Proposal: drop QPACK encoder stream framing

Dmitri Tikhonov <dtikhonov@litespeedtech.com> Thu, 07 June 2018 15:11 UTC

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Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2018 11:11:13 -0400
From: Dmitri Tikhonov <dtikhonov@litespeedtech.com>
To: IETF QUIC WG <quic@ietf.org>
Subject: Proposal: drop QPACK encoder stream framing
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Abstract
--------

The encoder block specified in Section 3.3 of draft-ietf-quic-qpack-00
is unnecessary.  For reasons of efficiency, I propose that the framing
be removed: let the encoder instructions be written and interpreted as
a stream instead.

Background
----------

I brought this up during the first day (June 6) of the Kista Interim.
Alan explained that there are two reasons for framing the instructions
in this way on the encoder stream:

    1. Historically, some (or most) HPACK decoders have struggled with
       input that breaks in the middle of an instruction, as they do
       not maintain state.

    2. The blocks can be used as a clue to send Table State Synchronize
       instructions on the decoder stream (Section 3.4.1).

The downside to having length-prefixed blocks is that it makes it
difficult to optimize encoding by writing to the outgoing packets
directly.  One has to buffer the block, write the block length first,
and then copy the block.

Additionally, there is a potential for a deadlock (issue #1420).  Recall
that QPACK owes its current form to the fact that the WG decided to
prevent deadlocks at the compression protocol level, and not via advisory
notes to the implementers.

Reasons Behind the Block
------------------------

First, let's look at the historical HPACK chokers.

The HPACK decoder only processes HEADER blocks.  There is only one stream
and thus only one HEADER block can be processed at a time.

The QPACK decoder has to process two inputs: a) the encoder stream
and b) HEADER blocks.  There is only one encoder stream.  This stream
modifies the decoder state: the dynamic table.  The HEADER blocks do not
modify the state.

The HEADER blocks already come with a prefix length (HQ framing), and so
QPACK implementations can choose to wait until the whole HEADER block is
available.  It is processing of the encoder stream that is under
consideration.

With regards to the Table Synch signaling, the draft states that

 "                                                         A decoder MAY
 " coalesce multiple synchronization updates into a single update.

This effectively means that the encoder already should not expect to get
a one-to-one mapping between its Encoder Blocks and Table Synchs.

Working with the Encoder Stream
-------------------------------

The dynamic table instruction stream can be thought of as its own state.
Already, the QPACK decoder must be able to pause reading from streams when
a blocked HEADERS block arrives.  Similar techniques can be used to resume
reading from the encoder stream.  It should not be difficult to resume
decoding a single instruction!  While breaking with the HPACK precedent
(the hold-my-hand-I-need-buffer-size chokers), it keeps in line with the
Seattle hum that the new compression mechanism is free from its HPACK
shackles.

Conclusion
----------

Prefixing arbitrary sets of encoder instructions with a length denies
zero-copy optimization opportunities.  At the cost of some slight
complexity increase at the decoder, this framing mechanism can be
dropped.  The proposed change is limited to just this -- technically
superfluous -- piece.

  - Dmitri.

P.S.  An added bonus is some saved framing bytes on the encoder stream.
      I believe the "compression performance above everything else" is
      also the Working Group's consensus (Melbourne).