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Connections in the FIN_WAIT_2 state and Apache

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This document has not been fully updated to take into account changes made in the 2.0 version of the Apache HTTP Server. Some of the information may still be relevant, but please use it with care.

Starting with the Apache 1.2 betas, people are reporting many more connections in the FIN_WAIT_2 state (as reported by netstat) than they saw using older versions. When the server closes a TCP connection, it sends a packet with the FIN bit set to the client, which then responds with a packet with the ACK bit set. The client then sends a packet with the FIN bit set to the server, which responds with an ACK and the connection is closed. The state that the connection is in during the period between when the server gets the ACK from the client and the server gets the FIN from the client is known as FIN_WAIT_2. See the TCP RFC for the technical details of the state transitions.

The FIN_WAIT_2 state is somewhat unusual in that there is no timeout defined in the standard for it. This means that on many operating systems, a connection in the FIN_WAIT_2 state will stay around until the system is rebooted. If the system does not have a timeout and too many FIN_WAIT_2 connections build up, it can fill up the space allocated for storing information about the connections and crash the kernel. The connections in FIN_WAIT_2 do not tie up an httpd process.


Why Does It Happen?

There are numerous reasons for it happening, some of them may not yet be fully clear. What is known follows.

Buggy Clients and Persistent Connections

Several clients have a bug which pops up when dealing with persistent connections (aka keepalives). When the connection is idle and the server closes the connection (based on the KeepAliveTimeout), the client is programmed so that the client does not send back a FIN and ACK to the server. This means that the connection stays in the FIN_WAIT_2 state until one of the following happens:

If you are lucky, this means that the buggy client will fully close the connection and release the resources on your server. However, there are some cases where the socket is never fully closed, such as a dialup client disconnecting from their provider before closing the client. In addition, a client might sit idle for days without making another connection, and thus may hold its end of the socket open for days even though it has no further use for it. This is a bug in the browser or in its operating system's TCP implementation.

The clients on which this problem has been verified to exist:

This does not appear to be a problem on:

It is expected that many other clients have the same problem. What a client should do is periodically check its open socket(s) to see if they have been closed by the server, and close their side of the connection if the server has closed. This check need only occur once every few seconds, and may even be detected by a OS signal on some systems (e.g., Win95 and NT clients have this capability, but they seem to be ignoring it).

Apache cannot avoid these FIN_WAIT_2 states unless it disables persistent connections for the buggy clients, just like we recommend doing for Navigator 2.x clients due to other bugs. However, non-persistent connections increase the total number of connections needed per client and slow retrieval of an image-laden web page. Since non-persistent connections have their own resource consumptions and a short waiting period after each closure, a busy server may need persistence in order to best serve its clients.

As far as we know, the client-caused FIN_WAIT_2 problem is present for all servers that support persistent connections, including Apache 1.1.x and 1.2.

A necessary bit of code introduced in 1.2

While the above bug is a problem, it is not the whole problem. Some users have observed no FIN_WAIT_2 problems with Apache 1.1.x, but with 1.2b enough connections build up in the FIN_WAIT_2 state to crash their server. The most likely source for additional FIN_WAIT_2 states is a function called lingering_close() which was added between 1.1 and 1.2. This function is necessary for the proper handling of persistent connections and any request which includes content in the message body (e.g., PUTs and POSTs). What it does is read any data sent by the client for a certain time after the server closes the connection. The exact reasons for doing this are somewhat complicated, but involve what happens if the client is making a request at the same time the server sends a response and closes the connection. Without lingering, the client might be forced to reset its TCP input buffer before it has a chance to read the server's response, and thus understand why the connection has closed. See the appendix for more details.

The code in lingering_close() appears to cause problems for a number of factors, including the change in traffic patterns that it causes. The code has been thoroughly reviewed and we are not aware of any bugs in it. It is possible that there is some problem in the BSD TCP stack, aside from the lack of a timeout for the FIN_WAIT_2 state, exposed by the lingering_close code that causes the observed problems.


What Can I Do About it?

There are several possible workarounds to the problem, some of which work better than others.

Add a timeout for FIN_WAIT_2

The obvious workaround is to simply have a timeout for the FIN_WAIT_2 state. This is not specified by the RFC, and could be claimed to be a violation of the RFC, but it is widely recognized as being necessary. The following systems are known to have a timeout:

The following systems are known to not have a timeout:

There is a patch available for adding a timeout to the FIN_WAIT_2 state; it was originally intended for BSD/OS, but should be adaptable to most systems using BSD networking code. You need kernel source code to be able to use it.

Compile without using lingering_close()

It is possible to compile Apache 1.2 without using the lingering_close() function. This will result in that section of code being similar to that which was in 1.1. If you do this, be aware that it can cause problems with PUTs, POSTs and persistent connections, especially if the client uses pipelining. That said, it is no worse than on 1.1, and we understand that keeping your server running is quite important.

To compile without the lingering_close() function, add -DNO_LINGCLOSE to the end of the EXTRA_CFLAGS line in your Configuration file, rerun Configure and rebuild the server.

Use SO_LINGER as an alternative to lingering_close()

On most systems, there is an option called SO_LINGER that can be set with setsockopt(2). It does something very similar to lingering_close(), except that it is broken on many systems so that it causes far more problems than lingering_close. On some systems, it could possibly work better so it may be worth a try if you have no other alternatives.

To try it, add -DUSE_SO_LINGER -DNO_LINGCLOSE to the end of the EXTRA_CFLAGS line in your Configuration file, rerun Configure and rebuild the server.


Attempting to use SO_LINGER and lingering_close() at the same time is very likely to do very bad things, so don't.

Increase the amount of memory used for storing connection state

BSD based networking code:
BSD stores network data, such as connection states, in something called an mbuf. When you get so many connections that the kernel does not have enough mbufs to put them all in, your kernel will likely crash. You can reduce the effects of the problem by increasing the number of mbufs that are available; this will not prevent the problem, it will just make the server go longer before crashing.

The exact way to increase them may depend on your OS; look for some reference to the number of "mbufs" or "mbuf clusters". On many systems, this can be done by adding the line NMBCLUSTERS="n", where n is the number of mbuf clusters you want to your kernel config file and rebuilding your kernel.

Disable KeepAlive

If you are unable to do any of the above then you should, as a last resort, disable KeepAlive. Edit your httpd.conf and change "KeepAlive On" to "KeepAlive Off".



Below is a message from Roy Fielding, one of the authors of HTTP/1.1.

Why the lingering close functionality is necessary with HTTP

The need for a server to linger on a socket after a close is noted a couple times in the HTTP specs, but not explained. This explanation is based on discussions between myself, Henrik Frystyk, Robert S. Thau, Dave Raggett, and John C. Mallery in the hallways of MIT while I was at W3C.

If a server closes the input side of the connection while the client is sending data (or is planning to send data), then the server's TCP stack will signal an RST (reset) back to the client. Upon receipt of the RST, the client will flush its own incoming TCP buffer back to the un-ACKed packet indicated by the RST packet argument. If the server has sent a message, usually an error response, to the client just before the close, and the client receives the RST packet before its application code has read the error message from its incoming TCP buffer and before the server has received the ACK sent by the client upon receipt of that buffer, then the RST will flush the error message before the client application has a chance to see it. The result is that the client is left thinking that the connection failed for no apparent reason.

There are two conditions under which this is likely to occur:

  1. sending POST or PUT data without proper authorization
  2. sending multiple requests before each response (pipelining) and one of the middle requests resulting in an error or other break-the-connection result.

The solution in all cases is to send the response, close only the write half of the connection (what shutdown is supposed to do), and continue reading on the socket until it is either closed by the client (signifying it has finally read the response) or a timeout occurs. That is what the kernel is supposed to do if SO_LINGER is set. Unfortunately, SO_LINGER has no effect on some systems; on some other systems, it does not have its own timeout and thus the TCP memory segments just pile-up until the next reboot (planned or not).

Please note that simply removing the linger code will not solve the problem -- it only moves it to a different and much harder one to detect.

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