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BGP Wedgies
RFC 4264

Document Type RFC - Informational (November 2005)
Authors Tim A. Griffin , Geoff Huston
Last updated 2015-10-14
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
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IESG Responsible AD David Kessens
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RFC 4264
Network Working Group                                         T. Griffin
Request for Comments: 4264                       University of Cambridge
Category: Informational                                        G. Huston
                                                           November 2005

                              BGP Wedgies

Status of this Memo

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

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).


   It has commonly been assumed that the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)
   is a tool for distributing reachability information in a manner that
   creates forwarding paths in a deterministic manner.  In this memo we
   will describe a class of BGP configurations for which there is more
   than one potential outcome, and where forwarding states other than
   the intended state are equally stable.  Also, the stable state where
   BGP converges may be selected by BGP in a non-deterministic manner.
   These stable, but unintended, BGP states are termed here "BGP

Table of Contents

   1. Introduction ....................................................2
   2. Describing BGP Routing Policy ...................................2
   3. BGP Wedgies .....................................................3
   4. Multi-Party BGP Wedgies .........................................6
   5. BGP and Determinism .............................................7
   6. Security Considerations .........................................8
   7. References ......................................................9
      7.1. Normative References .......................................9
      7.2. Informative References .....................................9

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RFC 4264                      BGP Wedgies                  November 2005

1.  Introduction

   It has commonly been assumed that the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)
   [RFC1771] is a tool for distributing reachability information in a
   manner that creates forwarding paths in a deterministic manner.  This
   is a 'problem statement' memo that describes a class of BGP
   configurations for which there is more than one stable forwarding
   state.  In this class of configurations there exist multiple stable
   forwarding states.  One of these stable forwarding states is the
   intended state, with other stable forwarding states being unintended.
   The BGP convergence process of selection of a stable forwarding state
   may operate in a non-deterministic manner in such cases.

   These stable, but unintended, BGP states are termed here "BGP

2.  Describing BGP Routing Policy

   BGP routing policies generally reflect each network administrator's
   objective to optimize their position with respect to their network's
   cost, performance, and reliability.

   With respect to cost optimization, the local network's default
   routing policy often reflects a local preference to prefer routes
   learned from a customer to routes learned from some form of peering
   exchange.  In the same vein, the local network is often configured to
   prefer routes learned from a peer or a customer over those learned
   from a directly connected upstream transit provider.  These
   preferences may be expressed via a local preference configuration
   setting, where the local preference overrides the AS path length
   metric of the base BGP operation.

   In terms of engineering reliability in the inter-domain routing
   environment it is commonly the case that a service provider may enter
   into arrangements with two or more upstream transit providers,
   passing routes to all upstream providers, and receiving traffic from
   all sources.  If the path to one upstream fails, the traffic will
   switch to other links.  Once the path is recovered, the traffic
   should switch back.

   In such situations of multiple upstream providers it is also common
   to place a relative preference on the providers, so that one
   connection is regarded as a preferred, or "primary" connection, and
   other connections are regarded as less preferred, or "backup"
   connections.  The intent is typically that the backup connections
   will be used for traffic only for the duration of a failure in the
   primary connection.

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RFC 4264                      BGP Wedgies                  November 2005

   It is possible to express this primary / backup policy using local AS
   path prepending, where the AS path is artificially lengthened towards
   the backup providers, using additional instances of the local AS.
   This is not a deterministic selection algorithm, as the selected
   primary provider may in turn be using AS path prepending to its
   backup upstream provider, and in certain cases the path through the
   backup provider may still be selected as the shortest AS path length.

   An alternative approach to routing policy specification uses BGP
   communities [RFC1997].  In this case, the provider publishes a set of
   community values that allows the client to select the provider's
   local preference setting.  The client can use a community to mark a
   route as "backup only" towards the backup provider, and "primary
   preferred' to the primary provider, assuming both providers support
   community values with such semantics.  In this case, the local
   preference overrides the AS path length metric, so that if the route
   is marked "backup only", the route will be selected only when there
   is no other source of the route.

3.  BGP Wedgies

   The richness of local policy expression through the use of
   communities, when coupled with the behavior of a distance vector
   protocol like BGP, leads to the observation that certain
   configurations have more than one "solution", or more than one stable
   BGP state.  An example of such a situation is indicated in Figure 1.

       +----+peer                peer+----+
       |AS 3|------------------------|AS 4|
       +----+                        +----+
         |provider             provider|
         |                             |
         |                             |
         |customer                     |
       +----+                          |
       |AS 2|                          |
       +----+                          |
         |provider                     |
         |                             |
         |                             |
         |customer             customer|
         +---------------+  +----------+
           backup service|  |primary service
                        |AS 1|

                                 Figure 1

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RFC 4264                      BGP Wedgies                  November 2005

   In this case, AS1 has marked its advertisement of prefixes to AS2 as
   "backup only", and its advertisement of prefixes to AS4 as "primary".
   AS4 will advertise AS1's prefixes to AS3.  AS3 will hear AS4's
   advertisement across the peering link, and select AS1's prefixes with
   the path "AS4, AS1".  AS3 will advertise these prefixes to AS2.  AS2
   will hear two paths to AS1's prefixes, the first is via the direct
   connection to AS1, and the second is via the path "AS3, AS4, AS1".
   AS2 will prefer the longer path, as the directly connected routes are
   marked "backup only", and AS2's local preference decision will prefer
   the AS3 advertisement over the AS1 advertisement.

   This is the intended outcome of AS1's policy settings where, in the
   'normal' state, no traffic passes from AS2 to AS1 across the backup
   link, and AS2 reaches AS1 via a path that transits AS3 and AS4, using
   the primary link to AS1.

   This intended outcome is achieved as long as AS1 announces its routes
   on the primary path to AS4 before announcing its backup routes to

   If the AS1 - AS4 path is broken, causing a BGP session failure
   between AS1 and AS4, then AS4 will withdraw its advertisement of
   AS1's routes to AS3, who, in turn, will send a withdrawal to AS2.
   AS2 will then select the backup path to AS1.  AS2 will advertise this
   path to AS3, and AS3 will advertise this path to AS4.  Again, this is
   part of the intended operation of the primary / backup policy
   setting, and all traffic to AS1 will use the backup path.

   When connectivity between AS4 and AS1 is restored the BGP state will
   not revert to the original state.  AS4 will learn the primary path to
   AS1 and re-advertise this to AS3 using the path "AS4, AS1".  AS3,
   using a default preference of preferring customer-advertised routes
   over peer routes will continue to prefer the "AS2, AS1" path.  AS3
   will not pass any updates to AS2.  After the restoration of the
   AS4-to-AS1 circuit, the traffic from AS3 to AS1 and from AS2 to AS1
   will be presented to AS1 via the backup path, even through the
   primary path via AS4 is back in service.

   The intended forwarding state can only be restored by AS1
   deliberately bringing down its eBGP session with AS2, even though it
   is carrying traffic.  This will cause the BGP state to revert to the
   intended configuration.

   It is often the case that an AS will attempt to balance incoming
   traffic across multiple providers, again using the primary / backup
   mechanism.  For some prefixes one link is configured as the primary
   link, and the others as the backup link, while for other prefixes
   another link is selected as the primary link.  An example is shown in

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   Figure 2.

       +----+peer                  peer+----+
       |AS 3|--------------------------|AS 4|
       +----+                          +----+
         |provider               provider|
         |                               |
         |                       customer|
         |customer                       |
       +----+                          +----+
       |AS 2|                          |AS 5|
       +----+                          +----+
         |provider               provider|
         |                               |
         |                               |
         |customer               customer|
         +-----------------+  +----------+
                           |  |
    backup (  |  |primary service (
   primary (|  |backup service (
                          |AS 1|

                                 Figure 2

   The intended configuration has all incoming traffic for addresses in
   the range via the link from AS5, and all incoming
   traffic for addresses in the range from AS2.

   In this case, if the link between AS3 and AS4 is reset, AS3 will
   learn both routes from AS2, and AS4 will learn both routes from AS5.
   As these customer routes are preferred over peer routes, when the
   link between AS3 and AS4 is restored, neither AS3 nor AS4 will alter
   their routing behavior with respect to AS1's routes.  This situation
   is now wedged, in that there is no eBGP peering that can be reset
   that will flip BGP back to the intended state.  This is an instance
   of a BGP Wedgie.

   The restoration path here is that AS1 has to withdraw the backup
   advertisements on both paths and operate for an interval without
   backup, and then re-advertise the backup prefix advertisements.  The
   length of the interval cannot be readily determined in advance, as it
   has to be sufficiently long so as to allow AS2 and AS5 to learn of an
   alternate path to AS1.  At this stage the backup routes can be re-

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4.  Multi-Party BGP Wedgies

   This situation can be more complex when three or more parties provide
   upstream transit services to an AS.  An example is indicated in
   Figure 3.

       +----+ peer              peer +----+
       |AS 3|------------------------|AS 4|
       +----+                        +----+
        ||provider             provider|
        |+----------------+            |
        |                 |            |
        |customer         |customer    |
       +----+peer   peer+----+         |
       |AS 2|-----------|AS 5|         |
       +----+           +----+         |
         |provider  provider|          |
         |                  |          |
         |                  |          |
         |customer  customer|  customer|
         +---------------+  |+---------+
           backup service|  ||primary service
                        |AS 1|

                                 Figure 3

   In this example, the intended state is that AS2 and AS5 are both
   backup providers to AS1, and AS4 is the primary provider.  When the
   link between AS1 and AS4 breaks and is subsequently restored, AS3
   will continue to direct traffic to AS1 via AS2 or AS5.  In this case,
   a single reset of the link between AS2 and AS1 will not restore the
   original intended BGP state, as the BGP-selected best route to AS1
   will switch to AS5, and AS2 and AS3 will learn a path to AS1 via AS5.

   What AS1 is observing is incoming traffic on the backup link from
   AS2.  Resetting this connection will not restore traffic back to the
   primary path, but instead will switch incoming traffic over to AS5.
   The action required to correct the situation is to simultaneously
   reset both the link to AS2, and also the link to AS5.  This is not
   necessarily an intuitively obvious solution, as at any point on time
   only one of these links will be carrying backup traffic, yet both BGP
   sessions need to be brought down at the same time in order to
   commence restoration of the intended primary and backup state.

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5.  BGP and Determinism

   BGP does not behave deterministically in all cases, and, as a
   consequence, there is intended and unintended non-determinism in BGP.
   For example, the default final tie break in some implementations of
   BGP is to prefer the longest-lived route.  To achieve determinism in
   this last step it would be necessary to use a comparison operator
   that has a predictable outcome, such as a comparison of router
   identifiers.  This class of non-deterministic behavior is termed here
   "intended" non-determinism, in that the policy interactions are, to
   some extent, predictable by network administrators.

   BGP is also able to generate outcomes that can be described as
   "unintended non-determinism" that can result from unexpected policy
   interactions.  These outcomes do not represent misconfiguration in
   the standard sense, since all policies may look completely rational
   locally, but their interaction across multiple routing entities can
   cause unintended outcomes, and BGP may reach a state that includes
   such unintended outcomes in a non-deterministic manner.

   Unintended non-determinism in BGP would not be as critical an issue
   if all stable routings were guaranteed to be consistent with the
   policy writer's intent.  However, this is not always the case.  The
   above examples indicate that the operation of BGP allows multiple
   stable states to exist from a single configuration state, where some
   of these states are not consistent with the policy writer's intent.
   These particular examples can be described as a form of "route
   pinning", where the route is pinned to a non-preferred path.

   The challenge for the network administrator is to ensure that an
   intended state is maintained.  Under certain circumstances this can
   only be achieved by deliberate service disruption, involving the
   withdrawal of routes being used to forward traffic, and
   re-advertising routes in a certain sequence in order to induce an
   intended BGP state.  However, the knowledge that is required by any
   single network operator administrator in order to understand the
   reason why BGP has stabilized to an unintended state requires BGP
   policy configuration knowledge of remote networks.  In effect, there
   is insufficient local information for any single network
   administrator to correctly identify the root cause of the unintended
   BGP state, nor is there sufficient information to allow any single
   network administrator to undertake a sequence of steps to rectify the
   situation back to the intended routing state.

   It is reasonable to anticipate that the density of interconnection
   will continue to increase, and the capability for policy-based
   preference settings of learned and re-advertised routes will become
   more expressive.  Therefore, it is reasonable to anticipate that the

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   number of unintended but stable BGP states will increase, and the
   ability to define the necessary sequence of route withdrawals and
   re-advertisements will become more challenging for network operators
   to determine in advance.

   Whether this could lead to a BGP routing system reaching a point
   where each network consistently cannot direct traffic in a
   deterministic manner is, at this stage, a matter of speculation.  BGP
   Wedgies illustrate that a sufficiently complex interconnection
   topology, coupled with a sufficiently expressive set of policy
   constructs, can lead to a number of stable BGP states, rather than a
   single intended state.  As the topology complexity increases, it is
   not possible to deterministically predict which state the BGP routing
   system may converge to.  Paradoxically, the demands of inter-domain
   traffic engineering appear to require greater levels of expressive
   capability in policy-based routing directives, operating across
   denser interconnectivity topologies in a deterministic manner.  This
   may not be a sustainable outcome in BGP-based routing systems.

6.  Security Considerations

   BGP is a relaying protocol, where route information is received,
   processed, and forwarded.  BGP contains no specific mechanisms to
   prevent the unauthorized modification of the information by a
   forwarding agent, allowing routing information to be modified or
   deleted, or for false information to be inserted without the
   knowledge of the originator of the routing information or any of the

   This memo proposes no modifications to the BGP protocol, nor does it
   propose any changes to the manner of deployment of BGP, and therefore
   introduces no new factors in terms of the security and integrity of
   inter-domain routing.

   This memo illustrates that, in attempting to create policy-based
   outcomes relating to path selection for incoming traffic, it is
   possible to generate BGP configurations where there are multiple
   stable outcomes, rather than a single outcome.  Furthermore, of these
   instances of multiple outcomes, there are cases where the BGP
   selection of a particular outcome is not a deterministic selection.

   This class of behaviour may be exploitable by a hostile third party.
   A common theme of BGP Wedgies is that starting from an intended or
   desired forwarding state, the loss and subsequent restoration of an
   eBGP peering connection can flip the network's forwarding
   configuration into an unintended and potentially undesired state.
   Significant administrative effort, based on BGP state and
   configuration knowledge that may not be locally available, may be

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   required to shift the BGP forwarding configuration back to the
   intended or desired forwarding state.  If a hostile third party can
   deliberately cause the BGP session to reset, thereby producing the
   initial conditions that lead to an unintended forwarding state, the
   network impacts of the resulting unintended or undesired forwarding
   state may be long-lived, far outliving the temporary interruption of
   connectivity that triggered the condition.  If these impacts,
   including potential issues of increased cost, reduction of available
   bandwidth, increases in overall latency or degradation of service
   reliability, are significant, then disrupting a BGP session could
   represent an attractive attack vector to a hostile party.

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC1771]  Rekhter, Y. and T. Li, "A Border Gateway Protocol 4
              (BGP-4)", RFC 1771, March 1995.

7.2.  Informative References

   [RFC1997]  Chandrasekeran, R., Traina, P., and T. Li, "BGP
              Communities Attribute", RFC 1997, August 1996.

Authors' Addresses

   Tim G. Griffin
   Computer Laboratory
   University of Cambridge


   Geoff Huston
   Asia Pacific Network Information Centre


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RFC 4264                      BGP Wedgies                  November 2005

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