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A routing protocol specifies how routers communicate with each other, disseminating information that enables them to select routes between any two nodes on a computer network, the choice of the route being done by routing algorithms. Each router has a priori knowledge only of networks attached to it directly. A routing protocol shares this information first among immediate neighbors, and then throughout the network. This way, routers gain knowledge of the topology of the network. For a discussion of the concepts behind routing protocols, see: Routing.
The term routing protocol may refer specifically to one operating at layer three of the OSI model, which similarly disseminates topology information between routers.
Although there are many types of routing protocols, three major classes are in widespread use on IP networks:
The specific characteristics of routing protocols include