Internet Connectivity Problems Caused By The MTU Setting

The messages sent and received between your computer, and the Internet web servers that you’re accessing, may go thru dozens of networks. The Internet is, by design, dynamic. The networks that you use, to access any server, may change within seconds.

Any one of those networks might have a restriction on the maximum message (packet) size that it will accept. Each computer has a setting, called the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU), which controls how large it may make any packet. The larger your packets, the fewer packets required for sending or receiving a web page, but the greater chance any network have a problem with your packet size.

Setting the MTU on your computer can be a double edged sword.

  • If you make the MTU too large, some networks will split (fragment) your packets. Some servers may have a problem with fragmented packets, causing the dreaded “Server not available…” error.
  • If you make the MTU too small, your computer will send and receive small packets. You’ll be able to access any server, thru any network, but a web page will require too many packets. The speed that your web pages download will make you think you’re not connected at all.

If you have a problem accessing some websites (or running some programs like email or IM), but not others, or if this problem seems to come and go, you may have an MTU setting problem. The best known examples of this problem are those with dial-up or PPPoE sevice, or those using ICS. An MTU issue can affect anybody, though, and different people (computers) will, almost certainly, be affected differently.

There are multiple factors that combine, to cause your problem.

  1. You are accessing a server that can’t handle fragmented packets.
  2. The route from your computer, to that server, somewhere passes thru a network that encapsulates your packets, and adds header bytes as part of the encapsulation.
  3. The overhead generated, by the encapsulation, causes your packets to be too large for some router between you and the server in question. Your packets then have to be fragmented.
  4. Your MTU is set to the maximum value, to make your packets efficient. You did not allow for enough possible packet overhead, necessitating packet fragmentation.
  • You can control Factor #1, by not accessing servers that are known to have this problem.
  • Factor #2 becomes in issue, most frequently, when your Internet service uses ICS, or uses DSL with PPPoE. Both ICS and PPPoE encapsulate your packets, and generate overhead with their headers. You can possibly control Factor #2, by your choice of Internet service.
  • The Internet being a packet switched service, anybody is subject to Factors # 2 and #3, at any time. You cannot control Factor #2 (short of the latter note), or #3.
  • You can control Factor #4, by adjusting your MTU setting.

Here are several articles discussing the issue further, and offering ways to diagnose and correct it.

When you get ready to adjust the MTU setting, make it easy on yourself. Download DrTCP, from DSLReports, and use it to make the changes for you. Simply copy the downloaded file into any convenient folder, and run it from there.

You’ll be changing the “MaxMTU” or “MTU” value under Adapter Settings. If you have multiple network adapters, be sure to choose the one that provides the Internet service. For instructions about what values to change MTU to, see the articles linked above. Read all 5, and pick the one that you’re most comfortable with.

Note: An MTU problem can be confused with, or masked by, a DNS problem, or LSP / Winsock Corruption. If you’re here after trying the above procedures, unsuccessfully, consider each of the latter possibilities.

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