Immortal Packets

By Mike Wessling,  May 2nd 2018

submission for NFCDAB 2018


It seems that data uploaded to the internet will never go away.  It is copied from server to server, forever creating clones and variations of the original.  

All this information travels from source to destination via the internet in the shape of packets of max 1500 bytes in size (= couple of tweets).. Each packet has the time of their death written in their headers, in the besides their destination.  

Each packet has a Time To Live counter which is set by the sender to a small number such as 64. Each time the packet reaches the next hop in its journey the counter is decreased by 1.  The counter is never incremented.  The death of the packet inevitable.

If the packet doesn’t reach its destination before its counter reaches 0 it will be killed and short epitaph is send back to the sender by the killer. (ICMP TTL expired)

The concept.

The idea is to create an part of the internet using modified routers where packets are immortal. Their TTL is reset and routed into a loop. The packets will never reach their destination and the information they carry will never be delivered.

The first concept of the work was to create a local ring of routers, connected to the internet but once the packets reach the ring they will loop forever and using an digital counter to count the times the packets went around the loop.

The second concept was to create the loop across the internet instead of on site; using 2 routers at the end of 2 internet connections. I liked the idea of the loop including the internet itself instead of a local ring which is not really part of the internet.  The local loop would be like a “packet heaven”.

The work

The final design is shown below.  It will be implemented in the next couple of weeks. The installation consists 2 modified linux routers which will send packet back and forth; each time resetting the TTL of the packets passing through. A website with a counter will count the number of times the packet has looped.  

Packets may still be killed on the internet if the packet gets dropped due to failures or congestion.. It will be interesting to see if the packet will suffer from bit rot during its lifespan.  

I don’t know what exactly the content of the packet will be. It could be the answer to life, the universe and everything.