olsrd Link Quality Extensions


The way in which the ETX metric is applied to OLSR owes its existence to ideas conceived by the wonderful folks at c-base and freifunk.net. Any implementation bugs are solely Thomas's fault, though.

Guys, also thanks a lot for your hospitality, for your valuable input, for being brave enough to test early releases of olsrd, for supplying a great testbed in Berlin, and for being you!



Release 0.4.8 of olsrd offers an experimental implementation of an ETX-like metric. When calculating a routing table for us, pure RFC-compliant OLSR simply minimizes the number of hops between ourselves and the other nodes in the MANET, even if this means that a route via a single very bad link will be preferred to a route via two excellent links, although the latter would probably have been the better choice.

To solve this problem, we have to teach olsrd how to tell good links from bad links. We have done so by measuring the packet loss for OLSR packets that we receive from our neighbors. As we periodically receive HELLO messages from our neighbors (by default every 2 seconds), we have enough packets to determine the packet loss for packets that each of our neighbors sends to us.

If, for example, 3 out of 10 packets are lost on their way from our neighbor to ourselves, we have a packet loss of 3/10 = 0.3 = 30%. At the same time 7 of the 10 packets that the neighbor sent went through. Hence, the probability for a successful packet transmission from this neighbor to ourselves is 7/10 = 0.7 = 70%. This probability is what we call the Link Quality. So the Link Quality says how good a given link between a neighbor and ourselves is in the direction from the neighbor to ourselves. It does so by saying how likely it is that a packet that we send is successfully received by our neighbor.

However, it is also important to know the quality of the link in the opposite direction, i.e. how many of the packets that we send out are received by each of our neighbors. So, we are not only interested in the Link Quality of a given link, but also in the corresponding neighbor's idea of the Link Quality. That's what we call the Neighbor Link Quality. The Neighbor Link Quality says how good a given link between a neighbor and ourselves is in the direction from ourselves to the neighbor.

The Link Quality and the Neighbor Link Quality are values between 0 and 1 or, which is equivalent, between 0 and 100%. They represent the probability that a packet that our neighbor sends actually makes it to us (Link Quality) and that a packet that we send actually makes it to our neighbor (Neighbor Link Quality).

Let's now look at the probability for a successful packet round trip, i.e. the probability that we successfully send a packet to our neighbor and, on receiving it, our neighbor successfully replies with a response packet. For a successful round trip both packets must get through, the packet that we've sent and the response packet that our neighbor has sent. So, the success probability is NLQ x LQ, where NLQ is the Neighbor Link Quality of the link and LQ is its link quality. For example, if we have a NLQ of 60% and a LQ of 70%, the probability of a successful round trip is 60% x 70% = 0.6 x 0.7 = 0.42 = 42%.

In wireless networks each recipient of a packet acknowledges packet reception by sending back an acknowledgment packet to the sender. So, when does a retransmission of a packet happen? It happens, if the sender does not receive an acknowledgment. And in which cases does the sender not receive an acknowledgment? If either the packet that it sent is lost or if the corresponding acknowledgment packet is lost. So, what is the probability for a retransmission to not take place? Well, as the sender's packet has to get through in one direction and the recipient's acknowledgment has to get through in the opposite direction, too, this is exactly the probability for a successful packet round trip, i.e. NLQ x LQ.

We can now answer the question of how many transmission attempts it will typically take to get a packet from us to a neighbor or from the neighbor to us. It is 1 / (NLQ x LQ). So, in the above case of NLQ x LQ = 42%, we expect on average 1 / 0.42 = 2.38 transmission attempts for a packet until it gets through.

Note that this number is valid for both directions of the link, as in both cases we have to look at the probability for a successful packet round trip. For packets that we send to our neighbor, the packet goes from us to the neighbor and the acknowledgment travels the other way around. For packets that our neighbor sends to us, the packet goes from the neighbor to us and the acknowledgment travels from us to the neighbor. In both cases a packet is sent in each direction and retransmission occurs if either packet is lost.

The value 1 / (NLQ x LQ) is called the Expected Transmission Count or ETX. For those interested in a more in-depth discussion, there's a scientific paper by the people who invented all this, and for those who would like to know still more, there's Doug's PhD thesis.

Let's assume that we have a route from ourselves via two nodes A and B to a node C. What is the ETX for the total route, i.e. how often is our packet retransmitted on its way from us to C? Well, we know how many attempts we need on average to successfully transmit a packet from us to A. Let's call this value ETX1. So, we already have ETX1 attempts just to reach A. The packet would then take an additional number of attempts to hop from A to B. Let's call this second value ETX2. Finally, a further number of attempts is required to hop from B to C. Let's call this third value ETX3. Let's now have a look at the total number of transmissions that have happened to get our packet from us to C. This number is simply ETX1 + ETX2 + ETX3.


In order to calculate the ETX for a link to a neighbor, we need to know the neighbor's idea of the link quality, i.e. the NLQ, as we can only determine the LQ ourselves, but we want to know ETX = 1 / (NLQ * LQ). So the link quality extensions to olsrd introduce a new kind of HELLO messages, which we call LQ HELLO messages. For each link listed in such a message, the originator of the messages also tells us the link quality. So, each neighbor puts the LQ values that it has determined in the message, which from our perspective are NLQ values. So, owing to the LQ HELLOs we now have all the information to calculate the ETX for each link between ourselves and one of our neighbors.

Let's again have a look at the total number of transmissions required for a route that consists of more than one hop, i.e. that is not a route to one of our neighbors. If we stick with the above example, we know ETX1 from the LQ HELLOs. But how do we learn ETX2 and ETX3? For this the link quality extensions to olsrd introduce a new kind of TC messages. TC messages are used in OLSR to tell the world, i.e. all other nodes in the MANET, which neighbors we have. We have extended TC messages to additionally carry information on how good the links to our neighbors are. We call this extended variant of TCs, analogously to LQ HELLOS, LQ TC messages.

So, with LQ HELLO messages we find out which neighbors we have and how good our links to them are and with LQ TC messages, we share this knowledge with all other nodes and all other nodes share their knowledge with us.

In this way each node in the network ends up knowing which links each other node in the MANET has and how good they are. Well, actually, it's a bit more complex than that, because of an optimization called multi-point relaying. But this is beyond the scope of this introductory text.


LQ HELLO messages and LQ TC messages are not compatible with RFC-compliant HELLO and TC messages. So make sure that you either switch all nodes of your network to link quality or none of your nodes. A mixed configuration will probably result in an unpredictable mess.


New Configuration Parameters


Let's now have a look at how we would use the link quality extensions. The configuration parameter that controls link quality is LinkQualityLevel, as it sets the level to which link quality is used, i.e. for which purposes olsrd looks at the link quality information.

IMPORTANT: Remember to set all nodes of your MANET to the same link quality level. Even if levels 2 and 3 use the same kind of messages, i.e. LQ HELLOs and LQ TCs, they use a different algorithm for calculating the routing table. This can also mess up your routing!


The second configuration parameter related to link quality is LinkQualityWinSize. When determining the packet loss of the packets received from a neighbor, olsrd only looks at the n most recent packets. By default n is set to 10, so olsrd looks at the ten most recent packets received (or not received) from a neighbor and then determines the packet loss. Let's assume that of the 10 packets we have received 7, then we have missed 3, which corresponds to a packet loss of 3/10 = 0.3 = 30%. The corresponding Link Quality is 7/10 = 0.7 = 70%.

Let's have a look at what the default value means. Let's for the moment only think of LQ HELLO messages and neglect other message types. By default LQ HELLOs are sent every 2 seconds. So, we calculate the packet loss over the past 20 seconds. So, changes in the link quality are accounted for relatively fast. For longer intervals just increase this value.


Version 0.4.9 supports a third configuration parameter, LinkQualityMult. This is a per-interface parameter, so it may only appear in an interface configuration block. This parameter can be used to alter the LQ values that we announce, which will then result in an altered ETX for links between us and our neighbors - remember that ETX = 1 / (NLQ x LQ).

The idea is to enable us to make certain links that we have artificially appear better or worse than they actually are. In this way we can manually affect the routing decisions made by the OLSR network.

The LinkQualityMult parameter is followed by an IP address and a number, the multiplier. The IP address specifies the IP address of the neighbor interface address of the link that we want to manipulate. The LQ values that we determine for this link are then multiplied by the given multiplier.

If the word default is specified in lieu of an IP address, then this multiplier applies to all links via the interface that we're configuring. Note, however, that a multiplier linked to a real IP address has priority over the default multiplier. So, we're looking for the most specific match.

Old Configuration Parameters

The link quality extensions do not work very well with hysteresis. Hysteresis basically acts as a sort of barrier that only links that are "good enough" can cross. If a link is too flaky, hysteresis will make olsrd consider the link as non-existent. So, this is a binary thing. Either a link is able to cross the barrier, or it is not. There's nothing in between. However, we want olsrd to consider every link there is, without any barrier, because then we can leave it to the link quality extensions to judge how good the link actually is and how much we trust the link.

If a link with an ETX value of 50 is the only way of reaching a node, then we want to use this link, as there is no better way.

In addition, in contrast to only saying "good enough" or "not good enough" like hysteresis, the link quality extensions offer a much more detailed view of the world by saying something like "75% good enough, 25% not good enough".

The second mechanism that could interfere with the link quality extensions is the link detection scheme. By default, if olsrd misses three (LQ) HELLO messages in a row from a neighbor, the link is considered broken. However, we'd prefer the link to just expose a lower quality. So, setting the HELLO validity time to the HELLO interval multiplied by the link quality window size is probably a good rule of thumb. In this way the link will be removed not before the link quality extensions have had enough time to gradually reduce the link quality to zero.

Sample Configuration

A minimal configuration that leaves everything at the default and just makes the changes required for the link quality extension to work properly could look as follows. Note the ClearScreen directive that causes the screen to be cleared before updated debug information is printed. This makes the debug output more readable in many cases.

DebugLevel              2
ClearScreen             yes
LinkQualityLevel        2
LinkQualityWinSize      12
UseHysteresis           no

Interface "if03"
  HelloInterval         2.0
  HelloValidityTime     20.0

Let's assume that we would like to use the LinkQualityMult directive to multiply the LQ value that we report for the link between our local interface if03 and an interface of one of our neighbors that has an IP address of Say, we'd like to multiply the LQ value by 0.5. We would then simply add the following line to the Interface section of the above configuration file.

  LinkQualityMult 0.5

Suppose that we would further like to multiply the LQ values that we report for all other links between our local interface if03 and a neighbor interface by 0.8. We would then add a second, default LinkQualityMult statement and we would end up with the following two lines.

  LinkQualityMult 0.5
  LinkQualityMult default 0.8

For the link to the first line would have precedence over the second (default) line and 0.5 would be used as the multiplier. For all other links the default multiplier of 0.8 would be used, as there isn't any better match.

Debug Output

0.4.8 also introduces significant changes in the debug output. Let's have a look at what happens at debug level 2, which is the recommended default for the link quality extensions.

--- 14:28:56.80 ---------------------------------------------------- LINKS

IP address       hyst   LQ     lost   total  NLQ    ETX      0.000  1.000  0      10     1.000  1.00

This table contains the links to our neighbors. It contains the following columns.

--- 14:28:56.80 ------------------------------------------------ NEIGHBORS

IP address       LQ     NLQ    SYM   MPR   MPRS  will         1.000  1.000  YES   YES   NO    6

This table contains a list of all our neighbors. It is closely related to the link table in that we are connected to a neighbor via one or more links. The table has the following columns.

--- 14:28:56.80 ------------------------------------------------- TOPOLOGY

Source IP addr   Dest IP addr     LQ     ILQ    ETX      1.000  1.000  1.00         1.000  1.000  1.00

This table displays the topology information that olsrd has gathered from LQ TC messages. It states which nodes in the network report links to which other nodes and which quality these links have. So, it's olsrd's view of the world beyond its immediate neighbor nodes, i.e. its view of the nodes that it cannot reach directly. This table has the following columns.

--- 14:28:56.80 ------------------------------------------------- DIJKSTRA (one-hop) <- (one-hop)

This table displays the best routes that olsrd could find for each destination that it knows about. The leftmost IP address given on each line is the destination of a route. The remaining IP addresses in a line specify the nodes on the route between ourselves and the destination address. Moving from the destination address to the right, address by address, moves us closer from the destination to ourselves, hop by hop.

In the above case we see routes to two nodes, and In the first line, there aren't any intermediate nodes between us and the destination, the destination address is the only IP address in this line. In the second line we have one intermediate node, So, the second line describes a route to via

The number after the colon following an IP address in the table is the total ETX of the route up to this IP address, i.e. the sum of the ETX values of all hops between ourselves and this IP address.

In the above example the first line represents a path with an ETX value of 1.00 to As we've seen in the neighbor table above is our neighbor, so the route to it consists only of a single hop, which has an ETX of 1.00, hence the 1.00 in this line.

In the second line, is not a neighbor of ours. However, is and from the topology table above we can tell that reports a link to So, we can reach via This is what this line says. Remember that each line represents a route by first giving the IP address of the destination ( and that moving to the right means moving towards ourselves until one of our (one-hop) neighbor is reached. If we move from to the right, we find, which is our (one-hop) neighbor. So we have a route.

If we would like to know which path a packet takes that we send to, we have to read the line backwards. We then see that the packet first travels to our (one-hop) neighbor via a link that has an ETX of 1.00 (which we can confirm by looking at the neighbor table above). From there it is forwarded to via another link that also has an ETX of 1.00 (which we can confirm by means of the topology table above), resulting in a total ETX of 1.00 + 1.00 = 2.00, which is the number that follows Remember that the ETX value given for an IP address is the cumulative ETX for the complete route up to this IP address.

If olsrd is able to find a route between us and the destination, the last IP address in the line is one of our neighbors. In this case, "(one-hop)" is appended to the line to illustrate that the last IP address is one of our (one-hop) neighbors. However, let's assume that we've just switched on olsrd. In this case, it does not know about all links in the network, yet, as it hasn't received LQ TC messages from all nodes. So, it may know that a node exists (as it has already received LQ TC messages from it) but it does not necessarily know how to reach it (as it may not have received LQ TC messages from nodes between it and ourselves, yet). In this case the last IP address is the last node that is reachable from the destination and the line ends with the word "FAILED".

The same is true for neighbors to which we do not have a symmetric link. We know that they're there, but we do not have a link to them, hence olsrd cannot find a route, which results in "FAILED".


If you have any questions on using olsrd or if you would like to know more about the link quality extension, it's probably best to subscribe to the mailing lists and ask your question there. Information on the mailing lists is available at http://www.olsr.org.