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Manual Chapter: Spanning Tree Protocol
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Introduction to spanning tree protocols

On networks that contain redundant paths between Layer 2 devices, a common problem is bridging loops. Bridging loops occur because Layer 2 devices do not create boundaries for broadcasts or packet floods. Consequently, Layer 2 devices can use redundant paths to forward the same frames to each other continuously, eventually causing the network to fail.

To solve this problem, the BIG-IP system supports a set of industry-standard, Layer 2 protocols known as spanning tree protocols. Spanning tree protocols block redundant paths on a network, thus preventing bridging loops. If a blocked, redundant path is needed later because another path has failed, the spanning tree protocols clear the path again for traffic. The spanning tree protocols that the BIG-IP system supports are Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP), and Multiple Spanning Tree Protocol (MSTP).

Central to the way that spanning tree protocols operate is the use of bridge protocol data units (BPDUs). When you enable spanning tree protocols on Layer 2 devices on a network, the devices send BPDUs to each other, for the purpose of learning the redundant paths and updating their L2 forwarding tables accordingly, electing a root bridge, building a spanning tree, and notifying each other about changes in interface status.

Note: The term bridge refers to a Layer 2 device such as a switch, bridge, or hub.

About STP protocol

STP is the original spanning tree protocol, designed to block redundant paths as a way to prevent bridging loops. The STP algorithm creates one, and only one, spanning tree for the entire network. A spanning tree is a logical tree-like depiction of the bridges on a network and the paths that connect them.

Because STP is unable to recognize VLANs and usually exhibits poor performance overall, STP is not the preferred spanning tree protocol to use in VLAN-rich environments. However, all participating interfaces in the spanning tree must use the same spanning tree protocol at any given time. Thus, when you have legacy bridges in your environment that are running STP, interfaces on the BIG-IP system must have the ability to automatically degrade to STP.

Because STP has no knowledge of VLANs, you can have only one spanning tree instance on the BIG-IP system when using STP.

About the RSTP protocol

RSTP is an enhancement to STP, and was designed specifically to improve spanning tree performance. Like STP, RSTP can create only one spanning tree (instance 0), and therefore cannot take VLANs into account when managing redundant paths. However, RSTP’s performance improvements generally make it preferable to STP in non-VLAN environments.

In the case where legacy RSTP bridges are on the network, BIG-IP system interfaces running MSTP can degrade to RSTP, just as they can degrade to STP.

Like STP, RSTP allows only one spanning tree instance on the BIG-IP system.

About the MSTP protocol

MSTP is an enhancement to RSTP and is the preferred spanning tree protocol for the BIG-IP system. MSTP is specifically designed to understand VLANs and VLAN tagging (specified in IEEE 802.1q). Unlike STP and RSTP, which allow only one spanning tree instance per system, MSTP allows multiple spanning tree instances. Each instance corresponds to a spanning tree, and can control one or more VLANs that you specify when you create the instance. Thus, for any BIG-IP system interface that you assigned to multiple VLANs, MSTP can block a path on one VLAN, while still keeping a path in another VLAN open for traffic. Neither STP nor RSTP has this capability.

A unique feature of MSTP is the concept of spanning tree regions. A spanning tree region is a logical set of bridges on the network that share the same values for certain MSTP configuration settings. These configuration settings are: The MSTP configuration name, the MSTP configuration number, the instance numbers, and the VLAN members of each instance. When the values of these settings are identical on two or more bridges, the spanning tree algorithm considers these bridges to constitute an MSTP region. An MSTP region indicates to the spanning tree algorithm that it can use MSTP for all bridges in that region, and thus take VLANs into account when blocking and unblocking redundant paths.

You do not explicitly create a region. The spanning tree algorithm automatically groups bridges into regions, based on the values you assign to the MSTP configuration name, revision number, instance numbers, and instance members.

MSTP can only operate on bridges that are within a region. However, if the BIG-IP system connects to a bridge in a different MSTP region or outside of an MSTP region, the system still participates in spanning tree. In this case, the system is part of the spanning tree instance 0, also known as the Common and Internal Spanning Tree (CIST).

Note: BIG-IP systems released prior to version 9.0 do not support MSTP.

About spanning tree with legacy bridges

A key concept about spanning tree protocols on the BIG-IP system is the concept of protocol degradation. Protocol degradation occurs when the spanning tree mode on the BIG-IP system is set to MSTP or RSTP, but the system detects legacy bridges (that is, bridges running an older protocol type) on the network. In this case, the BIG-IP system automatically degrades the spanning tree protocol that is running on each applicable interface to match the protocol running on the legacy device.

For example, suppose you set the BIG-IP system to run in MSTP mode. Later, if a bridge running STP is added to the network, the BIG-IP system will detect the legacy device and automatically degrade the protocol running on the BIG-IP system interfaces from MSTP to STP. The mode is still set to MSTP, but the interfaces actually run STP.

If the legacy device is later removed from the network, you can choose, for each BIG-IP system interface, to manually reset the spanning tree protocol back to MSTP.

The basic principle of protocol degradation is that each BIG-IP system interface in a spanning tree runs the oldest protocol that the system detects on the Layer 2 devices of the network. Thus, if a legacy bridge running STP is added to the network, BIG-IP system interfaces running MSTP or RSTP degrade to STP. Similarly, if a legacy bridge is running RSTP (and no bridges are running STP), interfaces running MSTP degrade to RSTP.

Note that when a bridge running MSTP must degrade to RSTP, the spanning tree algorithm automatically puts the degraded bridge into a separate MSTP region.

Configuration overview

Regardless of which spanning tree protocol you choose to use, the BIG-IP Configuration utility offers a complete set of default configuration settings. Except for choosing a preferred spanning tree protocol to use, there are very few configuration settings that you need to modify to use the spanning tree feature effectively.

Note: An alternate way to configure spanning tree protocols is to use tmsh.

When you configure spanning tree on a BIG-IP system, you must first decide which protocol, or mode, you want to enable. Because MSTP recognizes VLANs, using MSTP is preferable for the BIG-IP system. However, all bridges in a network environment that want to use spanning tree must run the same spanning tree protocol. If a legacy bridge running RSTP or STP is added to the network, the BIG-IP system must switch to that same protocol.

Fortunately, you do not need to continually reconfigure the BIG-IP system spanning tree mode whenever a legacy bridge is added to the network. Instead, a BIG-IP system interface can detect the addition of a legacy bridge and automatically fall back to either RSTP or STP mode. If the legacy bridge is later removed from the network, you can use the Configuration utility to manually reset the interface back to running MSTP.

Once you have enabled a spanning tree mode, you can configure a set of global options. These options are the same options that are defined in the IEEE standards for the spanning tree protocols. While you can use the default settings in most cases, a few settings require user input.

Spanning tree mode

The Mode option specifies the particular spanning tree protocol that you want to use on the BIG-IP system. The default value is Pass Through. The possible values are:

Disabled
Specifies that when the BIG-IP system receives spanning tree frames (BPDUs), it discards the frames.
Pass Through
Specifies that when the BIG-IP system receives spanning tree frames (BPDUs), it forwards them to all other interfaces. This is the default setting. When you use Pass Through mode, the BIG-IP system is transparent to spanning tree BPDUs. When set to Pass Through mode, the BIG-IP system is not part of any spanning tree. Note that Pass Through mode is not part of the IEEE spanning tree protocol specifications.
STP
Specifies that the BIG-IP system handles spanning tree frames (BPDUs) in accordance with the STP protocol. This mode allows for legacy systems on the network.
RSTP
Specifies that the BIG-IP system handles spanning tree frames (BPDUs) in accordance with the RSTP protocol.
MSTP
Specifies that the BIG-IP system handles spanning tree frames (BPDUs) in accordance with the MSTP protocol.

When you set the mode to MSTP or RSTP, and a legacy bridge running STP is subsequently added to the spanning tree, the applicable BIG-IP system interface automatically changes to running STP. However, you can manually reset an interface to resume operation in RSTP or MSTP mode if the legacy bridge is later removed from the spanning tree.

Global timers

All three spanning tree protocols, have the same three global timer values that you can specify: Hello Time, Maximum Age, and Forward Delay.

About the hello time option

When you change the value of the Hello Time option, you change the time interval, in seconds, that the BIG-IP system transmits spanning tree information (through BPDUs) to adjacent bridges in the network. The default value for this option is 2.

Warning: Although valid values are in the range of 1 to 10 seconds, F5 Networks highly recommends that you use the default value (2 seconds). This value is optimal for almost all configurations.

Note that when running RSTP, you must maintain the following relationship between the Maximum Age and Hello Time options:

Maximum Age >= 2 * (Hello Time + 1)

About the maximum age option

When you change the value of the Maximum Age option, you change the amount of time, in seconds, that spanning tree information received from other bridges is considered valid. The default value is 20, and the valid range is 6 to 40.

Note that when running RSTP, you must maintain the following relationships between the Maximum Age and the Hello Time and Forward Delay options:

Maximum Age >= 2 * (Hello Time + 1)

Maximum Age <= 2 * (Forward Delay - 1)

About the forward delay option

Primarily used for STP, the Forward Delay option specifies the amount of time, in seconds, that the system blocks an interface from forwarding network traffic when the spanning tree algorithm reconfigures a spanning tree. The default value is 15, and the valid range is 4 to 30.

This option has no effect on the BIG-IP system when running in RSTP or MSTP mode, as long as all bridges in the spanning tree use the RSTP or MSTP protocol. However, if the addition of legacy STP bridges causes neighboring bridges to fall back to running the STP protocol, then the spanning tree algorithm uses the Forward Delay option when reconfiguring the spanning tree.

Note that when running RSTP, you must maintain the following relationship between the Forward Delay and Maximum Age options:

Maximum Age <= 2 * (Forward Delay - 1)

About the transmit hold count option

When you change the value of the Transmit Hold Count option, you change the maximum number of spanning tree frames (BPDUs) that the system can transmit on a port within the Hello Time interval. This setting ensures that the spanning tree frames do not overload the network, even in unstable network conditions. The default value is 6, and the valid range is 1 to 10.

MSTP-specific global properties

If you are running MSTP, you can configure three additional global properties:

MSTP configuration name
Applicable to MSTP only, the MSTP Configuration Name setting represents a global name that you assign to all bridges in a spanning tree region. A spanning tree region is a group of bridges with identical MSTP configuration names and MSTP configuration revision levels, as well as identical assignment of VLANs to spanning tree instances. All bridges in the same region must have this same configuration name. The name must contain from 1 to 32 characters. This option only appears on the screen when you set the Mode property to MSTP.
MSTP configuration revision
Applicable to MSTP only, the MSTP Configuration Revision setting represents a global revision number that you assign to all bridges in a spanning tree region. All bridges in the same region must have this same configuration revision number. The default value is 0. You can type any value between 0 and 65535. This option only appears on the screen when you set the Mode property to MSTP.
Maximum hop number
Applicable to MSTP only, this global property specifies the maximum number of hops that a spanning tree frame (BPDU) can traverse before it is discarded. The default value is 20. You can specify a value between 1 and 255. This option only appears on the screen when you set the Mode property to MSTP.

Management of spanning tree instances

By default, the spanning tree protocol STP is enabled on all of the interfaces of the BIG-IP system. The default spanning tree configuration includes a single spanning tree instance, named 0. A spanning tree instance is a discrete spanning tree for a network. While STP and RSTP allow only one spanning tree instance (instance 0), MSTP allows you to create multiple spanning tree instances, to manage redundant paths for specific VLANs on the network.

When running MSTP, instances that you create have instance members. An instance member is a VLAN that you assign to an instance when you create that instance. You can assign as many or as few members to an instance as you deem necessary. By default, all VLANs on the BIG-IP system are members of instance 0.

If you create an instance and attempt to add a VLAN that is already a member of another instance, the BIG-IP system deletes the VLAN from the existing instance and adds the VLAN to the new instance.

Each instance name must be a numeric value that you assign when you create the instance.

Note: Only users with either the Administrator or Resource Administrator role can manage spanning tree instances.

Spanning tree instances list

You can view a list of existing spanning tree instances using the Configuration utility. For STP and RSTP, the only instance in the list is instance 0. For MSTP, the list shows instance 0, plus any other instances that you have explicitly created.

When you view a list of instances, you can see the following information for each instance:

  • The name of the instance
  • The bridge priority number
  • The MAC address of the root bridge
  • The MAC address of the regional root bridge
  • The number of instance members

About spanning tree instance (MSTP-only) creation

The STP and RSTP protocols allow only one spanning tree instance, instance 0, which the BIG-IP system creates automatically when you enable spanning tree. When running STP or RSTP, you can modify the properties of instance 0, but you cannot create additional instances.

When you are running MSTP, however, the MSTP algorithm can explicitly create instances. The reason that you can create instances is that MSTP recognizes VLANs. By creating an instance and assigning one or more VLANs to it, you can control bridge loops and redundant paths within those VLANs.

For example, suppose you have two interfaces. One interface is assigned to VLAN A, while the other interface is assigned to VLANs A and B. If you are using the STP or RSTP protocol, both of which disregard VLANs, the protocol might block traffic for both VLANs, as shown in this figure.

Using STP or RSTP to block redundant paths Using STP or RSTP to block redundant paths

By contrast, the MSTP protocol can make blocking decisions on a per-VLAN basis. In our example, on the interface that carries traffic for two VLANs, you can block traffic for VLAN A, but leave a path open for VLAN B traffic. This is shown below.

A local BIG-IP system that transmits and receives LLDPDUs A local BIG-IP system that transmits and receives LLDPDUs

Because all BPDUs exchanged within a region always reference instance 0, instance 0 is active on all interfaces. This, in turn, can cause blocking problems. To avoid this, make sure that each VLAN on a BIG-IP system is a member of an instance that you explicitly create, rather than a member of instance 0 only. For example, suppose you create the following:

  • Instance 1 with VLAN A as a member, where VLAN A is associated with interface 1.2
  • Instance 2 with VLAN B as a member, where VLAN B is associated with interface 1.4

In this case, neither interface will be blocked, because the BPDUs sent from each interface reference a unique instance (either instance 1 or instance 2).

Tip: Because all BPDUs exchanged within a region always reference instance 0, thereby causing instance 0 to be active on all interfaces, unwanted blocking problems can occur. To avoid this, make sure that each VLAN on a BIG-IP system is a member of an instance that you explicitly create, rather than a member of instance 0 only.

About instance ID assignment

When you configure the Instance ID setting, you specify a numeric value for the instance, in the range of 1 to 255. The reason that instance names must be numeric is to handle the requirement that all cooperating bridges agree on the assignment of VLANs to instance IDs. Using numeric values instead of names makes this requirement easier to manage.

Bridge priority

The bridge in the spanning tree with the lowest relative priority becomes the root bridge. A root bridge represents the root of a spanning tree, and is responsible for managing loop resolution on the network. F5 Networks recommends that you configure this setting so that the BIG-IP system never becomes the root bridge. For this reason, the default value for the Bridge Priority setting is 61440, the highest value that you can select. Note that a bridge priority must be in increments of 4096.

VLAN assignment

If you are running MSTP, you can add members to a spanning tree instance. An instance member is a VLAN. You add members to an instance by associating one or more VLANs with the instance. The interfaces or trunks associated with each VLAN automatically become part of the spanning tree corresponding to that instance.

For two or more bridges to operate in the same spanning tree, all of those bridges must be in the same region, and therefore must have the same instance numbers, instance members, and VLAN tags.

For example, if a bridge has instance 1, with two VLAN members whose tags are 1000 and 2000, then any other bridges that you want to operate in that spanning tree must also have instance 1 with two VLAN members whose tags are 1000 and 2000.

A particular VLAN cannot be associated with more than one spanning tree instance. For example, if you have two instances named 0 and 1, you can only associate VLAN external with one of those instances, not both. Therefore, before creating an instance, verify that each VLAN you intend to associate with the instance is not a member of another instance.

Tip: If no VLANs appear in the Available list when creating an instance, it is likely that all VLANs on the BIG-IP system are members of other instances. You can verify this by viewing the members of other instances.

About viewing and modifying a spanning tree instance

Using the Configuration utility, you can view and modify properties of any instance, including instance 0. If you are running MSTP, you can modify the Bridge Priority and VLANs properties. If you are running RSTP or STP, you can modify only the Bridge Priority property. In no case can you modify the instance ID.

About deleting a spanning tree instance or its members (MSTP-only)

If you are running MSTP, you might have explicitly created some spanning tree instances. If so, you can delete any spanning tree instance except instance 0.

You can also remove VLAN members from an instance. When you remove a VLAN from an instance, the VLAN automatically becomes a member of instance 0. (By default, instance 0 includes any VLAN that is not a member of another instance.)

If you remove all members from an instance, the BIG-IP system automatically deletes the instance.

Note: If you are running RSTP or STP, you cannot delete instance 0 or remove members from it.

Interfaces for spanning tree

Some of the configuration tasks you perform when managing a spanning tree protocol pertain to BIG-IP system interfaces. The interface-related tasks you perform are:

  • Configuring settings on each interface that is to be part of the spanning tree
  • Managing interfaces per spanning tree instance

Enabling and disabling spanning tree

When you select the check box for the STP setting, you are specifying that the interface can become part of a spanning tree. Once the interface becomes part of the spanning tree, the spanning tree protocol (STP) takes control of all learning and frame forwarding on that interface.

If you disable this setting, the spanning tree protocol treats the interface as non-existent, and does not send BPDUs to that interface. Also, the interface, and not the spanning tree protocol, controls all learning and frame forwarding for that interface.

Note that you can also enable or disable spanning tree for a trunk. If spanning tree is enabled on the reference link of a trunk (that is, the lowest-numbered interface of the trunk), then spanning tree is automatically enabled on that trunk. To disable spanning tree for a trunk, simply disable spanning tree on the reference link.

STP link type

When you specify an STP link type, you ensure that STP uses the correct optimizations for the interface. Possible values are:

auto
When you set the STP link type to auto, the BIG-IP system determines the spanning tree link type, which is based on the Active Duplex interface property.
p2p
When you set the STP link type to p2p, the BIG-IP system uses the optimizations for point-to-point spanning tree links. Point-to-point links connect two spanning tree bridges only. For example, a point-to-point link might connect a 10 Gigabit link to another bridge. For point-to-point links, the Active Duplex property interface should be set to full. Note that p2p is the only valid STP link type for a trunk.
shared
When you set the STP link type to shared, the BIG-IP system uses the optimizations for shared spanning tree links. Shared links connect two or more spanning tree bridges. For example, a shared link might be a 10 Megabit hub. Note that for shared links, the Active Duplex interface property should be set to half.

STP edge port

When you enable the STP Edge Port setting, you are explicitly designating the interface as an edge port. An edge port is an interface that connects to an end station rather than to another spanning tree bridge. The default setting is disabled (not checked).

If you would rather have the system automatically designate the interface as an edge port, you can enable the STP Edge Port Detection setting instead.

If you enable (check) the STP Edge Port setting and the interface subsequently receives STP, RSTP, or MSTP frames (BPDUs), the system disables the setting automatically, because only non-edge interfaces receive BPDUs.

Detection of an STP edge port

When you enable the STP Edge Port Detection setting, the system determines whether the interface is an edge port, and if so, automatically designates the interface as an edge port. The system determines edge port status by monitoring the interface and verifying that it does not receive any incoming STP, RSTP, or MSTP frames (BPDUs).

If the system determines that the interface is not an edge port, but you enabled the STP Edge Port setting to explicitly designate the interface as an edge port, the system removes the edge port designation from the interface. No interface that receives BPDUs from a bridge can have edge port status, despite the values of the STP Edge Port and STP Edge Port Detection settings.

About spanning tree protocol reset

The spanning tree algorithm automatically detects the presence of legacy STP bridges on the network, and falls back to STP mode when communicating with those bridges. Because legacy STP bridges do not send spanning tree BPDUs periodically in all circumstances, the BIG-IP system cannot detect when a legacy STP bridge has been removed from the network. Therefore, it is necessary to manually notify the BIG-IP system that the algorithm can switch to the RSTP or MSTP protocol again, whenever a legacy bridge has been removed.

About managing interfaces for a specific instance

When you manage an interface for a specific spanning tree instance, you can:

  • View a list of interfaces for an instance
  • View instance-specific properties of an interface
  • Configure instance-specific settings for an interface

About viewing a list of interface IDs for an instance

Using the Configuration utility, you can view a list of the interface IDs associated with a specific spanning tree instance.

If you are using MSTP, the interface IDs that appear in the list are the interfaces assigned to the VLANs that you specified when you created the instance. If you are using STP or RSTP, the interface IDs in the list are those that the BIG-IP system automatically assigned to instance 0.

The list of interface IDs also displays the following information for each interface:

  • The STP instance ID
  • The priority
  • The external path cost
  • The port role

About port roles

The Port Role property of a per-instance interface specifies the interface’s role in the spanning tree instance. You cannot specify a value for this property; the BIG-IP system automatically assigns a role to the interface.

The BIG-IP system can assign one of the following roles to an instance interface:

Disabled
The interface has no active role in the spanning tree instance.
Root
The interface provides a path to a root bridge.
Alternate
The interface provides an alternate path to a root bridge, if the root interface is unavailable.
Designated
The interface provides a path away from the root bridge.
Backup
The interface provides an alternate path away from the root bridge, if an interface with a port role of Designated is unavailable. The Backup role assignment is rare.

Port states

The Port State property of an interface specifies the way that the interface processes normal data packets. You cannot specify a value for this property; the BIG-IP system automatically assigns a state to the interface.

An interface can be in one of the following states at any given time:

Blocking
The interface disregards any incoming frames, and does not send any outgoing frames.
Forwarding
The interface passes frames as needed.
Learning
The interface is determining information about MAC addresses, and is not yet forwarding frames.

Settings to configure for an interface for a specific instance

Selecting an interface priority

Each interface has an associated priority within a spanning tree instance. The relative values of the interface priorities affect which interfaces the system chooses to carry network traffic. Using the Interface Priority setting, you can select the interface's priority in relation to the other interfaces that are members of the spanning tree instance.

Typically, the system is more likely to select interfaces with lower numeric values to carry network traffic. A priority value that you assign to an interface can be in the range of 0 to 240, in increments of 16. Thus, the value you assign to an interface can be 0, 16, 32, 64, and so on, up to 240.

The default priority for an interface is 128, the middle of the valid range.

Specifying path cost

Each interface has an associated path cost within a spanning tree instance. The path cost represents the relative cost of sending network traffic through that interface. When calculating the spanning tree, the spanning tree algorithm attempts to minimize the total path cost between each point of the tree and the root bridge. By manipulating the path costs of different interfaces, you can steer traffic toward paths that are either faster, more reliable, more economical, or have all of these qualities.

The value of a path cost can be in the range of 1 to 200,000,000, unless you have legacy STP bridges. In that case, because some legacy implementations support a range of only 1 to 65535, you should use this more restricted range when setting path costs on interfaces.

The default path cost for an interface is based on the maximum speed of the interface rather than the actual speed.

For example, an interface that has a maximum speed of 1000 Mb/s (1 Gb/s), but is currently running at a speed of 10 Mb/s, has a default path cost of 20,000.

Link aggregation does not affect the default path cost. For example, if a trunk has four 1 Gb/s interfaces, the default path cost is 20,000.

For MSTP, you can set two kinds of path costs, external and internal. For STP and RSTP, you can set an external path cost only.

External Path Cost
The External Path Cost setting is used to calculate the cost of sending spanning tree traffic through the interface to reach an adjacent spanning tree region. The spanning tree algorithm tries to minimize the total path cost between each point of the tree and the root bridge. The external path cost applies only to those interfaces (and trunks) that are members of instance 0.
Internal Path Cost
The Internal Path Cost setting allows you to specify the relative cost of sending spanning tree traffic through the interface to adjacent bridges within a spanning tree region. Note that the internal path cost applies only to bridges that support the MSTP mode. The internal path cost applies to those interfaces (and trunks) that are members of any instance, including instance 0.

To summarize, STP and RSTP use external path costs only, and the costs apply to instance 0 interfaces only. MSTP uses both external and internal path costs, and the internal costs apply to interfaces in all spanning tree instances, including instance 0.

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