Host and Router Routing

Host Routing

When a host using a routable protocol wants to send data to another host, it must first obtain the internetwork address of the destination. The destination internetwork address is obtained through an address resolution process whereby the sending host obtains the destination internetwork address by referencing its logical name. For example, TCP/IP hosts use Domain Name System (DNS) name resolution to resolve a DNS domain name to an IP address. Novell NetWare workstations query the bindery (a database stored on a NetWare server) or directory tree of their default server to resolve a server name to its Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX) internetwork address.

Once the destination internetwork address has been obtained, the source network and the destination network addresses are compared. When the source and destination hosts are on the same network, the packets are sent directly to the destination host by the source without the use of a router (see Figure 1.3). The source host sends the packet to the destination by addressing the packet to the destination's physical address. This is known as a direct delivery. In a direct delivery, the destination internetwork address and the destination physical address are for the same end system.

Conversely, when the source and destination hosts are on different networks, the packets to the destination cannot be directly delivered by the source. Instead, the source delivers them to an intermediate router (see Figure 1.3) by addressing the packet to the router's physical address. This is known as an indirect delivery. In an indirect delivery, the destination internetwork address and the destination physical address are not for the same end system.

During an indirect delivery, the sending host forwards the packet to a router on its network by determining the router corresponding to the first hop or by discovering the entire path from the source to the destination.


Figure 1.3 Host Routing Process

Host Determination of the First Hop

IP and IPX sending hosts determine the physical address of the first hop router using one of the following processes:

Host routing table    A routing table on the host yields the forwarding address of the router to be used to reach the desired destination network ID. An example is the IP routing table on a Microsoft TCP/IP host. 

Dynamic updates of host routing table    TCP/IP has a facility to dynamically update the host routing table with better routes, as packets are sent to destinations. The Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) Redirect message is sent by an IP router to a sending host informing it of a better route to a destination host. The better route becomes a host route in the routing table. TCP/IP for Windows 2000 supports the dynamic update of the IP routing table based on the receipt of the ICMP Redirect message.

Eavesdropping    TCP/IP hosts have the ability to listen to the routing protocol traffic used by routers. This is known as eavesdropping or wiretapping. Eavesdropping hosts have the same routing information as the routers. An example of eavesdropping is Silent RIP. Silent RIP is the ability of a TCP/IP host to listen to RIP for IP routing traffic exchanged by RIP routers and update its routing table. Microsoft® Windows NT® Server 3.51 and Service Pack 2 and later, Microsoft® Windows NT® Workstation 4.0 and Service Pack 4 and later support Silent RIP.

Default route    To simplify the configuration of hosts and routers and to reduce the overhead associated with each host having routes for all the networks in the internetwork, a sending host is configured with a single default route. The default route and its forwarding address to the default router are used when no other routes to the destination network are found. The Default Gateway for TCP/IP hosts is a default router.

Querying the network for the best route    For hosts without a routing table or a configured default router, the sending host can determine the physical address of the first hop router by querying the routers on the network. A query for the best route to a specified destination network address is sent as a broadcast or multicast packet. The responses from the routers are analyzed by the sending host, and the best router is chosen. An example of this querying process is the RIP GetLocalTarget message sent by an IPX host. The Routing Information Protocol (RIP) GetLocalTarget message contains a desired destination IPX network ID. IPX routers on the sending host's network that can reach the destination IPX network ID send a response to the sending host. Based on the RIP responses from the local routers, the sending host chooses the best router to forward the IPX packet.

Host Determination of the Entire Path

When using some routable protocols, the sending host does more than determine the first hop. The source host goes through a route discovery process and determines the path between the sending host and the destination. The list of networks or routers is then included in the Network layer header and is used by the routers to forward the packet along the indicated path. This process is known as source routing.

In source routing, the routers are only acting as store and forward devices because the routing decisions have already been made by the sending host. Source routing is not typically implemented as a method of routing because the path either needs to be known or discovered. Source route discovery processes tend to be traffic intensive and slow. IP routing is normally done through routing decisions made by sending hosts and IP routers based on local routing tables. However, in network testing and debugging situations, it is sometimes desired to specify an exact route through the IP internetwork that overrides the path that would normally be taken. This is known as IP source routing.

In IP source routing, the entire route is specified by the sending host through the IP addresses of successive IP routers between the source and destination. At each IP router, the IP datagram is addressed to the next router using the Destination IP address field of the IP header.

IP supports two types of source routing. The first type is loose source routing, in which the IP address of the next router can be one or more routers away (multiple hops). The second type is strict source routing, in which the next router must be a neighboring router (single hop).

Router Routing

When a router is forwarded a packet that is not destined for that router, the router must either deliver it to the destination host or to another router, as shown in Figure 1.4.

  • If the destination network matches a network to which the router is attached, the router forwards the packet to the destination host by addressing the packet to the destination host's physical address. The router performs a direct delivery to the destination.

  • Conversely, if the destination network is not directly attached, the router forwards the packet to an intermediate router. The intermediate router chosen is based on the forwarding address of the optimal route in the routing table. The router forwards the packet by addressing the packet to the intermediate router's physical address. The router performs an indirect delivery to the next router in the path to the destination.


Figure 1.4 Router Routing Process


Static Routing

A router with manually configured routing tables is known as a static router. A network administrator, with knowledge of the internetwork topology, manually builds and updates the routing table, programming all routes in the routing table. Static routers can work well for small internetworks but do not scale well to large or dynamically changing internetworks due to their manual administration.

Static routers are not fault tolerant. The lifetime of a manually configured static route is infinite and, therefore, static routers do not sense and recover from downed routers or downed links.

A good example of a static router is a multihomed computer running Windows 2000 (a computer with multiple network interface cards). Creating a static IP router with Windows 2000 is as simple as installing multiple network interface cards, configuring TCP/IP, and enabling IP routing.

Dynamic Routing

A router with dynamically configured routing tables is known as a dynamic router. Dynamic routing consists of routing tables that are built and maintained automatically through an ongoing communication between routers. This communication is facilitated by a routing protocol, a series of periodic or on-demand messages containing routing information that is exchanged between routers. Except for their initial configuration, dynamic routers require little ongoing maintenance, and therefore can scale to larger internetworks.

Dynamic routing is fault tolerant. Dynamic routes learned from other routers have a finite lifetime. If a router or link goes down, the routers sense the change in the internetwork topology through the expiration of the lifetime of the learned route in the routing table. This change can then be propagated to other routers so that all the routers on the internetwork become aware of the new internetwork topology.

The ability to scale and recover from internetwork faults makes dynamic routing the better choice for medium, large, and very large internetworks.

A good example of a dynamic router is a computer with Windows 2000 Server and the Routing and Remote Access Service running the Routing Information Protocol (RIP) and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing protocols for IP and RIP for IPX.



For pure Internet Protocol (IP) forwarding function, a router is designed to minimize the state information associated with individual packets. The main purpose of a router is to connect multiple networks and forward packets destined either for its own networks or other networks. A router is considered a Layer 3 device because its primary forwarding decision is based on the information in the Layer 3 IP packet, specifically the destination IP address. This process is known as routing. When each router receives a packet, it searches its routing table to find the best match between the destination IP address of the packet and one of the network addresses in the routing table. Once a match is found, the packet is encapsulated in the Layer 2 data link frame for that outgoing interface. A router does not look into the actual data contents that the packet carries, but only at the layer 3 addresses to make a forwarding decision, plus optionally other information in the header for hints on, for example, QoS. Once a packet is forwarded, the router does not retain any historical information about the packet, but the forwarding action can be collected into the statistical data, if so configured.

Forwarding decisions can involve decisions at layers other than layer 3. A function that forwards based on layer 2 information is properly called a bridge. This function is referred to as layer 2 bridging, as the addresses it uses to forward the traffic are layer 2 addresses (e.g. MAC addresses on Ethernet).

Besides making decision as which interface a packet is forwarded to, which is handled primarily via the routing table, a router also has to manage congestion, when packets arrive at a rate higher than the router can process. Three policies commonly used in the Internet are tail drop, random early detection (RED), and weighted random early detection (WRED). Tail drop is the simplest and most easily implemented; the router simply drops packets once the length of the queue exceeds the size of the buffers in the router. RED probabilistically drops datagrams early when the queue exceeds a pre-configured portion of the buffer, until a pre-determined max, when it becomes tail drop. WRED requires a weight on the average queue size to act upon when the traffic is about to exceed the pre-configured size, so that short bursts will not trigger random drops.

Another function a router performs is to decide which packet should be processed first when multiple queues exist. This is managed through quality of service (QoS), which is critical when Voice over IP is deployed, so that delays between packets do not exceed 150ms to maintain the quality of voice conversations.

Yet another function a router performs is called policy-based routing where special rules are constructed to override the rules derived from the routing table when a packet forwarding decision is made.

These functions may be performed through the same internal paths that the packets travel inside the router. Some of the functions may be performed through an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to avoid overhead caused by multiple CPU cycles, and others may have to be performed through the CPU as these packets need special attention that cannot be handled by an ASIC.