The most recent Tor Alpha release comes with a new element that seeks to address traffic congestion within the Tor network.
This latest edition includes Kernel Informed Socket Transport (KIST), a traffic scheduler that prevents links between Tor relays from getting overwhelmed through altering traffic distribution across the Tor network.
The latest alpha release, dubbed Tor 0.3.2.1, is the first from the 0.3.2.X series and includes, among others, the V3 next-generation onion service protocol, aside from the newest traffic scheduler that allows more receptive forwarding decisions from relays.
This latest alpha release also contains other minor add-ons and bug fixes.
What is Tor?
Tor is an open network and free software which assists in protecting users from traffic analysis, a type of network surveillance which threatens privacy and personal freedom.
In essence, Tor safeguards users through bouncing communications across a distributed and extensive network of relays managed by volunteers from across the globe.
It prevents anyone that is monitoring users’ internet connections from knowing the sites they visit, not to mention preventing commonly visited sites from identifying users’ locations.
New Traffic Scheduling Feature
With the former design, each Tor relay connection regularly experienced overhauling by bringing through too much data, which often resulted in overwhelmed relays causing traffic delays.
With this new version, however, Tor makes use of an advanced scheduler to settle on the circuits that need to deliver cells first to relieve congestion at Tor relays.
The primary scheduler model is known as Kernel Informed Socket Transport but is only accessible on Linux-like structures.
It makes use of feedback from the kernel to prevent the TCP buffers of the kernel from becoming too full.
KIST intelligently considers how data can be written across every connection to other relays in a manner which allows traffic to pass through the Tor network quickly.
While clients can make use of the Kernel Informed Socket Transport, the benefits are only likely to accrue when relays vastly utilize it.
Since the new Kernel Informed Socket Transport but is only accessible on Linux-like structures, Tor offers another provision to suit other systems not similar to Linux.
The provision is known as KISTLite which behaves just like KIST, although it runs without standard kernel support to inspect TCP implementations.
Even with this new feature, the former scheduler feature is still available as “Vanilla.”
If users want to alter the default scheduler inclination, they must apply the new options. The new order is “KIST, KISTLite, Vanilla.”
In one study that sought to establish the congestion as found in Tor’s entire circuit path and individual relays, researchers identified that in general, the Kernel Informed Socket Transport minimizes circuit congestion by more than 30 percent, lessens network latency by an approximate 18 percent and boosts network throughput by more than 10 percent.
Latency is significant for numerous reasons. One of the reasons contributing to the Tor browser being slower is congestion.
By implementing KIST into the Tor network, regular Tor browser users will experience more improvements, including faster loading times and the Tor network scaling more easily.
The diversity of individuals using Tor makes it slightly harder to perform traffic analysis and as such, these improvements—as inspired by the new traffic scheduler—fortify Tor as a privacy-boosting software program that makes users safe while they’re browsing.
With Kernel Informed Socket Transport, Tor can better prioritize typical low-volume over high-volume traffic, efficiently giving priority to chat traffic and Tor web browsing over individuals who utilize Tor to perform massive downloads.
Where to Get It
You can download the new Tor release from the official Tor Project website.
The website should soon avail binary packages with an exclusive Tor Browser as soon as operations are finalized.
A Final Note
To summarize, Tor is precisely configured to employ KIST as its default connection scheduler once available, but the scheduler option is still in its early stages.
It’s important to note that this, being an alpha release, is likely to come with quite an unexpected flurry of bugs.
As such, considering that Tor is ever-reliant on devoted volunteers, any Tor user that wants to protect their internet freedom needs to try it out and report any bugs or challenges so the firm can improve the new Tor Alpha version in the future.