Dynamic Routing Protocols

Chapter Description

This sample chapter from CCIE: Routing TCP/IP Volume I shows how routers can discover how to correctly switch packets to their respective destinations automatically and share that information with other routers via dynamic routing protocols.

The last chapter explained what a router needs to know to correctly switch packets to their respective destinations and how that information is put into the route table manually. This chapter shows how routers can discover this information automatically and share that information with other routers via dynamic routing protocols. A routing protocol is the language a router speaks with other routers in order to share information about the reachability and status of networks.

Dynamic routing protocols not only perform these path determination and route table update functions but also determine the next-best path if the best path to a destination becomes unusable. The capability to compensate for topology changes is the most important advantage dynamic routing offers over static routing.

Obviously, for communications to occur the communicators must speak the same language. There are eight major IP routing protocols from which to choose; if one router speaks RIP and another speaks OSPF, they cannot share routing information because they are not speaking the same language. Subsequent chapters examine all the IP routing protocols in current use, and even consider how to make a router "bilingual," but first it is necessary to explore some characteristics and issues common to all routing protocols—IP or otherwise.

Routing Protocol Basics

All dynamic routing protocols are built around an algorithm. Generally, an algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. A routing algorithm must, at a minimum, specify the following:

  • A procedure for passing reachability information about networks to other routers

  • A procedure for receiving reachability information from other routers

  • A procedure for determining optimal routes based on the reachability information it has and for recording this information in a route table

  • A procedure for reacting to, compensating for, and advertising topology changes in an internetw_ork

A few issues common to any routing protocol are path determination, metrics, convergence, and load balancing.

Path Determination

All networks within an internetwork must be connected to a router, and wherever a router has an interface on a network that interface must have an address on the network. This address is the originating point for reachability information.

Figure 4.1 shows a simple three-router internetwork. Router A knows about networks,, and because it has interfaces on those networks with corresponding addresses and appropriate address masks. Likewise, router B knows about,,, and; router C knows about,, and Each interface implements the data link and physical protocols of the network to which it is attached, so the router also knows the state of the network (up or down).

Figure 4.1 Each router knows about its directly connected networks from its assigned addresses and masks.

At first glance, the information-sharing procedure seems simple. Look at router A:

  1. Router A examines its IP addresses and associated masks and deduces that it is attached to networks,, and

  2. Router A enters these networks into its route table, along with some sort of flag indicating that the networks are directly connected.

  3. Router A places the information into a packet: "My directly connected networks are,, and"

  4. Router A transmits copies of these route information packets, or routing updates, to routers B and C.

  5. Routers B and C, having performed the same steps, have sent updates with their directly connected networks to A. Router A enters the received information into its route table, along with the source address of the router that sent the update packet. Router A now knows about all the networks, and it knows the addresses of the routers to which they are attached.

This procedure does seem quite simple. So why are routing protocols so much more complicated than this? Look again at Figure 4.1.

  • What should router A do with the updates from B and C after it has recorded the information in the route table? Should it, for instance, pass B's routing information packet to C and pass C's packet to B?

  • If router A does not forward the updates, information sharing may not be complete. For instance, if the link between B and C does not exist, those two routers would not know about each other's networks. Router A must forward the update information, but this step opens a whole new set of problems.

  • If router A hears about network from both router B and router C, which router should be used to reach that network? Are they both valid? Which one is the best path?

  • What mechanism will be used to ensure that all routers receive all routing information while preventing update packets from circulating endlessly through the internetwork?

  • The routers share certain directly connected networks (,, and Should the routers still advertise these networks?

These questions are almost as simplistic as the preceding preliminary explanation of routing protocols, but they should give you a feel for some of the issues that contribute to the complexity of the protocols. Each routing protocol addresses these questions one way or another, as will become clear in following sections and chapters.


When there are multiple routes to the same destination, a router must have a mechanism for calculating the best path. A metric is a variable assigned to routes as a means of ranking them from best to worst or from most preferred to least preferred. Consider the following example of why metrics are needed.

Assuming that information sharing has properly occurred in the internetwork of Figure 4.1, router A might have a route table that looks like Table 4.1.

Table 4.1 A rudimentary route table for router A of Figure 4.1.


Next-Hop Router

Directly connected

Directly connected

Directly connected

B, C

B, C

B, C

B, C

This route table says that the first three networks are directly connected and that no routing is needed from router A to reach them, which is correct. The last four networks, according to this table, can be reached via router B or router C. This information is also correct. But if network can be reached via either router B or router C, which path is the preferable path? Metrics are needed to rank the alternatives.

Different routing protocols use different, and sometimes multiple, metrics. For example, RIP defines the "best" route as the one with

Hop Count

A hop count metric simply counts router hops. For instance, from router A it is 1 hop to network if packets are sent out interface (through router B) and 2 hops if packets are sent out (through routers C and B). Assuming hop count is the only metric being applied, the best route is the one with the fewest hops, in this case, A-B.

But is the A-B link really the best path? If the A-B link is a DS-0 link and the A-C and C-B links are T-1 links, the 2-hop route may actually be best because bandwidth plays a role in how efficiently traffic travels through the network.


A bandwidth metric would choose a higher-bandwidth path over a lower-bandwidth link. However, bandwidth by itself still may not be a good metric. What if one or both of the T1 links are heavily loaded with other traffic and the 56K link is lightly loaded? Or what if the higher-bandwidth link also has a higher delay?


This metric reflects the amount of traffic utilizing the links along the path. The best path is the one with the lowest load.

Unlike hop count and bandwidth, the load on a route changes, and therefore the metric will change. Care must be taken here. If the metric changes too frequently, route flapping—the frequent


Delay is a measure of the time a packet takes to traverse a route. A routing protocol using delay as a metric would choose the path with the least delay as the best path. There may be many ways to measure delay. Delay may take into account not only the delay of the links along the route but also such factors as router latency and queuing delay. On the other hand, the delay of a route may be not measured at all; it may be a sum of static quantities defined for each interface along the path. Each individual delay quantity would be an estimate based on the type of link to which the interface is connected.


Reliability measures the likelihood that the link will fail in some way and can be either variable or fixed. Examples of variable-reliability metrics are the number of times a link has failed or the number of errors it has received within a certain time period. Fixed-reliability metrics are based on known qualities of a link as determined by the network administrator. The path with highest reliability would be selected as best.


This metric is configured by a network administrator to reflect more- or less-preferred routes. Cost may be defined by any policy or link characteristic or may reflect the arbitrary judgment of the network administrator.

The term cost is often used as a generic term when speaking of route choices. For example, "RIP chooses the lowest-cost path based on hop count." Another generic term is shortest, as in "RIP chooses the shortest path based on hop count." When used in this context, either lowest-cost (or highest-cost) and shortest (or longest) merely refer to a routing protocol's view of paths based on its specific metrics.


A dynamic routing protocol must include a set of procedures for a router to inform other routers about its directly connected networks, to receive and process the same information from other routers, and to pass along the information it receives from other routers. Further, a routing protocol must define a metric by which best paths may be determined.

A further criteria for routing protocols is that the reachability information in the route tables of all routers in the internetwork must be consistent. If router A in Figure 4.1 determines that the best path to network is via router C and if router C determines that the best path to the same network is through router A, router A will send packets destined for to C, C will send them back to A, A will again send them to C, and so on. This continuous circling of traffic between two or more destinations is referred to as a routing loop.

The process of bringing all route tables to a state of consistency is called convergence. The time it takes to share information across

Figure 4.2 shows an internetwork that was converged, but now a topology change has occurred. The link between the two left-most routers has failed; both routers, being directly connected, know about the failure from the data link protocol and proceed to inform their neighbors of the unavailable link. The neighbors update their route tables accordingly and inform their neighbors, and the process continues until all routers know about the change.

Figure 4.2 Reconvergence after a topology change takes time. While the internetwork is in an unconverged state, routers are susceptible to bad routing information.

Notice that at time t2 the three left-most routers know about the topology change but the three right-most routers have not yet heard the news. Those three have old information and will continue to switch packets accordingly. It is during this intermediate time, when the internetwork is in an unconverged state, that routing errors may occur. Therefore convergence time is an important factor in any routing protocol. The faster a network can reconverge after a topology change, the better.

Load Balancing

Recall from Chapter 3, "Static Routing," that load balancing is the practice of distributing traffic among multiple paths to the same destination in order to use bandwidth efficiently. As an example of the usefulness of load balancing, consider Figure 4.1 again. All the networks in Figure 4.1 are reachable from two paths. If a device on sends a stream of packets to a device on, router A may send them all via router B or router C. In both cases, the network is 1 hop away. However, sending all packets on a single route probably is not the most efficient use of available bandwidth. Instead, load balancing should be implemented to alternate traffic between the two paths. As noted in Chapter 3, load balancing can be equal cost or unequal cost and per packet or per destination.

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