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MPLS Unicast IP Forwarding

MPLS can be used for simple unicast IP forwarding. With MPLS unicast IP forwarding, the MPLS forwarding logic forwards packets based on labels. However, when choosing the interfaces out which to forward the packets, MPLS considers only the routes in the unicast IP routing table, so the end result of using MPLS is that the packet flows over the same path as it would have if MPLS were not used, but all other factors were unchanged.

MPLS unicast IP forwarding does not provide any significant advantages by itself; however, many of the more helpful MPLS applications, such as MPLS VPNs and MPLS traffic engineering (TE), use MPLS unicast IP forwarding as one part of the MPLS network. So to understand MPLS as you would typically implement it, you need a solid understanding of MPLS in its most basic form: MPLS unicast IP forwarding.

MPLS requires the use of control plane protocols (for example, OSPF and LDP) to learn labels, correlate those labels to particular destination prefixes, and build the correct forwarding tables. MPLS also requires a fundamental change to the data plane's core forwarding logic. This section begins by examining the data plane, which defines the packet-forwarding logic. Following that, this section examines the control plane protocols, particularly the Label Distribution Protocol (LDP), which MPLS routers use to exchange labels for unicast IP prefixes.

MPLS IP Forwarding: Data Plane

MPLS defines a completely different packet-forwarding paradigm. However, hosts do not and should not send and receive labeled packets, so at some point, some router will need to add a label to the packet and, later, another router will remove the label. The MPLS routers—the routers that inject (push), remove (pop), or forward packets based on their labels—use MPLS forwarding logic.

MPLS relies on the underlying structure and logic of Cisco Express Forwarding (CEF) while expanding the logic and data structures as well. First, a review of CEF is in order, followed by details about a new data structure called the MPLS Label Forwarding Information Base (LFIB).

CEF Review

A router's unicast IP forwarding control plane uses routing protocols, static routes, and connected routes to create a Routing Information Base (RIB). With CEF enabled, a router's control plane processing goes a step further, creating the CEF Forwarding Information Base (FIB), adding a FIB entry for each destination IP prefix in the routing table. The FIB entry details the information needed for forwarding: the next-hop router and the outgoing interface. Additionally, the CEF adjacency table lists the new data-link header that the router will then copy in front of the packet before forwarding.

For the data plane, a CEF router compares the packet's destination IP address to the CEF FIB, ignoring the IP routing table. CEF optimizes the organization of the FIB so that the router spends very little time to find the correct FIB entry, resulting in a smaller forwarding delay and a higher volume of packets per second through a router. For each packet, the router finds the matching FIB entry, then finds the adjacency table entry referenced by the matching FIB entry, and forwards the packet. Figure 19-1 shows the overall process.

Figure 19-1

Figure 19-1 IP Routing Table and CEF FIB—No MPLS

With this backdrop in mind, the text next looks at how MPLS changes the forwarding process using labels.

Overview of MPLS Unicast IP Forwarding

The MPLS forwarding paradigm assumes that hosts generate packets without an MPLS label; then, some router imposes an MPLS label, other routers forward the packet based on that label, and then other routers remove the label. The end result is that the host computers have no awareness of the existence of MPLS. To appreciate this overall forwarding process, Figure 19-2 shows an example, with steps showing how a packet is forwarded using MPLS.

Figure 19-2

Figure 19-2 MPLS Packet Forwarding—End to End

The steps from the figure are explained as follows:

  1. Host A generates and sends an unlabeled packet destined to host
  2. Router CE1, with no MPLS features configured, forwards the unlabeled packet based on the destination IP address, as normal, without any labels. (Router CE1 may or may not use CEF.)
  3. MPLS router PE1 receives the unlabeled packet and decides, as part of the MPLS forwarding process, to impose (push) a new label (value 22) into the packet and forwards the packet.
  4. MPLS router P1 receives the labeled packet. P1 swaps the label for a new label value (39) and then forwards the packet.
  5. MPLS router PE2 receives the labeled packet, removes (pops) the label, and forwards the packet toward CE2.
  6. Non-MPLS router CE2 forwards the unlabeled packet based on the destination IP address, as normal. (CE2 may or may not use CEF.)

The steps in Figure 19-2 show a relatively simple process and provide a great backdrop from which to introduce a few terms. The term Label Switch Router (LSR) refers to any router that has awareness of MPLS labels, for example, routers PE1, P1, and PE2 in Figure 19-2. Table 19-2 lists the variations of the term LSR, and a few comments about the meaning of each term.

Table 19-2. MPLS LSR Terminology Reference

LSR Type

Actions Performed by This LSR Type

Label Switch Router (LSR)

Any router that pushes labels onto packets, pops labels from packets, or simply forwards labeled packets.

Edge LSR (E-LSR)

An LSR at the edge of the MPLS network, meaning that this router processes both labeled and unlabeled packets.

Ingress E-LSR

For a particular packet, the router that receives an unlabeled packet and then inserts a label stack in front of the IP header.

Egress E-LSR

For a particular packet, the router that receives a labeled packet and then removes all MPLS labels, forwarding an unlabeled packet.


An LSR that runs MPLS protocols in the control plane to set up ATM virtual circuits. Forwards labeled packets as ATM cells.


An E-edge LSR that also performs the ATM Segmentation and Reassembly (SAR) function.

MPLS Forwarding Using the FIB and LFIB

To forward packets as shown in Figure 19-2, LSRs use both the CEF FIB and the MPLS LFIB when forwarding packets. Both the FIB and LFIB hold any necessary label information, as well as the outgoing interface and next-hop information.

The FIB and LFIB differ in that routers use one table to forward incoming unlabeled packets, and the other to forward incoming labeled packets, as follows:

  • FIB—Used for incoming unlabeled packets. Cisco IOS matches the packet's destination IP address to the best prefix in the FIB and forwards the packet based on that entry.
  • LFIB—Used for incoming labeled packets. Cisco IOS compares the label in the incoming packet to the LFIB's list of labels and forwards the packet based on that LFIB entry.

Figure 19-3 shows how the three LSRs in Figure 19-2 use their respective FIBs and LFIB. Note that Figure 19-3 just shows the FIB on the LSR that forwards the packet using the FIB and the LFIB on the two LSRs that use the LFIB, although all LSRs have both a FIB and an LFIB.

Figure 19-3

Figure 19-3 Usage of the CEF FIB and MPLS LFIB for Forwarding Packets

The figure shows the use of the FIB and LFIB, as follows:

  • PE1—When the unlabeled packet arrives at PE1, PE1 uses the FIB. PE1 finds the FIB entry that matches the packet's destination address of—namely, the entry for in this case. Among other things, the FIB entry includes the instructions to push the correct MPLS label in front of the packet.
  • P1—Because P1 receives a labeled packet, P1 uses its LFIB, finding the label value of 22 in the LFIB, with that entry stating that P1 should swap the label value to 39.
  • PE2—PE2 uses the LFIB as well, because PE2 receives a labeled packet; the matching LFIB entry lists a pop action, so PE2 removes the label, forwarding an unlabeled packet to CE2.

Note that P1 and PE2 in this example never examined the packet's destination IP address as part of the forwarding process. Because the forwarding process does not rely on the destination IP address, MPLS can then enable forwarding processes based on something other than the destination IP address, such as forwarding based on the VPN from which the packet originated, forwarding to balance traffic with traffic engineering, and forwarding over different links based on QoS goals.

The MPLS Header and Label

The MPLS header is a 4-byte header, located immediately before the IP header. Many people simply refer to the MPLS header as the MPLS label, but the label is actually a 20-bit field in the MPLS header. You may also see this header referenced as an MPLS shim header. Figure 19-4 shows the entire label, and Table 19-3 defines the fields.

Figure 19-4

Figure 19-4 The MPLS Header

Table 19-3. MPLS Header Fields


Length (Bits)




Identifies the portion of a label switched path (LSP).

Experimental (EXP)


Used for QoS marking; the field is no longer used for truly experimental purposes.

Bottom-of-Stack (S)


Flag, which when set to 1, means that this is the label immediately preceding the IP header.

Time-to-Live (TTL)


Used for the same purposes as the IP header's TTL field.

Of the four fields in the MPLS header, the first two, Label and EXP, should already be familiar. The 20-bit Label is usually listed as a decimal value in show commands. The MPLS EXP bits allow for QoS marking, which can be done using CB Marking, as covered in Chapter 12, "Classification and Marking." The S bit will make more sense once you examine how MPLS VPNs work, but in short, when packets hold multiple MPLS headers, this bit allows an LSR to recognize the last MPLS header before the IP header. Finally, the TTL field requires a little more examination, as covered in the next section.

The MPLS TTL Field and MPLS TTL Propagation

The IP header's TTL field supports two important features: a mechanism to identify looping packets, and a method for the traceroute command to find the IP address of each router in a particular end-to-end route. The MPLS header's TTL field supplies the same features—in fact, using all defaults, the presence or absence of MPLS LSRs in a network has no impact on the end results of either of the TTL-related processes.

MPLS needs a TTL field so that LSRs can completely ignore the encapsulated IP header when forwarding IP packets. Essentially, the LSRs will decrement the MPLS TTL field, and not the IP TTL field, as the packet passes through the MPLS network. To make the whole process work, using all default settings, ingress E-LSRs, LSRs, and egress E-LSRs work as follows:

  • Ingress E-LSRs—After an ingress E-LSR decrements the IP TTL field, it pushes a label into an unlabeled packet and then copies the packet's IP TTL field into the new MPLS header's TTL field.
  • LSRs—When an LSR swaps a label, the router decrements the MPLS header's TTL field, and always ignores the IP header's TTL field.
  • Egress E-LSRs—After an egress E-LSR decrements the MPLS TTL field, it pops the final MPLS header and then copies the MPLS TTL field into the IP header TTL field.

Figure 19-5 shows an example in which a packet arrives at PE1, unlabeled, with IP TTL 4. The callouts in the figure list the main actions for the three roles of the LSRs as described in the previous list.

Figure 19-5

Figure 19-5 Example of MPLS TTL Propagation

The term MPLS TTL propagation refers to the combined logic as shown in the figure. In effect, the MPLS routers propagate the same TTL value across the MPLS network—the same TTL values that would have occurred if MPLS was not used at all. As you might expect, a truly looping packet would eventually decrement to TTL 0 and be discarded. Additionally, a traceroute command would receive ICMP Time Exceeded messages from each of the routers in the figure, including the LSRs.

However, many engineers do not want hosts outside the MPLS network to have visibility into the MPLS network with the traceroute command. SPs typically implement MPLS networks to create Layer 3 WAN services, and the SP's customers sit outside the MPLS network. If the SP's customers can find the IP addresses of the MPLS LSRs, it may annoy the customer who wants to see only customer routers, and it may create a security exposure for the SP.

Cisco routers can be configured to disable MPLS TTL propagation. When disabled, the ingress E-LSR sets the MPLS header's TTL field to 255, and the egress E-LSR leaves the original IP header's TTL field unchanged. As a result, the entire MPLS network appears to be a single router hop from a TTL perspective, and the routers inside the MPLS network are not seen from the customer's traceroute command. Figure 19-6 shows the same example as in Figure 19-5 but now with MPLS TTL propagation disabled.

Figure 19-6

Figure 19-6 Example with MPLS TTL Propagation Disabled

Cisco supports the ability to disable MPLS TTL propagation for two classes of packets. Most MPLS SPs may want to disable TTL propagation for packets forwarded by customers, but allow TTL propagation for packets created by the SP's routers. Using Figure 19-5 again for an example, an SP engineer may be logged in to router PE1 in order to issue a traceroute command. PE1 can be configured to use TTL propagation for locally created packets, which allows the traceroute command issued from PE1 to list all the routers in the MPLS cloud. At the same time, PE1 can be configured to disable TTL propagation for "forwarded" packets (packets received from customers), preventing the customer from learning router IP addresses inside the MPLS network. (The command is no mpls ttl-propagation [local | forwarded].)

MPLS IP Forwarding: Control Plane

For pure IP routing to work using the FIB, routers must use control plane protocols, like routing protocols, to first populate the IP routing table and then populate the CEF FIB. Similarly, for MPLS forwarding to work, MPLS relies on control plane protocols to learn which MPLS labels to use to reach each IP prefix, and then populate both the FIB and the LFIB with the correct labels.

MPLS supports many different control plane protocols. However, an engineer's choice of which control plane protocol to use is mainly related to the MPLS application used, rather than any detailed comparison of the features of each control plane protocol. For example, MPLS VPNs use two control plane protocols: LDP and multiprotocol BGP (MP-BGP).

While multiple control plane protocols may be used for some MPLS applications, MPLS unicast IP forwarding uses an IGP and one MPLS-specific control plane protocol: LDP. This section, still focused on unicast IP forwarding, examines the details of label distribution using LDP.


For unicast IP routing, LDP simply advertises labels for each prefix listed in the IP routing table. To do so, LSRs use LDP to send messages to their neighbors, with the messages listing an IP prefix and corresponding label. By advertising an IP prefix and label, the LSR is essentially saying, "If you want to send packets to this IP prefix, send them to me with the MPLS label listed in the LDP update."

The LDP advertisement is triggered by a new IP route appearing in the unicast IP routing table. Upon learning a new route, the LSR allocates a label called a local label. The local label is the label that, on this one LSR, is used to represent the IP prefix just added to the routing table. An example makes the concept much clearer. Figure 19-7 shows a slightly expanded version of the MPLS network shown earlier in this chapter. The figure shows the basic process of what occurs when an LSR (PE2) learns about a new route (, triggering the process of advertising a new local label (39) using LDP.

Figure 19-7

Figure 19-7 LDP Process Triggered by New Unicast IP Route

The figure shows the following simple three-step process on PE2:

  1. PE2 learns a new unicast IP route, which appears in the IP routing table.
  2. PE2 allocates a new local label, which is a label not currently advertised by that LSR.
  3. PE2 uses LDP to advertise to neighbors the mapping between the IP prefix and label to all LDP neighbors.

    Although the process itself is simple, it is important to note that PE2 must now be ready to process labeled packets that arrive with the new local label value in it. For example, in Figure 19-7, PE2 needs to be ready to forward packets received with label 39; PE2 will forward the packets with the same next-hop and outgoing interface information learned in the IGP Update at step 1 in the figure.

    Although interesting, the process shown in Figure 19-7 shows only the advertisement of one segment of the full label switched path (LSP). An MPLS LSP is the combined set of labels that can be used to forward the packets correctly to the destination. For example, Figures 19-2 and 19-3 show a short LSP with label values 22 and 39, over which packets to subnet were sent. Figure 19-7 shows the advertisement of one part, or segment, of the LSP.

    The routers in the MPLS cloud must use some IP routing protocol to learn IP routes in order to trigger the LDP process of advertising labels. Typically, for MPLS unicast IP routing, you would use an IGP to learn all the IP routes, triggering the process of advertising the corresponding labels. For example, Figure 19-8 picks up the process where Figure 19-7 ended, with PE2 advertising a route for using EIGRP, causing other routers to then use LDP to advertise labels.

    Figure 19-8

    Figure 19-8 Completed Process of Advertising an Entire LSP

    The steps in the figure are as follows, using numbering that continues the numbering from Figure 19-7:

  4. PE2 uses EIGRP to advertise the route for to both P1 and P2.
  5. P1 reacts to the newly learned route by allocating a new local label (22) and using LDP to advertise the new prefix ( to label (20) mapping. Note that P1 advertises this label to all its neighbors.
  6. P2 also reacts to the newly learned route by allocating a new local label (86) and using LDP to advertise the new prefix ( to label (86) mapping. P2 advertises this label to all its neighbors.

This same process occurs on each LSR, for each route in the LSR's routing table: each time an LSR learns a new route, the LSR allocates a new local label and then advertises the label and prefix mapping to all its neighbors—even when it is obvious that advertising the label may not be useful. For example, in Figure 19-8, P2 advertises a label for back to router PE2—not terribly useful, but it is how frame-mode MPLS LSRs work.

Once the routers have all learned about a prefix using the IGP protocol, and LDP has advertised label/prefix mappings (bindings) to all other neighboring LSRs, each LSR has enough information with which to label switch packets from ingress E-LSR to egress E-LSR. For example, the same data plane process shown in Figures 19-2 and 19-3 could occur when PE1 receives an unlabeled packet destined to an address in In fact, the labels advertised in Figures 19-7 and 19-8 purposefully match the earlier MPLS data plane figures (19-2 and 19-3). However, to complete the full process, you need to understand a bit more about what occurs inside an individual router, in particular, a data structure called the MPLS Label Information Base (LIB).

The MPLS Label Information Base Feeding the FIB and LFIB

LSRs store labels and related information inside a data structure called LIB. The LIB essentially holds all the labels and associated information that could possibly be used to forward packets. However, each LSR must choose the best label and outgoing interface to actually use and then populate that information into the FIB and the LFIB. As a result, the FIB and LFIB contain labels only for the currently used best LSP segment, while the LIB contains all labels known to the LSR, whether the label is currently used for forwarding or not.

To make a decision about the best label to use, LSRs rely on the routing protocol's decision about the best route. By relying on the routing protocol, the LSRs can take advantage of the routing protocol's loop-prevention features and react to the routing protocol's choice for new routes when convergence occurs. In short, an LSR makes the following decision:

  • For each route in the routing table, find the corresponding label information in the LIB, based on the outgoing interface and next-hop router listed in the route. Add the corresponding label information to the FIB and LIB.

To better understand how an LSR adds information to the FIB and LFIB, this section continues the same example as used throughout the chapter so far. At this point, it is useful to examine the output of some show commands, but first, you need a little more detail about the example network and the configuration. Figure 19-9 repeats the same example network used in earlier figures in this chapter, with IP address and interface details included. The figure also notes on which interfaces MPLS has been enabled (dashed lines) and on which interfaces MPLS has not been enabled (solid lines).

Figure 19-9

Figure 19-9 Example Network for Seeing the LIB, FIB, and LFIB

The configuration of MPLS unicast IP routing is relatively simple. In this case, all six routers use EIGRP, advertising all subnets. The four LSRs enable MPLS globally and on the links noted with dashed lines in the figure. To enable MPLS for simple unicast IP forwarding, as has been described so far in this chapter, an LSR simply needs to enable CEF, globally enable MPLS, and enable MPLS on each desired interface. Also, because IOS uses TDP instead of LDP by default, this configuration overrides the default to use LDP. Example 19-1 shows a sample generic configuration.

Example 19-1. MPLS Configuration on LSRs for Unicast IP Support

! The first three commands enable CEF and MPLS globally, and
! use LDP instead of TDP
ip cef
mpls ip
mpls label protocol ldp
! Repeat the next two lines for each MPLS-enabled interface
interface type x/y/z
 mpls ip
! Normal EIGRP configuration next - would be configured for all interfaces
router eigrp 1
 network ...

To see how LSRs populate the FIB and LFIB, consider subnet again, and think about MPLS from router PE1's perspective. PE1 has learned a route for with EIGRP. PE1 has also learned (using LDP) about two labels that PE1 can use when forwarding packets destined for—one label learned from neighboring LSR P1, and the other from neighboring LSR P2. Example 19-2 highlights these details. Note that the labels do match the figures and examples used earlier in this chapter.

Example 19-2. PE1's LIB and IP Routing Table

PE1# show ip route
Routing entry for, 1 known subnets
  Redistributing via eigrp 1
D [90/2812416] via, 00:44:16, Serial0/0/1
PE1# show mpls ldp bindings 24
  tib entry:, rev 28
        local binding:  tag: 24
        remote binding: tsr:, tag: 22
        remote binding: tsr:, tag: 86

Example 19-2 shows some mundane information and a few particularly interesting points. First, the show ip route command does not list any new or different information for MPLS, but it is useful to note that PE1's best route to is through P1. The show ip mpls bindings 24 command lists the LIB entries from Note that two remote bindings are listed—one from P1 (LDP ID and one from P2 (LDP ID This command also lists the local binding, which is the label that PE1 allocated and advertised to its neighbors.

From Example 19-2, you could anticipate that PE1 will use a label value of 22, and an outgoing interface of S0/0/1, when forwarding packets to To see the details of how PE1 arrives at that conclusion, consider the linkages shown in Figure 19-10.

Figure 19-10

Figure 19-10 PE1's Process to Determine the Outgoing Label

The figure shows the following steps:

  1. The routing table entry to lists a next-hop IP address of PE1 compares that next-hop information to the list of interface IP addresses on each LDP peer and finds the LDP neighbor who has IP address
  2. That same stanza of the show mpls ldp neighbor command output identifies the LDP ID (LID) of this peer, namely
  3. PE1 notes that for that same prefix (, the LIB contains one local label and two remote labels.
  4. Among the known labels listed for prefix, one was learned from a neighbor whose LID is, with label (tag) value of 22.

As a result of these steps, PE1 knows it should use outgoing interface S0/1/0, with label 22, when forwarding packets to subnet

Examples of FIB and LFIB Entries

As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the actual packet-forwarding process does not use the IP routing table (RIB) or the LIB—instead, the FIB is used to forward packets that arrived unlabeled, and the LFIB is used to forward packets that arrived already labeled. This section correlates the information in show commands to the conceptual view of the FIB and LFIB data structures shown back in Figure 19-3.

First, again focusing on PE1, PE1 simply adds information to the FIB stating that PE1 should impose an MPLS header, with label value 22. PE1 also populates the LFIB, with an entry for, using that same label value of 22 and an outgoing interface of S0/1/0. Example 19-3 shows the contents of the two tables.

Example 19-3. FIB and LFIB Entries for on PE1

! This next command shows the FIB entry, which includes the local tag (24), the
! tags (label) imposed, and outgoing interface.
PE1# show ip cef, version 65, epoch 0, cached adjacency to Serial0/0/1
0 packets, 0 bytes
  tag information set
    local tag: 24
    fast tag rewrite with Se0/0/1, point2point, tags imposed: {22}
  via, Serial0/0/1, 0 dependencies
    next hop, Serial0/0/1
    valid cached adjacency
    tag rewrite with Se0/0/1, point2point, tags imposed: {22}
! The next command lists the LFIB entry for, listing the same basic
! information--the local tag, the outgoing tag (label), and outgoing interface.
PE1# show mpls forwarding-table 24
Local  Outgoing   Prefix               Bytes tag  Outgoing   Next Hop
tag    tag or VC  or Tunnel Id         switched   interface
24     22          0          Se0/0/1    point2point

In the data plane example of Figure 19-3, PE1 received an unlabeled packet and forwarded the packet to P1, with label 22. The information in the top part of Example 19-3, showing the FIB, matches that same logic, stating that a tag (label) value of 22 will be imposed by PE1.

Next, examine the LFIB at P1 as shown in Example 19-4. As shown in Figure 19-3, P1 swaps the incoming label of 22 with outgoing label 39. For perspective, the example also includes the LIB entries for

Example 19-4. FIB and LFIB Entries for on P1

P1# show mpls forwarding-table 24
Local  Outgoing    Prefix            Bytes tag  Outgoing   Next Hop
tag    tag or VC   or Tunnel Id      switched   interface
22     39       0          Se0/1/0   point2point
P1# show mpls ldp bindings 24
  tib entry:, rev 30
       local binding:  tag: 22
        remote binding: tsr:, tag: 24
        remote binding: tsr:, tag: 86
        remote binding: tsr:, tag: 39

The highlighted line in the output of the show mpls forwarding-table command lists the incoming label (22 in this case) and the outgoing label (39). Note that the incoming label is shown under the heading "local tag," meaning that label (tag) 22 was locally allocated by this router (P1) and advertised to other routers using LDP, as shown in Figure 19-8. P1 originally allocated and advertised label 22 to tell neighboring routers to forward packets destined to to P1, with a label of 22. P1 knows that if it receives a packet with label 22, P1 should indeed swap the labels, forwarding the packet out S0/1/0 with a label of 39.

The LIB entries in Example 19-4 also reinforce the concept that (frame-mode) MPLS LSRs retain all learned labels in their LIBs, but only the currently used labels in the LFIB. The LIB lists P1's local label (22), and the three remote labels learned from P1's three LDP neighbors. To create the LFIB entry, P1 used the same kind of logic shown in Figure 19-10 to correlate the information in the routing table and LIB and choose a label value of 39 and outgoing interface S0/1/0 to forward packets to

To see an example of the pop action, consider the LFIB for PE2, as shown in Example 19-5. When PE2 receives a labeled packet from P1 (label 39), PE2 will try to use its LFIB to forward the packet. When populating the LFIB, PE2 can easily realize that PE2 should pop the label and forward an unlabeled packet out its Fa0/1 interface. Those reasons include the fact that PE2 did not enable MPLS on Fa0/1 and that PE2 has not learned any labels from CE2. Example 19-5 shows the outgoing tag as "untagged."

Example 19-5. FIB and LFIB Entries for on PE2

PE2# show mpls forwarding-table 24
Local  Outgoing    Prefix            Bytes tag  Outgoing  Next Hop
tag    tag or VC   or Tunnel Id      switched   interface
39    Untagged       0          Fa0/1

Note that while the text in Example 19-5 only showed LFIB entries, every LSR builds the appropriate FIB and LFIB entries for each prefix, in anticipation of receiving both unlabeled and labeled packets.

Label Distribution Protocol Reference

Before wrapping up the coverage of basic MPLS unicast IP forwarding, you should know a few more details about LDP itself. So far, this chapter has shown what LDP does, but it has not provided much information about how LDP accomplishes its tasks. This section hits the main concepts and summarizes the rest.

LDP uses a Hello feature to discover LDP neighbors and to determine to what IP address the ensuing TCP connection should be made. LDP multicasts the Hellos to IP address, using UDP port number 646 for LDP (TDP uses UDP port 711). The Hellos list each LSR's LDP ID (LID), which consists of a 32-bit dotted-decimal number and a 2-byte label space number. (For frame-based MPLS, the label space number is 0.) An LSR can optionally list a transport address in the Hello message, which is the IP address that the LSR wants to use for any LDP TCP connections. If a router does not advertise a transport address, other routers will use the IP address that is the first 4 bytes of the LDP ID for the TCP connections.

After discovering neighbors via an LDP Hello message, LDP neighbors form a TCP connection to each neighbor, again using port 646 (TDP 711). Because the TCP connection uses unicast addresses—either the neighbor's advertised transport address or the address in the LID—these addresses must be reachable according to the IP routing table. Once the TCP connection is up, each router advertises all of its bindings of local labels and prefixes.

Cisco routers choose the IP address in the LDP ID just like the OSPF router ID. LDP chooses the IP address to use as part of its LID based on the exact same logic as OSPF, as summarized in Table 19-4, along with other details.

Table 19-4. LDP Reference

LDP Feature

LDP Implementation

Transport protocols

UDP (Hellos), TCP (updates)

Port numbers

646 (LDP), 711 (TDP)

Hello destination address

Who initiates TCP connection

Highest LDP ID

TCP connection uses this address

Transport IP address (if configured), or LDP ID if no transport address is configured

LDP ID determined by these rules, in order or precedence


Highest IP address of an up/up loopback when LDP comes up

Highest IP address of an up/up non-loopback when LDP comes up

This concludes the coverage of MPLS unicast IP forwarding for this chapter. Next, the chapter examines one of the more popular uses of MPLS, which happens to use unicast IP forwarding: MPLS VPNs.

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