CS 4700 / CS 5700 - Network Fundamentals

General Information

Professor:David Choffnes
Room:Shillman Hall 105
Time:Wednesdays, 6-9pm
Office Hours:Wednesdays, 10am-noon
Teaching Assistant:Arun Nair
TA Email:nair.ar@husky.neu.edu
Lab Hours:Thursdays and Fridays 12-1 PM
Class Forum:On Piazza
Paper List:Click here

Course Description

Computer networking is a rapidly advancing field, and the Internet is already an integral part of society. It is therefore important for computer scientists and computer engineers to be familiar with the fundamentals of computer networking. This course will focus on the architecture, algorithms, and protocols of the Internet. Topics include local area networking, routing, congestion control, network security, and applications such as peer-to-peer and content distribution networks. This course will be systems oriented, and students will work on hands-on projects to learn how to build and understand Internet applications.


The official prerequisites for this course are CS 3600 and CS 2600 (or equivalents). This course is systems oriented, so I expect you to understand the basics of computer architecture and operating systems, and to have experience implementing non-trivial systems-type projects. Basic knowledge of the Unix command line is also essential. You should know how to write code using emacs/vim, write a makefile, compile/debug code, check for running processes, kill runaway processes, and create compressed archives.

Class Forum

The class forum is on Piazza. Why Piazza? Because they have a nice web interface, as well as iPhone and Android apps. Piazza is the best place to ask questions about projects, programming, debugging issues, exams, etc. If you have questions while in lecture feel free to post to folders for the lecture. I will also use Piazza to broadcast announcements to the class. Bottom line: unless you have a private problem, post to Piazza before writing me/the TA an email.

Schedule, Lecture Slides, and Assigned Readings

Meeting DateSlidesPiazza FolderTextbookReadingsComments
Sept. 3 Welcome:
Intro, History,
Architecture, C Sockets
#lecture1 §1.1-1.5 Join Piazza
Sept. 10 Digging Trenches:
Review, Physical Layer,
Data Link Layer,
#lecture2 §2.1-2.8, 3.1 Cla88, SRC84 Proj. 1 Out
Sept. 17 Multihopping:
Lecture 2 Summary, Bridging, Network Layer
#lecture3 §3.2, 3.3, 4.1.3 P85, SG04 Proj. 1 due, Proj. 2 out
Sept. 24 Intradomain routing
The Gentlemen's Agreement:
Interdomain Routing
#lecture4 §4.1-4.4 CR04, KSC+12
Oct. 1 Playing Nicely: Transport Layer,
Congestion Control
#lecture5 §2.5, 5.1, 5.2, 6.3 CK74, Jac88, WB13 Proj. 2 Due, Proj. 3 Out
Oct. 8 Glue and Duct Tape:
#lecture6 §6.5, 9.3.1 KWNP10, CAR13,
Oct. 15 Midterm #midterm
Oct. 22 More Duct Tape:NAT, QoS #lecture7 Read papers SCKB+06, LIMOJ+06, WBKR11 Proj. 3 Due, Proj. 4 Out
Oct. 29 Flattening of the Internet:
CDNs, IXPs and DCNs
#lecture8 §9.4 Start reading next week's papers
Nov. 5 Volatile and Decentralized:
P2P, Bittorrent, and other Overlay Networks
#lecture9 Read papers LLSB08, KN10, SMK+01, GM+04
Nov. 12 No lecture
Read data center slides, and watch this talk by Mohammad Alizadeh
#lecture10 Proj. 4 Due, Proj. 5 Out
Nov. 19 Project 5 Hints: Project 5 hints
Virtualization: Other Overlay Networks
Generation Next: Mobile Networks and New Internet Architectures
Watch SDN video: An attempt to motivate and clarify Software-Defined Networking (SDN)
#lecture11 Read papers FRZ+13, QWG+10, JST+09
Nov. 26 No Lecture: Thanksgiving Break
Dec. 3 Generation Next (continued):
Mobile Networks
Tinfoil Hats:
Privacy and Heartbleed
#lecture12 §8.1-8.6 DMS+04, LCZ+13, GSHR13 Project 5 due
Dec 5 Final Exam #final 10:30am-12:30pm,
Location: Snell Library 045


The focus of this course will be on lectures, in-class exercises and reading important papers from the networking research community. Thus, I do not require that you get a textbook. However, a textbook may be useful if you are not totally comfortable with network fundamentals, or if you just want to have a handy reference book. Officially, the textbook for the course is:

Computer Networks: A Systems Approach, 4th Edition by Larry Peterson and Bruce Davie, Morgan Kaufmann.

There is also a supplement:

TCP/IP Sockets in C by Jeff Donahoo and Ken Calvert, Morgan Kaufmann.

Also recommended, for reference:

Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach Featuring the Internet. by Jim Kurose and Keith Ross, Addison-Wesley.

Reading and Participation

As previously mentioned, a large component of this course will be reading important papers from the networking research community. Some of these papers are classics: older, but intrumental in guiding the design of today's networks. Other papers will be more contemporary, and focus on improving existing networks, or even replacing them entirely. All the papers can be found here.

Several papers will be assigned as reading before each lecture. A discussion thread will be opened on Piazza for each paper, and each student must post 1) a summary of the paper in three senteneces or less, and 2) the strengths (at least 3) and weaknesses (at least 3) of the paper before Wednesday at 9am. You are also encouraged to ask questions about the paper and respond to other students' questions.

During class, students may be called at random to briefly summarize papers. Thus, although attendance in lectures is not required, if you get called and you are not present (or you haven't read the paper), then you are busted. I also may hand out in-class exercises, and you will receive points only if you attend class to complete them.

5% of your final grade will be based on participation. If you post on Piazza when you are the assigned discussion leader for a paper, and summarize papers when called in class, then you will receive full marks for participation.


There will be five programming projects throughout the semester. Programming projects are due at 11:59:59pm on the specified date. We will use a turn-in script to create a compressed archive of the project files, timestamp them, and submit them for grading. These projects require significant design and coding, hence students are recommended to start early!

AssignmentDescriptionDue DatePiazza Folder
Project 1Socket BasicsSeptember 19#project1
Project 2Web CrawlerOctober 3#project2
Project 3TCP Simulation in NS-2October 24#project3
Project 4Raw SocketsNov 14#project4
Project 5Roll Your Own CDNDec 5#project5

You will form groups of two people (possibly three, if necessary) to do the projects. I will allow you to form your own groups; if you are having trouble finding a partner, post a notice to Piazza. As you are free to choose your partner(s), I will not be sympathetic to complaints at the end of the semester about how your group-mates did not do any work. All group members should be involved in all major design decisions, and groups should develop a programming plan that can be effectively parallelized. You may switch groups between programming projects.

As the graduate versions of projects may contain extra requirements, it is strongly recommended (but not required) that groups be formed of either all undergraduates or graduate students. If any of the group members are graduate students, the project will be graded as a graduate student project.


There will be one midterm and one final. All exams will be closed book and closed notes, and computers are not allowed nor is any access to the Internet via any device. The exams will cover material from lectures, readings, and the projects. The final will be cumulative, so review everything!


When answering exam questions, you cannot reproduce a figure from lecture slides or other sources in textbooks or the Web. Doing so is plagiarism. Even when answering exam questions your work must be your own. Answers violating this rule will be given an automatic zero. If any group of students have the exact same answer to a question, it will be treated as if you copied from each other during the exam.

I do not want to discourage studying for exams in groups. However, regurgitation of facts without being able to use your own words shows that you don't truly understand the material.

If you do not know the answer to an exam question and leave it blank, you will automatically receive 10% of the points for the question. If you answer a question incorrectly, you get zero points.


Projects:4%, 8%, 12%, 16%, 20%
Midterm and Final:15% and 20%

Each project will include a breakdown of how it will be graded. Some projects may include extra credit components that can boost your grade above the maximum score :)

To calculate final grades, I simply sum up the points obtained by each student (the points will sum up to some number x out of 100) and then use the following scale to determine the letter grade: [0-60] F, [60-62] D-, [63-66] D, [67-69] D+, [70-72] C-, [73-76] C, [77-79] C+, [80-82] B-, [83-86] B, [87-89] B+, [90-92] A-, [93-100] A. I do not curve the grades in any way.

Regrading and Challenges

New policy!In this class, we will use the Coaches Challenge to handle requests for regrading. Each student is allotted two (2) challenges each semester. If you want a homework, project, or a test to be regraded, you must visit during office hours with a challenge in writing specifying (a) the problem or problems you want to be regraded, and (b) for each of these problems, why you think the problem was misgraded. If it turns out that there has been an error in grading, the grade will be corrected, and you get to keep your challenge. However, if the original grade was correct, then you permanently lose your challenge. Once your two challenges are exhausted, you will not be able to request regrades.

Note that, in the case of projects, all group members must have an available challenge in order to contest a grade. If the challenge is successful, then all group members get to keep their challenge. However, if the challenge is unsuccessful, then all group members permamently lose one challenge.

Any requests for grade changes must be made within seven days of when the work was returned.

Late Policy

For programming projects, we will use flexible slip dates. Each student is given four slip days for the semester. You may use the slip days on any project during the semester in increments of one day. For example, you can hand in one project four days late, or one project two days late and two projects one day late. The slip time will be deducted from each group member's remaining slip time. Keep this stipulation in mind: if one member of a group has zero slip days remaining, then that means the whole group has zero slip days remaining.

After you have used up your slip time, any project handed in late will be marked off using the following formula:

Original_Grade * (1 - ceiling(Seconds_Late / 86400) * 0.2) = Late_Grade

In other words, every day late is 20% off your grade. Being 1 second late is exactly equivalent to being 23 hours and 59 minutes late. My late policy is extremely generous, and therefore I will not be sympathetic to excuses for lateness. Late penalties cannot be challenged.

Cheating Policy

Projects must be entirely the work of the students turning them in, i.e. you and your group members. Copying code from other students (past or present) or websites is strictly prohibited. If you have any questions about using a particular resource, ask the course staff or post a question to the class forum.

All students are subject to the Northeastern University Academic Integrity Policy. All cases of suspected plagiarism or other academic dishonesty will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR).

Support for this class

The CDN project for this class is supported by an AWS in Education Grant award. Many thanks to Amazon for this!