certain types of
network interconnections are "invisible" with respect to the
catenet model. All gateways which are visible to the catenet
model have the characteristic that they can interpret the address
fields of internet datagrams so as to route them to other
gateways or to destinations within the networks directly attached
to (or associated with) the gateway. To send a datagram to a
destination, a gateway may have to map an internet address into a
local network address and embed the datagram in one or more local
network packets before injecting it into the local network for
The set of catenet gateways are assumed to exchange with each
other at least a certain minimum amount of information to enable
routing decisions to be made, to isolate failures and identify
errors, and to exercise internet flow and congestion control.
Furthermore, it is assumed that each catenet gateway can report a
certain minimum amount of status information to an internetwork
monitoring center for the purpose of identifying and isolating
catenet failures, collecting minimal performance statistics and
A subset of catenet gateways may provide access control
enforcement services. It is assumed that a common access control
enforcement mechanism is present in any catenet gateway which
provides this service. This does not rule out local access
control imposed by a particular network. But to provide globally
consistent access control, commonality of mechanism is essential.
Access control is defined, at the catenet gateway, to mean
"permitting traffic to enter or leave a particular network." The
criteria by which entrance and exit permission are decided are
the responsibility of network "access controllers" which
establish access control policy. it is assumed that catenet
gateways simply enforce the policy of the access controllers.
The Catenet Model
It is now possible to offer a basic catenet model of operation.
Figure 1 illustrates the main components of the model. Hosts are
computers which are attached to data networks. The host/network
interfaces are assumed to be unique to each network. Thus, no
assumptions about common network interfaces are made. A host may
be connected to more than one network and it may have more than
one connection to the same network, for reliability.
Gateways are shown as if they were composed of two or more
"halves." Each half-gateway has two interfaces:
1. A interface to a local network.
2. An interface to another gateway-half.
One example is given of a gateway with three "halves" connecting
networks A, B, and C. For modelling purposes, it is appropriate
to treat this case as three pairs of gateway halves, each pair
bilaterally joining a pair of networks.
The model does not rule out the implementation of monolithic
gateways joining two or more nets, but all gateway functions and
interactions are defined as if the gateways consisted of halves,
each of which is associated with a specific network.
A very important aspect of this model is that no a priori
distinction is made between a host/network interface and a
gateway/network interface. Such distinctions are not ruled out,
but they are not relevant to the basic catenet model.
As a consequence, the difference between a host which is
connected to two networks and a monolithic gateway between
networks is entirely a matter of whether table entries in other
gateways identify the host as a gateway, and whether the standard
gateway functionality exists in the host. If no other gateway or
host recognizes the dual net host as a gateway or if the host
cannot pass datagrams transparently from one net to the next,
then it is not considered a catenet gateway.
The model does not rule out the possibility of implementing a
gateway-half entirely as part of a network switching node (e.g.,
as software in an ARPANET IMP). The important aspect of
gateway-halves is the procedure and protocol by which the
half-gateways exchange datagrams and control information.
The physical interface between directly connected gateway halves
is of no special importance. For monolithic gateways, it is
typically shared memory or an interprocess communication
mechanism of some kind; for distinct gateway halves, it might be
HDLC, VDH, any other line control procedure, or inter-computer
No explicit network hierarchy is assumed in this model. Every
network is known to all catenet gateways and each catenet gateway
knows how to route internet datagrams so they will eventually
reach a gateway connected to the destination network.
The absence of an explicit hierarchical structure means that some
network substructures may be hidden from the view of the catenet
gateways. If a network is composed of a hierarchy of internal
networks connected together with gateways, these "hidden
gateways" will not be visible to the catenet gateways unless the
internal networks are assigned global network addresses and their
interconnecting gateways co-operate in the global routing and
network flow control procedures.
Figure 2 illustrates a simple network hierarchy. For purposes
of, identification, the three catenet gateways have been labelled
G(AX), G(BX) and G(CX) to indicate that these gateways join
networks A and X, B and X and C and X, respectively. Only G(AX),
G(BX) , and G(CX) are considered catenet gateways. Thus they
each are aware of networks A, B, C and X and they each exchange
routing and flow-control information in a uniform way between
directly connected halves.
Network X is composed of three internal networks labelled u, v
and w. To distinguish them from the catenet gateways, the
"hidden gateways" of net X are labelled HG(nm) where "nm"
indicate which nets the hidden gateways join. For example,
HG(vw) joins nets v and w. The notation for HG is symmetric,
Gateways G(AX), G(BX), G(CX) exchange connectivity and other flow
control information among themselves, via network X. To do this,
each gateway half must know an address, local to network X, which
will allow network X to route datagrams from G(AX) to G(BX), for
From the figure, it is plain that G(BX) is really a host on
network B and network v. But network v is not one of the
globally recognized networks. Furthermore, traffic from G(AX) to
G(BX) may travel from net u to net v or via nets u and w to net
v. To maintain the fiction of a uniform network X, the gateway
halves of G(AX), G(BX) and G(CX) attached to net X must be aware
of the appropriate address strings to use to cause traffic to be
routed to each catenet gateway on net X. In the next section, we
outline a basic internet addressing philosophy which permits such
configurations to work.
Another element of the catenet model is a "local gateway"
associated with each host. The local gateway is capable of
reassembling fragmented internet datagrams, if necessary, and is
responsible for encapsulation of internet datagrams in local
network packets. The local gateway also selects internet
gateways through which to route internet traffic, and responds to
routing and flow control advice from the local network and
attached catenet gateways.
For example, a local gateway might encapsulate and send an
internet datagram to a particular gateway on its way to a distant
network. The catenet gateway might forward the packet to another
gateway and send an advisory message to the local gateway
recommending a change in its catenet gateway routing table.
Local gateways do not participate in the general routing
algorithm executed among the catenet gateways.
The basic internet datagram format is shown in Figure 3. By
assumption, every network in the catenet which is recognized by
the catenet gateways has a unique network number. Every host in
each network is identified by a 24 bit address which is prefixed
by the network number. The same host may have several addresses
depending on how many nets it is connected to or how many network
access lines connect it to a particular network.
For the present, it is assumed that internet addresses have the
form: Net.Host. "Net" is an 8 bit network number. "Host" is a
24 bit string identifying a host on the "Net," which can be
understood by catenet and possibly hidden gateways.
The catenet gateways maintain tables which allow internet
addresses to be mapped into local net addresses. Local gateways
do likewise, at least to the extent of mapping an
"out-of-network" address into the local net address of a catenet
In general, catenet gateways maintain a table entry for each
"Net" which indicates to which gateway(s) datagrams destined for
that net should be sent. For each "Net" to which the gateway is
attached, the gateway maintains tables, if necessary, to permit
mapping from internet host addresses to local net host addresses.
The typical case is that a gateway half is connected to only one
network and therefore only needs to maintain local address
information for a single network.
It is assumed that each network has its own locally specific
addressing conventions. To simplify the translation from
internet address to local address, it is advantageous, if
possible, to simply concatenate a network identifier with the
local "host" addresses to create an internet address. This
strategy makes it potentially trivial to translate from internet
to local net addresses.
More elaborate translations are possible. For example, in the
case of a network with a "hidden" infrastructure, the "host"
portion of the internet address could include additional
structure which is understood only by catenet or hidden gateways
attached to that net.
In order to limit the overhead of address fields in the header,
it was decided to restrict the maximum length of the host portion
of the internet address to 24 bits. The possibility of true,
variable-length addressing was seriously considered. At one
point, it appeared that addresses might be as long as 120 bits
each for source and destination. The overhead in the higher
level protocols for maintaining tables capable of dealing with
the maximum possible address sizes was considered excessive.
For all the networks presently expected to be a part of the
experiment, 24 bit host addresses are sufficient, even in cases
where a transformation other than the trivial concatenation of
local host address with network address is needed to form the 32
bit internet host address.
One of the major arguments in favor of variable length
"addressing" is to support what is called "source-routing." The
structure of the information in the "address" really identifies a
route (e.g., through a particular sequence of networks and
gateways). Such a capability could support ad hoc network
interconnections in which a host on two nets could serve as a
private gateway. Though it would not participate in catenet
routing or flow control procedures, any host which knows of this
private gateway could send "source-routed" internet datagrams to
To support experiments with source routing, the internet datagram
includes a special option which allows a source to specify a
route. The option format is illustrated in Figure 4. The option
code identifies the option and the length determines its extent.
The pointer field indicates which intermediate destination
address should be reached next in the source-selected route.
Source routing can be used to allow ad hoc network
interconnections to occur before a new net has been assigned a
global network identifier.
In general, catenet gateways can only interpret internet
addresses of the form Net.Host. Private gateways could interpret
other, local addresses for desired destinations. If a source
knew the local addresses of each intermediate private gateway, it
could construct a source-route which is the concatenation of the
local addresses of each intermediate host.
Local and internet addresses could be inter-mixed in a single
source route as long as catenet gateways only had to interpret
full internet addresses when the source-routed datagram appeared
for servicing. Private gateways could interpret local and
internet addresses, as desired.
Since the source or destination of a source-routed datagram may
not have an internet address, it may be necessary to provide a
return route for replies. This might be done by modifying the
content of the original route to contain "back Pointer" to
intermediate destinations. Note that the local address of a
private gateway in one network is usually different from its
local address in the adjacent network.
Typically, a source would create a route which contains first the
internet address of the host or gateway nearest to the desired
destination. The next address in the route would be the local
address of the destination. Figure 5 illustrates this notion.
Host A.a wants to communicate with host Z. But Z is not attached
to a formally recognized network.
To achieve its goal, host A.a can emit source-routed packets with
the route: "B.y, Z." B.y identifies the host (private gateway)
between net B and the new network as the first intermediate stop.
The private gateway uses the "Z" information to deliver the
datagram to the destination. When the datagram arrives, its
route should contain "y,A.a" if the private gateway knows how to
interpret A.a or "y, W, A.a" if the private gateway only knows
about addresses local to network B.
The catenet model should provide for error messages originating
within a network to be carried usefully back to the source. A
global encoding of error messages or status messages is needed.
It is assumed that the gateway halves of a given network have a
common status reporting, flow and congestion control mechanism.
However, the halves on different nets may operate differently.
There should be a defined interface between gateway halves which
permits internet flow, congestion and error control to be
A gateway monitoring center  is postulated which can collect,
correlate and display current gateway status. Such a center
should not be required for the internet protocols to function,
but could be used to manage an internet environment.
Accounting, accountability and access control procedures should
be defined for the global catenet.
1. Pouzin, L., "A Proposal for Interconnecting Packet Switching
Networks," Proceedings of EUROCOMP, Bronel University, May 1974,
2. Postel, J. "Internetwork Datagram Protocol Specification,"
Version 4, Internetwork Experiment Note No. 41, Section 18.104.22.168,
Internet Experiment Notebook, June 1978.
3. Davidson, John, "CATENET MONITORING AND CONTROL: A model for
the Gateway Component," IEN #32, Section 22.214.171.124, Internet
Notebook, April 1978.
NOTE: The figures are not included in the online version. They
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