The TCP Selective Acknowledgment feature improves performance in the event that multiple packets are lost from one TCP window of data.
Prior to this feature, with the limited information available from cumulative acknowledgments, a TCP sender could learn about only one lost packet per round-trip time. An aggressive sender could choose to resend packets early, but such re-sent segments might have already been successfully received.
The TCP selective acknowledgment mechanism helps improve performance. The receiving TCP host returns selective acknowledgment packets to the sender, informing the sender of data that have been received. In other words, the receiver can acknowledge packets received out of order. The sender can then resend only the missing data segments (instead of everything since the first missing packet).
Prior to selective acknowledgment, if TCP lost packets 4 and 7 out of an 8-packet window, TCP would receive acknowledgment of only packets 1, 2, and 3. Packets 4 through 8 would need to be re-sent. With selective acknowledgment, TCP receives acknowledgment of packets 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8. Only packets 4 and 7 must be re-sent.
TCP selective acknowledgment is used only when multiple packets are dropped within one TCP window. There is no performance impact when the feature is enabled but not used. Use the ip tcp selective-ack command in global configuration mode to enable TCP selective acknowledgment.
Refer to RFC 2018 for more detailed information about TCP selective acknowledgment.