Routing protocols use metrics to evaluate what path will be the best for a packet to travel. A metric is a standard of measurement, such as path bandwidth, that is used by routing algorithms to determine the optimal path to a destination. To aid the process of path determination, routing algorithms initialize and maintain routing tables, which include route information. Route information varies depending on the routing algorithm used.
Routing algorithms fill routing tables with a variety of information. Destination or next hop associations tell a router that a particular destination can be reached optimally by sending the packet to a particular router representing the next hop on the way to the final destination. When a router receives an incoming packet, it checks the destination address and attempts to associate this address with a next hop.
Routing tables also can include other information, such as data about the desirability of a path. Routers compare metrics to determine optimal routes, and these metrics differ depending on the design of the routing algorithm used.
Routers communicate with one another and maintain their routing tables through the transmission of a variety of messages. The routing update message is one such message that generally consists of all or a portion of a routing table. By analyzing routing updates from all other routers, a router can build a detailed picture of network topology. A link-state advertisement, another example of a message sent between routers, informs other routers of the state of the sender links. Link information also can be used to build a complete picture of network topology to enable routers to determine optimal routes to network destinations.