A fundamental notion in the design is that every octet of data sent over a TCP connection has a sequence number. Since every octet is sequenced, each of them can be acknowledged. The acknowledgment mechanism employed is cumulative so that an acknowledgment of sequence number X indicates that all octets up to but not including X have been received. This mechanism allows for straight-forward duplicate detection in the presence of retransmission. Numbering of octets within a segment is that the first data octet immediately following the header is the lowest numbered, and the following octets are numbered consecutively.

It is essential to remember that the actual sequence number space is finite, though very large. This space ranges from 0 to 2**32 - 1. Since the space is finite, all arithmetic dealing with sequence numbers must be performed modulo 2**32. This unsigned arithmetic preserves the relationship of sequence numbers as they cycle from 2**32 - 1 to 0 again. There are some subtleties to computer modulo arithmetic, so great care should be taken in programming the comparison of such values. The symbol "=<" means "less than or equal" (modulo 2**32).

The typical kinds of sequence number comparisons which the TCP must perform include:

(a) Determining that an acknowledgment refers to some sequence number sent but not yet acknowledged.

(b) Determining that all sequence numbers occupied by a segment have been acknowledged (e.g., to remove the segment from a retransmission queue).

(c) Determining that an incoming segment contains sequence numberswhich are expected (i.e., that the segment "overlaps" the receive window).

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