Cisco ASA 5500-X Series Next-Generation Firewalls

ASA 8.X: Allow the User Application to Run with the Re-establishment of the L2L VPN Tunnel

Document ID: 113014

Updated: May 27, 2011



This document provides information about the Persistent IPSec Tunneled Flows feature and how to retain the TCP flow over the disruption of a VPN tunnel.



Readers of this document should have basic understanding on how the VPN works. Refer to these documents for more information:

Components Used

The information in this document is based on the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) with version 8.2 and later.

The information in this document was created from the devices in a specific lab environment. All of the devices used in this document started with a cleared (default) configuration. If your network is live, make sure that you understand the potential impact of any command.


Refer to the Cisco Technical Tips Conventions for more information on document conventions.


As shown in the network diagram, the branch office (BO) is connected to the head office (HO) through the site-to-site VPN. Consider an end user at the branch office attempting to download a big file from the server situated in the head office. The download lasts hours. The file transfer works fine until the VPN works fine. However, when the VPN is disrupted, the file transfer is hung and the user has to re-initiate the file transfer request again from the beginning after the tunnel is established.

Network Diagram

This document uses this network setup:


This problem arises because of the built-in functionality on how the ASA works. The ASA monitors every connection that passes through it and maintains an entry in its state table according to the application inspection feature. The encrypted traffic details that pass through the VPN are maintained in the form of a security association (SA) database. For this document's scenario, it maintains two different traffic flows. One is the encrypted traffic between the VPN gateways and the other is the traffic flow between the Server at the head office and the end-user at the branch office. When the VPN is terminated, the flow details for this particular SA are deleted. However, the state table entry maintained by the ASA for this TCP connection becomes stale because of no activity, which hampers the download. This means the ASA will still retain the TCP connection for that particular flow while the user application terminates. However, the TCP connections will become stray and eventually timeout after the TCP idle-timer expires.

This problem has been resolved by introducing a feature called Persistent IPSec Tunneled Flows. A new command has been integrated into the Cisco ASA to retain the state table information at the re-negotiation of the VPN tunnel. The command is shown here:

sysopt connection preserve-vpn-flows

By default, this command is disabled. By enabling this, the Cisco ASA will maintain the TCP state table information when the L2L VPN recovers from the disruption and re-establish the tunnel.

In this scenario, this command has to be enabled on both ends of the tunnel. If it is a non-Cisco device at the other end, enabling this command on the Cisco ASA should suffice. If the command is enabled when the tunnels were already active, the tunnels must be cleared and re-established for this command to take effect. For more details on clearing and re-establishing the tunnels, refer to Clear the Security Associations.

Compatibility Details for this Feature

This feature has been introduced in Cisco ASA software version 8.0.4 and later. This is supported only for these types of VPN:

  • LAN to LAN Tunnels

  • Remote Access Tunnels in Network Extension Mode (NEM)

This feature is not supported for these types of VPN:

  • IPSec Remote Access Tunnels in Client Mode

  • AnyConnect or SSL VPN Tunnels

This feature does not exist on these platforms:

  • Cisco PIX with software version 6.0

  • Cisco VPN Concentrators

  • Cisco IOS® platforms

Enabling this feature does not create any additional overload on the internal CPU processing of the ASA because it is going to keep the same TCP connections that the device has when the tunnel is up.

Note: This command is applicable for TCP connections only. It does not have any effect on the UDP traffic. The UDP connections will timeout as per the configured timeout period.


Note: Use the Command Lookup Tool (registered customers only) to obtain more information on the commands used in this section.

In this section, you are presented with the information to configure the features described in this document.

This document uses this configuration:

  • CiscoASA

This is a sample running configuration output of the Cisco ASA firewall at one end of the VPN tunnel:

ASA Version 8.2(1) 
hostname CiscoASA
enable password <removed>
passwd <removed>
interface Ethernet0/0
 speed 100
 duplex full
 nameif outside
 security-level 0
 ip address  
interface Ethernet0/1
 nameif inside
 security-level 100
 ip address 
interface Ethernet0/2
 no nameif
 no security-level
 no ip address
interface Management0/0
 nameif management
 security-level 100
 ip address
boot system disk0:/asa822-k8.bin
ftp mode passive

!---Output Suppressed

access-list test extended permit ip any 
access-list test extended permit ip any 
access-list 100 extended permit ip any 
access-list 100 extended permit ip any 
access-list inside_access_out extended permit ip any

!---Output Suppressed

global (outside) 1 interface
nat (inside) 0 access-list test
nat (inside) 1

!---Output Suppressed

route inside 1
route outside 1
timeout xlate 3:00:00
timeout conn 1:00:00 half-closed 0:10:00 udp 0:02:00 icmp 0:00:02
timeout sunrpc 0:10:00 h323 0:05:00 h225 1:00:00 mgcp 0:05:00 mgcp-pat 0:05:00
timeout sip 0:30:00 sip_media 0:02:00 sip-invite 0:03:00 sip-disconnect 0:02:00
timeout sip-provisional-media 0:02:00 uauth 0:05:00 absolute
timeout tcp-proxy-reassembly 0:01:00
dynamic-access-policy-record DfltAccessPolicy

!---Output Suppressed

http server idle-timeout 40
http management
http inside
snmp-server enable traps snmp authentication linkup linkdown coldstart  
!--- To preserve and resume stateful (TCP) tunneled IPsec LAN-to-LAN traffic 
within the timeout period after the tunnel drops and recovers.
sysopt connection preserve-vpn-flows
service resetoutside
crypto ipsec transform-set ESP-AES-256-MD5 esp-aes-256 esp-md5-hmac 
crypto ipsec transform-set testSET esp-3des esp-md5-hmac 
crypto map map1 5 match address 100
crypto map map1 5 set peer
crypto map map1 5 set transform-set testSET
crypto map map1 interface outside
crypto isakmp enable outside
crypto isakmp policy 5
 authentication pre-share
 encryption 3des
 hash sha
 group 2
 lifetime 86400
crypto isakmp policy 10
 authentication pre-share
 encryption des
 hash sha
 group 2
 lifetime 86400

!---Output Suppressed

telnet timeout 5
ssh timeout 5
console timeout 0
threat-detection basic-threat
threat-detection statistics access-list

!---Output Suppressed

tunnel-group type ipsec-l2l
tunnel-group ipsec-attributes
 pre-shared-key *

!---Output Suppressed

class-map inspection_default
 match default-inspection-traffic
policy-map type inspect dns preset_dns_map
  message-length maximum 512
policy-map global_policy
 class inspection_default
  inspect dns preset_dns_map 
  inspect ftp 
  inspect h323 h225 
  inspect h323 ras 
  inspect rsh 
  inspect rtsp 
  inspect esmtp 
  inspect sqlnet 
  inspect skinny  
  inspect sunrpc 
  inspect xdmcp 
  inspect sip  
  inspect netbios 
  inspect tftp 
service-policy global_policy global
prompt hostname state 
: end

Enable this Feature

By default, this feature is disabled. This can be enabled by using this command at the CLI of the ASA:

CiscoASA(config)#sysopt connection preserve-vpn-flows

This can be viewed by using this command:

CiscoASA(config)#show run all sysopt 
no sysopt connection timewait
sysopt connection tcpmss 1380
sysopt connection tcpmss minimum 0
sysopt connection permit-vpn
sysopt connection reclassify-vpn
sysopt connection preserve-vpn-flows
no sysopt nodnsalias inbound
no sysopt nodnsalias outbound
no sysopt radius ignore-secret
no sysopt noproxyarp outside

When using the ASDM, this feature can be enabled by following this path:

Configuration > Remote Access VPN > Network (Client) Access > Advanced > IPsec > System Options.

Then, check the Preserve stateful VPN flows when the tunnel drops for Network Extension Mode (NEM) option.


Use this section to confirm that your configuration works properly.

The Output Interpreter Tool (registered customers only) (OIT) supports certain show commands. Use the OIT to view an analysis of show command output.

  • show asp table vpn-context detail—Shows the VPN context contents of the accelerated security path, which might help you troubleshoot a problem. The following is a sample output from the show asp table vpn-context command when the persistent IPSec tunneled flows feature is enabled. Note that it contains a specific PRESERVE flag.

    CiscoASA(config)#show asp table vpn-context 
    VPN CTX=0x0005FF54, Ptr=0x6DE62DA0, DECR+ESP+PRESERVE, UP, pk=0000000000, rk=0000000000, 
    VPN CTX=0x0005B234, Ptr=0x6DE635E0, ENCR+ESP+PRESERVE, UP, pk=0000000000, rk=0000000000, 


In this section, certain workarounds are presented to avoid the flapping of tunnels. The pros and cons of the workarounds are also detailed.

Set the IKE Lifetime Value to Zero

You can make a VPN tunnel stay alive for an infinite time, but not to re-negotiate, by keeping the IKE lifetime value as zero. The information about the SA is retained by the VPN peers until the lifetime expires. By assigning a value as zero, you can make this IKE session last forever. Through this, you can avoid the intermittent flow disconnection issues during the re-keying of the tunnel. This can be done with this command:

CiscoASA(config)#crypto isakmp policy 50 lifetime 0

However, this has a specific disadvantage in terms of compromising the security level of the VPN tunnel. Re-keying the IKE session within specified time intervals provides more security to the VPN tunnel in terms of modified encryption keys each time and it becomes difficult for any intruder to decode the information.

Note: Disabling the IKE lifetime does not mean that the tunnel does not re-key at all. Still, the IPSec SA will re-key at the specified time-interval because that cannot be set to zero. The minimum lifetime value allowed for an IPSec SA is 120 seconds and the maximum is 214783647 seconds. For more information about this, refer to IPSec SA lifetime.

Error Message when Tunnel Drops

When this feature is not used in the configuration, the Cisco ASA returns this log message when the VPN tunnel is disrupted:

%ASA-6-302014: Teardown TCP connection 57983 for outside:XX.XX.XX.XX/80 to inside: duration 0:00:36 bytes 53947 Tunnel has been torn down

You can see that the reason is that the Tunnel has been torn down.

Note: Level 6 logging must be enabled to see this message.

How this Feature Differs with the reclassify-vpn Option

The preserve-vpn-flow option is used when a tunnel bounces. This allows a previous TCP flow to stay open so when the tunnel comes back up, the same flow can be used.

When the sysopt connection reclassify-vpn command is used, it clears any previous flow that pertains to the tunneled traffic and classifies the flow to go through the tunnel. The reclassify-vpn option is used in a situation when a TCP flow was already created that is not VPN related. This creates a situation where traffic does not flow across the tunnel after the VPN is established. For more information about this, refer to sysopt reclassify-vpn.

Related Information

Updated: May 27, 2011
Document ID: 113014