Exponential backoff is an algorithm that uses feedback to multiplicatively decrease the rate of some process, in order to gradually find an acceptable rate.
Binary exponential backoff / truncated exponential backoff
In a variety of computer networks, binary exponential backoff or truncated binary exponential backoff refers to an algorithm used to space out repeated retransmissions of the same block of data, often as part of network congestion avoidance.
Examples are the retransmission of frames in carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance (CSMA/CA) and carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) networks, where this algorithm is part of the channel access method used to send data on these network. In Ethernet networks, the algorithm is commonly used to schedule retransmissions after collisions. The retransmission is delayed by an amount of time derived from the slot time and the number of attempts to retransmit.
After c collisions, a random number of slot times between 0 and 2c - 1 is chosen. For the first collision, each sender will wait 0 or 1 slot times. After the second collision, the senders will wait anywhere from 0 to 3 slot times (inclusive). After the third collision, the senders will wait anywhere from 0 to 7 slot times (inclusive), and so forth. As the number of retransmission attempts increases, the number of possibilities for delay increases exponentially.
The 'truncated' simply means that after a certain number of increases, the exponentiation stops; i.e. the retransmission timeout reaches a ceiling, and thereafter does not increase any further. For example, if the ceiling is set at i = 10 (as it is in the IEEE 802.3 CSMA/CD standard), then the maximum delay is 1023 slot times.
Because these delays cause other stations that are sending to collide as well, there is a possibility that, on a busy network, hundreds of people may be caught in a single collision set. Because of this possibility, after 16 attempts at transmission, the process is aborted.
An example of an exponential backoff algorithm
This example is from the Ethernet protocol, where a sending host is able to know when a collision has occurred (that is, another host has tried to transmit), when it is sending a frame. If both hosts attempted to retransmit as soon as a collision occurred, there would be yet another collision — and the pattern would continue forever. The hosts must choose a random value within an acceptable range to ensure that this situation doesn't happen. An exponential backoff algorithm is therefore used. The figure 51.2μs has been given here as an example. However, 51.2μs could be replaced by any positive value, in practice.
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