Packet Forwarding Mechanisms

In this article we will discuss Packet Forwarding Mechanisms, will make brief discussion on Packet Forwarding Mechanisms, In last article we discuss about Routers Are Computers.

Routers support three packet-forwarding mechanisms:

  • Process switching – An older packet forwarding mechanism still available for Cisco routers. When a packet arrives on an interface, it is forwarded to the control plane where the CPU matches the destination address with an entry in its routing table, and then determines the exit interface and forwards the packet. It is important to understand that the router does this for every packet, even if the destination is the same for a stream of packets. This process-switching mechanism is very slow and rarely implemented in modern networks.
  • Fast switching – This is a common packet forwarding mechanism which uses a fast-switching cache to store next-hop information. When a packet arrives on an interface, it is forwarded to the control plane where the CPU searches for a match in the fast-switching cache. If it is not there, it is process-switched and forwarded to the exit interface. The flow information for the packet is also stored in the fast-switching cache. If another packet going to the same destination arrives on an interface, the next-hop information in the cache is re-used without CPU intervention.
  • Cisco Express Forwarding (CEF) – CEF is the most recent and preferred Cisco IOS packet-forwarding mechanism. Like fast switching, CEF builds a Forwarding Information Base (FIB), and an adjacency table. However, the table entries are not packet-triggered like fast switching but change-triggered such as when something changes in the network topology. Therefore, when a network has converged, the FIB and adjacency tables contain all the information a router would have to consider when forwarding a packet. The FIB contains pre-computed reverse lookups, next hop information for routes including the interface and Layer 2 information. Cisco Express Forwarding is the fastest forwarding mechanism and the preferred choice on Cisco routers.

A common analogy used to describe the three packet-forwarding mechanisms is as follows:

  • Process switching solves a problem by doing math long hand, even if it is the identical problem.
  • Fast switching solves a problem by doing math long hand one time and remembering the answer for subsequent identical problems.
  • CEF solves every possible problem ahead of time in a spreadsheet.

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