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BGP Protocol Analysis
RFC 1265

Document Type RFC - Informational (October 1991)
Author Yakov Rekhter
Last updated 2013-03-02
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
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RFC 1265
Network Working Group                                 Y. Rekhter, Editor
Request for Comments: 1265        T.J. Watson Research Center, IBM Corp.
                                                            October 1991

                         BGP Protocol Analysis

1. Status of this Memo.

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

2. Introduction.

   The purpose of this report is to document how the requirements for
   advancing a routing protocol to Draft Standard have been satisfied by
   the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). This report summarizes the key
   feature of BGP, and analyzes the protocol with respect to scaling and
   performance. This is the first of two reports on the BGP protocol.

   BGP is an inter-autonomous system routing protocol designed for the
   TCP/IP internets.  Version 1 of the BGP protocol was published in RFC
   1105. Since then BGP versions 2 and 3 have been developed.  Version 2
   was documented in RFC 1163. Version 3 is documented in [1]. The
   changes between versions 1, 2 and 3 are explained in Appendix 3 of

   Possible applications of BGP in the Internet are documented in [2].

   Please send comments to

3. Acknowledgements.

   The BGP protocol has been developed by the IWG/BGP Working Group of
   the Internet Engineering Task Force. We would like to express our
   deepest thanks to Guy Almes (Rice University) who was the previous
   chairman of the IWG Working Group.  We also like to explicitly thank
   Bob Braden (ISI) and Bob Hinden (BBN) for the review of this document
   as well as their constructive and valuable comments.

4. Key features and algorithms of the BGP protocol.

   This section summarizes the key features and algorithms of the BGP
   protocol. BGP is an inter-autonomous system routing protocol; it is
   designed to be used between multiple autonomous systems. BGP assumes
   that routing within an autonomous system is done by an intra-
   autonomous system routing protocol. BGP does not make any assumptions

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RFC 1265                 BGP Protocol Analysis              October 1991

   about intra-autonomous system routing protocols employed by the
   various autonomous systems.  Specifically, BGP does not require all
   autonomous systems to run the same intra-autonomous system routing

   BGP is a real inter-autonomous system routing protocol. It imposes no
   constraints on the underlying Internet topology. The information
   exchanged via BGP is sufficient to construct a graph of autonomous
   systems connectivity from which routing loops may be pruned and some
   routing policy decisions at the autonomous system level may be

   The key feature of the protocol is the notion of Path Attributes.
   This feature provides BGP with flexibility and expandability. Path
   attributes are partitioned into well-known and optional. The
   provision for optional attributes allows experimentation that may
   involve a group of BGP routers without affecting the rest of the
   Internet.  New optional attributes can be added to the protocol in
   much the same fashion as new options are added to the Telnet
   protocol, for instance.  One of the most important path attributes is
   the AS-PATH. As reachability information traverses the Internet, this
   information is augmented by the list of autonomous systems that have
   been traversed thusfar, forming the AS-PATH.  The AS-PATH allows
   straightforward suppression of the looping of routing information. In
   addition, the AS-PATH serves as a powerful and versatile mechanism
   for policy-based routing.

   BGP uses an algorithm that cannot be classified as either a pure
   distance vector, or a pure link state. Carrying a complete AS path in
   the AS-PATH attribute allows to reconstruct large portions of the
   overall topology. That makes it similar to the link state algorithms.
   Exchanging only the currently used routes between the peers makes it
   similar to the distance vector algorithms.

   To conserve bandwidth and processing power, BGP uses incremental
   updates, where after the initial exchange of complete routing
   information, a pair of BGP routers exchanges only changes (deltas) to
   that information. Technique of incremental updates requires reliable
   transport between a pair of BGP routers. To achieve this
   functionality BGP uses TCP as its transport.

   BGP is a self-contained protocol. That is, it specifies how routing
   information is exchanged both between BGP speakers in different
   autonomous systems, and between BGP speakers within a single
   autonomous system.

   To allow graceful coexistence with EGP, BGP provides support for
   carrying EGP derived exterior routes. BGP also allows to carry

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   statically defined exterior routes.

5. BGP performance characteristics and scalability.

   In this section we'll try to answer the question of how much link
   bandwidth, router memory and router CPU cycles does the BGP protocol
   consume under normal conditions.  We'll also address the scalability
   of BGP, and look at some of its limits.

   BGP does not require all the routers within an autonomous system to
   participate in the BGP protocol. Only the border routers that provide
   connectivity between the local autonomous system and its adjacent
   autonomous systems participate in BGP.  Constraining the set of
   participants is just one way of addressing the scaling issue.

5.1 Link bandwidth and CPU utilization.

   Immediately after the initial BGP connection setup, the peers
   exchange complete set of routing information. If we denote the total
   number of networks in the Internet by N, the mean AS distance of the
   Internet by M (distance at the level of an autonomous system,
   expressed in terms of the number of autonomous systems), the total
   number of autonomous systems in the Internet by A, and assume that
   the networks are uniformly distributed among the autonomous systems,
   then the worst case amount of bandwidth consumed during the initial
   exchange between a pair of BGP speakers is

                        O(N + M * A)

   (provided that an implementation supports multiple networks per
   message as outlined in Appendix 5 of [1]). This information is
   roughly on the order of the number of networks reachable via each
   peer (see also Section 5.2).

   The following table illustrates typical amount of bandwidth consumed
   during the initial exchange between a pair of BGP speakers based on
   the above assumptions (ignoring bandwidth consumed by the BGP

         # Networks   Mean AS Distance       # AS's    Bandwidth
         ----------   ----------------       ------    ---------
         2,100        5                      59        9,000 bytes
         4,000        10                     100       18,000 bytes
         10,000       15                     300       49,000 bytes
         100,000      20                     3,000     520,000 bytes

   Note that most of the bandwidth is consumed by the exchange of the
   Network Reachability Information.

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RFC 1265                 BGP Protocol Analysis              October 1991

   After the initial exchange is completed, the amount of bandwidth and
   CPU cycles consumed by BGP depends only on the stability of the
   Internet. If the Internet is stable, then the only link bandwidth and
   router CPU cycles consumed by BGP are due to the exchange of the BGP
   KEEPALIVE messages. The KEEPALIVE messages are exchanged only between
   peers. The suggested frequency of the exchange is 30 seconds. The
   KEEPALIVE messages are quite short (19 octets), and require virtually
   no processing.  Therefore, the bandwidth consumed by the KEEPALIVE
   messages is about 5 bits/sec.  Operational experience confirms that
   the overhead (in terms of bandwidth and CPU) associated with the
   KEEPALIVE messages should be viewed as negligible.  If the Internet
   is unstable, then only the changes to the reachability information
   (that are caused by the instabilities) are passed between routers
   (via the UPDATE messages). If we denote the number of routing changes
   per second by C, then in the worst case the amount of bandwidth
   consumed by the BGP can be expressed as O(C * M). The greatest
   overhead per UPDATE message occurs when each UPDATE message contains
   only a single network. It should be pointed out that in practice
   routing changes exhibit strong locality with respect to the AS path.
   That is routes that change are likely to have common AS path. In this
   case multiple networks can be grouped into a single UPDATE message,
   thus significantly reducing the amount of bandwidth required (see
   also Appendix 5 of [1]).

   Since in the steady state the link bandwidth and router CPU cycles
   consumed by the BGP protocol are dependent only on the stability of
   the Internet, but are completely independent on the number of
   networks that compose the Internet, it follows that BGP should have
   no scaling problems in the areas of link bandwidth and router CPU
   utilization, as the Internet grows, provided that the overall
   stability of the inter-AS connectivity (connectivity between ASs) of
   the Internet can be controlled. Stability issue could be addressed by
   introducing some form of dampening (e.g., hold downs).  Due to the
   nature of BGP, such dampening should be viewed as a local to an
   autonomous system matter (see also Appendix 5 of [1]). We'd like to
   point out, that regardless of BGP, one should not underestimate the
   significance of the stability in the Internet. Growth of the Internet
   will make the stability issue one of the most crucial one. It is
   important to realize that BGP, by itself, does not introduce any
   instabilities in the Internet. Current observations in the NSFNET
   show that the instabilities are largely due to the ill-behaved
   routing within the autonomous systems that compose the Internet.
   Therefore, while providing BGP with mechanisms to address the
   stability issue, we feel that the right way to handle the issue is to
   address it at the root of the problem, and to come up with intra-
   autonomous routing schemes that exhibit reasonable stability.

   It also may be instructive to compare bandwidth and CPU requirements

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   of BGP with EGP. While with BGP the complete information is exchanged
   only at the connection establishment time, with EGP the complete
   information is exchanged periodically (usually every 3 minutes). Note
   that both for BGP and for EGP the amount of information exchanged is
   roughly on the order of the networks reachable via a peer that sends
   the information (see also Section 5.2). Therefore, even if one
   assumes extreme instabilities of BGP, its worst case behavior will be
   the same as the steady state behavior of EGP.

   Operational experience with BGP showed that the incremental updates
   approach employed by BGP presents an enormous improvement both in the
   area of bandwidth and in the CPU utilization, as compared with
   complete periodic updates used by EGP (see also presentation by
   Dennis Ferguson at the Twentieth IETF, March 11-15, 1991, St.Louis).

5.2 Memory requirements.

   To quantify the worst case memory requirements for BGP, denote the
   total number of networks in the Internet by N, the mean AS distance
   of the Internet by M (distance at the level of an autonomous system,
   expressed in terms of the number of autonomous systems), the total
   number of autonomous systems in the Internet by A, and the total
   number of BGP speakers that a system is peering with by K (note that
   K will usually be dominated by the total number of the BGP speakers
   within a single autonomous system). Then the worst case memory
   requirements (MR) can be expressed as

                           MR = O((N + M * A) * K)

   In the current NSFNET Backbone (N = 2110, A = 59, and M = 5) if each
   network is stored as 4 octets, and each autonomous system is stored
   as 2 octets then the overhead of storing the AS path information (in
   addition to the full complement of exterior routes) is less than 7
   percent of the total memory usage.

   It is interesting to point out, that prior to the introduction of BGP
   in the NSFNET Backbone, memory requirements on the NSFNET Backbone
   routers running EGP were on the order of O(N * K). Therefore, the
   extra overhead in memory incurred by the NSFNET routers after the
   introduction of BGP is less than 7 percent.

   Since a mean AS distance grows very slowly with the total number of
   networks (there are about 60 autonomous systems, well over 2,000
   networks known in the NSFNET backbone routers, and the mean AS
   distance of the current Internet is well below 5), for all practical
   purposes the worst case router memory requirements are on the order
   of the total number of networks in the Internet times the number of
   peers the local system is peering with. We expect that the total

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   number of networks in the Internet will grow much faster than the
   average number of peers per router. Therefore, scaling with respect
   to the memory requirements is going to be heavily dominated by the
   factor that is linearly proportional to the total number of networks
   in the Internet.

   The following table illustrates typical memory requirements of a
   router running BGP. It is assumed that each network is encoded as 4
   bytes, each AS is encoded as 2 bytes, and each networks is reachable
   via some fraction of all of the peers (# BGP peers/per net).

# Networks  Mean AS Distance # AS's # BGP peers/per net Memory Req
----------  ---------------- ------ ------------------- ----------
2,100       5                59     3                   27,000 bytes
4,000       10               100    6                   108,000 bytes
10,000      15               300    10                  490,000 bytes
100,000     20               3,000  20                  1,040,000 bytes

   To put memory requirements of BGP in a proper perspective, let's try
   to put aside for a moment the issue of what information is used to
   construct the forwarding tables in a router, and just focus on the
   forwarding tables themselves. In this case one might ask about the
   limits on these tables.  For instance, given that right now the
   forwarding tables in the NSFNET Backbone routers carry well over
   2,000 entries, one might ask whether it would be possible to have a
   functional router with a table that will have 20,000 entries. Clearly
   the answer to this question is completely independent of BGP. On the
   other hand the answer to the original questions (that was asked with
   respect to BGP) is directly related to the latter question. Very
   interesting comments were given by Paul Tsuchiya in his review of BGP
   in March of 1990 (as part of the BGP review committee appointed by
   Bob Hinden).  In the review he said that, "BGP does not scale well.
   This is not really the fault of BGP. It is the fault of the flat IP
   address space.  Given the flat IP address space, any routing protocol
   must carry network numbers in its updates." To reiterate, BGP limits
   with respect to the memory requirements are directly related to the
   underlying Internet Protocol (IP), and specifically the addressing
   scheme employed by IP. BGP would provide much better scaling in
   environments with more flexible addressing schemes.  It should be
   pointed out that with very minor additions BGP can be extended to
   support hierarchies of autonomous system. Such hierarchies, combined
   with an addressing scheme that would allow more flexible address
   aggregation capabilities, can be utilized by BGP, thus providing
   practically unlimited scaling capabilities of the protocol.

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RFC 1265                 BGP Protocol Analysis              October 1991

6. Applicability of BGP.

   In this section we'll try to answer the question of what environment
   is BGP well suited, and for what is it not suitable?  Partially this
   question is answered in the Section 2 of [1], where the document
   states the following:

   "To characterize the set of policy decisions that can be enforced
   using BGP, one must focus on the rule that an AS advertises to its
   neighbor ASs only those routes that it itself uses.  This rule
   reflects the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm generally used throughout
   the current Internet.  Note that some policies cannot be supported by
   the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm and thus require techniques such as
   source routing to enforce.  For example, BGP does not enable one AS
   to send traffic to a neighbor AS intending that the traffic take a
   different route from that taken by traffic originating in the
   neighbor AS.  On the other hand, BGP can support any policy
   conforming to the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm.  Since the current
   Internet uses only the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm and since BGP
   can support any policy that conforms to that paradigm, BGP is highly
   applicable as an inter-AS routing protocol for the current Internet."

   While BGP is well suitable for the current Internet, it is also
   almost a necessity for the current Internet as well.  Operational
   experience with EGP showed that it is highly inadequate for the
   current Internet.  Topological restrictions imposed by EGP are
   unjustifiable from the technical point of view, and unenforceable
   from the practical point of view.  Inability of EGP to efficiently
   handle information exchange between peers is a cause of severe
   routing instabilities in the operational Internet. Finally,
   information provided by BGP is well suitable for enforcing a variety
   of routing policies.

   Rather than trying to predict the future, and overload BGP with a
   variety of functions that may (or may not) be needed, the designers
   of BGP took a different approach. The protocol contains only the
   functionality that is essential, while at the same time provides
   flexible mechanisms within the protocol itself that allow to expand
   its functionality.  Since BGP was designed with flexibility and
   expandability in mind, we think it should be able to address new or
   evolving requirements with relative ease. The existence proof of this
   statement may be found in the way how new features (like repairing a
   partitioned autonomous system with BGP) are already introduced in the

   To summarize, BGP is well suitable as an inter-autonomous system
   routing protocol for the current Internet that is based on IP (RFC
   791) as the Internet Protocol and "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm. It

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   is hard to speculate whether BGP will be suitable for other
   environments where internetting is done by other than IP protocols,
   or where the routing paradigm will be different.


   [1] Lougheed, K., and Y. Rekhter, "A Border Gateway Protocol 3 (BGP-
       3)", RFC 1267, cisco Systems, T.J. Watson Research Center, IBM
       Corp., October 1991.

   [2] Rekhter, Y., and P. Gross, Editors, "Application of the Border
       Gateway Protocol in the Internet", RFC 1268, T.J. Watson Research
       Center, IBM Corp., ANS, October 1991.

Security Considerations

   Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

Author's Address

   Yakov Rekhter
   T.J. Watson Research Center IBM Corporation
   P.O. Box 218
   Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

   Phone:  (914) 945-3896

   IETF BGP WG mailing list:
   To be added:

BGP Working Group                                               [Page 8]