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What is Packet Shaping?

By Eric Tallberg
Updated May 16, 2024
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Packet shaping, often known as traffic shaping or bandwidth throttling, is a method by which users of high bandwidth computer networks can monitor and control the flow of data into and out of the network portals. Computer packets are cells containing data to be sent via internet protocol over a designated computer network. Packet shaping will, ordinarily, involve delaying packet transmission over specific network band widths. This delay usually reduces latency, the time delay between when data is submitted into the network bandwidth and the time the data reaches the intended portal. This managed delay improves overall efficiency of the network and increases useable bandwidth.

Bandwidth is the data capacity allowed by a computer system over a connection and is measured by the rate of bits received by a designated computer. Non-packet-supporting computers, such as ordinary point-to-point telecommunications links, transmit data via bytes, bits or characters alone. Data cells or packets might contain all of these things and, therefore, this immense data traffic must be managed just as any sort of traffic, automobile traffic, air traffic, etc., must be managed. Control of this data traffic is given over to network packet shaping technology in the interest of efficient transmission and reception of data.

Packet shaping is, by necessity, a brake applied to a set of packets known as a flow or stream so that these packets fit a predetermined set of network parameters or constraints. These parameters may involve a contract or specific data transmission and/or reception profiles.

Commonly applied at network edges to control traffic entering the network within a specified period of time, packet shaping manages the maximum rate at which traffic is sent based on complex criteria like generic cell rate algorithms (GCRA), which is the calculation of packet cell rates at a specific timescale. This control or shaping of the rate of network traffic may be undertaken in many ways and for a myriad of reasons but is always a result of the controlled delay of packets

Although packet shaping devices may be used passively for the analysis and classification of specific traffic, they are designed for active traffic prioritization. Automatic selection of pathways to remote data receptors, and limitation of bandwidth-intensive applications, are each a function of active packet shaping technology. This technology has been, or soon will be, implemented for news group applications, regardless of the provider and for peer-to-peer networks as well as various other high bandwidth applications. Packet shaping can be used to effect computerized audio and video applications as well as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications.

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