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Understanding Path MTU Messages for IPv6 Packets

This topics describes path maximum transmission unit (MTU) and explains how the flow module for SRX Series devices processes and uses path MTU messages.

Every link has an MTU size that specifies the size of the largest packet the link can transmit. A larger MTU size means that fewer packets are required to transmit a certain amount of data. To achieve the best data transmission performance, IPv6 data packets sent from one node (the source) to another node (the destination) should be the largest possible size that can traverse the path between the nodes. (Larger and fewer packets constrain the cost of packet header processing and routing processes that can affect transmission performance.)

However, for a packet to successfully traverse the path from the source node to the destination node, the MTU size of the source node interface must be no larger than that of the smallest MTU size of all nodes on the path between the source and destination. This value is referred to as the path maximum transmission unit (path MTU). If a packet is larger than a link’s MTU size, it is likely that the link will drop it. For IPv6, an intermediate node cannot fragment a packet.

IPv6 defines a standard mechanism called path MTU discovery that a source node can use to learn the path MTU of a path that a packet is likely to traverse. If any of the packets sent on that path are too large to be forwarded by a node along the path, that node discards the packet and returns an ICMPv6 Packet Too Big message. The source node can then adjust the MTU size to be smaller than that of the node that dropped it and sent the ICMPv6 message, and then retransmit the packet. A source node might receive Packet Too Big messages repeatedly until its packet traverses all nodes along the path successfully.


On all SRX Series devices, the Routing Engine cannot detect the path MTU of an IPv6 multicast address (with a large size packet).

After the path MTU size is determined and the appropriate MTU size is set, an outgoing packet might be routed along a different path with a node whose link MTU size is smaller than the path MTU size determined previously. In this case, the flow module engages the path MTU discovery process again.

When the flow module receives an ICMP Packet Too Big message with a destination address that belongs to it, it:

  • Checks to determine if the embedded 5-tuple data of the packet is for a tunnel interface. (That is, it checks to determine if the embedded 5-tuple data matches a tunnel session.) If there is a match, the flow module updates the tunnel interface’s MTU size. Then it performs post-fragment processing for the encrypted packets that follow the first packet. Afterward, the flow module delivers the packet to the ICMPv6 stack on the Routing Engine (RE) for it to continue processing it.

  • If the packet is a transit one, the flow module searches for a session that matches the packet’s embedded 5-tuple data. It is finds a matching session, it delivers the packet to it. If there is no matching session, it drops the packet.

When the flow module receives a packet, before it transmits it to the egress interface, it checks to determine if the MTU size of the egress interface is greater than the packet length.

  • If the MTU size is greater than the packet length, it continues to process the packet.

  • If the MTU size is less than the packet length, it drops the packet and sends an ICMPv6 Packet Too Big message to the source node.


When chassis cluster is configured and the path MTU updates the MTU of the tunnel interface, the flow module does not synchronize the new MTU to peer nodes. The MTU size might be updated again by a larger packet on a peer node, which has no impact on packet transmission.