[TUHS] CRC calculation in the 1980s

Paul Ruizendaal pnr at planet.nl
Wed Sep 20 02:00:40 AEST 2023

> On 19 Sep 2023, at 13:42, Noel Chiappa <jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu> wrote:
>> From: Paul Ruizendaal
>> Any suggestions as to why the on-the-fly algorithm did not catch on
>> more in the 1980's? Maybe it was simply less well known than I think?
> I can't answer that directly, but I will point you at IEN-56, "CRC Checksum
> Calculation", by Dave Reed (11-Sep-78):
>    https://www.rfc-editor.org/ien/ien56.pdf
> Dave wanted the INWG to use a more powerful (in terms of detecting errors)
> CRC, instead of the simple summation eventually adopted, in TCP and IP. So he
> produced code to implement a particular CRC, to show people that it would not
> be particularly expensive (whether in time, or space, I don't alas recall
> definitively; speed would have been an important consideration, when
> competing with the summation, though).
> This would have been close to the leading edge of our knowledge at the time;
> Dave liked playing around with math, and at about that time he did a very
> fast DES implementation.
> 	Noel

That is a very interesting paper and it uses the same polynomial. The algorithm seems different from the one that Perez published in 1983, but in the same general direction. So it would seem that this “on-the-fly” method was not (well) known prior to 1983. By the looks of it, it was not well known afterwards either.

You were part of the group that invented it and I’m telling you stuff you know better than I do, but the adopted summation in TCP/IP had a lot of advantages: it could be efficiently calculated on 36, 32 and 16 bit machines, it did not care about endianness and was efficient on both two’s and one’s complement machines. I don’t think CRC had all those properties.

I don’t think in 1978 the IEN group was aiming for the LAN use case, but as it turned out a few years later the simple summation consumed 25% of a VAX-750 CPU to saturate 3 Mbps ethernet. Even a 30% slowdown in checksumming would have been costly -- but you already pointed out that speed was an important consideration.

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