RFC3221: Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing in the Internet

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Network Working Group                                          G. Huston
Request for Comments: 3221                   Internet Architecture Board
Category: Informational                                    December 2001

                             Commentary on
                  Inter-Domain Routing in the Internet

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.


   This document examines the various longer term trends visible within
   the characteristics of the Internet's BGP table and identifies a
   number of operational practices and protocol factors that contribute
   to these trends.  The potential impacts of these practices and
   protocol properties on the scaling properties of the inter-domain
   routing space are examined.

   This document is the outcome of a collaborative exercise on the part
   of the Internet Architecture Board.

Table of Contents

   1.   Introduction.................................................  2
   2.   Network Scaling and Inter-Domain Routing  ...................  2
   3.   Measurements of the total size of the BGP Table  ............  4
   4.   Related Measurements derived from BGP Table  ................  7
   5.   Current State of inter-AS routing in the Internet  .......... 11
   6.   Future Requirements for the Exterior Routing System  ........ 14
   7.   Architectural Approaches to a scalable Exterior
          Routing Protocol........................................... 15
   8.   Directions for Further Activity  ............................ 21
   9.   Security Considerations  .................................... 22
   10.  References  ................................................. 23
   11.  Acknowledgements  ........................................... 24
   12.  Author's Address  ........................................... 24
   13.  Full Copyright Statement  ................................... 25

Huston                       Informational                      [Page 1]
RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

1.  Introduction

   This document examines the various longer term trends visible within
   the characteristics of the Internet's BGP table and identifies a
   number of operational practices and protocol factors that contribute
   to these trends.  The potential impacts of these practices and
   protocol properties on the scaling properties of the inter-domain
   routing space are examined.

   These impacts include the potential for exhaustion of the existing
   Autonomous System number space, increasing convergence times for
   selection of stable alternate paths following withdrawal of route
   announcements, the stability of table entries, and the average prefix
   length of entries in the BGP table.  The larger long term issue is
   that of an increasingly denser inter-connectivity mesh between ASes,
   causing a finer degree of granularity of inter-domain policy and
   finer levels of control to undertake inter-domain traffic

   Various approaches to a refinement of the inter-domain routing
   protocol and associated operating practices that may provide superior
   scaling properties are identified as an area for further

   This document is the outcome of a collaborative exercise on the part
   of the Internet Architecture Board.

2.   Network Scaling and Inter-Domain Routing

   Are there inherent scaling limitations in the technology of the
   Internet or its architecture of deployment that may impact on the
   ability of the Internet to meet escalating levels of demand? There
   are a number of potential areas to search for such limitations.
   These include the capacity of transmission systems, packet switching
   capacity, the continued availability of protocol addresses, and the
   capability of the routing system to produce a stable view of the
   overall topology of the network.  In this study we will look at this
   latter capability with the objective of identifying some aspects of
   the scaling properties of the Internet's routing system.

   The basic structure of the Internet is a collection of networks, or
   Autonomous Systems (ASes) that are interconnected to form a connected
   domain.  Each AS uses an interior routing system to maintain a
   coherent view of the topology within the AS, and uses an exterior
   routing system to maintain adjacency information with neighboring
   ASes to create a view of the connectivity of the entire system.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

   This network-wide connectivity is described in the routing table used
   by the BGP4 protocol (referred to as the Routing Information Base, or
   RIB).  Each entry in the table refers to a distinct route.  The
   attributes of the route, together with local policy constraints, are
   used to determine the best path from the local AS to the AS that is
   originating the route.  Determining the 'best path' in this case is
   determining which routing advertisement and associated next hop
   address is the most preferred by the local AS.  Within each local
   BGP-speaking router this preferred route is then loaded into the
   local RIB (Loc-RIB).  This information is coupled with information
   obtained from the local instance of the interior routing protocol to
   form a Forwarding Information Base (or FIB), for use by the local
   router's forwarding engine.

   The BGP routing system is not aware of finer level of topology of the
   network on a link-by-link basis within the local AS or within any
   remote AS.  From this perspective BGP can be seen as an inter-AS
   connectivity maintenance protocol, as distinct from a link-level
   topology management protocol, and the BGP routing table can be viewed
   as a description of the current connectivity of the Internet using an
   AS as the basic element of connectivity computation.

   There is an associated dimension of policy determination within the
   routing table.  If an AS advertises a route to a neighboring AS, the
   local AS is offering to accept traffic from the neighboring AS which
   is ultimately destined to addresses described by the advertised
   routing entry.  If the local AS does not originate the route, then
   the inference is that the local AS is willing to undertake the role
   of transit provider for this traffic on behalf of some third party.
   Similarly, an AS may or may not choose to accept a route from a
   neighbor.  Accepting a route implies that under some circumstances,
   as determined by the local route selection parameters, the local AS
   will use the neighboring AS to reach addresses spanned by the route.
   The BGP routing domain is intended to maintain a coherent view of the
   connectivity of the inter-AS domain, where connectivity is expressed
   as a preference for 'shortest paths' to reach any destination address
   as modulated by the connectivity policies expressed by each AS, and
   coherence is expressed as a global constraint that none of the paths
   contains loops or dead ends.  The elements of the BGP routing domain
   are routing entries, expressed as a span of addresses.  All addresses
   advertised within each routing entry share a common origin AS and a
   common connectivity policy.  The total size of the BGP table is
   therefore a metric of the number of distinct routes within the
   Internet, where each route describes a contiguous set of addresses
   that share a common origin AS and a common reachability policy.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

   When the scaling properties of the Internet were studied in the early
   1990s two critical factors identified in the study were, not
   surprisingly, routing and addressing [2].  As more devices connect to
   the Internet they consume addresses, and the associated function of
   maintaining reachability information for these addresses, with an
   assumption of an associated growth in the number of distinct provider
   networks and the number of distinct connectivity policies, implies
   ever larger routing tables.  The work in studying the limitations of
   the 32 bit IPv4 address space produced a number of outcomes,
   including the specification of IPv6 [3], as well as the refinement of
   techniques of network address translation [4] intended to allow some
   degree of transparent interaction between two networks using
   different address realms.  Growth in the routing system is not
   directly addressed by these approaches, as the routing space is the
   cross product of the complexity of the inter-AS topology of the
   network, multiplied by the number of distinct connectivity policies
   multiplied by the degree of fragmentation of the address space.  For
   example, use of NAT may reduce the pressure on the number of public
   addresses required by a single connected network, but it does not
   necessarily imply that the network's connectivity policies can be
   subsumed within the aggregated policy of a single upstream provider.

   When an AS advertises a block of addresses into the exterior routing
   space this entry is generally carried across the entire exterior
   routing domain of the Internet.  To measure the common
   characteristics of the global routing table, it is necessary to
   establish a point in the default-free part of the exterior routing
   domain and examine the BGP routing table that is visible at that

3.  Measurements of the total size of the BGP Table

   Measurements of the size of the routing table were somewhat sporadic
   to start, and a number of measurements were taken at approximate
   monthly intervals from 1988 until 1992 by Merit [5].  This effort was
   resumed in 1994 by Erik-Jan Bos at Surfnet in the Netherlands, who
   commenced measuring the size of the BGP table at hourly intervals in
   1994.  This measurement technique was adopted by the author in 1997,
   using a measurement point located at the edge of AS 1221 at Telstra
   in Australia, again using an hourly interval for the measurement.
   The initial measurements were of the number of routing entries
   contained within the set of selected best paths.  These measurements
   were expanded to include the number of AS numbers, number of AS
   paths, and a set of measurements relating to the prefix size of
   routing table entries.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

   This data  contains a view of the dynamics of the Internet's routing
   table growth that spans some 13 years in total and includes a very
   detailed view spanning the most recent seven years [6].  Looking at
   just the total size of the BGP routing table over this period, it is
   possible to identify four distinct phases of inter-AS routing
   practice in the Internet.

3.1  Pre-CIDR Growth

   The initial characteristics of the routing table size from 1988 until
   April 1994 show definite characteristics of exponential growth.  If
   continued unchecked, this growth would have lead to saturation of the
   available BGP routing table space in the non-default routers of the
   time within a small number of years.

   Estimates of the time at which this would've happened varied somewhat
   from study to study, but the overall general theme of these
   observations was that the growth rates of the BGP routing table were
   exceeding the growth in hardware and software capability of the
   deployed network, and that at some point in the mid-1990's, the BGP
   table size would have grown to the point where it was larger than the
   capabilities of available equipment to support.

3.2  CIDR Deployment

   The response from the engineering community was the introduction of a
   hierarchy into the inter-domain routing system.  The intent of the
   hierarchical routing structure was to allow a provider to merge the
   routing entries for its customers into a single routing entry that
   spanned its entire customer base.  The practical aspects of this
   change was the introduction of routing protocols that dispensed with
   the requirement for the Class A, B and C address delineation,
   replacing this scheme with a routing system that carried an address
   prefix and an associated prefix length.  This approached was termed
   Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) [5].

   A concerted effort was undertaken in 1994 and 1995 to deploy CIDR
   routing in the Internet, based on encouraging deployment of the
   CIDR-capable version of the BGP protocol, BGP4 [7].

   The intention of CIDR was one of hierarchical provider address
   aggregation, where a network provider was allocated an address block
   from an address registry, and the provider announced this entire
   block into the exterior routing domain as a single entry with a
   single routing policy.  Customers of the provider were encouraged to
   use a sub-allocation from the provider's address block, and these
   smaller routing elements were aggregated by the provider and not
   directly passed into the exterior routing domain.  During 1994 the

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   size of the routing table remained relatively constant at some 20,000
   entries as the growth in the number of providers announcing address
   blocks was matched by a corresponding reduction in the number of
   address announcements as a result of CIDR aggregation.

3.3  CIDR Growth

   For the next four years until the start of 1998, CIDR proved
   effective in damping unconstrained growth in the BGP routing table.
   During this period, the BGP table grew at an approximate linear rate,
   adding some 10,000 entries per year.

   A close examination of the table reveals a greater level of stability
   in the routing system at this time.  The short term (hourly)
   variation in the number of announced routes reduced, both as a
   percentage of the number of announced routes, and also in absolute
   terms.  One of the other benefits of using large aggregate address
   blocks is that instability at the edge of the network is not
   immediately propagated into the routing core.  The instability at the
   last hop is absorbed at the point where an aggregate route is used in
   place of a collection of more specific routes.  This, coupled with
   widespread adoption of BGP route flap damping, was very effective in
   reducing the short term instability in the routing space during this

3.4  Current Growth

   In late 1998 the trend of growth in the BGP table size changed
   radically, and the growth for the period 1998 - 2000 is again showing
   all the signs of a re-establishment of a growth trend with strong
   correlation to an exponential growth model.  This change in the
   growth trend appears to indicate that pressure to use hierarchical
   address allocations and CIDR has been unable to keep pace with the
   levels of growth of the Internet, and some additional factors that
   impact the growth in the BGP table size have become more prominent in
   the Internet.  This has lead to a growth pattern in the total size of
   the BGP table that has more in common with a compound growth model
   than a linear model.  A good fit of the data for the period from
   January 1999 until December 2000 is a compound growth model of 42%
   growth per year.

   An initial observation is that this growth pattern points to some
   weakening of the hierarchical model of connectivity and routing
   within the Internet.  To identify the characteristics of this recent
   trend it is necessary to look at a number of related characteristics
   of the routing table.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

   BGP table size data for the first half of 2001 shows different trends
   at various measurement points in the Internet.  Some measurement
   points where the local AS has a relative larger number of more
   specific routes show a steady state for the first half of 2001 with
   no appreciable growth, while other measurement points where the local
   AS has had a lower number of more specific routes initially show a
   continuation of table size growth.  There are a number of commonly
   observed discontinuities in the data for 2001, corresponding to
   events where a significant number of more specific entries have been
   replaced by an encompassing aggregate prefix.

4.  Related Measurements derived from BGP Table

   The level of analysis of the BGP routing table has been extended in
   an effort to identify the factors contributing to this growth, and to
   determine whether this leads to some limiting factors in the
   potential size of the routing space.  Analysis includes measuring the
   number of ASes in the routing system, and the number of distinct AS
   paths, the range of addresses spanned by the table and average span
   of each routing entry.

4.1  AS Number Consumption

   Each network that is multi-homed within the topology of the Internet
   and wishes to express a distinct external routing policy must use a
   unique AS number to associate its advertised addresses with such a
   policy.  In general, each network is associated with a single AS, and
   the number of ASes in the default-free routing table tracks the
   number of entities that have unique routing policies.  There are some
   exceptions to this, including large global transit providers with
   varying regional policies, where multiple ASes are associated with a
   single network, but such exceptions are relatively uncommon.

   The number of unique ASes present in the BGP table has been tracked
   since late 1996, and the trend of AS number deployment over the past
   four years is also one that matches a compound growth model with a
   growth rate of 51% per year.  As of the start of May 2001 there were
   some 10,700 ASes visible in the BGP table.  At a continued rate of
   growth of 51% p.a., the 16 bit AS number space will be fully deployed
   by August 2005.  Work is underway within the IETF to modify the BGP
   protocol to carry AS numbers in a 32-bit field. [8]  While the
   protocol modifications are relatively straightforward, the major
   responsibility rests with the operations community to devise a
   transition plan that will allow gradual transition into this larger
   AS number space.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

4.2  Address Consumption

   It is also possible to track the total amount of address space
   advertised within the BGP routing table.  At the start of 2001 the
   routing table encompassed 1,081,131,733 addresses, or some 25.17% of
   the total IPv4 address space, or 25.4% of the usable unicast public
   address space.  By September 2001 this has growth to 1,123,124,472
   addresses, or some 26% of the IPv4 address space.  This has grown
   from 1,019,484,655 addresses in November 1999.  However, there are a
   number of /8 prefixes that are periodically announced and withdrawn
   from the BGP table, and if the effects of these prefixes is removed,
   a compound growth model against the previous 12 months of data of
   this metric yields a best fit model of growth of 7% per year in the
   total number of addresses spanned by the routing table.

   Compared to the 42% growth in the number of routing advertisements,
   the growth in the amount of address space advertised is far lower.
   One possible explanation is that much of the growth of the Internet
   in terms of growth in the number of connected devices is occurring
   behind various forms of NAT gateways.  In terms of solving the
   perceived finite nature of the address space identified just under a
   decade ago, this explanation would tend to indicate that the Internet
   appears so far to have embraced the approach of using NATs,
   irrespective of their various perceived functional shortcomings. [9]
   This explanation also supports the observation of smaller address
   fragments supporting distinct policies in the BGP table, as such
   small address blocks may encompass arbitrarily large networks located
   behind one or more NAT gateways.  There are alternative explanations
   of this difference between the growth of the table and the growth of
   address space, including a trend towards discrete exterior routing
   policies being applied to finer address blocks.

4.3  Granularity of Table Entries

   The intent of CIDR aggregation was to support the use of large
   aggregate address announcements in the BGP routing table.  To confirm
   whether this is still the case the average span of each BGP
   announcement has been tracked for the past 12 months.  The data
   indicates a decline in the average span of a BGP advertisement from
   16,000 individual addresses in November 1999 to 12,100 in December
   2000.  As of September 2001 this span has been further reduced to an
   average 10,700 individual addresses per routing entry.  This
   corresponds to an increase in the average prefix length from /18.03
   to /18.44 by December 2000 and a /18.6 by September 2001.  Separate
   observations of the average prefix length used to route traffic in
   operation networks in late 2000 indicate an average length of 18.1
   [11].  This trend towards finer-grained entries in the routing table
   is potentially cause for concern, as it implies the increasing spread

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

   of traffic over greater numbers of increasingly smaller forwarding
   table entries.  This, in turn, has implications for the design of
   high speed core routers, particularly when extensive use is made of a
   small number of very high speed cached forwarding entries within the
   switching subsystem of a router's design.

   A similar observation can be made regarding the number of addresses
   advertised per AS.  In December 1999 each AS advertised an average of
   161,900 addresses (equivalent to a prefix length /14.69, and in
   January 2001 this average has fallen to 115,800 addresses, an
   equivalent prefix length of /15.18.

   This points to increasingly finer levels of routing detail being
   announced into the global routing domain.  This, in turn, supports
   the observation that the efficiencies of hierarchical routing
   structures are no longer being fully realized within the deployed
   Internet.  Instead, increasingly finer levels of routing detail are
   being announced globally in the BGP tables.  The most likely cause of
   this trend of finer levels of routing granularity is an increasingly
   dense interconnection mesh, where more networks are moving from a
   single-homed connection with hierarchical addressing and routing into
   multi-homed connections without any hierarchical structure.  The spur
   for this increasingly dense connectivity mesh in the Internet may
   well be the declining unit costs of communications bearer services
   coupled with a common perception that richer sets of adjacencies
   yields greater levels of service resilience.

4.4  Prefix Length Distribution

   In addition to looking at the average prefix length, the analysis of
   the BGP table also includes an examination of the number of
   advertisements of each prefix length.

   An extensive program commenced in the mid-nineties to move away from
   intense use of the Class C space and to encourage providers to
   advertise larger address blocks, as part of the CIDR effort.  This
   has been reinforced by the address registries who have used provider
   allocation blocks that correspond to a prefix length of /19 and, more
   recently, /20.

   These measures were introduced in the mid-90's when there were some
   20,000 - 30,000 entries in the BGP table.  Some six years later in
   April 2001 it is interesting to note that of the 108,000 entries in
   the routing table, some 59,000 entries have a /24 prefix.  In
   absolute terms the /24 prefix set is the fastest growing set in the
   BGP routing table.  The routing entries of these smaller address
   blocks also show a much higher level of change on an hourly basis.
   While a large number of BGP routing points perform route flap

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   damping, nevertheless there is still a very high level of
   announcements and withdrawals of these entries in this particular
   area of the routing table when viewed using a perspective of route
   updates per prefix length.  Given that the numbers of these small
   prefixes are growing rapidly, there is cause for some concern that
   the total level of BGP flux, in terms of the number of announcements
   and withdrawals per second may be increasing, despite the pressures
   from flap damping.  This concern is coupled with the observation
   that, in terms of BGP stability under scaling pressure, it is not the
   absolute size of the BGP table that is of prime importance, but the
   rate of dynamic path re-computations that occur in the wake of
   announcements and withdrawals.  Withdrawals are of particular concern
   due to the number of transient intermediate states that the BGP
   distance vector algorithm explores in processing a withdrawal.
   Current experimental observations indicate a typical convergence time
   of some 2 minutes to propagate a route withdrawal across the BGP
   domain. [10]

   An increase in the density of the BGP mesh, coupled with an increase
   in the rate of such dynamic changes, does have serious implications
   in maintaining the overall stability of the BGP system as it
   continues to grow.  The registry allocation policies also have had
   some impact on the routing table prefix distribution.  The original
   registry practice was to use a minimum allocation unit of a /19, and
   the 10,000 prefix entries in the /17 to /19 range are a consequence
   of this policy decision.  More recently, the allocation policy now
   allows for a minimum allocation unit of a /20 prefix, and the /20
   prefix is used by some 4,300 entries as of January 2001, and in
   relative terms is one of the fastest growing prefix sets.  The number
   of entries corresponding to very small address blocks (smaller than a
   /24), while small in number as a proportion of the total BGP routing
   table, is the fastest growing in relative terms.  The number of /25
   through /32 prefixes in the routing table is growing faster, in terms
   of percentage change, than any other area of the routing table.  If
   prefix length filtering were in widespread use, the practice of
   announcing a very small address block with a distinct routing policy
   would have no particular beneficial outcome, as the address block
   would not be passed throughout the global BGP routing domain and the
   propagation of the associated policy would be limited in scope.  The
   growth of the number of these small address blocks, and the diversity
   of AS paths associated with these routing entries, points to a
   relatively limited use of prefix length filtering in today's
   Internet.  In the absence of any corrective pressure in the form of
   widespread adoption of prefix length filtering, the very rapid growth
   of global announcements of very small address blocks is likely to
   continue.  In percentage terms, the set of prefixes spanning /25 to
   /32 show the largest growth rates.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

4.5  Aggregation and Holes

   With the CIDR routing structure it is possible to advertise a more
   specific prefix of an existing aggregate.  The purpose of this more
   specific announcement is to punch a 'hole' in the policy of the
   larger aggregate announcement, creating a different policy for the
   specifically referenced address prefix.

   Another use of this mechanism is to perform a rudimentary form of
   load balancing and mutual backup for multi-homed networks.  In this
   model a network may advertise the same aggregate advertisement along
   each connection, but then advertise a set of specific advertisements
   for each connection, altering the specific advertisements such that
   the load on each connection is approximately balanced.  The two forms
   of holes can be readily discerned in the routing table - while the
   approach of policy differentiation uses an AS path that is different
   from the aggregate advertisement, the load balancing and mutual
   backup configuration uses the same As path for both the aggregate and
   the specific advertisements.  While it is difficult to understand
   whether the use of such more specific advertisements was intended to
   be an exception to a more general rule or not within the original
   intent of CIDR deployment, there appears to be very widespread use of
   this mechanism within the routing table.  Some 59,000 advertisements,
   or 55% of the total number of routing table entries, are being used
   to punch policy holes in existing aggregate announcements.  Of these
   the overall majority of some 42,000 routes use distinct AS paths, so
   that it does appear that this is evidence of finer levels of
   granularity of connection policy in a densely interconnected space.
   While long term data is not available for the relative level of such
   advertisements as a proportion of the full routing table, the growth
   level does strongly indicate that policy differentiation at a fine
   level within existing provider aggregates is a significant driver of
   overall table growth.

5. Current State of inter-AS routing in the Internet

   The resumption of compound growth trends within the BGP table, and
   the associated aspects of finer granularity of routing entries within
   the table form adequate grounds for consideration of potential
   refinements to the Internet's exterior routing protocols and
   potential refinements to current operating practices of inter-AS
   connectivity.  With the exception of the 16 bit AS number space,
   there is no particular finite limit to any aspect of the BGP table.
   The motivation for such activity is that a long term pattern of
   continued growth at current rates may once again pose a potential
   condition where the capacity of the available processors may be
   exceeded by some aspect of the Internet routing table.

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5.1  A denser interconnectivity mesh

   The decreasing unit cost of communications bearers in many part of
   the Internet is creating a rapidly expanding market in exchange
   points and other forms of inter-provider peering.  A model of
   extensive interconnection at the edges of the Internet is rapidly
   supplanting the deployment model of a single-homed network with a
   single upstream provider.  The underlying deployment model of CIDR
   was that of a single-homed network, allowing for a strict hierarchy
   of supply providers.  The business imperatives driving this denser
   mesh of interconnection in the Internet are substantial, and the
   casualty in this case is the CIDR-induced dampened growth of the BGP
   routing table.

5.2  Multi-Homed small networks and service resiliency

   It would appear that one of the major drivers of the recent growth of
   the BGP table is that of small networks, advertised as a /24 prefix
   entry in the routing table, multi-homing with a number of peers and
   upstream providers.  In the appropriate environment where there are a
   number of networks in relatively close proximity, using peer
   relationships can reduce total connectivity costs, as compared to
   using a single upstream service provider.  Equally significantly,
   multi-homing with a number of upstream providers is seen as a means
   of improving the overall availability of the service.  In essence,
   multi-homing is seen as an acceptable substitute for upstream service
   resiliency.  This has a potential side effect that when multi-homing
   is seen as a preferable substitute for upstream provider resiliency,
   the upstream provider cannot command a price premium for proving
   resiliency as an attribute of the provided service, and therefore has
   little economic incentive to spend the additional money required to
   engineer resiliency into the network.  The actions of the network's
   multi-homed clients then become self-fulfilling.  One way to
   characterize this behavior is that service resiliency in the Internet
   is becoming the responsibility of the customer, not the service

   In such an environment resiliency still exists, but rather than being
   a function of the bearer or switching subsystem, resiliency is
   provided through the function of the BGP routing system.  The
   question is not whether this is feasible or desirable in the
   individual case, but whether the BGP routing system can scale
   adequately to continue to undertake this role.

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RFC 3221           Commentary on Inter-Domain Routing      December 2001

5.3  Traffic Engineering via Routing

   Further driving this growth in the routing table is the use of
   selective advertisement of smaller prefixes along different paths in
   an effort to undertake traffic engineering within a multi-homed
   environment.  While there is considerable effort being undertaken to
   develop traffic engineering tools within a single network using MPLS
   as the base flow management tool, inter-provider tools to achieve
   similar outcomes are considerably more complex when using such
   switching techniques.

   At this stage the only tool being used for inter-provider traffic
   engineering is that of the BGP routing table.  Such use of BGP
   appears to place additional fine-grained prefixes into the routing
   table.  This action further exacerbates the growth and stability
   pressures being placed on the BGP routing domain.

5.4  Lack of Common Operational Practices

   There is considerable evidence of a lack of uniformity of operational
   practices within the inter-domain routing space.  This includes the
   use and setting of prefix filters, the use and setting of route
   damping parameters and level of verification undertaken on BGP
   advertisements by both the advertiser and the recipient.  There is
   some extent of 'noise' in the routing table where advertisements
   appear to be propagated well beyond their intended domain of
   applicability, and also where withdrawals and advertisements are not
   being adequately damped close to the origin of the route flap.  This
   diversity of operating practices also extends to policies of
   accepting advertisements that are more specific advertisements of
   existing provider blocks.

5.5  CIDR and Hierarchical Routing

   The current growth factors at play in the BGP table are not easily
   susceptible to another round of CIDR deployment pressure within the
   operator community.  The denser interconnectivity mesh, the
   increasing use of multi-homing with smaller address prefixes, the
   extension of the use of BGP to perform roles related to inter-domain
   traffic engineering and the lack of common operating practices all
   point to a continuation of the trend of growth in the total size of
   the BGP routing table, with this growth most apparent with
   advertisements of smaller address blocks, and an increasing trend for
   these small advertisements to be punching a connectivity policy
   'hole' in an existing provider aggregate advertisement.

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   It may be appropriate to consider how to operate an Internet with a
   BGP routing table that has millions of small entries, rather than the
   expectation of a hierarchical routing space with at most tens of
   thousands of larger entries in the global routing table.

6.  Future Requirements for the Exterior Routing System

   It is beyond the scope of this document to define a scalable inter-
   domain routing environment and associated routing protocols and
   operating practices.  A more modest goal is to look at the attributes
   of routing systems as understood and identify those aspects of such
   systems that may be applicable to the inter-domain environment as a
   potential set of requirements for inter-domain routing tools.

6.1  Scalability

   The overall intent is scalability of the routing environment.
   Scalability can be expressed in many dimensions, including number of
   discrete network layer reachability entries, number of discrete route
   policy entries, level of dynamic change over a unit of time of these
   entries, time to converge to a coherent view of the connectivity of
   the network following changes, and so on.

   The basic objective behind this expressed requirement for scalability
   is that the most likely near to medium trend in the structure of the
   Internet is a continuation in the pattern of dense interconnectivity
   between a large number of discrete network entities, and little
   impetus behind hierarchical aggregating structures.  It is not an
   objective to place any particular metrics on scalability within this
   examination of requirements, aside from indicating that a prudent
   view would encompass a scale of connectivity in the inter-domain
   space that is at least two orders of magnitude larger than comparable
   metrics of the current environment.

6.2  Stability and Predictability

   Any routing system should behave in a stable and predictable fashion.
   What is inferred from the predictability requirement is the behavior
   that under identical environmental conditions the routing system
   should converge to the same state.  Stability implies that the
   routing state should be maintained for as long as the environmental
   conditions remain constant.  Stability also implies a qualitative
   property that minor variations in the network's state should not
   cause large scale instability across the entire network while a new
   stable routing state is reached.  Instead, routing changes should be
   propagated only as far as necessary to reach a new stable state, so
   that the global requirement for stability implies some degree of
   locality in the behavior of the system.

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6.3  Convergence

   Any routing system should have adequate convergence properties.  By
   adequate it is implied that within a finite time following a change
   in the external environment, the routing system will have reached a
   shared common description of the network's topology that accurately
   describes the current state of the network and is stable.  In this
   case finite time implies a time limit that is bounded by some upper
   limit, and this upper limit reflects the requirements of the routing
   system.  In the case of the Internet this convergence time is
   currently of the order of hundreds of seconds as an upper bound on
   convergence.  This long convergence time is perceived as having a
   negative impact on various applications, particularly those that are
   time critical.  A more useful upper bound for convergence is of the
   order of seconds or lower if it is desired to support a broad range
   of application classes.

   It is not a requirement to be able to undertake full convergence of
   the inter-domain routing system in the sub-second timescale.

6.4  Routing Overhead

   The greater the amount of information passed within the routing
   system, and the greater the frequency of such information exchanges,
   the greater the level of expectation that the routing system can
   maintain an accurate view of the connectivity of the network.
   Equally, the greater the amount of information passed within the
   routing system, and the higher the frequency of information exchange,
   the higher the level of overhead consumed by operation of the routing
   system.  There is an element of design compromise in a routing system
   to pass enough information across the system to allow each routing
   element to have adequate local information to reach a coherent local
   view of the network, yet ensure that the total routing overhead is

7.  Architectural approaches to a scalable Exterior Routing Protocol

   This document does not attempt to define an inter-domain routing
   protocol that possess all the attributes as listed above, but a
   number of architectural considerations can be identified that would
   form an integral part of the protocol design process.

7.1  Policy opaqueness vs. policy transparency

   The two major approaches to routing protocols are distance vector and
   link state.

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   In the distance vector protocol a routing node gathers information
   from its neighbors, applies local policy to this information and then
   distributes this updated information to its neighbors.  In this model
   the nature of the local policy applied to the routing information is
   not necessarily visible to the node's neighbors, and the process of
   converting received route advertisements into advertised route
   advertisements uses a local policy process whose policy rules are not
   visible externally.  This scenario can be described as 'policy
   opaque'.  The side effect of such an environment is that a third
   party cannot remotely compute which routes a network may accept and
   which may be re-advertised to each neighbor.

   In link state protocols a routing node effectively broadcasts its
   local adjacencies, and the policies it has with respect to these
   adjacencies, to all nodes within the link state domain.  Every node
   can perform an identical computation upon this set of adjacencies and
   associated policies in order to compute the local forwarding table.
   The essential attribute of this environment is that the routing node
   has to announce its routing policies, in order to allow a remote node
   to compute which routes will be accepted from which neighbor, and
   which routes will be advertised to each neighbor and what, if any,
   attributes are placed on the advertisement.  Within an interior
   routing domain the local policies are in effect metrics of each link
   and these polices can be announced within the routing domain without
   any consequent impact.

   In the exterior routing domain it is not the case that
   interconnection policies between networks are always fully
   transparent.  Various permutations of supplier / customer
   relationships and peering relationships have associated policy
   qualifications that are not publicly announced for business
   competitive reasons.  The current diversity of interconnection
   arrangements appears to be predicated on policy opaqueness, and to
   mandate a change to a model of open interconnection policies may be
   contrary to operational business imperatives.

   An inter-domain routing tool should be able to support models of
   interconnection where the policy associated with the interconnection
   is not visible to any third party.  If the architectural choice is a
   constrained one between distance vector and link state, then this
   consideration would appear to favor the continued use of a distance
   vector approach to inter-domain routing.  This choice, in turn, has
   implications on the convergence properties and stability of the
   inter-domain routing environment.  If there is a broader spectrum of
   choice, the considerations of policy-opaqueness would still apply.

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7.2  The number of routing objects

   The current issues with the trend behaviors of the BGP space can be
   coarsely summarized as the growth in the number of distinct routing
   objects, the increased level of dynamic behaviors of these objects
   (in the form of announcements and withdrawals).

   This entails evaluating possible measures that can address the growth
   rate in the number of objects in the inter-domain routing table, and
   separately examining measures that can reduce the level of dynamic
   change in the routing table.  The current routing architecture
   defines a basic unit of a route object as an originating AS number
   and an address prefix.

   In looking at the growth rate in the number of route objects, the
   salient observation is that the number of route objects is the
   byproduct of the density of the interconnection mesh and the number
   of discrete points where policy is imposed of route objects.  One
   approach to reduce the growth in the number of objects is to allow
   each object to describe larger segments of infrastructure.  Such an
   approach could use a single route object to describe a set of address
   prefixes, or a collection of ASs, or a combination of the two.  The
   most direct form of extension would be to preserve the assumption
   that each routing object represents an indivisible policy entity.
   However, given that one of the drivers of the increasing number of
   route objects is a proliferation of discrete route objects, it is not
   immediately apparent that this form of aggregation will prove capable
   in addressing the growth in the number of route objects.

   If single route objects are to be used that encompass a set of
   address prefixes and a collection of ASs, then it appears necessary
   to define additional attributes within the route object to further
   qualify the policies associated with the object in terms of specific
   prefixes, specific ASs and specific policy semantics that may be
   considered as policy exceptions to the overall aggregate

   Another approach to reduce the number of route objects is to reduce
   the scope of advertisement of each routing object, allowing the
   object to be removed and proxy aggregated into some larger object
   once the logical scope of the object has been reached.  This approach
   would entail the addition of route attributes that could be used to
   define the circumstances where a specific route object would be
   subsumed by an aggregate route object without impacting the policy
   objectives associated with the original set of advertisements.

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7.3  Inter-domain Traffic Engineering

   Attempting to place greater levels of detail into route objects is
   intended to address the dual role of the current BGP system as both
   an inter-domain connectivity maintenance protocol and as an implicit
   traffic engineering tool.

   In the current environment, advertisement of more specific prefixes
   with unique policy but with the same origin AS is often intended to
   create a traffic engineering response, where incoming traffic to an
   AS may be balanced across multiple paths.  The outcome is that the
   control of the relative profile of load is placed with the
   originating AS.  The way this is achieved is by using limited
   knowledge of the remote AS's route selection policy to explicitly
   limit the number of egress choices available to a remote AS.  The
   most common route selection policy is the preference for more
   specific prefixes over larger address blocks.  By advertising
   specific prefixes along specific neighbor AS connections with
   specific route attributes, traffic destined to these addresses is
   passed through the selected transit paths.  This limitation of choice
   allows the originating AS to override the potential policy choices of
   all other ASs, imposing its traffic import policies at a higher level
   than the remote AS's egress policies.

   An alternative approach is the use of a class of traffic engineering
   attributes that are attached to an aggregate route object.  The
   intent of such attributes is to direct each remote AS to respond to
   the route object in a manner that equates to the current response to
   more specific advertisements, but without the need to advertise
   specific prefix route objects.  However, even this approach uses
   route objects to communicate traffic engineering policy, and the same
   risk remains that the route table is used to carry fine-detailed
   traffic path policies.

   An alternative direction is to separate the functions of connectivity
   maintenance and traffic engineering, using the routing protocol to
   identify a number of viable paths from a source AS to a destination
   AS, and use a distinct collection of traffic engineering tools to
   allow a traffic source AS to make egress path selections that match
   the desired traffic service profile for the traffic.

   There is one critical difference between traffic engineering
   approaches as used in intra-domain environments and the current
   inter-domain operating practices.  Whereas the intra-domain
   environment uses the ingress network element to make the appropriate
   path choice to the egress point, the inter domain traffic engineering
   has the opposite intent, where a downstream AS (or egress point) is
   attempting to influence the path choice of an upstream AS (or ingress

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   point).  If explicit traffic engineering were undertaken within the
   inter-domain space, it is highly likely that the current structure
   would be altered.  Instead of the downstream element attempting to
   constrain the path choices of an upstream element, a probable
   approach is the downstream element placing a number of advisory
   constraints on the upstream elements, and the upstream elements using
   a combination of these advisory constraints, dynamic information
   relating to path service characteristics and local policies to make
   an egress choice.

   From the perspective of the inter-domain routing environment, such
   measures offer the potential to remove the advertisement of specific
   routes for traffic engineering purposes.  However, there is a need to
   adding traffic engineering information into advertised route blocks,
   requiring the definition of the syntax and semantics of traffic
   engineering attributes that can be attached to route objects.

7.4  Hierarchical Routing Models

   The CIDR routing model assumed a hierarchy of providers, where at
   each level in the hierarchy the routing policies and address space of
   networks at the lower level of hierarchy were subsumed by the next
   level up (or 'upstream') provider.  The connectivity policy assumed
   by this model is also a hierarchical model, where horizontal
   connections within a single level of the hierarchy are not visible
   beyond the networks of the two parties.

   A number of external factors are increasing the density of
   interconnection including decreasing unit costs of communications
   services and the increasing use of exchange points to augment point-
   to-point connectivity models with point-to-multi-point facilities.

   The outcome of these external factors is a significant reduction in
   the hierarchical nature of the inter-domain space.  Such a trend can
   be viewed with concern given the common approach of using hierarchies
   as a tool for scaling routing systems.  BGP falls within this
   approach, and relies on hierarchies in the address space to contain
   the number of independently routing objects.  The outcomes of this
   characteristic of the Internet in terms of the routing space is the
   increasing number of distinct route policies that are associated with
   each multi-homed network within the Internet.

   One way to limit the proliferation of such policies across the entire
   inter-domain space is to associate attributes to such advertisements
   that specify the conditions whereby a remote transit AS may proxy-
   aggregate this route object with other route objects.

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7.5  Extend or Replace BGP

   A final consideration is to consider whether these requirements can
   best be met by an approach of a set of upward-compatible extensions
   to BGP, or by a replacement to BGP.  No recommendation is made here,
   and this is a topic requiring further investigation.

   The general approach in extending BGP appears to lie in increasing
   the number of supported transitive route attributes, allowing the
   route originator greater control in specifying the scope of
   propagation of the route and the intended outcome in terms of policy
   and traffic engineering.  It may also be necessary to allow BGP
   sessions to negotiate additional functionality intended to improve
   the convergence behavior of the protocol.  Whether such changes can
   produce a scalable and useful outcome in terms of inter-domain
   routing remains, at this stage, an open question.

   An alternative approach is that of a replacement protocol, and such
   an approach may well be based on the adoption of a link-state
   behavior.  The issues of policy opaqueness and link-state protocols
   have been described above.  The other major issue with such an
   approach is the need to limit the extent of link state flooding,
   where the inter-domain space would need some further levels of
   imposed structure similar to intra-domain areas.  Such structure may
   well imply the need for an additional set of operator inter-
   relationships such as mutual transit, and this may prove challenging
   to adapt to existing practices.

   The potential sets of actions include more than extend or replace the
   BGP protocol.  A third approach is to continue to use BGP as the
   basic means of propagating route objects and their associated AS
   paths and other attributes, and use one or more overlay protocols to
   support inter-domain traffic engineering and other forms of inter-
   domain policy negotiation.  This approach would appear to offer a
   means of transition for the large installed base currently using BGP4
   as their inter-domain routing protocol, placing additional
   functionality in the overlay protocols while leaving the basic
   functionality of BGP4 intact.  The resultant inter-dependencies
   between BGP and the overlay protocols would require very careful
   attention, as this would be the most critical aspect of such an

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8.  Directions for Further Activity

   While there may exist short term actions based on providing various
   incentives for network operators to remove redundant or inefficiently
   grouped entries from the BGP routing table, such actions are short
   term palliative measures, and will not provide long term answers to
   the need to a scalable inter-domain routing protocol.

   One potential short term protocol refinement is to allow a set of
   grouped advertisements to be aggregated into a single route
   advertisement.  This form of proxy aggregation would take a set of
   bit-wise aligned routing entries with matching route attributes, and
   under certain well identified circumstances, aggregate these routing
   entries into a single re-advertised aggregate routing entry.  This
   technique removes information from the routing system, and some care
   must be taken to define a set of proxy aggregation conditions that do
   not materially alter the flow of traffic, or the ability of
   originating ASes to announce routing policy.

   A further refinement to this approach is to consider the definition
   of the syntax and semantics of a number of additional route
   attributes.  Such attributes could define the extent to which
   specific route advertisements should be propagated in the inter-
   domain space, allowing the advertisement to be subsumed by a larger
   aggregate advertisement at the boundary of this domain.  This could
   be used to form part of the preconditions of automated proxy
   aggregation of specific routes, and also limit the extent to which
   announcement and withdrawals are propagated across the routing

   It is unclear that such measures would result in substantial longer
   term changes to the scaling and convergence properties of BGP4.
   Taking the requirement set enumerated in section 6 of this document,
   one approach to the longer term requirements may be to preserve a
   number of attributes of the current BGP protocol, while refine other
   aspects of the protocol to improve its scaling and convergence
   properties.  A minimal set of alterations could retain the Autonomous
   System concept to allow for boundaries of information summarization,
   as well as retaining the approach of associating each prefix
   advertisement with an originating AS.  The concept of policy
   opaqueness would also be retained in such an approach, implying that
   each AS accepts a set of route advertisements, applies local policy
   constraints, and re-advertises those advertisements permitted by the
   local policy constraints.  It could be feasible to consider
   alterations to the distance vector path selection algorithm,
   particularly as it relates to intermediate states during processing
   of a route withdrawal.  It is also feasible to consider the use of
   compound route attributes, allowing a route object to include an

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   aggregate route, and a number of specifics of the aggregate route,
   and attach attributes that may apply to the aggregate or a specific
   address prefix.  Such route attributes could be used to support
   multi-homing and inter-domain traffic engineering mechanisms.  The
   overall intent of this approach is to address the major requirements
   in the inter-domain routing space without using an increasing set of
   globally propagated specific route objects.

   A potential applied research topic is to consider the feasibility of
   de-coupling the requirements of inter-domain connectivity management
   with the applications of policy constraints and the issues of sender-
   and/or receiver-managed traffic engineering requirements.  Such an
   approach may use a link-state protocol as a means of maintaining a
   consistent view of the topology of inter-domain network, and then use
   some form of overlay protocol to negotiate policy requirements of
   each AS, and use a further overlay to support inter-domain traffic
   engineering requirements.  The underlying assumption of such an
   approach is that by dividing up the functional role of inter-domain
   routing into distinct components each component will have superior
   scaling and convergence properties which in turn to result in
   superior properties for the entire routing system.  Obviously, this
   assumption requires some testing.

   Research topics with potential longer term application include the
   approach of drawing a distinction between a network's identity, a
   network's location relative to other networks, and a feasible path
   between a source and destination network that satisfies various
   policy and traffic engineering constraints.  Again the intent of such
   an approach would be to divide the current routing function into a
   number of distinct scalable components.

9. Security Considerations

   Any adopted inter-domain routing protocol needs to be secure against
   disruption.  Disruption comes from two primary sources:

      - Accidental misconfiguration
      - Malicious attacks

   Given past experience with routing protocols, both can be significant
   sources of harm.

   Given that it is not reasonable to guarantee the security of all the
   routers involved in the global Internet inter-domain routing system,
   there is also every reason to believe that malicious attacks may come
   from peer routers, in addition to coming from external sources.

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   A protocol design should therefore consider how to minimize the
   damage to the overall routing computation that can be caused by a
   single or small set of misbehaving routers.

   The routing system itself needs to be resilient against accidental or
   malicious advertisements of a route object by a route server not
   entitled to generate such an advertisement.  This implies several
   things, including the need for cryptographic validation of
   announcements, cryptographic protection of various critical routing
   messages and an accurate and trusted database of routing assignments
   via which authorization can be checked.

10.  References

   [1]   Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3",
         BCP 9, RFC 2026, October 1996.

   [2]   Clark, D., Chapin, L., Cerf, V., Braden, R. and R. Hobby,
         "Towards the Future Internet Architecture", RFC 1287, December

   [3]   Deering, S. and R. Hinden, "Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6)
         Specification, RFC 2460, December 1998.

   [4]   Srisuresh, P. and K. Egevang, "Traditional IP Network Address
         Translator (Traditional NAT)", RFC 3022, January 2001.

   [5]   Fuller, V., Li, T., Yu, J. and K. Varadhan, "Classless Inter-
         Domain Routing (CIDR): an Address Assignment and Aggregation
         Strategy", RFC 1519, September 1993.

   [6]   Huston, G., "The BGP Routing Table", The Internet Protocol
         Journal, vol. 4, No. 1, March 2001.

   [7]   Rekhter, Y. and T. Li, "A Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4)",
         RFC 1771, March 1995.

   [8]   Vohara, Q. and E. Chen, "BGP support for four-octet AS number
         space", Work in Progress.

   [9]   Hain, T., "Architectural Implications of NAT", RFC 2993,
         November 2000.

   [10]  Labovitz, C., Ahuja, A., Bose, A. and J. Jahanian, "Delayed
         Internet Routing Convergence", Proceedings ACM SIGCOMM 2000,
         August 2000.

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   [11]  Lothberg, P., personal communication, December 2000.

11.  Acknowledgements

   This document is the outcome of a collaborative effort of the IAB,
   and the editor acknowledges the contributions of the members of the
   IAB in the preparation of the document.  The contributions of John
   Leslie, Thomas Narten and Abha Ahuja in reviewing this document are
   also acknowledged.

12.  Author

   Internet Architecture Board
   Email: iab@ietf.org

   Geoff Huston
   5/490 Northbourne Ave
   Dickson ACT 2602

   EMail: gih@telstra.net

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13.  Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.

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   The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
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   This document and the information contained herein is provided on an


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

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