What is bit stuffing in computer networks?


Bit stuffing is the mechanism of inserting one or more non-information bits into a message to be transmitted, to break up the message sequence, for synchronization purpose.

Purpose of Bit Stuffing

In Data Link layer, the stream of bits from the physical layer is divided into data frames. The data frames can be of fixed length or variable length. In variable - length framing, the size of each frame to be transmitted may be different. So, a pattern of bits is used as a delimiter to mark the end of one frame and the beginning of the next frame. However, if the pattern occurs in the message, then mechanisms needs to be incorporated so that this situation is avoided.

The two common approaches are −

  • Byte - Stuffing − A byte is stuffed in the message to differentiate from the delimiter. This is also called character-oriented framing.

  • Bit - Stuffing − A pattern of bits of arbitrary length is stuffed in the message to differentiate from the delimiter. This is also called bit - oriented framing.

Frame in a Bit - Oriented Protocol

In bit-oriented protocols, the message is coded as a sequence of bits, which are interpreted in the upper layers as text, graphics, audio, video etc. A frame has the following parts −

  • Frame Header − It contains the source and the destination addresses of the frame.

  • Payload field − It contains the message to be delivered.

  • Trailer − It contains the error detection and error correction bits.

  • Flags − A bit pattern that defines the beginning and end bits in a frame. It is generally of 8-bits. Most protocols use the 8-bit pattern 01111110 as flag.

Bit Stuffing Mechanism

In a data link frame, the delimiting flag sequence generally contains six or more consecutive 1s. In order to differentiate the message from the flag in case of the same sequence, a single bit is stuffed in the message. Whenever a 0 bit is followed by five consecutive 1bits in the message, an extra 0 bit is stuffed at the end of the five 1s.

When the receiver receives the message, it removes the stuffed 0s after each sequence of five 1s. The un-stuffed message is then sent to the upper layers.

Updated on: 27-Jun-2020

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