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Inter-VLAN Routing

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from Switching, Routing, and Wireless Essentials Companion Guide (CCNAv7) for Cisco Networking Academy students, you will learn how to troubleshoot common inter-VLAN configuration issues.

Inter-VLAN Routing Operation (4.1)

In this section, you learn about two options for configuring for inter-VLAN routing.

What Is Inter-VLAN Routing? (4.1.1)

VLANs are used to segment switched Layer 2 networks for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the reason, hosts in one VLAN cannot communicate with hosts in another VLAN unless there is a router or a Layer 3 switch to provide routing services.

Inter-VLAN routing is the process of forwarding network traffic from one VLAN to another VLAN.

There are three inter-VLAN routing options:

  • Legacy Inter-VLAN routing: This is a legacy solution. It does not scale well.

  • Router-on-a-Stick: This is an acceptable solution for a small- to medium-sized network.

  • Layer 3 switch using switched virtual interfaces (SVIs): This is the most scalable solution for medium to large organizations.

Legacy Inter-VLAN Routing (4.1.2)

The first inter-VLAN routing solution relied on using a router with multiple Ethernet interfaces. Each router interface was connected to a switch port in different VLANs. The router interfaces served as the default gateways to the local hosts on the VLAN subnet.

For example, refer to the topology in Figure 4-1 where R1 has two interfaces connected to switch S1.


Figure 4-1 Legacy Inter-VLAN Routing Example

As shown in Table 4-1, the example MAC address table of S1 is populated as follows:

  • Fa0/1 port is assigned to VLAN 10 and is connected to the R1 G0/0/0 interface.

  • Fa0/11 port is assigned to VLAN 10 and is connected to PC1.

  • Fa0/12 port is assigned to VLAN 20 and is connected to the R1 G0/0/1 interface.

  • Fa0/11 port is assigned to VLAN 20 and is connected to PC2.

Table 4-1 MAC Address Table for S1


MAC Address



R1 G0/0/0 MAC






R1 G0/0/1 MAC





When PC1 sends a packet to PC2 on another network, it forwards it to its default gateway R1 receives the packet on its G0/0/0 interface and examines the destination address of the packet. R1 then routes the packet out its G0/0/1 interface to the F0/12 port in VLAN 20 on S1. Finally, S1 forwards the frame to PC2.

Legacy inter-VLAN routing using physical interfaces works, but it has a significant limitation. It is not reasonably scalable because routers have a limited number of physical interfaces. Requiring one physical router interface per VLAN quickly exhausts the physical interface capacity of a router.

In our example, R1 required two separate Ethernet interfaces to route between VLAN 10 and VLAN 20. What if there were six (or more) VLANs to interconnect? A separate interface would be required for each VLAN. Obviously, this solution is not scalable.

Router-on-a-Stick Inter-VLAN Routing (4.1.3)

The “router-on-a-stick” inter-VLAN routing method overcomes the limitation of the legacy inter-VLAN routing method. It requires only one physical Ethernet interface to route traffic between multiple VLANs on a network.

A Cisco IOS router Ethernet interface is configured as an 802.1Q trunk and connected to a trunk port on a Layer 2 switch. Specifically, the router interface is configured using subinterfaces to identify routable VLANs.

The configured subinterfaces are software-based virtual interfaces. Each is associated with a single physical Ethernet interface. Subinterfaces are configured in software on a router. Each subinterface is independently configured with an IP address and VLAN assignment. Subinterfaces are configured for different subnets that correspond to their VLAN assignment. This facilitates logical routing.

When VLAN-tagged traffic enters the router interface, it is forwarded to the VLAN subinterface. After a routing decision is made based on the destination IP network address, the router determines the exit interface for the traffic. If the exit interface is configured as an 802.1Q subinterface, the data frames are VLAN-tagged with the new VLAN and sent back out the physical interface.

Figure 4-2 shows an example of router-on-a-stick inter-VLAN routing. PC1 on VLAN 10 is communicating with PC3 on VLAN 30 through router R1 using a single, physical router interface.


Figure 4-2 Unicast from VLAN 10 Is Route to VLAN 30

Figure 4-2 illustrates the following steps:

  • Step 1. PC1 sends its unicast traffic to switch S2.

  • Step 2. Switch S2 tags the unicast traffic as originating on VLAN 10 and forwards the unicast traffic out its trunk link to switch S1.

  • Step 3. Switch S1 forwards the tagged traffic out the other trunk interface on port F0/3 to the interface on router R1.

  • Step 4. Router R1 accepts the tagged unicast traffic on VLAN 10 and routes it to VLAN 30 using its configured subinterfaces.

    In Figure 4-3, R1 routes the traffic to the correct VLAN.

    FIGURE 4-3

    Figure 4-3 Router Tags Unicast Frame with VLAN 30

    Figure 4-3 illustrates the following steps:

  • Step 5. The unicast traffic is tagged with VLAN 30 as it is sent out the router interface to switch S1.

  • Step 6. Switch S1 forwards the tagged unicast traffic out the other trunk link to switch S2.

  • Step 7. Switch S2 removes the VLAN tag of the unicast frame and forwards the frame out to PC3 on port F0/23.

Inter-VLAN Routing on a Layer 3 Switch (4.1.4)

The modern method of performing inter-VLAN routing is to use Layer 3 switches and switched virtual interfaces (SVI). An SVI is a virtual interface that is configured on a Layer 3 switch, as shown in Figure 4-4.


Figure 4-4 Layer 3 Switch Inter-VLAN Routing Example

Inter-VLAN SVIs are created the same way that the management VLAN interface is configured. The SVI is created for a VLAN that exists on the switch. Although virtual, the SVI performs the same functions for the VLAN as a router interface would. Specifically, it provides Layer 3 processing for packets that are sent to or from all switch ports associated with that VLAN.

The following are advantages of using Layer 3 switches for inter-VLAN routing:

  • They are much faster than router-on-a-stick because everything is hardware switched and routed.

  • There is no need for external links from the switch to the router for routing.

  • They are not limited to one link because Layer 2 EtherChannels can be used as trunk links between the switches to increase bandwidth.

  • Latency is much lower because data does not need to leave the switch to be routed to a different network.

  • They are more commonly deployed in a campus LAN than routers.

The only disadvantage is that Layer 3 switches are more expensive than Layer 2 switches, but they can be less expensive than a separate Layer 2 switch and router.

5. Router-on-a-Stick Inter-VLAN Routing (4.2) | Next Section Previous Section

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