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Performance of FreeS/WAN

The performance of FreeS/WAN is adequate for most applications. Perhaps because of that, there are few detailed measurements. Those we know of are below.

The University of Wales at Aberystwyth has done quite detailed tests and put their results on the web.

Even a 486 can handle a T1 line, according to this mailing list message:

Subject: Re: linux-ipsec: IPSec Masquerade
   Date: Fri, 15 Jan 1999 11:13:22 -0500
   From: Michael Richardson 

. . . A 486/66 has been clocked by Phil Karn to do
10Mb/s encryption.. that uses all the CPU, so half that to get some CPU,
and you have 5Mb/s. 1/3 that for 3DES and you get 1.6Mb/s....

and a piece of mail from project technical lead Henry Spencer:

Oh yes, and a new timing point for Sandy's docs...  A P60 -- yes, a 60MHz
Pentium, talk about antiques -- running a host-to-host tunnel to another
machine shows an FTP throughput (that is, end-to-end results with a real
protocol) of slightly over 5Mbit/s either way.  (The other machine is much
faster, the network is 100Mbps, and the ether cards are good ones... so
the P60 is pretty definitely the bottleneck.)

Here is some additional data from the mailing list.

Subject: FreeSWAN (specically KLIPS) performance measurements
   Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2001
   From: Nigel Metheringham <>

I've spent a happy morning attempting performance tests against KLIPS 
(this is due to me not being able to work out the CPU usage of KLIPS so 
resorting to the crude measurements of maximum throughput to give a 
baseline to work out loading of a box).

Measurements were done using a set of 4 boxes arranged in a line, each 
connected to the next by 100Mbit duplex ethernet.  The inner 2 had an 
ipsec tunnel between them (shared secret, but I was doing measurements 
when the tunnel was up and running - keying should not be an issue 
here).  The outer pair of boxes were traffic generators or traffic sink.

The crypt boxes are Compaq DL380s - Uniprocessor PIII/733 with 256K 
cache.  They have 128M main memory.  Nothing significant was running on 
the boxes other than freeswan.  The kernel was a 2.2.19pre7 patched 
with freeswan and ext3.

Without an ipsec tunnel in the chain (ie the 2 inner boxes just being 
100BaseT routers), throughput (measured with ttcp) was between 10644 
and 11320 KB/sec

With an ipsec tunnel in place, throughput was between 3268 and 3402 

These measurements are for data pushed across a TCP link, so the 
traffic on the wire between the 2 ipsec boxes would have been higher 
than this....

vmstat (run during some other tests, so not affecting those figures) on 
the encrypting box shows approx 50% system 50% idle CPU - which I 
don't believe at all.  Interactive feel of the box was significantly 

I also tried running the kernel profiler (see man readprofile) during 
test runs.

A box doing primarily decrypt work showed basically nothing happening - 
I assume interrupts were off.
A box doing encrypt work showed the following:-
 Ticks Function                                   Load
 ~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~
   956 total                                      0.0010
   532 des_encrypt2                               0.1330
   110 MD5Transform                               0.0443
    97 kmalloc                                    0.1880
    39 des_encrypt3                               0.1336
    23 speedo_interrupt                           0.0298
    14 skb_copy_expand                            0.0250
    13 ipsec_tunnel_start_xmit                    0.0009
    13 Decode                                     0.1625
    11 handle_IRQ_event                           0.1019
    11 .des_ncbc_encrypt_end                      0.0229
    10 speedo_start_xmit                          0.0188
     9 satoa                                      0.0225
     8 kfree                                      0.0118
     8 ip_fragment                                0.0121
     7 ultoa                                      0.0365
     5 speedo_rx                                  0.0071
     5 .des_encrypt2_end                          5.0000
     4 _stext                                     0.0140
     4 ip_fw_check                                0.0035
     2 rj_match                                   0.0034
     2 ipfw_output_check                          0.0200
     2 inet_addr_type                             0.0156
     2 eth_copy_and_sum                           0.0139
     2 dev_get                                    0.0294
     2 addrtoa                                    0.0143
     1 speedo_tx_buffer_gc                        0.0024
     1 speedo_refill_rx_buf                       0.0022
     1 restore_all                                0.0667
     1 number                                     0.0020
     1 net_bh                                     0.0021
     1 neigh_connected_output                     0.0076
     1 MD5Final                                   0.0083
     1 kmem_cache_free                            0.0016
     1 kmem_cache_alloc                           0.0022
     1 __kfree_skb                                0.0060
     1 ipsec_rcv                                  0.0001
     1 ip_rcv                                     0.0014
     1 ip_options_fragment                        0.0071
     1 ip_local_deliver                           0.0023
     1 ipfw_forward_check                         0.0139
     1 ip_forward                                 0.0011
     1 eth_header                                 0.0040
     1 .des_encrypt3_end                          0.0833
     1 des_decrypt3                               0.0034
     1 csum_partial_copy_generic                  0.0045
     1 call_out_firewall                          0.0125

Hope this data is helpful to someone... however the lack of visibility 
into the decrypt side makes things less clear

Methods of mesasuring

If you want to measure the loads FreeS/WAN puts on a system, note that tools such as top or measurements such as load average are more-or-less useless for this. They are not designed to measure something that does most of its work inside the kernel.

Here is a message from FreeS/WAN kernel programmer Richard Guy Briggs on this:

> I have a batch of boxes doing Freeswan stuff.
> I want to measure the CPU loading of the Freeswan tunnels, but am 
> having trouble seeing how I get some figures out...
>  - Keying etc is in userspace so will show up on the per-process
>    and load average etc (ie pluto's load)


>  - KLIPS is in the kernel space, and does not show up in load average
>    I think also that the KLIPS per-packet processing stuff is running
>    as part of an interrupt handler so it does not show up in the
>    /proc/stat system_cpu or even idle_cpu figures

It is not running in interrupt handler.  It is in the bottom half.
This is somewhere between user context (careful, this is not
userspace!) and hardware interrupt context.

> Is this correct, and is there any means of instrumenting how much the 
> cpu is being loaded - I don't like the idea of a system running out of 
> steam whilst still showing 100% idle CPU :-)

vmstat seems to do a fairly good job, but use a running tally to get a
good idea.  A one-off call to vmstat gives different numbers than a
running stat.  To do this, put an interval on your vmstat command
and another suggestion from the same thread:
Subject: Re: Measuring the CPU usage of Freeswan
   Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001
   From: Patrick Michael Kane <>
The only truly accurate way to accurately track FreeSWAN CPU usage is to use
a CPU soaker. You run it on an unloaded system as a benchmark, then start up
FreeSWAN and take the difference to determine how much FreeSWAN is eating.
I believe someone has done this in the past, so you may find something in
the FreeSWAN archives.  If not, someone recently posted a URL to a CPU
soaker benchmark tool on linux-kernel.

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