In computer networking, the maximum transmission unit (MTU) is the size of the largest protocol data unit (PDU) that can be communicated in a single network layer transaction. The MTU relates to, but is not identical to the maximum frame size that can be transported on the data link layer, e.g. Ethernet frame.
Larger MTU is associated with reduced overhead. Smaller MTU values can reduce network delay. In many cases, MTU is dependent on underlying network capabilities and must be adjusted manually or automatically so as to not exceed these capabilities. MTU parameters may appear in association with a communications interface or standard. Some systems may decide MTU at connect time.
MTUs apply to communications protocols and network layers. The MTU is specified in terms of bytes or octets of the largest protocol data unit that the layer can pass onwards. MTU parameters usually appear in association with a communications interface (NIC, serial port, etc.). Standards (Ethernet, for example) can fix the size of an MTU; or systems (such as point-to-point serial links) may decide MTU at connect time.
Underlying data link and physical layers usually add overhead to the network layer data to be transported, so for a given maximum frame size of a medium one needs to subtract the amount of overhead to calculate that medium’s MTU. For example, with Ethernet, the maximum frame size is 1518 bytes, 18 bytes of which are overhead (header and FCS), resulting in an MTU of 1500 bytes.