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Foundation Topics

Switch Port Aggregation with EtherChannel


As discussed in Chapter 3, "Switch Port Configuration," switches can use Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit, or 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports to scale link speeds by a factor of ten. Cisco offers another method of scaling link bandwidth by aggregating, or bundling, parallel links, termed the EtherChannel technology. Two to eight links of either Fast Ethernet (FE), Gigabit Ethernet (GE), or 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10GE) are bundled as one logical link of Fast EtherChannel (FEC), Gigabit EtherChannel (GEC), or 10-Gigabit Etherchannel (10GEC), respectively. This bundle provides a full-duplex bandwidth of up to 1600 Mbps (eight links of Fast Ethernet), 16 Gbps (eight links of Gigabit Ethernet), or 160 Gbps (eight links of 10-Gigabit Ethernet).

This also provides an easy means to "grow," or expand, a link's capacity between two switches, without having to continually purchase hardware for the next magnitude of throughput. For example, a single Fast Ethernet link (200 Mbps throughput) can be incrementally expanded up to eight Fast Ethernet links (1600 Mbps) as a single Fast EtherChannel. If the traffic load grows beyond that, the growth process can begin again with a single Gigabit Ethernet link (2 Gbps throughput), which can be expanded up to eight Gigabit Ethernet links as a Gigabit EtherChannel (16 Gbps). The process repeats again by moving to a single 10-Gigabit Ethernet link, and so on.

Ordinarily, having multiple or parallel links between switches creates the possibility of bridging loops, an undesirable condition. EtherChannel avoids this situation by bundling parallel links into a single, logical link, which can act as either an access or a trunk link. Switches or devices on each end of the EtherChannel link must understand and use the EtherChannel technology for proper operation.

Although an EtherChannel link is seen as a single logical link, the link doesn't necessarily have an inherent total bandwidth equal to the sum of its component physical links. For example, suppose that an FEC link is made up of four full-duplex, 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet links. Although it is possible for the FEC link to carry a total throughput of 800 Mbps (if each link becomes fully loaded), the single resulting FEC bundle does not operate at this speed.

Instead, traffic is distributed across the individual links within the EtherChannel. Each of these links operates at its inherent speed (200 Mbps full duplex for FE) but carries only the frames placed on it by the EtherChannel hardware. If one link within the bundle is favored by the load-distribution algorithm, that link will carry a disproportionate amount of traffic. In other words, the load isn't always distributed equally among the individual links. The load-balancing process is explained further in the next section.

EtherChannel also provides redundancy with several bundled physical links. If one of the links within the bundle fails, traffic sent through that link automatically is moved to an adjacent link. Failover occurs in less than a few milliseconds and is transparent to the end user. As more links fail, more traffic is moved to further adjacent links. Likewise, as links are restored, the load automatically is redistributed among the active links.

Bundling Ports with EtherChannel

EtherChannel bundles can consist of up to eight physical ports of the same Ethernet media type and speed. Some configuration restrictions exist to ensure that only similarly configured links are bundled.

Generally, all bundled ports first must belong to the same VLAN. If used as a trunk, bundled ports must be in trunking mode, have the same native VLAN, and pass the same set of VLANs. Each of the ports should have the same speed and duplex settings before being bundled. Bundled ports also must be configured with identical spanning-tree settings.

Distributing Traffic in EtherChannel


Traffic in an EtherChannel is distributed across the individual bundled links in a deterministic fashion; however, the load is not necessarily balanced equally across all the links. Instead, frames are forwarded on a specific link as a result of a hashing algorithm. The algorithm can use source IP address, destination IP address, or a combination of source and destination IP addresses, source and destination MAC addresses, or TCP/UDP port numbers. The hash algorithm computes a binary pattern that selects a link number in the bundle to carry each frame.

If only one address or port number is hashed, a switch forwards each frame by using one or more low-order bits of the hash value as an index into the bundled links. If two addresses or port numbers are hashed, a switch performs an exclusive-OR (XOR) operation on one or more low-order bits of the addresses or TCP/UDP port numbers as an index into the bundled links.

For example, an EtherChannel consisting of two links bundled together requires a 1-bit index. If the index is 0, link 0 is selected; if the index is 1, link 1 is used. Either the lowest-order address bit or the XOR of the last bit of the addresses in the frame is used as the index. A four-link bundle uses a hash of the last 2 bits. Likewise, an eight-link bundle uses a hash of the last 3 bits. The hashing operation's outcome selects the EtherChannel's outbound link. Table 6-2 shows the results of an XOR on a two-link bundle, using the source and destination addresses.

Table 6-2. Frame Distribution on a Two-Link EtherChannel

Binary Address

Two-Link EtherChannel XOR and Link Number

Addr1: ... xxxxxxx0

Addr2: ... xxxxxxx0

... xxxxxxx0: Use link 0

Addr1: ... xxxxxxx0

Addr2: ... xxxxxxx1

... xxxxxxx1: Use link 1

Addr1: ... xxxxxxx1

Addr2: ... xxxxxxx0

... xxxxxxx1: Use link 1

Addr1: ... xxxxxxx1

Addr2: ... xxxxxxx1

... xxxxxxx0: Use link 0

The XOR operation is performed independently on each bit position in the address value. If the two address values have the same bit value, the XOR result is always 0. If the two address bits differ, the XOR result is always 1. In this way, frames can be distributed statistically among the links with the assumption that MAC or IP addresses themselves are distributed statistically throughout the network. In a four-link EtherChannel, the XOR is performed on the lower 2 bits of the address values, resulting in a 2-bit XOR value (each bit is computed separately) or a link number from 0 to 3.

As an example, consider a packet being sent from IP address to Because EtherChannels can be built from two to eight individual links, only the rightmost (least-significant) 3 bits are needed as a link index. From the source and destination addresses, these bits are 001 (1) and 110 (6), respectively. For a two-link EtherChannel, a 1-bit XOR is performed on the rightmost address bit: 1 XOR 0 = 1, causing Link 1 in the bundle to be used. A four-link EtherChannel produces a 2-bit XOR: 01 XOR 10 = 11, causing Link 3 in the bundle to be used. Finally, an eight-link EtherChannel requires a 3-bit XOR: 001 XOR 110 = 111, where Link 7 in the bundle is selected.

A conversation between two devices always is sent through the same EtherChannel link because the two endpoint addresses stay the same. However, when a device talks to several other devices, chances are that the destination addresses are distributed equally with 0s and 1s in the last bit (even and odd address values). This causes the frames to be distributed across the EtherChannel links.

Note that the load distribution is still proportional to the volume of traffic passing between pairs of hosts or link indexes. For example, suppose that there are two pairs of hosts talking across a two-link channel, and each pair of addresses results in a unique link index. Frames from one pair of hosts always travel over one link in the channel, whereas frames from the other pair travel over the other link. The links are both being used as a result of the hash algorithm, so the load is being distributed across every link in the channel.

However, if one pair of hosts has a much greater volume of traffic than the other pair, one link in the channel will be used much more than the other. This still can create a load imbalance. To remedy this condition, you should consider other methods of hashing algorithms for the channel. For example, a method that combines the source and destination addresses along with UDP or TCP port numbers in a single XOR operation can distribute traffic much differently. Then, packets are placed on links within the bundle based on the applications (port numbers) used within conversations between two hosts. The possible hashing methods are discussed in the following section.

Configuring EtherChannel Load Balancing

The hashing operation can be performed on either MAC or IP addresses and can be based solely on source or destination addresses, or both. Use the following command to configure frame distribution for all EtherChannel switch links:

Switch(config)# port-channel load-balance method

Notice that the load-balancing method is set with a global configuration command. You must set the method globally for the switch, not on a per-port basis. Table 6-3 lists the possible values for the method variable, along with the hashing operation and some sample supporting switch models.


Table 6-3. Types of EtherChannel Load-Balancing Methods

method Value

Hash Input

Hash Operation

Switch Model


Source IP address


All models


Destination IP address


All models


Source and destination IP address


All models


Source MAC address


All models


Destination MAC address


All models


Source and destination MAC


All models


Source port number


6500, 4500


Destination port number


6500, 4500


Source and destination port


6500, 4500

The default configuration is to use source XOR destination IP addresses, or the src-dst-ip method. The default for the Catalyst 2970 and 3560 is src-mac for Layer 2 switching. If Layer 3 switching is used on the EtherChannel, the src-dst-ip method will always be used, even though it is not configurable.

Normally, the default action should result in a statistical distribution of frames; however, you should determine whether the EtherChannel is imbalanced according to the traffic patterns present. For example, if a single server is receiving most of the traffic on an EtherChannel, the server's address (the destination IP address) always will remain constant in the many conversations. This can cause one link to be overused if the destination IP address is used as a component of a load-balancing method. In the case of a four-link EtherChannel, perhaps two of the four links are overused. Configuring the use of MAC addresses, or only the source IP addresses, might cause the distribution to be more balanced across all the bundled links.

In some applications, EtherChannel traffic might consist of protocols other than IP. For example, IPX or SNA frames might be switched along with IP. Non-IP protocols need to be distributed according to MAC addresses because IP addresses are not applicable. Here, the switch should be configured to use MAC addresses instead of the IP default.

You should choose the load-balancing method that provides the greatest distribution or variety when the channel links are indexed. Also consider the type of addressing that is being used on the network. If most of the traffic is IP, it might make sense to load balance according to IP addresses or TCP/UDP port numbers.

But if IP load balancing is being used, what happens to non-IP frames? If a frame can't meet the load-balancing criteria, the switch automatically falls back to the "next lowest" method. With Ethernet, MAC addresses must always be present, so the switch distributes those frames according to their MAC addresses.

A switch also provides some inherent protection against bridging loops with EtherChannels. When ports are bundled into an EtherChannel, no inbound (received) broadcasts and multicasts are sent back out over any of the remaining ports in the channel. Outbound broadcast and multicast frames are load-balanced like any other: The broadcast or multicast address becomes part of the hashing calculation to choose an outbound channel link.

EtherChannel Negotiation Protocols

EtherChannels can be negotiated between two switches to provide some dynamic link configuration. Two protocols are available to negotiate bundled links in Catalyst switches. The Port Aggregation Protocol (PAgP) is a Cisco-proprietary solution, and the Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) is standards based. Table 6-4 summarizes the negotiation protocols and their operation.

Table 6-4. EtherChannel Negotiation Protocols

Negotiation Mode

Negotiation Packets Sent?







All ports channeling




Waits to channel until asked




Actively asks to form a channel

Port Aggregation Protocol


To provide automatic EtherChannel configuration and negotiation between switches, Cisco developed the Port Aggregation Protocol. PAgP packets are exchanged between switches over EtherChannel-capable ports. Neighbors are identified and port group capabilities are learned and compared with local switch capabilities. Ports that have the same neighbor device ID and port group capability are bundled together as a bidirectional, point-to-point EtherChannel link.

PAgP forms an EtherChannel only on ports that are configured for either identical static VLANs or trunking. PAgP also dynamically modifies parameters of the EtherChannel if one of the bundled ports is modified. For example, if the configured VLAN, speed, or duplex mode of a port in an established bundle is changed, PAgP reconfigures that parameter for all ports in the bundle.

PAgP can be configured in active mode (desirable), in which a switch actively asks a farend switch to negotiate an EtherChannel, or in passive mode (auto, the default), in which a switch negotiates an EtherChannel only if the far end initiates it.

Link Aggregation Control Protocol


LACP is a standards-based alternative to PAgP, defined in IEEE 802.3ad (also known as IEEE 802.3 Clause 43, "Link Aggregation"). LACP packets are exchanged between switches over EtherChannel-capable ports. As with PAgP, neighbors are identified and port group capabilities are learned and compared with local switch capabilities. However, LACP also assigns roles to the EtherChannel's endpoints.

The switch with the lowest system priority (a 2-byte priority value followed by a 6-byte switch MAC address) is allowed to make decisions about what ports actively are participating in the EtherChannel at a given time.

Ports are selected and become active according to their port priority value (a 2-byte priority followed by a 2-byte port number), where a low value indicates a higher priority. A set of up to 16 potential links can be defined for each EtherChannel. Through LACP, a switch selects up to eight of these having the lowest port priorities as active EtherChannel links at any given time. The other links are placed in a standby state and will be enabled in the EtherChannel if one of the active links goes down.

Like PAgP, LACP can be configured in active mode (active), in which a switch actively asks a far-end switch to negotiate an EtherChannel, or in passive mode (passive), in which a switch negotiates an EtherChannel only if the far end initiates it.

EtherChannel Configuration

For each EtherChannel on a switch, you must choose the EtherChannel negotiation protocol and assign individual switch ports to the EtherChannel. Both PAgP- and LACP-negotiated EtherChannels are described in the following sections. You also can configure an EtherChannel to use the on mode, which unconditionally bundles the links. In this case, neither PAgP nor LACP packets are sent or received.

As ports are configured to be members of an EtherChannel, the switch automatically creates a logical port-channel interface. This interface represents the channel as a whole.

Configuring a PAgP EtherChannel


To configure switch ports for PAgP negotiation (the default), use the following commands:

Switch(config)# interface type mod/num
Switch(config-if)# channel-protocol pagp
Switch(config-if)# channel-group number mode {on | {{auto | desirable}

On all Cisco IOS–based Catalyst models, you can select between PAgP and LACP as a channel-negotiation protocol. Some older models, however, offer only PAgP, so the channel-protocol command is not available. Each interface that will be included in a single EtherChannel bundle must be configured and assigned to the same unique channel group number (1 to 64). Channel negotiation must be set to on (unconditionally channel, no PAgP negotiation), auto (passively listen and wait to be asked), or desirable (actively ask).

By default, PAgP operates in silent submode with the desirable and auto modes, and allows ports to be added to an EtherChannel even if the other end of the link is silent and never transmits PAgP packets. This might seem to go against the idea of PAgP, in which two endpoints are supposed to negotiate a channel. After all, how can two switches negotiate anything if no PAgP packets are received?

The key is in the phrase "if the other end is silent." The silent submode listens for any PAgP packets from the far end, looking to negotiate a channel. If none is received, silent submode assumes that a channel should be built anyway, so no more PAgP packets are expected from the far end.

This allows a switch to form an EtherChannel with a device such as a file server or a network analyzer that doesn't participate in PAgP. In the case of a network analyzer connected to the far end, you also might want to see the PAgP packets generated by the switch, as if you were using a normal PAgP EtherChannel.

If you expect a PAgP-capable switch to be on the far end, you should add the non-silent keyword to the desirable or auto mode. This requires each port to receive PAgP packets before adding them to a channel. If PAgP isn't heard on an active port, the port remains in the up state, but PAgP reports to the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) that the port is down.

As an example of PAgP configuration, suppose that you want a switch to use an EtherChannel load-balancing hash of both source and destination port numbers. A Gigabit EtherChannel will be built from interfaces Gigabit Ethernet 3/1 through 3/4, with the switch actively negotiating a channel. The switch should not wait to listen for silent partners. You can use the following configuration commands to accomplish this:

Switch(config)# port-channel load-balance src-dst-port
Switch(config)# interface range gig 3/1 – 4
Switch(config-if)# channel-protocol pagp
Switch(config-if)# channel-group 1 mode desirable non-silent

Configuring a LACP EtherChannel

To configure switch ports for LACP negotiation, use the following commands:

Switch(config)# lacp system-priority priority
Switch(config)# interface type mod/num
Switch(config-if)# channel-protocol lacp
Switch(config-if)# channel-group number mode {on | passive | active}
Switch(config-if)# lacp port-priority priority

First, the switch should have its LACP system priority defined (1 to 65,535; default 32,768). If desired, one switch should be assigned a lower system priority than the other so that it can make decisions about the EtherChannel's makeup. Otherwise, both switches will have the same system priority (32,768), and the one with the lower MAC address will become the decision maker.

Each interface included in a single EtherChannel bundle must be assigned to the same unique channel group number (1 to 64). Channel negotiation must be set to on (unconditionally channel, no LACP negotiation), passive (passively listen and wait to be asked), or active (actively ask).

You can configure more interfaces in the channel group number than are allowed to be active in the channel. This prepares extra standby interfaces to replace failed active ones. Use the lacp port-priority command to configure a lower port priority (1 to 65,535; default 32,768) for any interfaces that must be active, and a higher priority for interfaces that might be held in the standby state. Otherwise, just use the default scenario, in which all ports default to 32,768 and the lower port numbers (in interface number order) are used to select the active ports.

As an example of LACP configuration, suppose that you want to configure a switch to negotiate a Gigabit EtherChannel using interfaces Gigabit Ethernet 2/1 through 2/4 and 3/1 through 3/4. Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet 2/5 through 2/8 and 3/5 through 3/8 are also available, so these can be used as standby links to replace failed links in the channel. This switch actively should negotiate the channel and should be the decision maker about the channel operation.

You can use the following configuration commands to accomplish this:

Switch(config)# lacp system-priority 100
Switch(config)# interface range gig 2/1 – 4 , gig 3/1 – 4
Switch(config-if)# channel-protocol lacp
Switch(config-if)# channel-group 1 mode active
Switch(config-if)# lacp port-priority 100
Switch(config-if)# exit
Switch(config)# interface range gig 2/5 – 8 , gig 3/5 – 8
Switch(config-if)# channel-protocol lacp
Switch(config-if)# channel-group 1 mode active

Notice that interfaces Gigabit Ethernet 2/5-8 and 3/5-8 have been left to their default port priorities of 32,768. This is higher than the others, which were configured for 100, so they will be held as standby interfaces.

Troubleshooting an EtherChannel


If you find that an EtherChannel is having problems, remember that the whole concept is based on consistent configurations on both ends of the channel. Here are some reminders about EtherChannel operation and interaction:

  • EtherChannel on mode does not send or receive PAgP or LACP packets. Therefore, both ends should be set to on mode before the channel can form.
  • EtherChannel desirable (PAgP) or active (LACP) mode attempts to ask the far end to bring up a channel. Therefore, the other end must be set to either desirable or auto mode.
  • EtherChannel auto (PAgP) or passive (LACP) mode participates in the channel protocol, but only if the far end asks for participation. Therefore, two switches in the auto or passive mode will not form an EtherChannel.
  • PAgP desirable and auto modes default to the silent submode, in which no PAgP packets are expected from the far end. If ports are set to nonsilent submode, PAgP packets must be received before a channel will form.

First, verify the EtherChannel state with the show etherchannel summary command. Each port in the channel is shown, along with flags indicating the port's state, as shown in Example 6-1.

Example 6-1. show etherchannel summary Command Output

Switch# show etherchannel summary
Flags:  D - down         P - in port-channel
         I - stand-alone s - suspended
         H - Hot-standby  (LACP only)
         R - Layer3      S - Layer2
         u - unsuitable for bundling
         U - in use      f - failed to allocate aggregator
         d - default port
Number of channel-groups in use: 1
Number of aggregators:            1

Group  Port-channel  Protocol     Ports

1      Po1(SU)          PAgP              Fa0/41(P)  Fa0/42(P)  Fa0/43  Fa0/44(P)
                                 Fa0/45(P)  Fa0/46(P)  Fa0/47(P)  Fa0/48(P)

The status of the port channel shows the EtherChannel logical interface as a whole. This should show SU (Layer 2 channel, in use) if the channel is operational. You also can examine the status of each port within the channel. Notice that most of the channel ports have flags (P), indicating that they are active in the port-channel. One port shows because it is physically not connected or down. If a port is connected but not bundled in the channel, it will have an independent, or (I), flag.

You can verify the channel negotiation mode with the show etherchannel port command, as shown in Example 6-2. The local switch is shown using desirable mode with PAgP (Desirable-Sl is desirable silent mode). Notice that you also can see the far end's negotiation mode under the Partner Flags heading, as A, or auto mode.

Example 6-2. show etherchannel port Command Output

Switch# show etherchannel port
                  Channel-group listing:
Group: 1
                  Ports in the group:
Port: Fa0/41

Port state    = Up Mstr In-Bndl
Channel group = 1           Mode = Desirable-Sl     Gcchange = 0
Port-channel  = Po1         GC   = 0x00010001          Pseudo port-channel = Po1
Port index    = 0           Load = 0x00        Protocol =   PAgP

Flags:  S - Device is sending Slow hello.  C - Device is in Consistent state.
        A - Device is in Auto mode.        P - Device learns on physical port.
        d - PAgP is down.
Timers: H - Hello timer is running.        Q - Quit timer is running.
        S - Switching timer is running.    I - Interface timer is running.

Local information:
                                  Hello    Partner  PAgP       Learning  Group
Port      Flags State   Timers    Interval Count    Priority   Method    Ifindex
Fa0/41    SC    U6/S7   H         30s      1        128        Any       55

Partner's information:

          Partner                Partner           Partner         Partner Group
Port      Name                   Device ID         Port       Age  Flags   Cap.

Fa0/41    FarEnd                 00d0.5849.4100   3/1         19s SAC     11

Age of the port in the current state: 00d:08h:05m:28s

Within a switch, an EtherChannel cannot form unless each of the component or member ports is configured consistently. Each must have the same switch mode (access or trunk), native VLAN, trunked VLANs, port speed, port duplex mode, and so on.

You can display a port's configuration by looking at the show running-config interface type mod/ num output. Also, the show interface type mod/num etherchannel shows all active EtherChannel parameters for a single port. If you configure a port inconsistently with others for an EtherChannel, you see error messages from the switch.

Some messages from the switch might look like errors but are part of the normal EtherChannel process. For example, as a new port is configured as a member of an existing EtherChannel, you might see this message:

4d00h: %EC-5-L3DONTBNDL2: FastEthernet0/2 suspended: incompatible partner port
  with FastEthernet0/1

When the port first is added to the EtherChannel, it is incompatible because the STP runs on the channel and the new port. After STP takes the new port through its progression of states, the port is automatically added into the EtherChannel.

Other messages do indicate a port-compatibility error. In these cases, the cause of the error is shown. For example, the following message tells that Fast Ethernet0/3 has a different duplex mode than the other ports in the EtherChannel:

4d00h: %EC-5-CANNOT_BUNDLE2: FastEthernet0/3 is not compatible with
  FastEthernet0/1 and will be suspended (duplex of Fa0/3 is full, Fa0/1 is half)

Finally, you can verify the EtherChannel load-balancing or hashing algorithm with the show etherchannel load-balance command. Remember that the switches on either end of an EtherChannel can have different load-balancing methods. The only drawback to this is that the load balancing will be asymmetric in the two directions across the channel.

Table 6-5 lists the commands useful for verifying or troubleshooting EtherChannel operation.

Table 6-5. EtherChannel Troubleshooting Commands

Display Function

Command Syntax

Current EtherChannel status of each member port

show etherchannel summary

show etherchannel port

Time stamps of EtherChannel changes

show etherchannel port-channel

Detailed status about each EtherChannel component

show etherchannel detail

Load-balancing hashing algorithm

show etherchannel load-balance

Load-balancing port index used by hashing algorithm

show etherchannel port-channel

EtherChannel neighbors on each port

show {pagp | lacp} neighbor

LACP system ID

show lacp sys-id

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