Finding the Missing Link…

One Link to Rule them All?

When you hear the word link these days, it can conjure up all sorts of images, from the main character in Zelda to something you might find on a web page.  At some point in school you were probably taught Darwin’s theory of evolution and the term missing link (meaning some transitional form in the chain of evolution that has yet to be discovered) came up.  In the networking world, however, the term is used of a functional, active connection between devices that allows them to share information.  In addition, the operating condition of those links is referred to as a state, and when you combine the terms, you come up with Link State, a class of routing protocols that take a more global view of the network than the dysfunctional Distance Vector Protocols.  If both of these classes of protocols showed up at a party, DV would be the nerdy, socially inept guy talking to himself in the corner, and LS would be the sharp-dressed, smooth talking fellow with a crowd of people gathered around him.  Why?  Because Link State protocols are infinitely more successful and intelligent about how they operate.

Link State protocols, as the name implies, have accurate and up-to-date information about every operational link throughout the entire network.  They never have to rely on rumor, because they can figure out the entire topology themselves.  This set of information is referred to as the LSDB, or Link-State Database, and does not contain routes but link information.  LS routers unpack the data, process it using an algorithm (for example, the Dijkstra Shortest Path First Algorithm) to calculate potential routes for use by the process.  The most well-known link state protocols are OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) and ISIS (Integrated System to Integrated System), with the latter usually regarded as more popular.

Another distinct difference in the link state world is how routers interact with one another, namely, in a more structured and formal fashion.  In a way, LS routers are like a lot of business people—they only do business with people they know.  Routers actually set up formal relationships, track availability and state of those routers, and send and receive data only with devices they know.  Rumor is no longer a problem, and neither are possible routing loops, because all information is known and available.  Now the focus is not on how far away something is, but rather the cost to reach that network, with cost being the available bandwidth of the links between the source and destination points.

Now that we have talked about the types of protocols, we can discuss specific ones, starting with RIP…

– Joe

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