We investigate theoretically and experimentally the nonlinear dynamics of a synchronously pumped all-fiber passive ring cavity. Our study is based on the use of a specially designed stabilization system that allows for interferometric control of the cavity length. With this system we can achieve stable operation and we are able to perform systematic and reproducible measurements for the characterization of the fundamental nonlinear behaviors of the cavity such as optical bistability, period doubling instabilities, and dissipative modulational instabilities. Through the analysis of the output pulse spectra we show that modulational instability plays a crucial role in the dynamics of the cavity (in particular, in the period-doubling route to chaos) even with normal group-velocity dispersion. A theoretical study of modulational instability in the cavity is presented and is successfully compared with experimental results.
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