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What is MTU(Maximum Transmission Unit)?

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Introduction :

The Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) is the largest amount of data that can be transmitted in a single packet on a network. It is a parameter that is determined by the underlying network technology, and can be configured on network devices such as routers and switches.

The MTU is important because it determines the maximum size of data that can be transmitted across a network without fragmentation. If a packet is larger than the MTU, it is fragmented into smaller packets to be transmitted across the network, and then reassembled at the receiver. Fragmentation can result in additional processing overhead and increased network traffic, which can impact performance.

The MTU is typically specified in bytes, and can vary depending on the network technology being used. For example, Ethernet networks typically have an MTU of 1500 bytes, while some WAN technologies may have an MTU of 9000 bytes or higher.

In order to avoid fragmentation and ensure optimal network performance, it is important to ensure that the MTU is configured correctly on all devices on the network. This can be done through various means, such as adjusting the MTU settings on network interfaces or using technologies such as Path MTU Discovery to dynamically adjust the MTU based on the characteristics of the network path.

A maximum transmission unit also called as MTU, is a term used in networking and operating systems. It defines the largest size of the packet that can be transmitted as a single entity in a network connection. The size of the MTU dictates the amount of data that can be transmitted in bytes over a network. 



The larger MTU results in more data transmission during a single connection, therefore, reduces the overhead. On the other hand, the smaller MTU can be transferred faster, because of its size, thus reducing delay in the network. Therefore, the size of the MTU should be adjusted to optimize both the requirements. 
The default size of the maximum transmission unit is 1500 B, which is the Ethernet standard largest unit. 


  • Size of MTU is directly proportional to the amount of data transferred. Larger MTU size, larger chunk of data transmitted at once from the sender to the final recipient.
  • MTU size is based on the specifications of the network administration.
  • If size of MTU outweighs the capacity of router, it is re-transmitted again causing delay.
  • It is the optimal packet size of the network.

Working of MTU

Let us suppose the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol(TCP) specified the size of MTU = 750 B, that is the maximum protocol data unit size that can be delivered from source to destination. In such a scenario, the following cases may arise: 

  • If the system sends packets larger than the size of MTU, that is packet size > 750 B in this case, then the system packet will be fragmented to smaller packets such that their size doesn’t exceed the largest packet size. The process of division of a large data packet into smaller chunks of data such that none of these chunks exceed the maximum frame size is called Fragmentation. These are later reassembled at the final client destination. 

  • If the system sends packets within MTU size, they are transmitted as a single frame in the network connection. However, packets much smaller than MTU may increase delay and cause network inefficiency. Reassembling packets in such a case is not required. 


The maximum transmission unit has the following applications: 

  • MTU is used over the internet, primarily by TCP to determine the optimal packet size.
  • It is associated with Ethernet protocol, and is referred as protocol data unit(PDU).

Issues in MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) :

There are several issues associated with the MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) in computer networking:

  1. Fragmentation: If a packet is larger than the MTU of a particular network segment, it needs to be fragmented into smaller packets to be transmitted across the network. This fragmentation can cause additional overhead and latency, which can impact network performance and reliability.
  2. Path MTU Discovery: In some cases, the MTU can vary along the path between the sender and receiver. This can result in packets being dropped or delayed due to fragmentation, as the sender may not be aware of the correct MTU to use for each segment of the network path. Path MTU Discovery is a technique used to dynamically adjust the MTU based on the characteristics of the network path.
  3. Jumbo Frames: Some network technologies support larger MTUs, known as jumbo frames. While this can improve network performance in certain scenarios, it can also introduce compatibility issues with devices that do not support jumbo frames.
  4. Security: In some cases, attackers can exploit MTU-related vulnerabilities to launch denial-of-service attacks or to bypass network security measures such as firewalls.

Reference :

Here are some references related to MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) in computer networking:

  1. RFC 791: Internet Protocol (IP) – This document defines the IP protocol, including the MTU, which is used to determine the maximum size of IP packets.
  2. RFC 1191: Path MTU Discovery – This document describes a technique used to dynamically discover the MTU along a network path, in order to avoid fragmentation and improve network performance.
  3. Cisco Networking Academy: CCNA Routing and Switching – Scaling Networks – This course covers the MTU and other key concepts related to network scaling and performance.
  4. Juniper Networks: Understanding MTU and TCP MSS – This article provides a detailed overview of the MTU and its relationship to the TCP Maximum Segment Size (MSS).
  5. Network World: The trouble with jumbo frames – This article discusses the potential benefits and drawbacks of using jumbo frames, which support larger MTUs than standard Ethernet frames.
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Last Updated : 18 Apr, 2023
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