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Transparent bridges were first developed at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the early 1980s and are now very popular in Ethernet/IEEE 802.3 networks.
This chapter first defines a transparent bridge as a learning bridge that implements the spanning tree protocol. An in-depth description of the spanning tree protocol is included.
Cisco devices that implement transparent bridges used to be split into two categories: routers that run Cisco IOS® software and the Catalyst range of switches that run specific software. This is no longer the case. Several Catalyst products are now based on the IOS. This chapter introduces the different bridging techniques that are available on IOS devices. For Catalyst software-specific configuration and troubleshooting, refer to the LAN Switching chapter.
Finally, we introduce some troubleshooting procedures that are classified by the symptoms of potential problems that typically occur in transparent bridging networks.
Transparent bridges derive their name from the fact that their presence and operation are transparent to network hosts. When transparent bridges are powered on, they learn the topology of the network by analysis of the source address of inbound frames from all attached networks. If, for example, a bridge sees a frame arrive on Line 1 from Host A, the bridge concludes that Host A can be reached through the network connected to Line 1. Through this process, transparent bridges build an internal bridging table such as the one in Table 20-1.
Table 20-1: A Transparent Bridging Table
|Host Address||Network Number|
The bridge uses its bridging table as the basis for traffic-forwarding. When a frame is received on one of the bridge interfaces, the bridge looks up the destination address of the frame in its internal table. If the table is mapped between the destination address and any of the ports of the bridge (aside from the one on which the frame was received), the frame is forwarded to the specified port. If no map is found, the frame is flooded to all outbound ports. Broadcasts and multicasts are also flooded in this way.
Transparent bridges successfully isolate intra-segment traffic and reduce the traffic seen on each individual segment. This usually improves network response times. The extent to which traffic is reduced and response times are improved depends on the volume of intersegment traffic (relative to total traffic) as well as on the volume of broadcast and multicast traffic.
Without a bridge-to-bridge protocol, the transparent bridge algorithm fails when there are multiple paths of bridges and local area networks (LANs) between any two LANs in the internetwork. Figure 20-1 illustrates such a bridging loop.
Figure 20-1: Inaccurate Forwarding and Learning in Transparent Bridging Environments
Suppose Host A sends a frame to Host B. Both bridges receive the frame and correctly conclude that Host A is on Network 2. Unfortunately, after Host B receives two copies of the frame of Host A, both bridges again receive the frame on their Network 1 interfaces because all hosts receive all messages on broadcast LANs. In some cases, the bridges will then change their internal tables to indicate that Host A is on Network 1. If this is the case, when Host B replies to the frame of Host A, both bridges receive and subsequently drop the replies because their tables indicate that the destination (Host A) is on the same network segment as the source of the frame.
In addition to basic connectivity problems, such as the one described, the proliferation of broadcast messages on networks with loops represents a potentially serious network problem. In reference to Figure 20-1, assume that the initial frame of Host A is a broadcast. Both bridges forward the frames endlessly, use all available network bandwidth, and block the transmission of other packets on both segments.
A topology with loops such as that shown in Figure 20-1 can be useful, as well as potentially harmful. A loop implies the existence of multiple paths through the internetwork. A network with multiple paths from source to destination has what is called improved topological flexibility which increases overall network fault tolerance.
The spanning tree algorithm (STA) was developed by DEC, a key Ethernet vendor, to preserve the benefits of loops yet eliminate their problems. The DEC algorithm was subsequently revised by the IEEE 802 committee and published in the IEEE 802.1d specification. The DEC algorithm and the IEEE 802.1d algorithm are not the same, nor are they compatible.
The STA designates a loop-free subset of the topology of the network by the placement of those bridge ports, so, if active, it can create loops into a standby (blocking) condition. Bridge port blocking can be activated in the event of primary link failure, which provides a new path through the internetwork.
The STA uses a conclusion from graph theory as a basis for the construction of a loop-free subset of the topology of the network. Graph theory states: "For any connected graph consisting of nodes and edges connecting pairs of nodes, there is a spanning tree of edges that maintains the connectivity of the graph but contains no loops."
Figure 20-2 illustrates how the STA eliminates loops. The STA calls for each bridge to be assigned a unique identifier. Typically, this identifier is one of the Media Access Control (MAC) addresses of the bridge plus a priority indication. Each port in every bridge is also assigned a unique (within that bridge) identifier (typically, its own MAC address). Finally, each bridge port is associated with a path cost. The path cost represents the cost of the transmittal of a frame onto a LAN through that port. In Figure 20-2, path costs are noted on the lines that emanate from each bridge. Path costs are usually default values, but they can be assigned manually by network administrators.
Figure 20-2: Transparent Bridge Network (Before STA)
The first activity in a spanning tree computation is the selection of the root bridge, which is the bridge with the lowest bridge identifier value. In Figure 20-2, the root bridge is Bridge 1. Next, the root port on all other bridges is determined. A root port of a bridge is the port through which the root bridge can be reached with the least aggregate path cost. The value of the least aggregate path cost to the root is called the root path cost.
Finally, designated bridges and their designated ports are determined. A designated bridge is the bridge on each LAN that provides the minimum root path cost. A designated bridge of a LAN is the only bridge allowed to forward frames to and from the LAN for which it is the designated bridge. A designated port of a LAN is the port that connects it to the designated bridge.
In some cases, two or more bridges can have the same root path cost. For example, in Figure 20-2, Bridges 4 and 5 can both reach Bridge 1 (the root bridge) with a path cost of 10. In this case, the bridge identifiers are used again, this time, to determine the designated bridges. The LAN V port of Bridge 4 is selected over the LAN V port of Bridge 5.
With this process, all but one of the bridges directly connected to each LAN are eliminated, which removes all two-LAN loops. The STA also eliminates loops that involve more than two LANs, yet still preserve connectivity. Figure 20-3 shows the results from the application of the STA to the network shown in Figure 20-2. Figure 20-2 shows the tree topology more clearly. A comparison of this figure to Figure 20-3 shows that the STA has placed the ports to LAN V in both Bridge 3 and Bridge 5 in standby mode.
Figure 20-3: Transparent Bridge Network (After STA)
The spanning tree calculation occurs when the bridge is powered up and whenever a topology change is detected. The calculation requires communication between the spanning tree bridges, which is accomplished through configuration messages (sometimes called bridge protocol data units or BPDUs). Configuration messages contain information that identify the bridge that is presumed to be the root (root identifier) and the distance from the sending bridge to the root bridge (root path cost). Configuration messages also contain the bridge and port identifier of the sending bridge and the age of information contained in the configuration message.
Bridges exchange configuration messages at regular intervals (typically one to four seconds). If a bridge fails (which causes a topology change), nearby bridges soon detect the lack of configuration messages and initiate a spanning tree recalculation.
All transparent bridge topology decisions are made locally. Configuration messages are exchanged between nearby bridges. There is no central authority on network topology or administration.
Transparent bridges exchange configuration messages and topology-change messages. Configuration messages are sent between bridges to establish a network topology. Topology change messages are sent after a topology change has been detected to indicate that the STA must be rerun.
Table 20-2 shows the IEEE 802.1d configuration message format.
Table 20-2: Transparent Bridge Configuration
|Protocol identifier||Version||Message type||Flags||Root id||Root path cost||Bridge id||Port id||Message age||Maximum age||Hello time||Forward delay|
|2 bytes||1 byte||1 byte||1 byte||8 bytes||4 bytes||8 bytes||2 bytes||2 bytes||2 bytes||2 bytes||2 bytes|
Transparent bridge configuration messages consist of 35 bytes. These are the message fields:
Protocol identifier: Contains the value 0.
Version: Contains the value 0.
Message type: Contains the value 0.
Flag: A one-byte field, of which only the first two bits are used. The topology change (TC) bit signals a topology change. The topology change acknowledgment (TCA) bit is set to acknowledge receipt of a configuration message with the TC bit set.
Root ID: Identifies the root bridge and lists its 2-byte priority followed by its six-byte ID.
Root path cost: Contains the cost of the path from the bridge that sends the configuration message to the root bridge.
Bridge ID: Identifies the priority and ID of the bridge that sends the message.
Port ID: Identifies the port from which the configuration message was sent. This field allows loops created by multiple attached bridges to be detected and dealt with.
Message age: Specifies the elapsed time since the root sent the configuration message on which the current configuration message is based.
Maximum age: Indicates when the current configuration message must be deleted.
Hello time: Provides the time period between root bridge configuration messages.
Forward delay: Provides the amount of time bridges must wait before a transition to a new state after a topology change. If a bridge transitions too soon, not all network links can be ready to change their state, and loops can result.
The topology-change message format is similar to that of the transparent bridge configuration message, except it consists only of the first four bytes. These are the message fields:
Protocol identifier: Contains the value 0.
Version: Contains the value 0.
Message type: Contains the value 128.
Cisco routers have three different ways to implement bridging: Default Behavior, Concurrent Routing and Bridging (CRB), and Integrated Routing and Bridging (IRB).
Before IRB and CRB features were available, you were only able to bridge or route a protocol on a platform basis. That is, if the ip route command was used, for example, IP routing was done on all interfaces. In this situation, IP could not be bridged on any of the interfaces of the router.
Concurrent Routing and Bridging (CRB)
With CRB, you can determine whether to bridge or route a protocol on an interface basis. That is, you can route a given protocol on some interfaces and bridge the same protocol on bridge-group interfaces within the same router. The router can then be both a router and a bridge for a given protocol, but there cannot be any kind of communication between routing-defined interfaces and bridge-group interfaces.
This example illustrates that, for a given protocol, a single router can logically act as separate, independent devices: one router and one or more bridges:
Figure 20-4: Concurrent Routing and Bridging (CRB)
Integrated Routing and Bridging (IRB)
IRB provides the ability to route between a bridge-group and a routed interface with a concept called Bridge-Group Virtual Interface (BVI). Because bridging occurs at the data link layer and routing at the network layer, they have different protocol configuration models. With IP, for example, bridge-group interfaces belong to the same network and have a collective IP network address, while each routed interface represents a distinct network with its own IP network address.
The concept of BVI was created to enable these interfaces to exchange packets for a given protocol. Conceptually, as shown in this example, the Cisco router looks like a router connected to one or more bridge-groups:
Figure 20-5: Integrated Routing and Bridging (IRB)
The BVI is a virtual interface within the router that acts like a normal routed interface. The BVI represents the correspondent bridge-group to routed interfaces within the router. The interface number of the BVI is the number of the bridge-group represented by this virtual interface. The number is the link between this BVI and the bridge-group.
This example illustrates how the BVI principle applies to the Route Switch Module (RSM) in a Catalyst switch:
Figure 20-6: Route Switch Module (RSM) in a Catalyst Switch.
This section presents troubleshooting information for connectivity problems in transparent bridging internetworks. It describes specific transparent bridging symptoms, the problems that are likely to cause each symptom, and the solutions to those problems.
Note: Problems associated with source-route bridging (SRB), translational bridging, and source-route transparent (SRT) bridging are addressed in Chapter 10, "Troubleshooting IBM."
In order to efficiently troubleshoot your bridged network, you must have a basic knowledge of its design, especially when a spanning tree is involved.
These must be available:
Topology map of the bridged network
Location of the root bridge
Location of the redundant link (and blocked ports)
When you troubleshoot connectivity issues, reduce the problem to a minimum number of hosts, ideally only a client and a server.
These sections describe the most common network problems in transparent bridged networks:
Symptom: The client cannot connect to hosts across a transparently bridged network.
Table 20-3 outlines the problems that can cause this symptom and suggests solutions.
Table 20-3: Transparent Bridging: No Connectivity
|Possible Causes||Suggested Actions|
|Hardware or media problem||
|Host is down||
|Bridging path is broken||
|Misconfigured bridging filters||
|Input and output queues full|| Excessive multicast or broadcast traffic can cause input and output queues to overflow, which results in dropped packets.
MAC = Media Access Control
LSAP = Link Services Access Point
Symptom: Transient loss of connectivity between hosts. Several hosts are affected at the same time.
Table 20-4 outlines the problems that can cause this symptom and suggests solutions.
Table 20-4: Transparent Bridging: Unstable Spanning Tree
|Possible Causes||Suggested Actions|
Note: Because the debug output is assigned a high priority in the CPU process, to use the debug spantree event command can render the system unusable. For this reason, use debug commands only to troubleshoot specific problems or when in sessions to troubleshoot problems with Cisco technical support staff. Moreover, it is best to use debug commands within periods of low network traffic and fewer users. If you debug within these periods, it decreases the likelihood that increased debug command overhead processes will affect system use.
|Root bridge continues to change/ multiple bridges claim to be the root||
|Hellos not exchanged||
Symptom: Connections in a transparently bridged environment are successfully established, but sessions sometimes terminate abruptly.
Table 20-5 outlines the problems that can cause this symptom and suggests solutions.
Table 20-5: Transparent Bridging: Sessions Terminate Unexpectedly
|Possible Causes||Suggested Actions|
|Excessive delay over serial link||Increase bandwidth, apply priority queuing, increase the hold queue size, or modify the system buffer size. For more information, refer to Chapter 15, "Troubleshooting Serial Line Problems."|
Symptom: Packet looping and broadcast storms occur in transparent bridge environments. End stations are forced into excessive retransmission, which causes sessions to time out or drop.
Note: Packet loops are typically caused by network design problems or hardware issues.
Table 20-6 outlines the problems that can cause this symptom and suggests solutions.
Bridging loops are the worst case scenario in a bridged network since it will potentially impact every user. In case of emergency, the best way to recover connectivity quickly is to manually disable all the interfaces that provide redundant path in the network. Unfortunately, the cause of the bridging loop will be very difficult to identify afterward if you do so. If possible, try Table 20-6 actions beforehand.
Table 20-6: Transparent Bridging: Looping and Broadcast Storms Occur
|Possible Causes||Suggested Actions|
|No spanning tree implemented||
|Spanning tree algorithm mismatch||
Note: The DEC and IEEE spanning tree algorithms are incompatible.
|Multiple bridging domains incorrectly configured||
|Link error (unidirectional link), duplex-mismatch, high level of error on a port.|| Loops occur when a port that should block moves to the forwarding state. A port needs to receive BPDUs from a nearby bridge in order to stay in the blocking state. Any error that leads to lost BPDUs can then be the cause of a bridging loop.
IEEE = Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
When your network is stable, collect as much information as you can about its topology.
At a minimum collect this data:
Physical topology of the network
Expected location of the root bridge (and backup root bridge)
Location of blocked ports
Interconnections, Bridges and Routers, Radia Perlman, Addison-Wesley
Cisco Lan Switching, K.Clark, K.Hamilton, Cisco Press