Understanding Internet Control Message Protocol
Although IP is only a best-effort protocol, the TCP/IP suite does provide for messages to be sent in the event of certain errors. These messages are sent using the services of ICMP. The purpose of these messages is to provide feedback about issues related to the processing of IP packets under certain conditions, not to make IP reliable. ICMP messages are not required and are often not allowed within a network for security reasons.
ICMP is available for both IPv4 and IPv6. ICMPv4 is the messaging protocol for IPv4. ICMPv6 provides these same services for IPv6 but includes additional functionality. In this course, the term ICMP will be used when referring to both ICMPv4 and ICMPv6.
The types of ICMP messages and the reasons why they are sent are extensive. We will discuss some of the more common messages.
ICMP messages common to both ICMPv4 and ICMPv6 include:
- Host confirmation
- Destination or Service Unreachable
- Time exceeded
- Route redirection
An ICMP Echo Message can be used to determine if a host is operational. The local host sends an ICMP Echo Request to a host. If the host is available, the destination host responds with an Echo Reply. Click Play in the figure to see an animation of the ICMP Echo Request/Echo Reply. This use of the ICMP Echo messages is the basis of the ping utility.
animation of host 1 sending a ping ICMP echo request to host 2 and the ICMP echo reply from host 2 back to host 1
Destination or Service Unreachable
When a host or gateway receives a packet that it cannot deliver, it can use an ICMP Destination Unreachable message to notify the source that the destination or service is unreachable. The message will include a code that indicates why the packet could not be delivered.
These are some of the Destination Unreachable codes for ICMPv4:
- 0 – Net unreachable
- 1 – Host unreachable
- 2 – Protocol unreachable
- 3 – Port unreachable
Note: ICMPv6 has similar but slightly different codes for Destination Unreachable messages.
An ICMPv4 Time Exceeded message is used by a router to indicate that a packet cannot be forwarded because the Time to Live (TTL) field of the packet was decremented to 0. If a router receives a packet and decrements the TTL field in the IPv4 packet to zero, it discards the packet and sends a Time Exceeded message to the source host.
ICMPv6 also sends a Time Exceeded message if the router cannot forward an IPv6 packet because the packet has expired. IPv6 does not have a TTL field. It uses the hop limit field to determine if the packet has expired.
ICMPv6 RS and RA Messages
The informational and error messages found in ICMPv6 are very similar to the control and error messages implemented by ICMPv4. However, ICMPv6 has new features and improved functionality not found in ICMPv4. ICMPv6 messages are encapsulated in IPv6.
ICMPv6 includes four new protocols as part of the Neighbor Discovery Protocol (ND or NDP).
Messaging between an IPv6 router and an IPv6 device:
- Router Solicitation (RS) message
- Router Advertisement (RA) message
Messaging between IPv6 devices:
- Neighbour Solicitation (NS) message
- Neighbour Advertisement (NA) message
- RA messages are sent by routers to provide addressing information to hosts using Stateless Address Autoconfiguration (SLAAC). The RA message can include addressing information for the host such as the prefix, prefix length, DNS address, and domain name. A router will send an RA message periodically or in response to an RS message. A host using SLAAC will set its default gateway to the link-local address of the router that sent the RA.
- When a host is configured to obtain its addressing information automatically using SLAAC, the host will send an RS message to the router requesting an RA message.
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