What is Piggybacking in Networking?

In reliable full - duplex data transmission, the technique of hooking up acknowledgments onto outgoing data frames is called piggybacking.

Why Piggybacking?

Communications are mostly full – duplex in nature, i.e. data transmission occurs in both directions. A method to achieve full – duplex communication is to consider both the communication as a pair of simplex communication. Each link comprises a forward channel for sending data and a reverse channel for sending acknowledgments.

However, in the above arrangement, traffic load doubles for each data unit that is transmitted. Half of all data transmission comprise of transmission of acknowledgments.

So, a solution that provides better utilization of bandwidth is piggybacking. Here, sending of acknowledgment is delayed until the next data frame is available for transmission. The acknowledgment is then hooked onto the outgoing data frame. The data frame consists of an ack field. The size of the ack field is only a few bits, while an acknowledgment frame comprises of several bytes. Thus, a substantial gain is obtained in reducing bandwidth requirement.

Working Principle

Suppose that there are two communication stations X and Y. The data frames transmitted have an acknowledgment field, ack field that is of a few bits length. Additionally, there are frames for sending acknowledgments, ACK frames. The purpose is to minimize the ACK frames.

The three principles governing piggybacking when the station X wants to communicate with station Y are −

  • If station X has both data and acknowledgment to send, it sends a data frame with the ack field containing the sequence number of the frame to be acknowledged.

  • If station X has only an acknowledgment to send, it waits for a finite period of time to see whether a data frame is available to be sent. If a data frame becomes available, then it piggybacks the acknowledgment with it. Otherwise, it sends an ACK frame.

  • If station X has only a data frame to send, it adds the last acknowledgment with it. The station Y discards all duplicate acknowledgments. Alternatively, station X may send the data frame with the ack field containing a bit combination denoting no acknowledgment.


The following diagram illustrates the three scenario −

karthikeya Boyini
karthikeya Boyini

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