Network Working Group                                         R. Callon
INTERNET DRAFT                                    Ascend Communications
<draft-ietf-mpls-framework-02.txt>                            P. Doolan
                                                      Ennovate Networks
                                                             N. Feldman
                                                              IBM Corp.
                                                            A. Fredette
                                                           Bay Networks
                                                             G. Swallow
                                                          Cisco Systems
                                                         A. Viswanathan
                                                              IBM Corp.
                                                      November 21, 1997
                                                   Expires May 21, 1998

             A Framework for Multiprotocol Label Switching

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft.  Internet-Drafts are working
   documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas,
   and its working groups.  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as ``work in progress.''

   To learn the current status of any Internet-Draft, please check the
   ``1id-abstracts.txt'' listing contained in the Internet-Drafts Shadow
   Directories on (US East Coast),
   (Europe), (US West Coast), or (Pacific
   Rim).  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


   This document discusses technical issues and requirements for the
   Multiprotocol Label Switching working group. This is an initial draft
   document, which will evolve and expand over time. It is the intent of
   this document to produce a coherent description of all significant
   approaches which were and are being considered by the working group.
   Selection of specific approaches, making choices regarding
   engineering tradeoffs, and detailed protocol specification, are
   outside of the scope of this framework document.

   Note that this document is at an early stage, and that most of the
   detailed technical discussion is only in a rough form. Additional

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   text will be provided over time from a number of sources.  A small
   amount of the text in this document may be redundant with the
   proposed protocol architecture for MPLS. This redundancy will be
   reduced over time, with the overall discussion of issues moved to be
   in this document, and the selection of specific approaches and
   specification of the protocol contained in the protocol architecture
   and other related documents.


   The ideas and text in this document have been collected from a number
   of sources and comments received. We would like to thank Jim Luciani,
   Andy Malis, Rayadurgam Ravikanth, Yakov Rekhter, Eric Rosen, Vijay
   Srinivasan, and Pasi Vananen for their inputs and ideas.

1. Introduction and Requirements

1.1 Overview of MPLS

   The primary goal of the MPLS working group is to standardize a base
   technology that integrates the label swapping forwarding paradigm
   with network layer routing. This base technology (label swapping) is
   expected to improve the price/performance of network layer routing,
   improve the scalability of the network layer, and provide greater
   flexibility in the delivery of (new) routing services (by allowing
   new routing services to be added without a change to the forwarding

   The initial MPLS effort will be focused on IPv4 and IPv6. However,
   the core technology will be extendible to multiple network layer
   protocols (e.g., IPX, Appletalk, DECnet, CLNP). MPLS is not confined
   to any specific link layer technology, it can work with any media
   over which Network Layer packets can be passed between network layer

   MPLS makes use of a routing approach whereby the normal mode of
   operation is that L3 routing (e.g., existing IP routing protocols
   and/or new IP routing protocols) is used by all nodes to determine
   the routed path.

   MPLS provides a simple "core" set of mechanisms which can be applied
   in several ways to provide a rich functionality. The core effort

   a) Semantics assigned to a stream label:

      - Labels are associated with specific streams of data;

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   b) Forwarding Methods:

      - Forwarding is simplified by the use of short fixed length
        labels to identify streams

      - Forwarding may require simple functions such as looking up a
        label in a table, swapping labels, and possibly decrementing
        and checking a TTL.

      - In some cases MPLS may make direct use of underlying layer 2
        forwarding, such as is provided by ATM or Frame Relay

   c) Label Distribution Methods:

      - Allow nodes to determine which labels to use for specific

      - This may use some sort of control exchange, and/or be
        piggybacked on a routing protocol

   The MPLS working group will define the procedures and protocols used
   to assign significance to the forwarding labels and to distribute
   that information between cooperating MPLS forwarders.

1.2 Requirements

   - MPLS forwarding MUST simplify packet forwarding in order to do the

     - lower cost of high speed forwarding

     - improve forwarding performance

   - MPLS core technologies MUST be general with respect to data link
     technologies (i.e., work over a very wide range of underlying data
     links). Specific optimizations for particular media MAY be

   - MPLS core technologies MUST be compatible with a wide range of
     routing protocols, and MUST be capable of operating independently
     of the underlying routing protocols. It has been observed that
     considerable optimizations can be achieved in some cases by small
     enhancements of existing protocols. Such enhancements MAY be
     considered in the case of IETF standard routing protocols, and if
     appropriate, coordinated with the relevant working group(s).

   - Routing protocols which are used in conjunction with MPLS might

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     be based on distributed computation. As such, during routing
     transients, these protocols may compute forwarding paths which
     potentially contain loops. MPLS MUST provide protocol mechanisms
     to either prevent the formation of loops and /or contain the
     amount of (networking) resources that can be consumed due to the
     presence of loops.

   - MPLS forwarding MUST allow "aggregate forwarding" of user data;
     i.e., allow streams to be forwarded as a unit and ensure that an
     identified stream takes a single path, where a stream may consist
     of the aggregate of multiple flows of user data. MPLS SHOULD
     provide multiple levels of aggregation support (e.g., from
     individual end to end application flows at one extreme, to
     aggregates of all flows passing through a specified switch or
     router at the other extreme).

   - MPLS MUST support operations, administration,  and maintenance
     facilities at least as extensive as those supported in current IP
     networks. Current network management and diagnostic tools SHOULD
     continue to work in order to provide some backward compatibility.
     Where such tools are broken by MPLS, hooks MUST be supplied to
     allow equivalent functionality to be created.

   - MPLS core technologies MUST work with both unicast and multicast

   - The MPLS core specifications MUST clearly state how MPLS operates
     in a hierarchical network.

   - Scalability issues MUST be considered and analyzed during the
     definition of MPLS. Very scaleable solutions MUST be sought.

   - MPLS core technologies MUST be capable of working with O(n) streams
     to switch all best-effort traffic, where n is the number of nodes
     in a MPLS domain. MPLS protocol standards MUST be capable of taking
     advantage of hardware that supports stream merging where
     appropriate. Note that O(n-squared) streams or VCs might also be
     appropriate for use in some cases.

   - The core set of MPLS standards, along with existing Internet
     standards, MUST be a self-contained solution. For example, the
     proposed solution MUST NOT require specific hardware features that
     do not commonly exist on network equipment at the time that the
     standard is complete. However, the solution MAY make use of
     additional optional hardware features (e.g., to optimize

   - The MPLS protocol standards MUST support multipath routing and

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   - MPLS MUST be compatible with the IETF Integrated Services Model,
     including RSVP.

   - It MUST be possible for MPLS switches to coexist with non MPLS
     switches in the same switched network. MPLS switches SHOULD NOT
     impose additional configuration on non-MPLS switches.

   - MPLS MUST allow "ships in the night" operation with existing layer
     2 switching protocols (e.g., ATM Forum Signaling) (i.e., MPLS must
     be capable of being used in the same network which is also
     simultaneously operating standard layer 2 protocols).

   - The MPLS protocol MUST support both topology-driven and
     traffic/request-driven label assignments.

1.3 Terminology

   aggregate stream

     synonym of "stream"


     a label used in Frame Relay networks to identify frame
     relay circuits


     a single instance of an application to application flow
     of data (as in the RSVP and IFMP use of the term "flow")

   forwarding equivalence class

     a group of L3 packets which are forwarded in the same
     manner (e.g., over the same path, with the same
     forwarding treatment). A forwarding equivalence class is
     therefore the set of L3 packets which could safely be
     mapped to the same label. Note that there may be reasons
     that packets from a single forwarding equivalence class
     may be mapped to multiple labels (e.g., when stream
     merge is not used).

   frame merge

     stream merge, when it is applied to operation over
     frame based media, so that the potential problem of cell

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     interleave is not an issue.


     a short fixed length physically contiguous locally
     significant identifier which is used to identify a stream

   label information base

     the database of information containing label bindings

   label swap

     the basic forwarding operation consisting of looking
     up an incoming label to determine the outgoing label,
     encapsulation, port, and other data handling information.

   label swapping

     a forwarding paradigm allowing streamlined forwarding of
     data by using labels to identify streams of data to be

   label switched hop

     the hop between two MPLS nodes, on which forwarding is
     done using labels.

   label switched path

     the path created by the concatenation of one or more label
     switched hops, allowing a packet to be forwarded by swapping
     labels from an MPLS node to another MPLS node.

   layer 2

     the protocol layer under layer 3 (which therefore offers
     the services used by layer 3). Forwarding, when done by the
     swapping of short fixed length labels, occurs at layer 2
     regardless of whether the label being examined is an ATM
     VPI/VCI, a frame relay DLCI, or an MPLS label.

   layer 3

     the protocol layer at which IP and its associated routing
     protocols operate

   link layer

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     synonymous with layer 2

   loop detection

     a method of dealing with loops in which loops are allowed
     to be set up, and data may be transmitted over the loop,
     but the loop is later detected and closed

   loop prevention

     a method of dealing with loops in which data is never
     transmitted over a loop

   label stack

     an ordered set of labels

   loop survival

     a method of dealing with loops in which data may be
     transmitted over a loop, but means are employed to limit the
     amount of network resources which may be consumed by the
     looping data

   label switching router

     an MPLS node which is capable of forwarding native L3 packets

   merge point

     the node at which multiple streams and switched paths are
     combined into a single stream sent over a single path. In the
     case that the multiple paths are not combined prior to the
     egress node, then the egress node becomes the merge point.


     abbreviation for MPLS label

   MPLS core standards

     the standards which describe the core MPLS technology

   MPLS domain

     a contiguous set of nodes which operate MPLS routing and
     forwarding and which are also in one Routing or Administrative

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   MPLS edge node

     an MPLS node that connects an MPLS domain with a node which
     is outside of the domain, either because it does not run
     MPLS, and/or because it is in a different domain. Note that
     if an LSR has a neighboring host which is not running MPLS,
     that that LSR is an MPLS edge node.

   MPLS egress node

     an MPLS edge node in its role in handling traffic as it
     leaves an MPLS domain

   MPLS ingress node

     an MPLS edge node in its role in handling traffic as it
     enters an MPLS domain

   MPLS label

     a label placed in a short MPLS shim header used to identify

   MPLS node

     a node which is running MPLS. An MPLS node will be aware of
     MPLS control protocols, will operate one or more L3 routing
     protocols, and will be capable of forwarding packets based on
     labels. An MPLS node may optionally be also capable of
     forwarding native L3 packets.

   MultiProtocol Label Switching

     an IETF working group and the effort associated with the
     working group

   network layer

     synonymous with layer 3

   shortcut VC

     a VC set up as a result of an NHRP query and response


     synonymous with label stack

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     an aggregate of one or more flows, treated as one aggregate
     for the purpose of forwarding in L2 and/or L3 nodes (e.g.,
     may be described using a single label). In many cases a stream
     may be the aggregate of a very large number of flows.
     Synonymous with "aggregate stream".

   stream merge

     the merging of several smaller streams into a larger stream,
     such that for some or all of the path the larger stream can
     be referred to using a single label.

   switched path

     synonymous with label switched path

   virtual circuit

     a circuit used by a connection-oriented layer 2 technology
     such as ATM or Frame Relay, requiring the maintenance of
     state information in layer 2 switches.

   VC merge

     stream merge when it is specifically applied to VCs,
     specifically so as to allow multiple VCs to merge into one
     single VC

   VP merge

     stream merge when it is applied to VPs, specifically so as
     to allow multiple VPs to merge into one single VP. In this
     case the VCIs need to be unique. This allows cells from
     different sources to be distinguished via the VCI.


     a label used in ATM networks to identify circuits

1.4 Acronyms and Abbreviations

   DLCI            Data Link Circuit Identifier

   FEC             Forwarding Equivalence Class

   ISP             Internet Service Provider

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   LIB             Label Information Base

   LDP             Label Distribution Protocol

   L2              Layer 2

   L3              Layer 3

   LSP             Label Switched Path

   LSR             Label Switching Router

   MPLS            MultiProtocol Label Switching

   MPT             Multipoint to Point Tree

   NHC             Next Hop (NHRP) Client

   NHS             Next Hop (NHRP) Server

   VC              Virtual Circuit

   VCI             Virtual Circuit Identifier

   VPI             Virtual Path Identifier

1.5 Motivation for MPLS

   This section describes the expected and potential benefits of the
   MPLS over existing schemes. Specifically, this section discusses the
   advantages of MPLS over previous methods for building core networks
   (i.e., networks for internet service providers or for major corporate
   backbones). The potential advantages of MPLS in campus and local area
   networks are not discussed in this section.

   There are currently two commonly used methods for building core IP
   networks: (i) Networks of datagram routers in which the core of the
   network is based on the datagram routers; (ii) Networks of datagram
   routers operating over an ATM core. In order to describe the
   advantages of MPLS, it is necessary to know which alternate to MPLS
   we are using for the comparison. This section is therefore split into
   two sections: Section 1.5.1 describes the advantages of MPLS when
   compared to a pure datagram routed network. Section 1.5.2 describes
   the advantages of MPLS when compared to an IP over ATM network.

   This section does not provide a complete list of requirements for
   MPLS. For example, Multipoint to Point Trees are important for MPLS
   to scale. However, datagram forwarding naturally acts in this way

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   (since multiple sources are merged automatically), and the ATM forum
   is currently adding support for multipoint to point to the ATM
   standards. The ability to do MPTs is therefore important to MPLS, but
   does not represent an advantage over either datagram routing or IP
   over ATM, and therefore is not mentioned in this section.

1.5.1 Benefits Relative to Use of a Router Core Simplified Forwarding

   Label swapping allows packet forwarding to be based on an exact match
   for a short label, rather than a longest match algorithm applied to a
   longer address as is required for normal datagram forwarding. In
   addition, the label headers used with MPLS are simpler than the
   headers typically used with datagram protocols such as IP. This in
   turn implies that MPLS allows a much simpler forwarding paradigm
   relative to datagrams, and implies that it is easier to build a high
   speed router using MPLS.

   Whether this simpler forwarding operation will result in availability
   of LSRs which can operate at higher speeds than datagram routers is
   controversial, and probably depends upon implementation details.
   There are some parts of the network, such as at hierarchical
   boundaries, where datagram IP forwarding at high speed will be
   required. This implies that implementation of a high speed router is
   highly desirable. In addition, there are currently multiple companies
   building high speed routers which will allow IP packets to be
   forwarded at very high speed. At speeds at least up to OC48, it
   appears that once the one-time engineering is completed, the per-unit
   cost associated with IP forwarding will be a small fraction of the
   overall equipment cost.

   However, there are also many existing routers which can benefit from
   the simpler forwarding allowed by MPLS. In addition, there are some
   routers being built with implementations that will benefit from the
   simpler forwarding available with MPLS. Efficient Explicit Routing

   Explicit routing (aka Source Routing) is a very powerful technique
   which potentially can be useful for a variety of purposes. However,
   with pure datagram routing the overhead of carrying a complete
   explicit route with each packet is prohibitive. However, MPLS allows
   the explicit route to be carried only at the time that the label
   switched path is set up, and not with each packet. This implies that
   MPLS makes explicit routing practical. This in turn implies that MPLS
   can make possible a number of advanced routing features which depend
   upon explicit routing.

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   Traffic engineering refers to the process of selecting the paths
   chosen by data traffic in order to balance the traffic load on the
   various links, routers, and switches in the network. Traffic
   engineering is most important in networks where multiple parallel or
   alternate paths are available. The rapid growth in the Internet, and
   particularly the associated rapid growth in the demand for bandwidth,
   has tended to cause some core networks to become increasingly
   "branchy" in recent years, resulting in an increase in the importance
   of traffic engineering.

   It is common today, in networks that are running IP over an ATM core
   using PVCs, to manually configure the path of each PVC in order to
   equalize the traffic levels on different links in the network. Thus
   traffic engineering is typically done today in IP over ATM networks
   using manual configuration.

   Traffic engineering is difficult to accomplish with datagram routing.
   Some degree of load balancing can be obtained by adjusting the
   metrics associated with network links. However, there is a limit to
   how much can be accomplished in this way, and in networks with a
   large number of alternative paths between any two points balancing of
   the traffic levels on all links is difficult to achieve solely by
   adjustment of the metrics used with hop by hop datagram routing.

   MPLS allows streams from any particular ingress node to any
   particular egress node to be individually identified. MPLS therefore
   provides a straightforward mechanism to measure the traffic
   associated with each ingress node to egress node pair. In addition,
   since MPLS allows efficient explicit routing of Label Switched Paths,
   it is straightforward to ensure that any particular stream of data
   takes the preferred path.

   The hard part of traffic engineering is selection of the method used
   to route each Label Switched Path. There are a variety of possible
   ways to do this, ranging from manual configuration of routes, to use
   of a routing protocol which announces traffic loads in the network
   combined with background recomputation of paths. QoS Routing

   QoS routing refers to a method of routing in which the route chosen
   for a particular stream is chosen in response to the QoS required for
   that stream. In many cases QoS routing needs to make use of explicit
   routing for several reasons:

   In some cases specific bandwidth is likely to be reserved for each of

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   many specific streams of data. This implies that the total bandwidth
   of multiple streams may exceed the bandwidth available on any
   particular link, and thus not all streams, even between the same
   ingress and egress nodes, can take the same path. Instead, individual
   streams will need to be individually routed. This is somewhat
   analogous to traffic engineering, but might require separation of
   streams on a finer granularity. Thus explicit routing may be needed
   in order to allow each stream to be individually routed, and to
   eliminate the need for each switch along the path of a stream to
   compute the route for each stream.

   Consider the case of routing a stream with a specific bandwidth
   requirement: In this case the route chosen will depend upon the
   amount of bandwidth which is requested. For any one given bandwidth
   it is straightforward to select a path. However there are a lot of
   different levels of bandwidth which could in principle be requested.
   This makes it impractical to precompute all possible paths for all
   possible bandwidths. If the path for a particular stream must be
   computed on demand, then it is undesirable to require every LSR on
   the path to compute the path. Instead, it is preferable to have the
   first node compute the path and specify the route to be followed
   through use of an explicit route.

   For a variety of reasons the information available for QoS routing
   may in some cases be slightly out of date. This implies that the
   attempt to select a specific path for a QoS-sensitive stream may in
   some cases fail, due to a particular node or link not having the
   required resources available. In these cases it is not in general
   always feasible to tell all other nodes in the network of the limited
   resource in one particular network element. If explicit routing is
   available, then this permits the initial node of the stream (the
   ingress node in MPLS) to be informed that the indicated network
   element is not able to carry the stream, allowing an alternate path
   to be selected. However, in this case the node that selects the
   alternate path has to use explicit routing in order to force the
   stream to follow the alternate path.

   These and similar examples implies that explicit routing is necessary
   in order to do an adequate job of QoS routing. Given that MPLS allows
   efficient explicit routing, it follows that MPLS also facilitates QoS
   routing. Complex Mappings from IP Packet to Forwarding Equivalence Class

   MPLS allows the mapping from IP packet to forwarding equivalence
   class to be performed only once, at the ingress to an MPLS area. This
   facilitates complex mappings from IP packet to FEC than would
   otherwise be impractical.

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   For example, consider the case of provisioned QoS: Some ISPs offer a
   service wherein specific customers subscribe to received
   differentiated services (e.g., their packets may receive preferential
   forwarding treatment). Mapping of IP packets to the service level may
   require knowing the customer who is transmitting the packet, which
   may in turn require packet filtering based on source and destination
   address, incoming interface, and other characteristics. The sheer
   number of filters that are needed in a moderate sized ISP preclude
   repetition of the filters at every router throughout the network.
   Also, some information such as incoming interface is not available
   except at the ingress node to the network. This implies that the
   preferred way to offer provisioned QoS is to map the packet at the
   ingress point to the preferred QoS level, and then label the packet
   in some way. MPLS offers an efficient method to label the QoS class
   associated with any particular packet.

   Other examples of complex mappings from IP packet to FEC are also
   likely to be determined as MPLS is deployed. Partitioning of Functionality

   Due to the support of the different label granularities, it will be
   possible to hierarchically partition the processing functionality to
   the different network elements, so that the more heavy processing
   takes place on the edges of the network, near the customers, and on
   the core network the processing is as simple as possible, e.g. pure
   label based forwarding.

   AS level aggregations will enable building of the fully switched
   backbone networks and traffic exchange points. Also, it will be
   possible for operators to fully switch the transit traffic traveling
   through the operator’s network. Deaggregation will be needed for the
   streams that are destined in the networks connected to the MPLS
   domain, but it shall be noted that this deaggregation will only need
   to perform lookup operations associated with finding the label for
   egress router or interface, e.g. TOS information bound to label in
   source is still valid, and can be honored on basis of which label the
   packet was received in. It shall be noted that it is even impossible
   for the receiving  domain to do the classification as the original
   packet classification policy is not known by the receiving domain.

   As one example of the improved functional partitioning, consider the
   case of the use of packet filters to map IP packets into a
   substantial number of queues, such that each queue receives
   differentiated services. For example, suppose that a network supports
   individual queuing for on the order of 100 different customers, with
   packets mapped to queues based on the source and destination IP
   address. In this case, with MPLS the packet filtering can be done

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   solely on the edge of the network, with the packets mapped to labels
   such that each individual user receives separate labels. Thus with
   MPLS the filtering can be performed at the edge only of the network.
   This allows complex mappings of IP packets to forwarding equivalence
   class. Single Forwarding Paradigm with Service Level Differentiation

   MPLS can allow a single forwarding paradigm to be used to support
   multiple types of service on the same network.

   Because of the forwarding paradigm, it will be possible to carry the
   different services through the same network elements, regardless of
   the control plane protocols used for the population of the LSR’s LIB.
   It is for example possible, in case of ATM based switching system to
   support all the native ATM services, frame relay services,  and
   labeled IP services. The simultaneous support of multiple service may
   need partitioning of the label space between the services, and shall
   be supported by the label distribution / management protocol.

   Non-exhaustive list of examples of the services suitable for carrying
   over LSRs are IP traffic, Frame Relay traffic, ATM traffic (in case
   of cell switching), IP tunneling, VPNs, and other datagram protocols.

   Note that MPLS does not necessarily use the same header format over
   all types of media. However, over any particular type of media a
   single header format (at least for the lowest level of the Label
   Stack) should be possible.

1.5.2 Benefits Relative to Use of an ATM or Frame Relay Core

   Note: This section compares MPLS with other methods for
   interconnecting routers over a switched core network. We are not
   considering methods for interconnecting hosts located on virtual
   networks. For example the ATM Forum LANE and MPOA standards support
   virtual networks. MPLS does not directly support virtual networks,
   and should not be compared directly with MPOA or LANE.

   Previously available methods for interconnecting routers in an IP
   over ATM environment make use of either: (i) a full mesh 'n-squared'
   overlay of virtual circuits between n ATM-attached routers; (ii) A
   partial mesh of VCs between routers; or (iii) A partial mesh of VCs,
   plus the use of NHRP to facilitate on demand cut-through SVCs. Scaling of the Routing Protocol

   Relative to the interconnection of IP over an ATM core, MPLS improves
   the scaling of routing due to reduced number of peers and elimination

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   of the 'n-squared' logical links between routers used to operate the
   routing protocols.

   Because all LSRs will run standard routing protocols, the number of
   the peers routers need to communicate with are reduced to the number
   of the LSRs and router given LSR is directly connected to, instead of
   having to peer with large number of routers at the ends of the
   switched L2 paths. This benefit is achieved because the edge LSRs do
   not need to peer with every other edge LSR in the domain as is case
   on hybrid switch / router network. Common Operation over Packet and Cell media

   MPLS makes use of common methods for routing and forwarding over
   packet and cell media, and potentially allows a common approach to
   traffic engineering, QoS routing, and other aspects of operation. For
   example, this means that the same method for label distribution can
   be used over Frame Relay and ATM media, as well as between LSRs using
   the MPLS Shim Header for forwarding over other media (such as PPP
   links and broadcast LANs).

   Note: There may be some differences with respect to the operation of
   different media. For example, if VP merge is used with ATM media
   (rather than VC merge) then the merge operation may be somewhat
   different than what it would be with packet media or with ATM using
   VC merge. Easier Management

   The use of a common method for label distribution and common routing
   protocols over multiple types of media is expected to simplify
   network management of MPLS networks. Elimination of the 'Routing over Large Clouds' Issue

   MPLS eliminates the need to use NHRP and on-demand cut-through SVCs
   for operation over ATM. This eliminates the latency problem
   associated with cut-through SVCs.

2. Discussion of Core MPLS Components

2.1 The Basic Routing Approach

   Routing is accomplished through the use of standard L3 routing
   protocols, such as OSPF and BGP.  The information maintained by the
   L3 routing protocols is then used to distribute labels to neighboring
   nodes that are used in the forwarding of packets as described below.

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   In the case of ATM networks, the labels that are distributed are
   VPI/VCIs and a separate protocol (i.e., PNNI) is not necessary for
   the establishment of VCs for IP forwarding.

   The topological scope of a routing protocol (i.e. routing domain) and
   the scope of label switching MPLS-capable nodes may be different.
   For example, MPLS-knowledgeable and MPLS-ignorant nodes, all of which
   are OSPF routers, may be co-resident in an area. In the case that
   neighboring routers know MPLS, labels can be exchanged and used.

   Neighboring MPLS routers may use configured PVCs or PVPs to tunnel
   through non-participating ATM or FR switches.

2.2 Labels

   In addition to the single routing protocol approach discussed above,
   the other key concept in the basic MPLS approach is the use of short
   fixed length labels to simply user data forwarding.

2.2.1 Label Semantics

   It is important that the MPLS solutions are clear about what
   semantics (i.e., what knowledge of the state of the network) is
   implicit in the use of labels for forwarding user data packets or

   At the simplest level, a label may be thought of as nothing more than
   a shorthand for the packet header, in order to index the forwarding
   decision that a router would make for the packet. In this context,
   the label is nothing more than a shorthand for an aggregate stream of
   user data.

   This observation leads to one possible very simple interpretation
   that the "meaning" of the label is a strictly local issue between two
   neighboring nodes. With this interpretation: (i) MPLS could be
   employed between any two neighboring nodes for forwarding of data
   between those nodes, even if no other nodes in the network
   participate in MPLS; (ii) When MPLS is used between more than two
   nodes, then the operation between any two neighboring nodes could be
   interpreted as independent of the operation between any other pair of
   nodes. This approach has the advantage of semantic simplicity, and of
   being the closest to pure datagram forwarding. However this approach
   (like pure datagram forwarding) has the disadvantage that when a
   packet is forwarded it is not known whether the packet is being
   forwarded into a loop, into a black hole, or towards links which have
   inadequate resources to handle the traffic flow. These disadvantages
   are necessary with pure datagram forwarding, but are optional design
   choices to be made when label switching is being used.

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   There are cases where it would be desirable to have additional
   knowledge implicit in the existence of the label. For example, one
   approach to avoiding loops (see section 4.3) involves signaling the
   label distribution along a path before packets are forwarded on that
   path. With this approach the fact that a node has a label to use for
   a particular IP packet would imply the knowledge that following the
   label (including label swapping at subsequent nodes) leads to a non-
   looping path which makes progress towards the destination (something
   which is usually, but not necessarily always true when using pure
   datagram routing). This would of course require some sort of label
   distribution/setup protocol which signals along the path being setup
   before the labels are available for packet forwarding. However, there
   are also other consequences to having additional semantics associated
   with the label: specifically, procedures are needed to ensure that
   the semantics are correct. For example, if the fact that you have a
   label for a particular destination implies that there is a loop-free
   path, then when the path changes some procedures are required to
   ensure that it is still loop free. Another example of semantics which
   could be implicit in a label is the identity of the higher level
   protocol type which is encoded using that label value.

   In either case, the specific value of a label to use for a stream is
   strictly a local issue; however the decision about whether to use the
   label may be based on some global (or at least wider scope) knowledge
   that, for example, the label-switched path is loop-free and/or has
   the appropriate resources.

   A similar example occurs in ATM networks: With standard ATM a
   signaling protocol is used which both reserves resources in switches
   along the path, and which ensures that the path is loop-free and
   terminates at the correct node. Thus implicit in the fact that an ATM
   node has a VPI/VCI for forwarding a particular piece of data is the
   knowledge that the path has been set up successfully.

   Another similar examples occurs with multipoint to point trees over
   ATM (see section 4.2 below), where the multipoint to point tree uses
   a VP, and cell interleave at merge points in the tree is handled by
   giving each source on the tree a distinct VCI within the VP. In this
   case, the fact that each source has a known VPI/VCI to use needs to
   (implicitly or explicitly) imply the knowledge that the VCI assigned
   to that source is unique within the context of the VP.

   In general labels are used to optimize how the system works, not to
   control how the system works. For example, the routing protocol
   determines the path that a packet follows. The presence or absence of
   a label assignment should not effect the path of a L3 packet. Note
   however that the use of labels may make capabilities such as explicit
   routes, loadsharing, and multipath more efficient.

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2.2.2 Label Granularity

   Labels are used to create a simple forwarding paradigm.  The
   essential element in assigning a label is that the device which will
   be using the label to forward packets will be forwarding all packets
   with the same label in the same way.  If the packet is to be
   forwarded solely by looking at the label, then at a minimum, all
   packets with the same incoming label must be forwarded out the same
   port(s) with the same encapsulation(s), and with the same next hop
   label (if any).

   The term "forwarding equivalence class" is used to refer to a set of
   L3 packets which are all forwarded in the same manner by a particular
   LSR (for example, the IP packets in a forwarding equivalence class
   may be destined for the same egress from an MPLS network, and may be
   associated with the same QoS class). A forwarding equivalence class
   is therefore the set of L3 packets which could safely be mapped to
   the same label. Note that there may be reasons that packets from a
   single forwarding equivalence class may be mapped to multiple labels
   (e.g., when stream merge is not used).

   Note that the label could also mean "ignore this label and forward
   based on what is contained within," where within one might find a
   label (if a stack of labels is used) or a layer 3 packet.

   For IP unicast traffic, the granularity of a label allows various
   levels of aggregation in a Label Information Base (LIB).  At one end
   of the spectrum, a label could represent a host route (i.e. the full
   32 bits of IP address).  If a router forwards an entire CIDR prefix
   in the same way, it may choose to use one label to represent that
   prefix.  Similarly if the router is forwarding several (otherwise
   unrelated) CIDR prefixes in the same way it may choose to use the
   same label for this set of prefixes.  For instance all CIDR prefixes
   which share the same BGP Next Hop could be assigned the same label.
   Taking this to the limit, an egress router may choose to advertise
   all of its prefixes with the same label.

   By introducing the concept of an egress identifier, the distribution
   of labels associated with groups of CIDR prefixes can be simplified.
   For instance, an egress identifier might specify the BGP Next Hop,
   with all prefixes routed to that next hop receiving the label
   associated with that egress identifier.  Another natural place to
   aggregate would be the MPLS egress router.  This would work
   particularly well in conjunction with a link-state routing protocol,
   where the association between egress router and CIDR prefix is
   already distributed throughout an area.

   For IP multicast, the natural binding of a label would be to a

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   multicast tree, or rather to the branch of a tree which extends from
   a particular port.  Thus for a shared tree, the label corresponds to
   the multicast group, (*,G).  For (S,G) state, the label would
   correspond to the source address and the multicast group.

   A label can also have a granularity finer than a host route.  That
   is, it could be associated with some combination of source and
   destination address or other information within the packet.  This
   might for example be done on an administrative basis to aid in
   effecting policy.  A label could also correspond to all packets which
   match a particular Integrated Services filter specification.

   Labels can also represent explicit routes.  This use is semantically
   equivalent to using an IP tunnel with a complete explicit route. This
   is discussed in more detail in section 4.10. Examples of Unicast traffic granularities:

    - PQ (Port Quadruples) same IP source address prefix, destination
   address prefix, TTL, IP protocol and TCP/UDP source/destination ports

    - PQT (Port Quadruples with TOS) same IP source address prefix,
   destination address prefix, TTL, IP protocol and TCP/UDP
   source/destination ports and same IP header TOS field (including
   Precedence and TOS bits).

    - HP (Host Pairs) Same specific IP source and destination address
   (32 bit)

    - NP (Network Pairs) Same IP source and destination address prefixes
   (variable length)

    - DN (Destination Network) Same IP destination network address
   prefix (variable length)

    - ER (Egress Router) Same egress router ID (e.g. OSPF)

    - NAS (Next-hop AS) Same next-hop AS number (BGP)

    - DAS (Destination AS) Same destination AS number (BGP) Multicast traffic granularities:

    - SST (Source Specific Tree) Same source address and multicast group

    - SMT (Shared Multicast Tree) Same multicast group address

2.2.3 Label Assignment

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   Essential to label switching is the notion of binding between a label
   and Network Layer routing (routes).  A control component is
   responsible for creating label bindings, and then distributing the
   label binding information among label switches. Label assignment
   involves allocating a label, and then binding a label to a route.

   Label assignment can be driven by control traffic or by data traffic.
   This is discussed in more detail in section 3.4.

   Control traffic driven label assignment has several advantages, as
   compared to data traffic driven label Assignment. For one thing, it
   minimizes the amount of additional control traffic needed to
   distribute label binding information, as label binding information is
   distributed only in response to control traffic, independent of data
   traffic. It also makes the overall scheme independent of and
   insensitive to the data traffic profile/pattern. Control traffic
   driven creation of label binding improves forwarding latency, as
   labels are assigned before data traffic arrives, rather than being
   assigned as data traffic arrives. It also simplifies the overall
   system behavior, as the control plane is controlled solely by control
   traffic, rather than by a mix of control and data traffic.

   There are however situations where data traffic driven label
   assignment is necessary.  A particular case may occur with ATM
   without VP or VC merge. In this case in order to set up a full mesh
   of VCs would require n-squared VCs. However, in very large networks
   this may be infeasible. Instead VCs may be setup where required for
   forwarding data traffic. In this case it is generally not possible to
   know a priori how many such streams may occur.

   Label withdrawal is required with both control-driven and data-driven
   label assignment. Label withdrawal is primarily a matter of garbage
   collection, that is collecting up unused labels so that they may be
   reassigned.  Generally speaking, a label should be withdrawn when the
   conditions that allowed it to be assigned are no longer true. For
   example, if a label is imbued with extra semantics such as loop-free-
   ness, then the label must be withdrawn when those extra semantics
   cease to hold.

   In certain cases, notably multicast, it may be necessary to share a
   label space between multiple entities.  If these sharing arrangements
   are altered by the coming and going of neighbors, then labels which
   are no longer controlled by an entity must be withdrawn and a new
   label assigned.

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2.2.4 Label Stack and Forwarding Operations

   The basic forwarding operation consists of looking up the incoming
   label to determine the outgoing label, encapsulation, port, and any
   additional information which may pertain to the stream such as a
   particular queue or other QoS related treatment.  We refer to this
   operation as a label swap.

   When a packet first enters an MPLS domain, the packet is forwarded by
   normal layer 3 forwarding operations with the exception that the
   outgoing encapsulation will now include a label.  We refer to this
   operation as a label push.  When a packet leaves an MPLS domain, the
   label is removed.  We refer to this as a label pop.

   In some situations, carrying a stack of labels is useful.  For
   instance both IGP and BGP label could be used to allow routers in the
   interior of an AS to be free of BGP information.  In this scenario,
   the "IGP" label is used to steer the packet through the AS and the
   "BGP" label is used to switch between ASes.

   With a label stack, the set of label operations remains the same,
   except that at some points one might push or pop multiple labels, or
   pop & swap, or swap & push.

2.3 Encapsulation

   Label-based forwarding makes use of various pieces of information,
   including a label or stack of labels, and possibly additional
   information such as a TTL field. In some cases this information may
   be encoded using an MPLS header, in other cases this information may
   be encoded in L2 headers. Note that there may be multiple types of
   MPLS headers. For example, the header used over one media type may be
   different than is used over a different media type. Similarly, in
   some cases the information that MPLS makes use of may be encoded in
   an ATM header. We will use the term "MPLS encapsulation" to refer to
   whatever form is used to encapsulate the label information and other
   information used for label based forwarding. The term "MPLS header"
   will be used where this information is carried in some sort of MPLS-
   specific header (i.e., when the MPLS information cannot all be
   carried in a L2 header). Whether there is one or multiple forms of
   possible MPLS headers is also outside of the scope of this document.

   The exact contents of the MPLS encapsulation is outside of the scope
   of this document. Some fields, such as the label, are obviously
   needed. Some others might or might not be standardized, based on
   further study. An encapsulation scheme may make use of the following

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     -  label
     -  TTL
     -  class of service
     -  stack indicator
     -  next header type indicator
     -  checksum

   It is desirable to have a very short encapsulation header.  For
   example, a four byte encapsulation header adds to the convenience of
   building a hardware implementation that forwards based on the
   encapsulation header. But at the same time it is tricky assigning
   such a limited number of bits to carry the above listed information
   in an MPLS header. Hence careful consideration must be given to the
   information chosen for an MPLS header.

   A TTL value in the MPLS header may be useful in the same manner as it
   is in IP. Specifically, TTL may be used to terminate packets caught
   in a routing loop, and for other related uses such as traceroute. The
   TTL mechanism is a simple and proven method of handling such events.
   Another use of TTL is to expire packets in a network by limiting
   their "time to live" and eliminating stale packets that may cause
   problems for some of the higher layer protocols. When used over link
   layers which do not provide a TTL field, alternate mechanisms will be
   needed to replace the uses of the TTL field.

   A provision for a class of service (COS) field in the MPLS header
   allows multiple service classes within the same label.  However, when
   more sophisticated QoS is associated with a label, the COS may not
   have any significance.  Alternatively, the COS (like QoS) can be left
   out of the header, and instead propagated with the label assignment,
   but this entails that a separate label be assigned to each required
   class of service.  Nevertheless, the COS mechanism provides a simple
   method of segregating flows within a label.

   As previously mentioned, the encapsulation header can be used to
   derive benefits of tunneling (or stacking).

   The MPLS header must provide a way to indicate that multiple MPLS
   headers are stacked (i.e., the "stack indicator").  For this purpose
   a single bit in the MPLS header will suffice. In addition, there are
   also some benefits to indicating the type of the protocol header
   following the MPLS header (i.e., the "next header type indicator").
   One option would be to combine the stack indicator and next header
   type indicator into a single value (i.e., the next header type
   indicator could be allowed to take the value "MPLS header"). Another
   option is to have the next header type indicator be implicit in the
   label value (such that this information would be propagated along
   with the label).

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   There is no compelling reason to support a checksum field in the MPLS
   header. A CRC mechanism at the L2 layer should be sufficient to
   ensure the integrity of the MPLS header.

3. Observations, Issues and Assumptions

3.1 Layer 2 versus Layer 3 Forwarding

   MPLS uses L2 forwarding as a way to provide simple and fast packet
   forwarding capability.  One primary reason for the simplicity of L2
   layer forwarding comes from its short, fixed length labels.  A node
   forwarding at L3 must parse a (relatively) large header, and perform
   a longest-prefix match to determine a forwarding path.  However, when
   a node performs L2 label swapping, and labels are assigned properly,
   it can do a direct index lookup into its forwarding (or in this case,
   label-swapping) table with the short header. It is arguably simpler
   to build label swapping hardware than it is to build L3 forwarding
   hardware because the label swapping function is less complex.

   The relative performance of L2 and L3 forwarding may differ
   considerably between nodes. Some nodes may illustrate an order of
   magnitude difference. Other nodes (for example, nodes with more
   extensive L3 forwarding hardware) may have identical performance at
   L2 and L3. However, some nodes may not be capable of doing a L3
   forwarding at all (e.g. ATM), or have such limited capacity as to be
   unusable at L3.  In this situation, traffic must be blackholed if no
   switched path exists.

   On nodes in which L3 forwarding is slower than L2 forwarding, pushing
   traffic to L3 when no L2 path is available may cause congestion. In
   some cases this could cause data loss (since L3 may be unable to keep
   up with the increased traffic). However, if data is discarded, then
   in general this will cause TCP to backoff, which would allow control
   traffic, traceroute and other network management tools to continue to

   The MPLS protocol MUST not make assumptions about the forwarding
   capabilities of an MPLS node.  Thus, MPLS must propose solutions that
   can leverage the benefits of a node that is capable of L3 forwarding,
   but must not mandate the node be capable of such.

   Why We Will Still Need L3 Forwarding:

   MPLS will not, and is not intended to, replace L3 forwarding. There
   is absolutely a need for some systems to continue to forward IP
   packets using normal Layer 3 IP forwarding. L3 forwarding will be
   needed for a variety of reasons, including:

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     -  For scaling; to forward on a finer granularity than the labels
        can provide
     -  For security; to allow packet filtering at firewalls.
     -  For forwarding at the initial router (when hosts don't do MPLS)

   Consider a campus network which is serving a small company. Suppose
   that this companies makes use of the Internet, for example as a
   method of communicating with customers. A customer on the other side
   of the world has an IP packet to be forwarded to a particular system
   within the company. It is not reasonable to expect that the customer
   will have a label to use to forward the packet to that specific
   system. Rather, the label used for the "first hop" forwarding might
   be sufficient to get the packet considerably closer to the
   destination. However, the granularity of the labels cannot be to
   every host worldwide. Similarly, routing used within one routing
   domain cannot know about every host worldwide. This implies that in
   may cases the labels assigned to a particular packet will be
   sufficient to get the packet close to the destination, but that at
   some points along the path of the packet the IP header will need to
   be examined to determine a finer granularity for forwarding that
   packet. This is particularly likely to occur at domain boundaries.

   A similar point occurs at the last router prior to the destination
   host. In general, the number of hosts attached to a network is likely
   to be great enough that it is not feasible to assign a separate label
   to every host. Rather, as least for routing within the destination
   routing domain (or the destination area if there is a hierarchical
   routing protocol in use) a label may be assigned which is sufficient
   to get the packet to the last hop router. However, the last hop
   router will need to examine the IP header (and particularly the
   destination IP address) in order to forward the packet to the correct
   destination host.

   Packet filtering at firewalls is an important part of the operation
   of the Internet. While the current state of Internet security may be
   considerably less advanced than may be desired, nonetheless some
   security (as is provided by firewalls) is much better than no
   security. We expect that packet filtering will continue to be
   important for the foreseeable future. Packet filtering requires
   examination of the contents of the packet, including the IP header.
   This implies that at firewalls the packet cannot be forwarded simply
   by considering the label associated with the packet. Note that this
   is also likely to occur at domain boundaries.

   Finally, it is very likely that many hosts will not implement MPLS.
   Rather, the host will simply forward an IP packet to its first hop
   router. This first hop router will need to examine the IP header
   prior to forwarding the packet (with or without a label).

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3.2 Scaling Issues

   MPLS scalability is provided by two of the principles of routing.
   The first is that forwarding follows an inverted tree rooted at a
   destination.  The second is that the number of destinations is
   reduced by routing aggregation.

   The very nature of IP forwarding is a merged multipoint-to-point
   tree. Thus, since MPLS mirrors the IP network layer, an MPLS node
   that is capable of merging is capable of creating O(n) switched paths
   which provide network reachability to all "n" destinations.  The
   meaning of "n" depends on the granularity of the switched paths.  One
   obvious choice of "n" is the number of CIDR prefixes existing in the
   forwarding table (this scales the same as today's routing). However,
   the value of "n" may be reduced considerably by choosing switched
   paths of further aggregation. For example, by creating switched paths
   to each possible egress node, "n" may represent the number of egress
   nodes in a network. This choice creates "n" switched paths, such that
   each path is shared by all CIDR prefixes that are routed through the
   same egress node.  This selection greatly improves scalability, since
   it minimizes "n", but at the same time maintains the same switching
   performance of CIDR aggregation. (See section 2.2.2 for a description
   of all of the levels of granularity provided by MPLS).

   The MPLS technology must scale at least as well as existing
   technology. For example, if the MPLS technology were to support ONLY
   host-to-host switched path connectivity, then the number of
   switched-paths would be much higher than the number of routing table

   There are several ways in which merging can be done in order to allow
   O(n) switches paths to connect n nodes. The merging approach used has
   an impact on the amount of state information, buffering, delay
   characteristics, and the means of control required to coordinate the
   trees. These issues are discussed in more detail in section 4.2.

   There are some cases in which O(n-squared) switched paths may be used
   (for example, by setting up a full mesh of point to point streams).
   As label space and the amount of state information that can be
   supported may be limited, it will not be possible to support O(n-
   squared) switched paths in very large networks. However, in some
   cases the use of n- squared paths may even be a advantage (for
   example, to allow load- splitting of individual streams).

   MPLS must be designed to scale for O(n). O(n) scaling allows MPLS
   domains to scale to a very large scale. In addition, if best effort
   service can be supported with O(n) scaling, this conserves resources
   (such as label space and state information) which can be used for

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   supporting advanced services such as QoS. However, since some
   switches may not support merging, and some small networks may not
   require the scaling benefits of O(n), provisions must also be
   provided for a non- merging, O(n-squared) solution.

   Note: A precise and complete description of scaling would consider
   that there are multiple dimensions of scaling, and multiple resources
   whose usage may be considered. Possible dimensions of scaling
   include: (i) the total number of streams which exist in an MPLS
   domain (with associated labels assigned to them); (ii) the total
   number of "label swapping pairs" which may be stored in the nodes of
   the network (ie, entries of the form "for incoming label 'x', use
   outgoing label 'y'"); (iii) the number of labels which need to be
   assigned for use over a particular link; (iv) The amount of state
   information which needs to be maintained by any one node. We do not
   intend to perform a complete analysis of all possible scaling issues,
   and understand that our use of the terms "O(n)" and "O(n-squared)" is
   approximate only.

3.3 Types of Streams

   Switched paths in the MPLS network can be of different types:

     -  point-to-point
     -  multipoint-to-point
     -  point-to-multipoint
     -  multipoint-to-multipoint

   Two of the factors that determine which type of switched path is used
   are (i) The capability of the switches employed in a network; (ii)
   The purpose of the creation of a switched path; that is, the types of
   flows to be carried in the switched path.  These two factor also
   determine the scalability of a network in terms of the number of
   switched paths in use for transporting data through a network.

   The point-to-point switched path can be used to connect all ingress
   nodes to all the egress nodes to carry unicast traffic.  In this
   case, since an ingress node has point-to-point connections to all the
   egress nodes, the number of connections in use for transporting
   traffic is of O(n-squared), where n is the number of edges MPLS
   devices.  For small networks the full mesh connection approach may
   suffice and not pose any scalability problems.  However, in large
   enterprise backbone or ISP networks, this will not scale well.

   Point-to-point switched paths may be used on a host-to-host or
   application to application basis (e.g., a switched path per RSVP
   flow). The dedicated point-to-point switched path transports the
   unicast data from the ingress to the egress node of the MPLS network.

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   This approach may be used for providing QoS services or for best-
   effort traffic.

   A multipoint-to-point switched path connects all ingress nodes to an
   single egress node. At a given intermediate node in the multipoint-
   to- point switched path, L2 data units from several upstream links
   are "merged" into a single label on a downstream link.  Since each
   egress node is reachable via a single multipoint-to-point switched
   path, the number of switched paths required to transport best-effort
   traffic through a MPLS network is O(n), where n is the number of
   egress nodes.

   The point-to-multipoint switched path is used for distributing
   multicast traffic. This switched path tree mirrors the multicast
   distribution tree as determined by the multicast routing protocols.
   Typically a switch capable of point-to-multipoint connection
   replicates an L2 data unit from the incoming (parent) interface to
   all the outgoing (child) interfaces. Standard ATM switches support
   such functionality in the form of point-to-multipoint VCs or VPs.

   A multipoint-to-multipoint switched path may be used to combine
   multicast traffic from multiple sources into a single multicast
   distribution tree.  The advantage of this is that the multipoint-to-
   multipoint switched path is shared by multiple sources. Conceptually,
   a form of multipoint-to-multipoint can be thought of as follows:
   Suppose that you have a point to multipoint VC from each node to all
   other nodes. Suppose that any point where two or more VCs happen to
   merge, you merge them into a single VC or VP. This would require
   either coordination of VCI spaces (so that each source has a unique
   VCI within a VP) or VC merge capabilities. The applicability of
   similar concepts to MPLS is FFS.

3.4 Data Driven versus Control Traffic Driven Label Assignment

   A fundamental concept in MPLS is the association of labels and
   network layer routing. Each LSR must assign labels, and distribute
   them to its forwarding peers, for traffic which it intends to forward
   by label swapping.  In the various contributions that have been made
   so far to the MPLS WG we identify three broad strategies for label
   assignment; (i) those driven by topology based control traffic
   [TAG][ARIS][IP navigator]; (ii) Those driven by request based control
   traffic [RSVP]; and (iii) those driven by data traffic

   We also note that in actual practice combinations of these methods
   may be employed. One example is that topology based methods for best
   effort traffic plus request based methods for support of RSVP.

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3.4.1 Topology Driven Label Assignment

   In this scheme labels are assigned in response to normal processing
   of routing protocol control traffic. Examples of such control
   protocols are OSPF and  BGP. As an LSR processes OSPF or BGP updates
   it can, as it makes or changes entries in its forwarding tables,
   assign labels to those entries.

   Among the properties of this scheme are:

   - The computational load of assignment and distribution and the
     bandwidth consumed by label distribution are bounded by the size
     of the network.

   - Labels are in the general case preassigned. If a route exists then
     a label has been assigned to it (and distributed). Traffic may be
     label swapped immediately it arrives, there is no label setup
     latency at forwarding time.

   - Requires LSRs to be able to process control traffic load only.

   - Labels assigned in response to the operation of routing protocols
     can have a granularity equivalent to that of the routes advertised
     by the protocol. Labels can, by this means, cover (highly)
     aggregated routes.

3.4.2 Request Driven Label Assignment

   In this scheme labels are assigned in response to normal processing
   of request based control traffic. Examples of such control protocols
   are RSVP. As an LSR processes RSVP messages it can, as it makes or
   changes entries in its forwarding tables, assign labels to those

   Among the properties of this scheme are:

   - The computational load of assignment and distribution and the
     bandwidth consumed by label distribution are bounded by the
     amount of control traffic in the system.

   - Labels are in the general case preassigned. If a route exists
     then a label has been assigned to it (and distributed). Traffic
     may be label swapped immediately it arrives, there is no label
     setup latency at forwarding time.

   - Requires LSRs to be able to process control traffic load only.

   - Depending upon the number of flows supported, this approach may

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     require a larger number of labels to be assigned compared with
     topology driven assignment.

   - This approach requires applications to make use of request
     paradigm in order to get a label assigned to their flow.

3.4.3 Traffic Driven Label Assignment

   In this scheme the arrival of data at an LSR "triggers" label
   assignment and distribution. Traffic driven approach has the
   following characteristics.

   - Label assignment and distribution costs are a function of
     traffic patterns. In an LSR with limited label space that is
     using a traffic driven approach to amortize its labels over a
     larger number of flows the overhead due to label assignment
     and distribution grows as a function of the number of flows
     and as a function of their "persistence". Short lived but
     recurring flows may impose a heavy control burden.

   - There is a latency associated with the appearance of a "flow"
     and the assignment of a label to it. The documented approaches
     to this problem suggest L3 forwarding during this setup phase,
     this has the potential for packet reordering (note that packet
     reordering may occur with any scheme when the network topology
     changes, but traffic driven label assignment introduces another
     cause for reordering).

   - Flow driven label assignment requires high performance packet
     classification capabilities.

   - Traffic driven label assignment may be useful to reduce label
     consumption (assuming that flows are not close to full mesh).

   - If you want flows to hosts, due to limits on label space, then
     traffic based label consumption is probably necessary due to
     the large number of hosts which may occur in a network.

   - If you want to assign specific network resources to specific
     labels, to be used for support of application flows, then
     again the fine grain associated with labels may require data
     based label assignment.

3.5 The Need for Dealing with Looping

   Routing protocols which are used in conjunction with MPLS will in
   many cases be based on distributed computation. As such, during
   routing transients, these protocols may compute forwarding paths

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   which contain loops. For this reason MPLS will be designed with
   mechanisms to either prevent the formation of loops and /or contain
   the amount of  resources that can be consumed due to the presence of

   Note that there are a number of different alternative mechanisms
   which have been proposed (see section 4.3). Some of these prevent the
   formation of layer 2 forwarding loops, others allow loops to form but
   minimize their impact in one way or another (e.g., by discarding
   packets which loop, or by detecting and closing the loop after a
   period of time). Generally speaking, there are tradeoffs to be made
   between the amount of looping which might occur, and other
   considerations such as the time to convergence after a change in the
   paths computed by the routing algorithm.

   We are not proposing any changes to normal layer 3 operation, and
   specifically are not trying to eliminate the possibility of looping
   at layer 3. Transient loops will continue to be possible in IP
   networks. Note that IP has a means to limit the damage done by
   looping packets, based on decrementing the IP TTL field as the packet
   is forwarded, and discarding packets whose TTL has expired. Dynamic
   routing protocols used with IP are also designed to minimize the
   amount of time during which loops exist.

   The question that MPLS has to deal with is what to do at L2. In some
   cases L2 may make use of the same method that is used as L3. However,
   other options are available at L2, and in some cases (specifically
   when operating over ATM or Frame Relay hardware) the method of
   decrementing a TTL field (or any similar field) is not available.

   There are basically two problems caused by packet looping: The most
   obvious problem is that packets are not delivered to the correct
   destination. The other result of looping is congestion. Even with TTL
   decrementing and packet discard, there may still be a significant
   amount of time that packets travel through a loop. This can adversely
   affect other packets which are not looping: Congestion due to the
   looping packets can cause non-looping packets to be delayed and/or

   Looping is particularly serious in (at least) three cases: One is
   when forwarding over ATM. Since ATM does not have a TTL field to
   decrement, there is no way to discard ATM cells which are looping
   over ATM subnetworks.  Standard ATM PNNI routing and signaling solves
   this problem by making use of call setup procedures which ensure that
   ATM VCs will never be setup in a loop [PNNI]. However, when MPLS is
   used over ATM subnets, the native ATM routing and signaling
   procedures may not be used for the full L2 path. This leads to the
   possibility that MPLS over ATM might in principle allow packets to

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   loop indefinitely, or until L3 routing stabilizes. Methods are needed
   to prevent this problem.

   Another case in which looping can be particularly unpleasant is for
   multicast traffic. With multicast, it is possible that the packet may
   be delivered successfully to some destinations even though copies
   intended for other destinations are looping. This leads to the
   possibility that huge numbers of identical packets could be delivered
   to some destinations. Also, since multicast implies that packets are
   duplicated at some points in their path, the congestion resulting
   from looping packets may be particularly severe.

   Another unpleasant complication of looping occurs if the congestion
   caused by the loop interferes with the routing protocol. It is
   possible for the congestion caused by looping to cause routing
   protocol control packets to be discarded, with the result that the
   routing protocol becomes unstable. For example this could lengthen
   the duration of the loop.

   In normal operation of IP networks the impact of congestion is
   limited by the fact that TCP backs off (i.e., transmits substantially
   less traffic) in response to lost packets. Where the congestion is
   caused by looping, the combination of TTL and the resulting discard
   of looping packets, plus the reduction in offered traffic, can limit
   the resulting impact on the network. TCP backoff however does not
   solve the problem if the looping packets are not discarded (for
   example, if the loop is over an ATM subnetwork where TTL is not

   The severity of the problem caused by looping may depend upon
   implementation details. Suppose, for instance, that ATM switching
   hardware is being used to provide MPLS switching functions. If the
   ATM hardware has per-VC queuing, and if it is capable of providing
   fair access to the buffer pool for incoming cells based on the
   incoming VC (so that no one incoming VC is allowed to grab a
   disproportionate number of buffers), this looping might not have a
   significant effect on other traffic. If the ATM hardware cannot
   provide fair buffer access of this sort, however, then even transient
   loops may cause severe degradation of the node's total performance.

   Given that MPLS is a relatively new approach, it is possible that
   looping may have consequences which are not fully understood (such as
   looping of LDP control information in cases where stream merge is not

   Even if fair buffer access can be provided, it is still worthwhile to
   have some means of detecting loops that last "longer than possible".
   In addition, even where TTL and/or per-VC fair queuing provides a

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   means for surviving loops, it still may be desirable where practical
   to avoid setting up LSPs which loop.

   Methods for dealing with loops are discussed in section 4.3.

3.6 Operations and Management

   Operations and management of networks is critically important. This
   implies that MPLS must support operations, administration,  and
   maintenance facilities at least as extensive as those supported in
   current IP networks.

   In most ways this is a relatively simple requirement to meet. Given
   that all MPLS nodes run normal IP routing protocols, it is
   straightforward to expect them to participate in normal IP network
   management protocols.

   There is one issue which has been identified and which needs to be
   addressed by the MPLS effort: There is an issue with regard to
   operation of Traceroute over MPLS networks. Note that other O&M
   issues may be identified in the future.

   Traceroute is a very commonly used network management tool.
   Traceroute is based on use of the TTL field: A station trying to
   determine the route from itself to a specified address transmits
   multiple IP packets, with the TTL field set to 1 in the first packet,
   2 in the second packet, etc.. This causes each router along the path
   to send back an ICMP error report for TTL exceeded. This in turn
   allows the station to determine the set of routers along the route.
   For example, this can be used to determine where a problem exists (if
   no router responds past some point, the last router which responds
   can become the starting point for a search to determine the cause of
   the problem).

   When MPLS is operating over ATM or Frame Relay networks there is no
   TTL field to decrement (and ATM and Frame Relay forwarding hardware
   does not decrement TTL). This implies that it is not straightforward
   to have Traceroute operate in this environment.

   There is the question of whether we *want* all routers along a path
   to be visible via traceroute. For example, an ISP probably doesn't
   want to expose the interior of their network to a customer. However,
   the issue of whether a network's policy will allow the interior of
   the network to be visible should be independent of whether is it
   possible for some users to see the interior of the network. Thus
   while there clearly should be the possibility of using policy
   mechanisms to block traceroute from being used to see the interior of
   the network, this does not imply that it is okay to develop protocol

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   mechanisms which break traceroute from working.

   There is also the question of whether the interior of a MPLS network
   is analogous to a normal IP network, or whether it is closer to the
   interior of a layer 2 network (for example, an ATM subnet). Clearly
   IP traceroute cannot be used to expose the interior of an ATM subnet.
   When a packet is crossing an ATM subnetwork (for example, between an
   ingress and an egress router which are attached to the ATM subnet)
   traceroute can be used to determine the router to router path, but
   not the path through the ATM switches which comprise the ATM subnet.
   Note here that MPLS forms a sort of "in between" special case:
   Routing is based on normal IP routing protocols, the equivalent of
   call setup (label binding/exchange) is based on MPLS-specific
   protocols, but forwarding is based on normal L2 ATM forwarding. MPLS
   therefore supersedes the normal ATM-based methods that would be used
   to eliminate loops and/or trace paths through the ATM subnet.

   It is generally agreed that Traceroute is a relatively "ugly" tool,
   and that a better tool for tracing the route of a packet would be
   preferable. However, no better tool has yet been designed or even
   proposed. Also, however ugly Traceroute may be, it is nonetheless
   very useful, widely deployed, and widely used. In general, it is
   highly preferable to define, implement, and deploy a new tool, and to
   determine through experience that the new tool is sufficient, before
   breaking a tool which is as widely used as traceroute.

   Methods that may be used to either allow traceroute to be used in an
   MPLS network, or to replace traceroute, are discussed in section

4. Technical Approaches

4.1 Label Distribution

   A fundamental requirement in MPLS is that an LSR forwarding label
   switched traffic to another LSR apply a label to that traffic which
   is meaningful to the other (receiving the traffic) LSR. LSR's could
   learn about each other's labels in a variety of ways. We call the
   general topic "label distribution".

4.1.1 Explicit Label Distribution

   Explicit label distribution anticipates the specification by MPLS of
   a standard protocol for label distribution. Two of the possible
   approaches [TDP] [ARIS] that are oriented toward topology driven
   label distribution. One other approach [FANP], in contrast, makes use
   of traffic driven label distribution.

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   We expect that the label distribution protocol (LDP) which emerges
   from the MPLS WG is likely to inherit elements from one or more of
   the possible approaches.

   Consider LSR A forwarding traffic to LSR B. We call A the upstream
   (wrt to dataflow) LSR and B the downstream LSR. A must apply a label
   to the traffic that B "understands". Label distribution must ensure
   that the "meaning" of the label will be communicated between A and B.
   An important question is whether A or B (or some other entity)
   allocates the label.

   In this discussion we are talking about the allocation and
   distribution of labels between two peer LSRs  that are on a single
   segment of what may be a longer path. A related but in fact entirely
   separate issue is the question of where control of the whole path
   resides. In essence there are two models; by analogy to upstream and
   downstream for a single segment we can talk about ingress and egress
   for an LSP (or to and from a label swapping "domain"). In one model a
   path is setup from ingress to egress in the other from egress to
   ingress. Downstream Label Allocation

   "Downstream Label Allocation" refers to a method where the label
   allocation is done by the downstream LSR, i.e. the LSR that uses the
   label as an index into its switching tables.

   This is, arguably, the most natural label allocation/distribution
   mode for unicast traffic. As an LSR build its routing tables (we
   consider here control driven allocation of tags) it is free, within
   some limits we will discuss, to allocate labels to in any manner that
   may be convenient to the particular implementation. Since the labels
   that it allocates will be those upon which it subsequently makes
   forwarding decisions we assume implementations will perform the
   allocation in an optimal manner. Having allocated labels the default
   behavior is to distribute the labels (and bindings) to all peers.

   In some cases (particularly with ATM) there may be a limited number
   of labels which may be used across an interface, and/or a limited
   number of label assignments which may be supported by a single
   device. Operation in this case may make use of "on demand" label
   assignment. With this approach, an LSR may for example request a
   label for a route from a particular peer only when its routing
   calculations indicate that peer to be the new next hop for the route. Upstream Label Allocation

   "Upstream Label Allocation" refers to a method where the label

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   allocation is done by the upstream LSR. In this case the LSR choosing
   the label (the upstream LSR) and the LSR which needs to interpret
   packets using the label (the downstream LSR) are not the same node.
   We note here that in the upstream LSR the label at issue is not used
   as an index into the switching tables but rather is found as the
   result of a lookup on those tables.

   The motivation for upstream label allocation comes from the
   recognition that it might be possible to optimize multicast machinery
   in an LSR if it were possible to use the same label on all output
   ports for which a particular multicast packet/cell were destined.
   Upstream assignment makes this possible. Other Label Allocation Methods

   Another option would be to make use of label values which are unique
   within the MPLS domain (implying that a domain-wide allocation would
   be needed). In this case, any stream to a particular MPLS egress node
   could make use of the label of that node (implying that label values
   do not need to be swapped at intermediate nodes).

   With this method of label allocation, there is a choice to be made
   regarding the scope over which a label is unique. One approach is to
   configure each node in an MPLS domain with a label which is unique in
   that domain. Another approach is to use a truly global identifier
   (for example the IEEE 48 bit identifier), where each MPLS-capable
   node would be stamped at birth with a truly globally unique
   identifier. The point of this global approach is to simplify
   configuration in each MPLS domain by eliminating the need to
   configure label IDs.

4.1.2 Piggybacking on Other Control Messages

   While we have discussed use of an explicit MPLS LDP we note that
   there are several existing protocols that can be easily modified to
   distribute both routing/control and label information. This could be
   done with any of OSPF, BGP, RSVP and/or PIM. A particular
   architectural elegance of these schemes is that label distribution
   uses the same mechanisms as are used in distribution of the
   underlying routing or control information.

   When explicit label distribution is used, the routing computation and
   label distribution are decoupled. This implies a possibility that at
   some point you may either have a route to a specific destination
   without an associated label, and/or a label for a specific
   destination which makes use of a path which you are no longer using.
   Piggybacking label distribution on the operation of the routing
   protocol is one way to eliminate this decoupling.

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   Piggybacking label distribution on the routing protocol introduces an
   issue regarding how to negotiate acceptable label values and what to
   do if an invalid label is received. This is discussed in section

4.1.3 Acceptable Label Values

   There are some constraints on which label values may be used in
   either allocation mode. Clearly the label values must lie within the
   allowable range described in the encapsulation standards that the
   MPLS WG will produce. The label value used must also, however, lie
   within a range that the peer  LSR is capable of supporting. We
   imagine that certain machines, for example ATM switches operating as
   LSRs may, due to operational or implementation restrictions, support
   a label space more limited than that bounded by the valid range found
   in the encapsulation standard. This implies that an advertisement or
   negotiation mechanism for useable label range may be a part of the
   MPLS LDP. When operating over ATM using ATM forwarding hardware, due
   to the need for compatibility with the existing use of the ATM
   VPI/VCI space, it is quite likely that an explicit mechanism will be
   needed for label range negotiation.

   In addition we note that LDP may be one of a number of mechanism used
   to distribute labels between any given pair of LSRs. Clearly where
   such multiple mechanisms exist care must be taken to coordinate the
   allocation of label values. A single label value must  have a unique
   meaning to the LSR that distributes it.

   There is an issue regarding how to allow negotiation of acceptable
   label values if label distribution is piggybacked with the routing
   protocol. In this case it may be necessary either to require
   equipment to accept any possible label value, or to configure devices
   to know which range of label values may be selected. It is not clear
   in this case what to do if an invalid label value is received as
   there may be no means of sending a NAK.

   A similar issue occurs with multicast traffic over broadcast media,
   where there may be multiple nodes which receive the same transmission
   (using a single label value). Here again it may be "non-trivial" how
   to allow n-party negotiation of acceptable label values.

4.1.4 LDP Reliability

   The need for reliable label distribution depends upon the relative
   performance of L2 and L3 forwarding, as well as the relationship
   between label distribution and the routing protocol operation.

   If label distribution is tied to the operation of the routing

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   protocol, then a reasonable protocol design would ensure that labels
   are distributed successfully as long as the associated route and/or
   reachability advertisement is distributed successfully. This implies
   that the reliability of label distribution will be the same as the
   reliability of route distribution.

   If there is a very large difference between L2 and L3 forwarding
   performance, then the cost of failing to deliver a label is
   significant. In this case it is important to ensure that labels are
   distributed reliably. Given that LDP needs to operate in a wide
   variety of environments with a wide variety of equipment, this
   implies that it is important for any LDP developed by the MPLS WG to
   ensure reliable delivery of label information.

   Reliable delivery of LDP packets may potentially be accomplished
   either by using an existing reliable transport protocol such as TCP,
   or by specifying reliability mechanisms as part of LDP (for example,
   the reliability mechanisms which are defined in IDRP could
   potentially be "borrowed" for use with LSP).

   TCP supports flow control {in addition to supporting reliable
   delivery of data). Flow control is a desirable feature which will be
   useful for MPLS (as well as other applications making use of a
   reliable transport) and therefore needs to be built into whatever
   reliability mechanism is used for MPLS.

4.1.5 Label Purge Mechanisms

   Another issue to be considered is the "lifetime" of label data once
   it arrives at an LSR, and the method of purging label data. There are
   several methods that could be used either separately, or (more
   likely) in combination.

   One approach is for label information to be timed out. With this
   approach a lifetime is distributed along with the label value. The
   label value may be refreshed prior to timing out. If the label is not
   refreshed prior to timing out it is discarded. In this case each
   lifetime and timer may apply to a single label, or to a group of
   labels (e.g., all labels selected by the same node).

   Similarly, two peer nodes may make use of an MPLS peer keep-alive
   mechanism. This implies exchange of MPLS control packets between
   neighbors on a periodic basis. This in general is likely to use a
   smaller timeout value than label value timers (analogous to the fact
   that the OSPF HELLO interval is much shorter than the OSPF LSA
   lifetime). If the peer session between two MPLS nodes fails (due to
   expiration of the associated timer prior to reception of the refresh)
   then associated label information is discarded.

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   If label information is piggybacked on the routing protocol then the
   timeout mechanisms would also be taken from the associated routing
   protocol (note that routing protocols in general have mechanisms to
   invalidate stale routing information).

   An alternative method for invalidating labels is to make use of an
   explicit label removal message.

4.2 Stream Merging

   In order to scale O(n) (rather than O(n-squared), MPLS makes use of
   the concept of stream merge. This makes use of multipoint to point
   streams in order to allow multiple streams to be merged into one

4.2.1 Types of Stream Merge:

   There are several types of stream merge that can be used, depending
   upon the underlying media.

   When MPLS is used over frame based media merging is straightforward.
   All that is required for stream merge to take place is for a node to
   allow multiple upstream labels to be forwarded the same way and
   mapped into a single downstream label. This is referred to as frame

   Operation over ATM media is less straightforward. In ATM, the data
   packets are encapsulated into an ATM Adaptation Layer, say AAL5, and
   the AAL5 PDU is segmented into ATM cells with a VPI/VCI value and the
   cells are transmitted in sequence.  It is contingent on ATM switches
   to keep the cells of a PDU (or with the same VPI/VCI value)
   contiguous and in sequence.  This is because the device that
   reassembles the cells to re-form the transmitted PDU expects the
   cells to be contiguous and in sequence, as there isn't sufficient
   information in the ATM cell header (unlike IP fragmentation) to
   reassemble the PDU with any cell order. Hence, if cells from several
   upstream link are transmitted onto the same downstream VPI/VCI, then
   cells from one PDU can get interleaved with cells from another PDU on
   the outgoing VPI/VCI, and result in corruption of the original PDUs
   by mis-sequencing the cells of each PDU.

   The most straightforward (but erroneous) method of merging in an ATM
   environment would be to take the cells from two incoming VCs and
   merge them into a single outgoing VCI. If this was done without any
   buffering of cells then cells from two or more packets could end up
   being interleaved into a single AAL5 frame. Therefore the problem
   when operating over ATM is how to avoid interleaving of cells from
   multiple sources.

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   There are two ways to solve this interleaving problem, which are
   referred to as VC merge and VP merge.

   VC merge allows multiple VCs to be merged into a single outgoing VC.
   In order for this to work the node performing the merge needs to keep
   the cells from one AAL5 frame (e.g., corresponding to an IP packet)
   separate from the cells of other AAL5 frames. This may be done by
   performing the SAR function in order to reassemble each IP packet
   before forwarding that packet. In this case VC merge is essentially
   equivalent to frame merge. An alternative is to buffer the cells of
   one AAL5 frame together, without actually reassembling them. When the
   end of frame indicator is reached that frame can be forwarded. Note
   however that both forms of VC merge requires that the entire AAL5
   frame be received before any cells corresponding to that frame be
   forwarded. VC merge therefore requires capabilities which are
   generally not available in most existing ATM forwarding hardware.

   The alternative for use over ATM media is VP merge. Here multiple VPs
   can be merged into a single VP. Separate VCIs within the merged VP
   are used to distinguish frames (e.g., IP packets) from different
   sources. In some cases, one VP may be used for the tree from each
   ingress node to a single egress node.

4.2.2 Interoperation of Merge Options:

   If some nodes support stream merge, and some nodes do not, then it is
   necessary to ensure that the two types of nodes can interoperate
   within a single network. This affects the number of labels that a
   node needs to send to a neighbor. An upstream LSR which supports
   Stream Merge needs to be sent only one label per forwarding
   equivalence class (FEC). An upstream neighbor which does not support
   Stream Merge needs to be sent multiple labels per FEC. However, there
   is no way of knowing a priori how many labels it needs. This will
   depend on how many LSRs are upstream of it with respect to the FEC in

   If a particular upstream neighbor does not support stream merge, it
   is not known a priori how many labels it will need. The upstream
   neighbor may need to explicitly ask for labels for each FEC. The
   upstream neighbor may make multiple such requests (for one or more
   labels per request). When a downstream neighbor receives such a
   request from upstream, and the downstream neighbor does not itself
   support stream merge, then it must in turn ask its downstream
   neighbor for more labels for the FEC in question.

   It is possible that there may be some nodes which support merge, but
   have a limited number of upstream streams which may be merged into a
   single downstream streams. Suppose for example that due to some

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   hardware limitation a node is capable of merging four upstream LSPs
   into a single downstream LSP. Suppose however, that this particular
   node has six upstream LSPs arriving at it for a particular Stream. In
   this case, this node may merge these into two downstream LSPs
   (corresponding to two labels that need to be obtained from the
   downstream neighbor). In this case, the node will need to obtain the
   required two labels.

   The interoperation of the various forms of merging over ATM is most
   easily described by first describing the interoperation of VC merge
   with non-merge.

   In the case where VC merge and non-merge nodes are interconnected the
   forwarding of cells is based in all cases on a VC (i.e., the
   concatenation of the VPI and VCI). For each node, if an upstream
   neighbor is doing VC merge then that upstream neighbor requires only
   a single outgoing VPI/VCI for a particular FEC (this is analogous to
   the requirement for a single label in the case of operation over
   frame media). If the upstream neighbor is not doing merge, then it
   will require a single outgoing VPI/VCI per FEC for itself (assuming
   that it can be an ingress node), plus enough outgoing VPI/VCIs to map
   to incoming VPI/VCIs to pass to its upstream neighbors. The number
   required will be determined by allowing the upstream nodes to request
   additional VPI/VCIs from their downstream neighbors.

   A similar method is possible to support nodes which perform VP merge.
   In this case the VP merge node, rather than requesting a single
   VPI/VCI or a number of VPI/VCIs from its downstream neighbor, instead
   may request a single VP (identified by a VPI). Furthermore, suppose
   that a non-merge node is downstream from two different VP merge
   nodes. This node may need to request one VPI/VCI (for traffic
   originating from itself) plus two VPs (one for each upstream node).

   Note that there are multiple options for coordinating VCIs within a
   VP. Description of the range of options is FFS.

   In order to support all of VP merge, VC merge, and non-merge, it is
   therefore necessary to allow upstream nodes to request a combination
   of zero or more VC identifiers (consisting of a VPI/VCI), plus zero
   or more VPs (identified by VPIs). VP merge nodes would therefore
   request one VP. VC merge node would request only a single VPI/VCI
   (since they can merge all upstream traffic into a single VC). Non-
   merge nodes would pass on any requests that they get from above, plus
   request a VPI/VCI for traffic that they originate (if they can be
   ingress nodes). However, non-merge nodes which can only do VC
   forwarding (and not VP forwarding) will need to know which VCIs are
   used within each VP in order to install the correct VCs in its
   forwarding table. A detailed description of how this could work is

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4.2.3 Coordination of the VCI space with VP Merge:

   VP merge requires that the VCIs be coordinated to ensure uniqueness.
   There are a number of ways in which this may be accomplished:

   1. Each node may be pre-configured with a unique VCI value (or

   2. Some one node (most likely they root of the multipoint to point
      tree) may coordinate the VCI values used within the VP.  A
      protocol mechanism will be needed to allow this to occur. How
      hard this is to do depends somewhat upon whether the root is
      otherwise involved in coordinating the multipoint to point
      tree. For example, allowing one node (such as the root) to
      coordinate the tree may be useful for purposes of coordinating
      load sharing (see section 4.10). Thus whether or not the issue
      of coordinating the VCI space is significant or trivial may
      depend upon other design choices which at first glance may
      have appeared to be independent protocol design choices.

   3. Other unique information such as portions of a class B or class
      C address may be used to provide a unique VCI value.

   4. Another alternative is to implement a simple hardware extension
      in the ATM switches to keep the VCI values unique by dynamically
      altering them to avoid collision.

   VP merge makes less efficient use of the VPI/VCI space (relative to
   VC merge).  When VP merge is used, the LSPs may not be able to
   transit public ATM networks that don't support SVP.

4.2.4 Buffering Issues Related To Stream Merge:

   There is an issue regarding the amount of buffering required for
   frame merge, VC merge, and VP merge. Frame merge and VC merge
   requires that intermediate points buffer incoming packets until the
   entire packet arrives. This is essentially the same as is required in
   traditional IP routers.

   VP merge allows cells to be transmitted by intermediate nodes as soon
   as they arrive, reducing the buffering and latency at intermediate
   nodes. However, the use of VP merge implies that cells from multiple
   packets will arrive at the egress node interleaved on separate VCIs.
   This in turn implies that the egress node may have somewhat increased
   buffering requirements. To a large extent egress nodes for some
   destinations will be intermediate nodes for other destinations,

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   implying that increase in buffers required for some purpose (egress
   traffic) will be offset by a reduction in buffers required for other
   purposes (transit traffic). Also, routers today typically deal with
   high-fanout channelized interfaces and with multi-VC ATM interfaces,
   implying that the requirement of buffering simultaneously arriving
   cells from multiple packets and sources is something that routers
   typically do today. This is not meant to imply that the required
   buffer size and performance is inexpensive, but rather is meant to
   observe that it is a solvable issue.

   ATM equipment provides traffic shaping, in which the ATM cells
   associated with any one particular VC are intentionally not
   transmitted back to back, but rather are spread out over time in
   order to place less short term buffering load on switches. Since VC
   merge requires that all cells associated with a particular packet (or
   a particular AAL5 frame) are buffered before any cell from the packet
   can be transmitted, VC merge defeats much of the intent of traffic
   shaping. An advantage of VP merge is that it preserves traffic
   shaping through ATM switches acting as LSRs. While traffic shaping
   may generally be expected to reduce the buffering requirements in ATM
   switches (whether acting as MPLS switches or as native ATM switches),
   the precise effect of traffic shaping has not been studied in the
   context of MPLS.

4.3 Loop Handling

   Generally, methods for dealing with loops can be split into three
   categories: Loop Survival makes use of methods which minimize the
   impact of loops, for example by limiting the amount of network
   resources which can be consumed by a loop; Loop Detection allows
   loops to be set up, but later detects these loops and eliminates
   them; Loop Prevention provides methods for avoiding setting up L2
   forwarding in a way which results in a L2 loop.

   Note that we are concerned here only with loops that occur in L2
   forwarding. Transient loops at L3 will continue to be part of the
   normal IP operation, and will be handled the way that IP has been
   handling loops for years (see section 3.5).

   Loop Survival:

   Loop Survival refers to methods that are used to allow the network to
   operate well even though short term transient loops may be formed by
   the routing protocol. The basic approach to loop survival is to limit
   the amount of network resources which are consumed by looping
   packets, and to minimize the effect on other (non-looping) traffic.
   Note that loop survival is the method used by conventional IP
   forwarding, and is therefore based on long and relatively successful

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   experience in the Internet.

   The most basic method for loop survival is based on the use to a TTL
   (Time To Live) field. The TTL field is decremented at each hop. If
   the TTL field reaches zero, then the packet is discarded. This method
   works well over those media which has a TTL field. This explicitly
   includes L3 IP forwarding. Also, assuming that the core MPLS
   specifications will include definition of a "shim" MPLS header for
   use over those media which do not have their own labels, in order to
   carry labels for use in forwarding of user data, it is likely that
   the shim header will also include a TTL field.

   However, there is considerable interest in using MPLS over L2
   protocols which provide their own labels, with the L2 label used for
   MPLS forwarding. Specific L2 protocols which offer a label for this
   purpose include ATM and Frame Relay. However, neither ATM nor Frame
   Relay have a TTL field. This implies that this method cannot be used
   when basic ATM or Frame Relay forwarding is being used.

   Another basic method for loop survival is the use of dynamic routing
   protocols which converge rapidly to non-looping paths. In some
   instances it is possible that congestion caused by looping data could
   effect the convergence of the routing protocol (see section 3.5).
   MPLS should be designed to prevent this problem from occurring. Given
   that MPLS uses the same routing protocols as are used for IP, this
   method does not need to be discussed further in this framework

   Another possible tool for loop survival is the use of fair queuing.
   This allows unrelated flows of user data to be placed in different
   queues. This helps to ensure that a node which is overloaded with
   looping user data can nonetheless forward unrelated non-looping data,
   thereby minimizing the effect that looping data has on other data. We
   cannot assume that fair queuing will always be available. In
   practice, many fair queuing implementations merge multiple streams
   into one queue (implying that the number of queues used is less than
   the number of user data flows which are present in the network).
   This implies that any data which happens to be in the same queue with
   looping data may be adversely effected.

   Loop Detection:

   Loop Detection refers to methods whereby a loop may be set up at L2,
   but the loop is subsequently detected. When the loop is detected, it
   may be broken at L2 by dropping the label relationship, implying that
   packets for a set of destinations must be forwarded at L3.

   A possible method for loop detection is based on transmitting a "loop

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   detection" control packet (LDCP) along the path towards a specified
   destination whenever the route to the destination changes. This LDCP
   is forwarded in the direction that the label specifies, with the
   labels swapped to the correct next hop value. However, normal L2
   forwarding cannot be used because each hop needs to examine the
   packet to check for loops.  The LDCP is forwarded towards that
   destination until one of the following happens: (i) The LDCP reaches
   the last MPLS node along the path (i.e. the next hop is either a
   router which is not participating in MPLS, or is the final
   destination host); (ii) The TTL of the LDCP expires (assuming that
   the control packet uses a TTL, which is optional but not absolutely
   necessary), or (iii) The LDCP returns to the node which originally
   transmitted it. If the latter occurs, then the packet has looped and
   the node which originally transmitted the LDCP stops using the
   associated label, and instead uses L3 forwarding  for the associated
   destination addresses. One problem with this method is that once a
   loop is detected it is not known when the loop clears. One option
   would be to set a timer, and to transmit a new LDCP when the timer

   An alternate method counts the hops to each egress node, based on the
   routes currently available. Each node advertises its distance (in hop
   counts) to each destination. An egress node advertises the
   destinations that it can reach directly with an associated hop count
   of zero. For each destination, a node computes the hop count to that
   destination based on adding one to the hop count advertised by its
   actual next hop used for that destination. When the hop count for a
   particular destination changes, the hop counts needs to be

   In addition, the first of the loop prevention schemes discussed below
   may be modified to provide loop detection (the details are
   straightforward, but have not been written down in time to include in
   this rough draft).

   Loop Prevention:

   Loop prevention makes use of methods to ensure that loops are never
   set up at L2. This implies that the labels are not used until some
   method is used to ensure that following the label towards the
   destination, with associated label swaps at each switch, will not
   result in a loop. Until the L2 path (making use of assigned labels)
   is available, packets are forwarded at L3.

   Loop prevention requires explicit signaling of some sort to be used
   when setting up an L2 stream.

   One method of loop prevention requires that labels be propagated

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   starting at the egress switch. The egress switch signals to
   neighboring switches the label to use for a particular destination.
   That switch then signals an associated label to its neighbors, etc.
   The control packets which propagate the labels also include the path
   to the egress (as a list of routerIDs). Any looping control packet
   can therefore be detected and the path not set up to or past the
   looping point. <Operation when routing changes needs to be described
   here in more detail>.

   Another option is to use explicit routing to set up label bindings
   from the egress switch to each ingress switch. This precludes the
   possibility of looping, since the entire path is computed by one
   node. This also allows non-looping paths to be set up provided that
   the egress switch has a view of the topology which is reasonably
   close to reality (if there are operational links which the egress
   switch doesn't know about, it will simply pick a path which doesn't
   use those links; if there are links which have failed but which the
   the egress switch thinks are operational, then there is some chance
   that the setup attempt will fail but in this case the attempt can be
   retried on a separate path). Note therefore that non-looping paths
   can be set up with this method in many cases where distributed
   routing plus hop by hop forwarding would not actually result in non-
   looping paths. This method is similar to the method used by standard
   ATM routing to ensure that SVCs are non-looping [PNNI].

   Explicit routing is only applicable if the routing protocol gives the
   egress switch sufficient information to set up the explicit route,
   implying that the protocol must be either a link state protocol (such
   as OSPF) or a path vector protocol (such as BGP). Source routing
   therefore is not appropriate as a general approach for use in any
   network regardless of the routing protocol. This method also requires
   some overhead for the call setup before label-based forwarding can be
   used. If the network topology changes in a manner which breaks the
   existing path, then a new path will need to be explicit routed from
   the egress switch.  Due to this overhead this method is probably only
   appropriate if other significant advantages are also going to be
   obtained from having a single node (the egress switch) coordinate the
   paths to be used. Examples of other reasons to have one node
   coordinate the paths to a single egress switch include: (i)
   Coordinating the VCI space where VP merge is used (see section 4.2);
   and (ii) Coordinating the routing of streams from multiple ingress
   switches to one egress switch so as to balance the load on multiple
   alternate paths through the network.

   In principle the explicit routing could also be done in the alternate
   direction (from ingress to egress). However, this would make it more
   difficult to merge streams if stream merge is to be used. This would
   also make it more difficult to coordinate (i) changes to the paths

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   used, (ii) the VCI space assignments, and (iii) load sharing. This
   therefore makes explicit routing more difficult, and also reduces the
   other advantages that could be obtained from the approach.

   If label distribution is piggybacked on the routing protocol (see
   section 4.1.2), then loop prevention is only possible if the routing
   protocol itself does loop prevention.

   What To Do If A Loop Is Detected:

   With all of these schemes, if a loop is known to exist then the L2
   label-swapped path is not set up. This leads to the obvious question
   of what does an MPLS node do when it doesn't have a label for a
   particular destination, and a packet for that destination arrives to
   be forwarded? If possible, the packet is forwarded using normal L3
   (IP) forwarding. There are two issues that this raises: (i) What
   about nodes which are not capable of L3 forwarding; (ii) Given the
   relative speeds of L2 and L3 forwarding, does this work?

   Nodes which are not capable of L3 forwarding obviously can't forward
   a packet unless it arrives with a label, and the associated next hop
   label has been assigned. Such nodes, when they receive a packet for
   which the next hop label has not been assigned, must discard the
   packet. It is probably safe to assume that if a node cannot forward
   an L3 packet, then it is probably also incapable of forwarding an
   ICMP error report that it originates. This implies that the packet
   will need to be discarded in this case.

   In many cases L2 forwarding will be significantly faster than L3
   forwarding (allowing faster forwarding is a significant motivation
   behind the work on MPLS). This implies that if a node is forwarding a
   large volume of traffic at L2, and a change in the routing protocol
   causes the associated labels to be lost (necessitating L3
   forwarding), in some cases the node will not be capable of forwarding
   the same volume of traffic at L3. This will of course require that
   packets be discarded. However, in some cases only a relatively small
   volume of traffic will need to be forwarded at L3. Thus forwarding at
   L3 when L2 is not available is not necessarily always a problem.
   There may be some nodes which are capable of forwarding equally fast
   at L2 and L3 (for example, such nodes may contain IP forwarding
   hardware which is not available in all nodes). Finally, when packets
   are lost this will cause TCP to backoff, which will in turn reduce
   the load on the network and allow the network to stabilize even at
   reduced forwarding rates until such time as the label bindings can be

   Note that in most cases loops will be caused either by configuration
   errors, or due to short term transient problems caused by the failure

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   of a link. If only one link goes down, and if routing creates a
   normal "tree-shaped" set of paths to any one destination, then the
   failure of one link somewhere in the network will effect only one
   link's worth of data passing through any one node in the network.
   This implies that if a node is capable of forwarding one link's worth
   of data at L3, then in many or most cases it will have sufficient L3
   bandwidth to handle looping data.

4.4 Interoperation with NHRP

   <note: Future versions of this document will contain a picture to
   clarify the discussion in this section. In addition there are
   alternate interaction scenarios which probably should be discussed

   When label switching is used over ATM, and there exists an LSR which
   is also operating as a Next Hop Client (NHC), the possibility of
   direct interaction arises.  That is, could one switch cells between
   the two technologies without reassembly.  To enable this several
   important issues must be addressed.

   The encapsulation must be acceptable to both MPLS and NHRP.  If only
   a single label is used, then the null encapsulation could be used.
   Other solutions could be developed to handle label stacks.

   NHRP must understand and respect the granularity of a stream.

   Currently NHRP resolves an IP address to an ATM address. The response
   may include a mask indicating a range of addresses. However, any VC
   to the ATM address is considered to be a viable means of packet
   delivery. Suppose that an NHC NHRPs for IP address A and gets back
   ATM address 1 and sets up a VC to address 1. Later the same NHC NHRPs
   for a totally unrelated IP address B and gets back the same ATM
   address 1. In this case normal NHRP behavior allows the NHC to use
   the VC (that was set up for destination A) for traffic to B.

   Note: In this section we will refer to a VC set up as a result of an
   NHRP query/response as a shortcut VC.

   If one expects to be able to label switch the packets being received
   from a shortcut VC, then the label switch needs to be informed as to
   exactly what traffic will arrive on that VC and that mapping cannot
   change without notice. Currently there exists no mechanism in the
   defined signaling of an shortcut VC.  Several means are possible.  A
   binding, equivalent to the binding in LDP, could be sent in the setup
   message.  Alternatively, the binding of prefix to label could remain
   in an LDP session (or whatever means of label distribution as
   appropriate) and the setup could carry a binding of the label to the

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   VC. This would leave the binding mechanism for shortcut VCs
   independent of the label distribution mechanism.

   A further architectural challenge exists in that label switching is
   inherently unidirectional whereas ATM is bi-directional.  The above
   binding semantics are fairly straight-forward.  However, effectively
   using the reverse direction of a VC presents further challenges.

   Label switching must also respect the granularity of the shortcut VC.
   Without VC merge, this means a single label switched flow must map to
   a VC.  In the case of VC merge, multiple label switched streams could
   be merged onto a single shortcut VC.  But given the asymmetry
   involved, there is perhaps little practical use

   Another issue is one of practicality and usefulness.  What is sent
   over the VC must be at a fine enough granularity to be label switched
   through receiving domain.  One potential place where the two
   technologies might come into play is in moving data from one campus
   via the wide-area to another campus.  In such a scenario, the two
   technologies would border precisely at the point where summarization
   is likely to occur.  Each campus would have a detailed understanding
   of itself, but not of the other campus.  The wide-area is likely to
   have summarized knowledge only. But at such a point level 3
   processing becomes the likely solution.

4.5. Operation in a hierarchy

   MPLS allows hierarchical operation, through use of a label stack.
   This allows MPLS to simultaneously be used for routing at a fine
   grain level (for example, between individual routers within an ISP)
   and at a higher "area by area" or "domain by domain" level.

4.5.1 Example of Hierarchical Operation

   Figure 1 illustrates an example of how MPLS may operate in a
   hierarchy. This example illustrates three transit routing domains
   (Domain #1, #2, and #3). For example, these three domains may
   represent internet service providers. Domain Boundary Routers are
   illustrated in each domain (routers R1 and R2 in domain #1, routers
   R3 and R8 in domain #2, and routers R9 and R10 in domain #3. Suppose
   that these domain boundary routers are operating BGP.

   Internal routers are not illustrated in domains 1 and 3. However,
   internal routers are illustrated within domain #2. In particular, the
   path between routers R3 and R8 follows the internal routers R4, R5,
   R6, and R7 within domain #2.

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        .................     ........................     ................
        .               .     .                      .     .              .
        .               .     .                      .     .              .
        .R1           R2-------R3                  R8-------R9         R10.
        .               .     . \                 /  .     .              .
        .               .     .  R4---R5---R6---R7   .     .              .
        .               .     .                      .     .              .
        .   Domain#1    .     .       Domain#2       .     .    Domain#3  .
        .................     ........................     ................

                 Example of the Use of MPLS in a Hierarchy

   In this example there are two levels of routing taking place. For
   example, OSPF may be used for routing within Domain #2. In this case
   the routers R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, and R8 may be running OSPF amongst
   themselves in order to compute routes within Domain #2. The domain
   boundary routers (R1, R2, R3, R8, R9, and R10) operate BGP in order
   to determine paths between routing domains.

   MPLS allows label forwarding to be done independently at multiple
   levels. In this example, MPLS may be used at the BGP level (between
   routers R1, R2, R3, R8, R9, and R10) and at the OSPF level (between
   routers R4, R5, R6, and R7). Thus when the IP packet traverses Domain
   number 2, it will contain two labels, encoded as a "label stack". The
   higher level label would be used between routers R3 and R8. This
   would be encapsulated inside a header specifying a lower level label
   used within domain 2.

   Consider the forwarding operation that takes place at router R3. In
   this case, R3 will receive a packet from R2 containing a single label
   (the BGP level label). R3 will need to swap BGP level labels in order
   to put the label that R8 expects. R3 will also need to add an OSPF-
   level label, as is expected by R4. R3 therefore "pushes down" the BGP
   level label in the label stack, by adding a lower level label. Also
   note that the actual label swapping operation performed by R3 can be
   optimized to allow very simple forwarding: R3 receives a single
   incoming label from R2, and can map this label into the new label
   header to be prepended to the packet, it just happens that the new
   label header to be added by R3 contains two labels rather than one.

4.5.2 Components Required for Hierarchical Operation

   In order for MPLS to operate in a hierarchy, there are three things
   which must be accomplished:

  - Hierarchical Label Exchange in LDP

    The Label Distribution Protocol needs to exchange labels at each

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    level of the hierarchy. In our example, R3 needs to exchange label
    bindings with R8 for operation at the BGP level. At the same time,
    R3 needs to exchange label bindings with R4 (and R4 needs to
    exchange label bindings with R5) for operation at the OSPF level.
    The control component for hierarchical labeling is essentially the
    same as that for single level tagging, except that labels are
    exchanged not just among physically adjacent LSRs but between those
    switching on the same level in the tag stack.

   - Label Stack
    Multiple labels need to be carried in data packets. For example,
    when a data packet is being carried across domain #2, the data
    packet needs to be encapsulated in a header which carries BGP level
    label, and the resulting packet needs to be carried in a header
    which carries an OSPF level label.

  - Configuration
    It is necessary for routers to know when hierarchical label
    switching is being used.

4.5.3 Some Restrictions on Use of Hierarchical MPLS

Consider the example in figure 1. In this case, the BGP-level label is
encoded by router R1. Label swapping is employed for packet forwarding
at R2, R3, R8, and R9. This is only possible if R1 knows the right label
to use, implying that the granularity used in mapping packets to
forwarding equivalence classes is the same at routers R2, R3, R8, and

We can consider some specific examples to illustrate the issue:

Suppose that the destination host is within domain 3. In this case, it
is very likely that router R9 will forward the packet based on a finer
grain than was used previously. For example, a relatively short address
prefix may be used for advertising the addresses reachable in domain 3,
while longer (more specific) address prefixes may be used for specific
areas or subnets within domain 3. In this case router R1 may assign a
BGP level label to the packet, and label based forwarding at the BGP
level may be used by routers R1, R2, R3, and R8. However, router R9 will
need to make use of layer 3 forwarding.

Alternatively, suppose that domain 3 is an Internet Service Provider,
which offers service to multiple routing domains. Suppose that in this
case domain 3 makes use of a single CIDR address block (based on a
single address prefix), with smaller address blocks (corresponding to
longer address prefixes) assigned to each of multiple domains who get
their Internet service from domain 3. Suppose that the destination for a
particular IP packet is contained in one of these smaller domains whose

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addresses are contained in the larger address block assigned to and
administered by domain 3. Again in this case router R9 will need to make
use of label based forwarding.

Let's consider another possible complication: Suppose that router R1 is
an MPLS node, but that some of the internal routers within domain 1 do
not know about MPLS. In this case, suppose that R1 encapsulates an IP
packet in an MPLS header in order to carry the BGP level label. In this
case the non-MPLS-capable routers within domain 1 will not know what to
do with the MPLS header. This implies that MPLS can be used at a higher
level (such as between the border routers R1 and R2 in our example) only
if either the lower level routers (such as the routers within domain 1)
are also using MPLS, or the MPLS header is itself encapsulated within an
IP header for transmission across the domain.

These examples imply that there are some cases where IP forwarding will
be required in a hierarchy. While hierarchical MPLS may be useful in
many cases, it does not replace layer 3 forwarding.

4.5.4 The Relationship between MPLS hierarchy and Routing Hierarchy Stacked Labels in a Flat Routing Environment

The label stacking mechanism can be useful in some scenarios independent
of routing hierarchy.

The basic concept of stacking is to provide a mechanism to segregate
streams within a switched path.  Under normal operation, when packets
are encapsulated into a single L2 header, if multiple streams are
forwarded into a switched path, it will require L3 processing to
segregate a certain stream at the end of the switched path.  The
stacking mechanism provides an easy way to maintain the identity of
various streams which are merged into a single switched path.

One useful application of this technique is in Virtual Private Networks.
The packets can be switched both at the ingress and egress nodes of the
provider network.  A packet coming in at one end of a customer network
contains an encapsulated header with the VPN label.  At the VPN ingress
node, the header is "popped", to provide the label for switching through
the VPN.  Further, this header is then "pushed" with an encapsulation of
the far end customer label.  At the VPN egress node, the packet  header
is "popped" again, and the new header provides the label for switching
through the customer site.  This enables one to provide customers with
benefits of VPN with end-to-end switching for optimal performance.

Another interesting use can be in conjunction with RSVP flows.  In RSVP,
senders flows can be logically merged under a single resource
reservation using the Shared and the Wildcard filters.  The stacking

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mechanism can be used to merge flows into a single label and the shared
QoS can be applied to the single label on top of the stack.  Since
sender flows within the merged switched path maintain their identity, it
is easy to demerge at a downstream node without requiring L3 processing
of the packets. Another similar application can be merging of several
premium service flows with similar QoS into a single switched path. This
helps in conserving labels in backbone of a large networks.

Yet another useful application can be DVMRP tunnels similar in concept
to the DVMRP tunnels used in the existing Mbone.  The ingress node to
the DVMRP switched tunnels encapsulates the label learned from the
egress node of the DVMRP tunnel for a particular (S,G) pair before
forwarding packets into the DVMRP tunnel.  The egress node of the tunnel
just pops the top label and switches the packet based on the interior

Note that the use of tunnels can be also quite beneficial in a non-
hierarchical environment.  Take for example the case where a domain
contains a subset of MPLS nodes.  The MPLS egress can advertise labels
for the routes which are within the domain, but are external to the MPLS
core.  The ingress node can encapsulate packets for these destinations
within the header for the aggregated switched path that crosses the MPLS

It is not evident if this technique has any useful application in a flat
routing domain, but can be used in conjunction with explicit routing
when providing specialized services.  The multiple levels of
encapsulation can also be used like loose source routing. Flat labels in a Hierarchical Routing Environment

It is also possible in some environments to use a single level of label
in a network using hierarchical routing. This is for example possible in
the case of a two level OSPF network in which the primary purpose of the
network is to support external routes. Specifically, (depending upon the
types of area hierarchy used) OSPF allows external routes to be
advertised throughout an OSPF routing domain, with each external route
associated with the routerID of the router with reachability to the
specific route. This implies that it is possible to set up an LSP to
every router in the routing domain, and then use the LSP for packets
destined to the associated external routes. Configuration of the Hierarchy

The possibility of having a variety of different relationships between
the routing hierarchy and the MPLS hierarchy leads to an obvious
question:  How is the relationship between the two hierarchies to be
determined? At first glance it would seem that this generality leads to

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a relatively complex configuration issue, and it could be difficult to
ensure consistent configuration of the network.

One possible solution is to have the MPLS hierarchy default to using the
same hierarchy structure as is used for routing, with each area and
domain boundary (as used by routing) also implying an MPLS domain
boundary. This would allow the normal default operation to conform to
the type of operation that we might expect to be used in most
situations, and would allow a common means of interoperation which we
would expect all vendors of MPLS compliant equipment to support.

4.5.5 Some Advantages of Hierarchical MPLS

The use of hierarchical MPLS allows the routers internal to a transit
routing domain to be isolated from the BGP-level routing information. In
our example network, routers R4, R5, R6, and R7 can forward packets
based solely on the lower level label. These internal routers do not
need to know anything at all about higher level IP routing. Note that
this advantage is not available in conventional IP forwarding: If the
internal routers within a routing domain forward IP packets based on the
destination IP address, then the internal routers need to know which
route to use for any particular destination IP address. By combining
hierarchical routing with label stacks MPLS is able to decouple the
exterior and interior protocols. MPLS switches within a domain (interior
switches) need only carry the reachability information for nodes in the
domain. The MPLS border switches for the domain still, of course, carry
the external routes.

Use of hierarchical MPLS also extends the simpler forwarding offered by
MPLS to domain boundary routers.

MPLS places no bound on the number of labels that may be present in a
label stack. In principal this means that MPLS can support multiple
levels of routing hierarchy.

4.6 I Interoperation of MPLS systems with "Conventional" ATM

If we consider the implementation of MPLS on ATM switches we can imagine
several possibilities.

We might remove ATM Forum control plane completely. This the approach
taken by Ipsilon in their IP Switching approach, and allows ATM switches
to operate as MPLS LSRs.

Alternately, we could build a system that supports a "Ships  in the
night" (SIN) mode of operation where the ATM Forum and MPLS control
planes both run on the same hardware but are isolated from each other,
i.e. they do not interact. This allows a single device to simultaneously

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operate as both an MPLS LSR and an ATM switch.

We feel that the MPLS architecture should allow both of these models. We
note, however, that neither of them addresses the issue of operation of
MPLS over a public ATM network, i.e. over a network that supports
tariffed access to PVCs and ATM Forum SVCs.  Because public ATM service
exists and will, presumably, become more pervasive in the future we feel
that another model needs to be included in the architecture and be
supported by the LDP.  We call this model the "integrated" model. In
essence it is the same as the SIN model but without the restriction that
the two control planes are isolated. In the integrated model the MPLS
control plane is able to use the ATM control plane to setup SVCs as
needed. An example of this integrated model that allows the coexistence
and interoperation between ATM and MPLS is the CSR proposal from

Note that there is a distinction relevant to the protocol specification
process between the SIN and the Integrated approach. SIN does not
require specification other than to require that it be transparent to
both the MPLS and ATM control planes (i.e. neither should know of the
others existence).  Realisation of SIN on a particular machine is purely
an engineering challenge for the implementors. The Integrated model on
the other hand requires specification of procedures for the use of SVCs
and association of labels with them.

4.7 Multicast

This section is FFS.

4.8 Multipath

Many IP routing protocols support the notion of equal-cost multipath
routes, in which a router maintains multiple next hops for one
destination prefix when two or more equal-cost paths to the prefix
exist. There are a few possible approaches for handling multipath with

In this discussion we will use the term "multipath node" to mean a node
which is keeping track of multiple switched paths from itself for a
single destination.

The first approach maintains a separate switched path from each ingress
node via one or more multipath nodes to a merge point. This requires
MPLS to distinguish the separate switched paths, so that learning of a
new switched path is not misinterpreted as a replacement of the same
switched path. This also requires an ingress MPLS node be capable of
distributing the traffic among the multiple switched paths. This
approach preserves switching performance, but at a cost of proliferating

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the number of switched paths. For example, each switched path consumes a
distinct label.

The second approach establishes only one switched path from any one
ingress node to a destination. However, when the paths from two
different ingress nodes happen to arrive at the same node, that node may
use different paths for each (implying that the node becomes a multipath
node). Thus the switched path chosen by the multipath node may assign a
different downstream path to each incoming stream. This conserves
switched paths and maintains switching performance, but cannot balance
loads across downstream links as well as the other approaches, even if
switched paths are selectively assigned. With this approach is that the
L2 path may be different from the normal L3 path, as traffic that
otherwise would have taken multiple distinct paths is forced onto a
single path.

The third approach allows a single stream arriving at a multipath node
to be split into multiple streams, by using L3 forwarding at the
multipath node. For example, the multipath node might choose to use a
hash function on the source and destination IP addresses, in order to
avoid misordering packets between any one IP source and destination.
This approach conserves switched paths at the cost of switching

4.9 Host Interactions

There are a range of options for host interaction with MPLS:

The most straightforward approach is no host involvement. Thus host
operation may be completely independent of MPLS, rather hosts operate
according to other IP standards. If there is no host involvement then
this implies that the first hop requires an L3 lookup.

If the host is ATM attached and doing NHRP, then this would allow the
host to set up a Virtual Circuit to a router. However this brings up a
range of issues as was discussed in section 4.4 ("interoperation with

On the ingress side, it is reasonable to consider having the first hop
LSR provide labels to the hosts, and thus have hosts attach labels for
packets that they transmit. This could allow the first hop LSR to avoid
an L3 lookup. It is reasonable here to have the host request labels only
when needed, rather than require the host to remember all labels
assigned for use in the network.

On the egress side, it is questionable whether hosts should be involved.
For scaling reasons, it would be undesirable to use a different label
for reaching each host.

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4.10 Explicit Routing

There are two options for Route Selection: (1) Hop by hop routing, and
(2) Explicit routing.

An explicitly routed LSP is an LSP where, at a given LSR, the LSP next
hop is not chosen by each local node, but rather is chosen by a single
node (usually the ingress or egress node of the LSP). The sequence of
LSRs followed by an explicit routing LSP may be chosen by configuration,
or by an algorithm performed by a single node (for example, the egress
node may make use of the topological information learned from a link
state database in order to compute the entire path for the tree ending
at that egress node).

With MPLS the explicit route needs to be specified at the time that
Labels are assigned, but the explicit route does not have to be
specified with each L3 packet. This implies that explicit routing with
MPLS is relatively efficient (when compared with the efficiency of
explicit routing for pure datagrams).

Explicit routing may be useful for a number of purposes such as allowing
policy routing and/or facilitating traffic engineering.

4.10.1 Establishment of Point to Point Explicitly Routed LSPs

In order to establish a point to point explicitly routed LSP, the LDP
packets used to set up the LSP must contain the explicit route. This
implies that the LSP is set up in order either from the ingress to the
egress, or from the egress to the ingress.

One node needs to pick the explicit route: This may be done in at least
two possible ways: (i) by configuration (eg, the explicit route may be
chosen by an operator, or by a centralized server of some kind); (ii) By
use of a routing protocol which allows the ingress and/or egress node to
know the entire route to be followed. This would imply the use of a link
state routing protocol (in which all nodes know the full topology) or of
a path vector routing protocol (in which the ingress node is told the
path as part of the normal operation of the routing protocol).

Note: The normal operation of path vector routing protocols (such as
BGP) does not provide the full set of routers along the path. This
implies that either a partial source route only would be provided
(implying that LSP setup would use a combination of hop by hop and
explicit routing), or it would be necessary to augment the protocol in
order to provide the complete explicit route. Detailed operation in this
case is FFS.

In the point to point case, it is relatively straightforward to specify

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the route to use: This is indicated by providing the addresses of each
LSR on the LSP.

4.10.2 Explicit and Hop by Hop routing: Avoiding Loops

In general, an LSP will be explicit routed specifically because there is
a good reason to use an alternative to the hop by hop routed path. This
implies that the explicit route is likely to follow a path which is
inconsistent with the path followed by hop by hop routing. If some of
the nodes along the path follow an explicit route but some of the nodes
make use of hop by hop routing (and ignore the explicit route), then
inconsistent routing may result and in some cases loops (or severely
inefficient paths) may form. This implies that for any one LSP, there
are two possible options: (i) The entire LSP may be hop by hop routed;
or (ii) The entire LSP may be explicit routed.

For this reason, it is important that if an explicit route is specified
for setting up an LSP, then that route must be followed in setting up
the LSP.

There is a related issue when a link or node in the middle of an
explicitly routed LSP breaks: In this case, the last operating node on
the upstream part of the LSP will continue receiving packets, but will
not be able to forward them along the explicitly routed LSP (since its
next hop is no longer functioning). In this case, it is not in general
safe for this node to forward the packets using L3 forwarding with hop
by hop routing. Instead, the packets must be discarded, and the upstream
partition of the explicitly routed LSP must be torn down.

Where part of an Explicitly Routed LSP breaks, the node which originated
the LSP needs to be told about this. For robustness reasons the MPLS
protocol design should not assume that the routing protocol will tell
the node which originated the LSP. For example, it is possible that a
link may go down and come back up quickly enough that the routing
protocol never declares the link down. Rather, an explicit MPLS
mechanism is needed.

4.10.3 Merge and Explicit Routing

Explicit Routing is slightly more complex with a multipoint to point LSP
(i.e., in the case that stream merge is used).

In this case, it is not possible to specify the route for the LSP as a
simple list of LSRs (since the LSP does not consist of a simple sequence
of LSRs). Rather the explicit route must specify a tree. There are
several ways that this may be accomplished. Details are FFS.

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4.10.4 Using Explicit Routing for Traffic Engineering

In the Internet today it is relatively common for ISPs to make use of a
Frame Relay or ATM core, which interconnects a number of IP routers. The
primary reason for use of a switching (L2) core is to make use of low
cost equipment which provides very high speed forwarding. However, there
is another very important reason for the use of a L2 core: In order to
allow for Traffic Engineering.

Traffic Engineering (also known as bandwidth management) refers to the
process of managing the routes followed by user data traffic in a
network in order to provide relatively equal and efficient loading of
the resources in the network (i.e., to ensure that the bandwidth on
links and nodes are within the capabilities of the links and nodes).

Some rudimentary level of traffic engineering can be accomplished with
pure datagram routing and forwarding by adjusting the metrics assigned
to links. For example, suppose that there is a given link in a network
which tends to be overloaded on a long term basis. One option would be
to manually configure an increased metric value for this link, in the
hopes of moving some traffic onto alternate routes. This provides a
rather crude method of traffic engineering and provides only limited

Another method of traffic engineering is to manually configure multiple
PVCs across a L2 core, and to adjust the route followed by each PVC in
an attempt to equalize the load on different parts of the network. Where
necessary, multiple PVCs may be configured between the same two nodes,
in order to allow traffic to be split between different paths. In some
topologies it is much easier to achieve efficient non-overlapping or
minimally-overlapping paths via this method (with manually configured
paths) than it would be with pure datagram forwarding. A similar ability
can be achieved with MPLS via the use of manual configuration of the
paths taken by LSPs.

A related issue is the decision on where merge is to occur. Note that
once two streams merge into one stream (forwarded by a single label)
then they cannot diverge again at that level of the MPLS hierarchy
(i.e., they cannot be bifurcated without looking at a higher level label
or the IP header). Thus there may be times when it is desirable to
explicitly NOT merge two streams even though they are to the same egress
node and FEC. Non-merge may be appropriate either because the streams
will want to diverge later in the path (for example, to avoid
overloading a particular downstream link), or because the streams may
want to use different physical links in the case where multiple slower
physical links are being aggregated into a single logical link for the
purpose of IP routing.

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As a network grows to a very large size (on the order of hundreds of
LSRs), it becomes increasingly difficult to handle the assignment of all
routes via manual configuration. However, explicit routing allows
several alternatives:

1. Partial Configuration: One option is to use automatic/dynamic routing
for most of the paths through the network, but then manually configure
some routes. For example, suppose that full dynamic routing would result
in a particular link being overloaded. One of the LSPs which uses that
link could be selected and manually routed to use a different path.

2. Central Computation: One option would be to provide long term network
usage information to a single central management facility. That facility
could then run a global optimization to compute a set of paths to use.
Network management commands can be used to configure LSRs with the
correct routes to use.

3. Egress Computation: An egress node can run a computation which
optimizes the path followed for traffic to itself. This cannot of course
optimize the entire traffic load through the network, but can include
optimization of traffic from multiple ingress's to one egress. The
reason for optimizing traffic to a single egress, rather than from a
single ingress, relates to the issue of when to merge: An ingress can
never merge the traffic from itself to different egresses, but an egress
can if desired chose to merge the traffic from multiple ingress's to

4.10.5 Using Explicit Routing for Policy Routing

This section is FFS.

4.11 Traceroute

This section is FFS.

4.12 LSP Control: Egress versus Local

There is a choice to be made regarding whether the initial setup of LSPs
will be initiated by the egress node, or locally by each individual

When LSP control is done locally, then each node may at any time pass
label bindings to its neighbors for each FEC recognized by that node. In
the normal case that the neighboring nodes recognize the same FECs, then
nodes may map incoming labels to outgoing labels as part of the normal
label swapping forwarding method.

When LSP control is done by the egress, then initially (on startup) only

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the egress node passes label bindings to its neighbors corresponding to
any FECs which leave the MPLS network at that egress node. When
initializing, other nodes wait until they get a label from downstream
for a particular FEC before passing a corresponding label for the same
FEC to upstream nodes.

With local control, since each LSR is (at least initially) independently
assigning labels to FECs, it is possible that different LSRs may make
inconsistent decisions. For example, an upstream LSR may make a coarse
decision (map multiple IP address prefixes to a single label) while its
downstream neighbor makes a finer grain decision (map each individual IP
address prefix to a separate label). With downstream label assignment
this can be corrected by having LSRs withdraw labels that it has
assigned which are inconsistent with downstream labels, and replace them
with new consistent label assignments.

This may appear to be an advantage of egress LSP control (since with
egress control the initial label assignments "bubble up" from the egress
to upstream nodes, and consistency is therefore easy to ensure).
However, even with egress control it is possible that the choice of
egress node may change, or the egress may (based on a change in
configuration) change its mind in terms of the granularity which is to
be used. This implies the same mechanism will be necessary to allow
changes in granularity to bubble up to upstream nodes. The choice of
egress or local control may therefore effect the frequency with which
this mechanism is used, but will not effect the need for a mechanism to
achieve consistency of label granularity.

Egress control and local control can interwork in a very straightforward
manner: With either approach, (assuming downstream label assignment) the
egress node will initially assign labels for particular FECs and will
pass these labels to its neighbors. With either approach these label
assignments will bubble upstream, with the upstream nodes choosing
labels that are consistent with the labels that they receive from

The difference between the two techniques therefore becomes a tradeoff
between avoiding a short period of initial thrashing on startup (in the
sense of avoiding the need to withdraw inconsistent labels which may
have been assigned using local control) versus the imposition of a short
delay on initial startup (while waiting for the initial label
assignments to bubble up from downstream). The protocol mechanisms which
need to be defined are the same in either case, and the steady state
operation is the same in either case.

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4.13 Security

Security in a network using MPLS should be relatively similar to
security in a normal IP network.

Routing in an MPLS network uses precisely the same IP routing protocols
as are currently used with IP. This implies that route filtering is
unchanged from current operation. Similarly, the security of the routing
protocols is not effected by the use of MPLS.

Packet filtering also may be done as in normal IP. This will require
either (i) that label swapping be terminated prior to any firewalls
performing packet filtering (in which case a separate instance of label
swapping may optionally be started after the firewall); or (ii) that
firewalls "look past the labels", in order to inspect the entire IP
packet contents. In this latter case note that the label may imply
semantics greater than that contained in the packet header: In
particular, a particular label value may imply that the packet is to
take a particular path after the firewall. In environments in which this
is considered to be a security issue it may be desirable to terminate
the label prior to the firewall.

Note that in principle labels could be used to speed up the operation of
firewalls: In particular, the label could be used as an index into a
table which indicates the characteristics that the packet needs to have
in order to pass through the firewall. Depending upon implementation
considerations matching the contents of the packet to the contents of
the table may be quicker than parsing the packet in the absence of the


   [1] "A Proposed Architecture for MPLS", E. Rosen, A. Viswanathan, R.
       Callon, work in progress, draft-ietf-mpls-arch-00.txt, August

   [2] "ARIS: Aggregate Route-Based IP Switching", A. Viswanathan, N.
       Feldman, R. Boivie, R. Woundy, work in progress, Internet Draft
       <draft- viswanathan-aris-overview-00.txt>, March 1997.

   [3] "ARIS Specification", N. Feldman, A. Viswanathan, work in
       progress, Internet Draft <draft-feldman-aris-spec-00.txt>, March

   [4] "ARIS Support for LAN Media Switching", S. Blake, A. Ghanwani, W.
       Pace, V. Srinivasan, work in progress, Internet Draft <draft-
       blake-aris-lan- 00.txt>, March 1997.

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   [5] "Tag Switching Architecture - Overview", Rekhter, Davie, Katz,
       Rosen, Swallow, Farinacci, work in progress, Internet Draft
       <draft-rekhter- tagswitch-arch-01.txt>, July 1997.

   [6] Tag distribution Protocol", Doolan, Davie, Katz, Rekhter, Rosen,
       work in progress, internet draft <draft-doolan-tdp-spec-01.txt>

   [7] "Use of Tag Switching with ATM", Davie, Doolan, Lawrence,
       McGloghrie, Rekhter, Rosen, Swallow, work in progress, Internet
       Draft <draft-davie- tag-switching-atm-01.txt>

   [8] "MPLS Label Stack Encoding", Rosen, Rekhter, Tappan, Farinacci,
       Fedorkow, Li, Conta, work in progress, draft-ietf-mpls-label-
       encaps-00.txt, November 1997.

   [9] "Partitioning Tag Space among Multicast Routers on a Common
       Subnet", Farinacci, work in progress, internet draft <draft-
       farinacci-multicast- tag-part-00.txt>

   [10] "Multicast Tag Binding and Distribution using PIM", Farinacci,
        Rekhter, work in progress, internet draft <draft-farinacci-
        multicast-tagsw- 00.txt>

   [11] "Toshiba's Router Architecture Extensions for ATM: Overview",
        Katsube, Nagami, Esaki, RFC2098.TXT.

   [12] "Soft State Switching: A Proposal to Extend RSVP for Switching
        RSVP Flows", A. Viswanathan, V. Srinivasan, work in progress,
        Internet Draft <draft-viswanathan-aris-rsvp-00.txt>, March 1997.

   [13] "Integrated Services in the Internet Architecture: an Overview",
        R. Braden et al, RFC 1633, June 1994.

   [14] "Resource ReSerVation Protocol (RSVP), Version 1 Functional
        Specification", work in progress, draft-ietf-rsvp-spec-16.txt,
        June 1997

   [15] "OSPF version 2", J. Moy, RFC 1583, March 1994.

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

   [17] "Ipsilon Flow Management Protocol Specification for IPv4 Version
        1.0", P. Newman et al., RFC 1953, May 1996.

   [18] "ATM Forum Private Network-Network Interface Specification,
        Version 1.0", ATM Forum af-pnni-0055.000, March 1996.

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   [19] "NBMA Next Hop Resolution Protocol (NHRP)", Luciani, Katz,
        Piscitello, Cole, work in progress, draft-ietf-rolc-nhrp-12.txt,
        March 1998.

Author's Addresses

        Ross Callon
        Ascend Communications, Inc.
        1 Robbins Road
        Westford, MA  01886

        Paul Doolan
        Ennovate Networks
        330 Codman Hill Road
        Boxborough, MA
        978-263-2002 x103

        Nancy Feldman
        IBM Corp.
        17 Skyline Drive
        Hawthorne NY 10532

        Andre Fredette
        Bay Networks Inc
        3 Federal Street
        Billerica, MA  01821

        George Swallow
        Cisco Systems, Inc
        250 Apollo Drive
        Chelmsford, MA 01824

        Arun Viswanathan
        IBM Corp.
        17 Skyline Drive
        Hawthorne NY 10532

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