Discussion of NodeID Alias Size on CAN Links

How big should the NodeID alias field be on CAN links?

This note describes the issues in more detail, followed by a recommendation.



The Node ID size limits the number of unique nodes that can take part in communications on the CAN segment. Because Node ID aliases are assigned independently on each CAN segment, the only issue is how many different nodes are involved, not which ones they are or what pattern(s) are available in their address numbers.

For electrical/timing reasons, a segment itself can only support a maximum of about 100 nodes, but communication also involves nodes off the segment. For example, chaining N CAN segments via bridges will generally make up to 100*N nodes available. We have a use case of chaining small numbers of CAN segments together, implying the need to address 500 or 1000 nodes.

As another example, a very large network might connect many CAN segments via TCP/IP or other networked connections. Each CAN-attached node might need to communicate with a larger number of others spread across that network.

(CAN backbone case)

Collisions during Allocation

The allocation process resolves collisions (attempt to use an already allocated Node ID alias), but that takes time. Minimizing the number of collisions is good. If the address space is just the size of the number of things you want to address, the collisions get hard /slow to resolve across multiple nodes. This points to having a factor of 2, at least, between the number of nodes to be addressed and the size of the address space.

(Mostly talking about separate nodes here, not just one big interface node: Points to CAN backbone case)


Reducing size most important (so far) in the stream protocol.

Events and Datagrams can be transmitted with a 16-bit alias size.

To get the full payload (8 bytes) for streaming requires getting the rest of the protocol control, including two aliases for source and destination, in the 29 bit header. Allowing 2 bits for priority/extension, 2 for protocol control, 2 for MTI and 3 for stream ID (all very bare minima) leads to a 10-bit node ID alias length.

Using 1 of 8 payload bytes allows up to 14 bit node ID alias lengths, or 12 bit node ID alias lengths with some room for expansion and simpler MTI coding.


Byte vs nibble vs bit boundaries in code, when debugging the protocol, etc.

Having extra bits available in the header allows much simpler MTI coding, reserving specific bits for expansion instead of codes, etc.

Past, Present, Future History

The notional node ID alias size was originally 16 bits. Changing it now would require some recoding of examples, and have some political costs.

Enlarging it in the future would be extremely difficult. Once CAN nodes have been produced and released in the wild, they will continue to use the same alias fields forever, and it's not realistic to change them. Having two separate alias field formats (“large” and “small”) would split the protocol into two non-interoperating formats, which is not acceptable.


Having the destination short enough to be in the header allows automated filtering of traffic.


Size considerations would push toward 10 bits, but allocation would then limit that to about 500 nodes, and that's just too small.


Alternative: Combined Stream ID and Destination Address

(Alex Shepherd made a very interesting suggestion)

Combine destination & stream ID into a smaller field, limiting the number of streams from a given destination on a link, but reducing the space used. (Alex) Might also allow useful filtering. Limits number of streams on a link to any node, but perhaps that's OK on a single CAN link. Limits number from a single initiator. Does not limit number of streams to a destination, e.g. number of people sending logging or debugging information to a node.

What do intermediate gateways need to do for this? Is this more than just pre-allocating buffers for streams they have to forward, and throwing away streams that don't have pre-allocated buffers? Can this be done without routing tables, e.g. “Allocate buffer on initialization message. Throw away buffer and don't forward if you next see a data transfer, without seeing the returning initialization, because that means that some other path is servicing this”

If the gateway is doing the mapping from src/dest/streamID to src/streamID', it might have to reject based on “not enough IDs available” or something like that, which the upstream needs to then retry.

Looks like if we allow 16 streams from a source on a single CAN link, all fits in header, so get 8 bytes in packet.

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