|Title||BGP Protocol Analysis
Network Working Group Y. Rekhter, Editor
Request for Comments: 1265 T.J. Watson Research Center, IBM Corp.
BGP Protocol Analysis
1. Status of this Memo.
This memo provides information for the Internet community. It does
not specify an Internet standard. Distribution of this memo is
The purpose of this report is to document how the requirements for
advancing a routing protocol to Draft Standard have been satisfied by
the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). This report summarizes the key
feature of BGP, and analyzes the protocol with respect to scaling and
performance. This is the first of two reports on the BGP protocol.
BGP is an inter-autonomous system routing protocol designed for the
TCP/IP internets. Version 1 of the BGP protocol was published in RFC
1105. Since then BGP versions 2 and 3 have been developed. Version 2
was documented in RFC 1163. Version 3 is documented in . The
changes between versions 1, 2 and 3 are explained in Appendix 3 of
Possible applications of BGP in the Internet are documented in .
Please send comments to email@example.com.
The BGP protocol has been developed by the IWG/BGP Working Group of
the Internet Engineering Task Force. We would like to express our
deepest thanks to Guy Almes (Rice University) who was the previous
chairman of the IWG Working Group. We also like to explicitly thank
Bob Braden (ISI) and Bob Hinden (BBN) for the review of this document
as well as their constructive and valuable comments.
4. Key features and algorithms of the BGP protocol.
This section summarizes the key features and algorithms of the BGP
protocol. BGP is an inter-autonomous system routing protocol; it is
designed to be used between multiple autonomous systems. BGP assumes
that routing within an autonomous system is done by an intra-
autonomous system routing protocol. BGP does not make any assumptions
about intra-autonomous system routing protocols employed by the
various autonomous systems. Specifically, BGP does not require all
autonomous systems to run the same intra-autonomous system routing
BGP is a real inter-autonomous system routing protocol. It imposes no
constraints on the underlying Internet topology. The information
exchanged via BGP is sufficient to construct a graph of autonomous
systems connectivity from which routing loops may be pruned and some
routing policy decisions at the autonomous system level may be
The key feature of the protocol is the notion of Path Attributes.
This feature provides BGP with flexibility and expandability. Path
attributes are partitioned into well-known and optional. The
provision for optional attributes allows experimentation that may
involve a group of BGP routers without affecting the rest of the
Internet. New optional attributes can be added to the protocol in
much the same fashion as new options are added to the Telnet
protocol, for instance. One of the most important path attributes is
the AS-PATH. As reachability information traverses the Internet, this
information is augmented by the list of autonomous systems that have
been traversed thusfar, forming the AS-PATH. The AS-PATH allows
straightforward suppression of the looping of routing information. In
addition, the AS-PATH serves as a powerful and versatile mechanism
for policy-based routing.
BGP uses an algorithm that cannot be classified as either a pure
distance vector, or a pure link state. Carrying a complete AS path in
the AS-PATH attribute allows to reconstruct large portions of the
overall topology. That makes it similar to the link state algorithms.
Exchanging only the currently used routes between the peers makes it
similar to the distance vector algorithms.
To conserve bandwidth and processing power, BGP uses incremental
updates, where after the initial exchange of complete routing
information, a pair of BGP routers exchanges only changes (deltas) to
that information. Technique of incremental updates requires reliable
transport between a pair of BGP routers. To achieve this
functionality BGP uses TCP as its transport.
BGP is a self-contained protocol. That is, it specifies how routing
information is exchanged both between BGP speakers in different
autonomous systems, and between BGP speakers within a single
To allow graceful coexistence with EGP, BGP provides support for
carrying EGP derived exterior routes. BGP also allows to carry
statically defined exterior routes.
5. BGP performance characteristics and scalability.
In this section we'll try to answer the question of how much link
bandwidth, router memory and router CPU cycles does the BGP protocol
consume under normal conditions. We'll also address the scalability
of BGP, and look at some of its limits.
BGP does not require all the routers within an autonomous system to
participate in the BGP protocol. Only the border routers that provide
connectivity between the local autonomous system and its adjacent
autonomous systems participate in BGP. Constraining the set of
participants is just one way of addressing the scaling issue.
5.1 Link bandwidth and CPU utilization.
Immediately after the initial BGP connection setup, the peers
exchange complete set of routing information. If we denote the total
number of networks in the Internet by N, the mean AS distance of the
Internet by M (distance at the level of an autonomous system,
expressed in terms of the number of autonomous systems), the total
number of autonomous systems in the Internet by A, and assume that
the networks are uniformly distributed among the autonomous systems,
then the worst case amount of bandwidth consumed during the initial
exchange between a pair of BGP speakers is
O(N + M * A)
(provided that an implementation supports multiple networks per
message as outlined in Appendix 5 of ). This information is
roughly on the order of the number of networks reachable via each
peer (see also Section 5.2).
The following table illustrates typical amount of bandwidth consumed
during the initial exchange between a pair of BGP speakers based on
the above assumptions (ignoring bandwidth consumed by the BGP
# Networks Mean AS Distance # AS's Bandwidth
---------- ---------------- ------ ---------
2,100 5 59 9,000 bytes
4,000 10 100 18,000 bytes
10,000 15 300 49,000 bytes
100,000 20 3,000 520,000 bytes
Note that most of the bandwidth is consumed by the exchange of the
Network Reachability Information.
After the initial exchange is completed, the amount of bandwidth and
CPU cycles consumed by BGP depends only on the stability of the
Internet. If the Internet is stable, then the only link bandwidth and
router CPU cycles consumed by BGP are due to the exchange of the BGP
KEEPALIVE messages. The KEEPALIVE messages are exchanged only between
peers. The suggested frequency of the exchange is 30 seconds. The
KEEPALIVE messages are quite short (19 octets), and require virtually
no processing. Therefore, the bandwidth consumed by the KEEPALIVE
messages is about 5 bits/sec. Operational experience confirms that
the overhead (in terms of bandwidth and CPU) associated with the
KEEPALIVE messages should be viewed as negligible. If the Internet
is unstable, then only the changes to the reachability information
(that are caused by the instabilities) are passed between routers
(via the UPDATE messages). If we denote the number of routing changes
per second by C, then in the worst case the amount of bandwidth
consumed by the BGP can be expressed as O(C * M). The greatest
overhead per UPDATE message occurs when each UPDATE message contains
only a single network. It should be pointed out that in practice
routing changes exhibit strong locality with respect to the AS path.
That is routes that change are likely to have common AS path. In this
case multiple networks can be grouped into a single UPDATE message,
thus significantly reducing the amount of bandwidth required (see
also Appendix 5 of ).
Since in the steady state the link bandwidth and router CPU cycles
consumed by the BGP protocol are dependent only on the stability of
the Internet, but are completely independent on the number of
networks that compose the Internet, it follows that BGP should have
no scaling problems in the areas of link bandwidth and router CPU
utilization, as the Internet grows, provided that the overall
stability of the inter-AS connectivity (connectivity between ASs) of
the Internet can be controlled. Stability issue could be addressed by
introducing some form of dampening (e.g., hold downs). Due to the
nature of BGP, such dampening should be viewed as a local to an
autonomous system matter (see also Appendix 5 of ). We'd like to
point out, that regardless of BGP, one should not underestimate the
significance of the stability in the Internet. Growth of the Internet
will make the stability issue one of the most crucial one. It is
important to realize that BGP, by itself, does not introduce any
instabilities in the Internet. Current observations in the NSFNET
show that the instabilities are largely due to the ill-behaved
routing within the autonomous systems that compose the Internet.
Therefore, while providing BGP with mechanisms to address the
stability issue, we feel that the right way to handle the issue is to
address it at the root of the problem, and to come up with intra-
autonomous routing schemes that exhibit reasonable stability.
It also may be instructive to compare bandwidth and CPU requirements
of BGP with EGP. While with BGP the complete information is exchanged
only at the connection establishment time, with EGP the complete
information is exchanged periodically (usually every 3 minutes). Note
that both for BGP and for EGP the amount of information exchanged is
roughly on the order of the networks reachable via a peer that sends
the information (see also Section 5.2). Therefore, even if one
assumes extreme instabilities of BGP, its worst case behavior will be
the same as the steady state behavior of EGP.
Operational experience with BGP showed that the incremental updates
approach employed by BGP presents an enormous improvement both in the
area of bandwidth and in the CPU utilization, as compared with
complete periodic updates used by EGP (see also presentation by
Dennis Ferguson at the Twentieth IETF, March 11-15, 1991, St.Louis).
5.2 Memory requirements.
To quantify the worst case memory requirements for BGP, denote the
total number of networks in the Internet by N, the mean AS distance
of the Internet by M (distance at the level of an autonomous system,
expressed in terms of the number of autonomous systems), the total
number of autonomous systems in the Internet by A, and the total
number of BGP speakers that a system is peering with by K (note that
K will usually be dominated by the total number of the BGP speakers
within a single autonomous system). Then the worst case memory
requirements (MR) can be expressed as
MR = O((N + M * A) * K)
In the current NSFNET Backbone (N = 2110, A = 59, and M = 5) if each
network is stored as 4 octets, and each autonomous system is stored
as 2 octets then the overhead of storing the AS path information (in
addition to the full complement of exterior routes) is less than 7
percent of the total memory usage.
It is interesting to point out, that prior to the introduction of BGP
in the NSFNET Backbone, memory requirements on the NSFNET Backbone
routers running EGP were on the order of O(N * K). Therefore, the
extra overhead in memory incurred by the NSFNET routers after the
introduction of BGP is less than 7 percent.
Since a mean AS distance grows very slowly with the total number of
networks (there are about 60 autonomous systems, well over 2,000
networks known in the NSFNET backbone routers, and the mean AS
distance of the current Internet is well below 5), for all practical
purposes the worst case router memory requirements are on the order
of the total number of networks in the Internet times the number of
peers the local system is peering with. We expect that the total
number of networks in the Internet will grow much faster than the
average number of peers per router. Therefore, scaling with respect
to the memory requirements is going to be heavily dominated by the
factor that is linearly proportional to the total number of networks
in the Internet.
The following table illustrates typical memory requirements of a
router running BGP. It is assumed that each network is encoded as 4
bytes, each AS is encoded as 2 bytes, and each networks is reachable
via some fraction of all of the peers (# BGP peers/per net).
# Networks Mean AS Distance # AS's # BGP peers/per net Memory Req
---------- ---------------- ------ ------------------- ----------
2,100 5 59 3 27,000 bytes
4,000 10 100 6 108,000 bytes
10,000 15 300 10 490,000 bytes
100,000 20 3,000 20 1,040,000 bytes
To put memory requirements of BGP in a proper perspective, let's try
to put aside for a moment the issue of what information is used to
construct the forwarding tables in a router, and just focus on the
forwarding tables themselves. In this case one might ask about the
limits on these tables. For instance, given that right now the
forwarding tables in the NSFNET Backbone routers carry well over
2,000 entries, one might ask whether it would be possible to have a
functional router with a table that will have 20,000 entries. Clearly
the answer to this question is completely independent of BGP. On the
other hand the answer to the original questions (that was asked with
respect to BGP) is directly related to the latter question. Very
interesting comments were given by Paul Tsuchiya in his review of BGP
in March of 1990 (as part of the BGP review committee appointed by
Bob Hinden). In the review he said that, "BGP does not scale well.
This is not really the fault of BGP. It is the fault of the flat IP
address space. Given the flat IP address space, any routing protocol
must carry network numbers in its updates." To reiterate, BGP limits
with respect to the memory requirements are directly related to the
underlying Internet Protocol (IP), and specifically the addressing
scheme employed by IP. BGP would provide much better scaling in
environments with more flexible addressing schemes. It should be
pointed out that with very minor additions BGP can be extended to
support hierarchies of autonomous system. Such hierarchies, combined
with an addressing scheme that would allow more flexible address
aggregation capabilities, can be utilized by BGP, thus providing
practically unlimited scaling capabilities of the protocol.
6. Applicability of BGP.
In this section we'll try to answer the question of what environment
is BGP well suited, and for what is it not suitable? Partially this
question is answered in the Section 2 of , where the document
states the following:
"To characterize the set of policy decisions that can be enforced
using BGP, one must focus on the rule that an AS advertises to its
neighbor ASs only those routes that it itself uses. This rule
reflects the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm generally used throughout
the current Internet. Note that some policies cannot be supported by
the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm and thus require techniques such as
source routing to enforce. For example, BGP does not enable one AS
to send traffic to a neighbor AS intending that the traffic take a
different route from that taken by traffic originating in the
neighbor AS. On the other hand, BGP can support any policy
conforming to the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm. Since the current
Internet uses only the "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm and since BGP
can support any policy that conforms to that paradigm, BGP is highly
applicable as an inter-AS routing protocol for the current Internet."
While BGP is well suitable for the current Internet, it is also
almost a necessity for the current Internet as well. Operational
experience with EGP showed that it is highly inadequate for the
current Internet. Topological restrictions imposed by EGP are
unjustifiable from the technical point of view, and unenforceable
from the practical point of view. Inability of EGP to efficiently
handle information exchange between peers is a cause of severe
routing instabilities in the operational Internet. Finally,
information provided by BGP is well suitable for enforcing a variety
of routing policies.
Rather than trying to predict the future, and overload BGP with a
variety of functions that may (or may not) be needed, the designers
of BGP took a different approach. The protocol contains only the
functionality that is essential, while at the same time provides
flexible mechanisms within the protocol itself that allow to expand
its functionality. Since BGP was designed with flexibility and
expandability in mind, we think it should be able to address new or
evolving requirements with relative ease. The existence proof of this
statement may be found in the way how new features (like repairing a
partitioned autonomous system with BGP) are already introduced in the
To summarize, BGP is well suitable as an inter-autonomous system
routing protocol for the current Internet that is based on IP (RFC
791) as the Internet Protocol and "hop-by-hop" routing paradigm. It
is hard to speculate whether BGP will be suitable for other
environments where internetting is done by other than IP protocols,
or where the routing paradigm will be different.
 Lougheed, K., and Y. Rekhter, "A Border Gateway Protocol 3 (BGP-
3)", RFC 1267, cisco Systems, T.J. Watson Research Center, IBM
Corp., October 1991.
 Rekhter, Y., and P. Gross, Editors, "Application of the Border
Gateway Protocol in the Internet", RFC 1268, T.J. Watson Research
Center, IBM Corp., ANS, October 1991.
Security issues are not discussed in this memo.
T.J. Watson Research Center IBM Corporation
P.O. Box 218
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: (914) 945-3896
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