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Armin Kobilica

November/2011

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)


What is it? Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a mechanism in high-performance telecommunications networks that directs data from one network node to the next based on short path labels rather than long network addresses, avoiding complex lookups in a routing table.(Wikipedia) For what is it worth? MPLS was primary designed to eliminate dependence between various protocols, to improve switching speed and to ensure capable connection between data link and network layer. Looking at various data link layer implementation like ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode),SONET (Synchronous Optical Networking) or Ethernet, Frame Relay MPLS use benefits of each and ensuring simply different types of traffic. Designed to improve speed of transmission, with giving to each packet a short label (instead of long addresses) and helping fast routing, MPLS nowadays isn't so important for speed increasing (modern Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) - based routers are looking at route maps with incredible speed what makes MPLS less important according to speed) has main benefit in implementing VPN (Virtual Private Network). Because of forwarding equivalence class (FEC), what allows quality of service (QoS) to be guaranteed, and MPLS allowing creation of IP tunnels through the network, implementation of VPN is possible without encryption. MPLS is consider as packet-switching protocol. How does it work? MPLS is adding to each packet MPLS 32-bit header what can hold one or more labels. This header is called a label stack and consists of: 20-bit label value 3-bit traffic class for QoS and ECN(Explicit Congestion Notification) 1-bit bottom of stack flag 8-bit of TTL (time to live) field (Wikipedia) In basic words, MPLS network has label switch routers (LSR-s) that are giving labels to packets and label edge routers (LERs) that are ensuring that packet is leaving MPLS network. LSRs and LERs are using Label Distribution Protocol (LDP) to distribute labels between them. In MPLS at each router is given a new label what provide fast transmission between router. These labels are stored at label stack in MPLS. At each router, stack is checked and label is popped to stack (label to next router) or pushed (dropped from stack) if packet arrive specific router. At the end, when stack of labels is empty, that means packet should leave MPLS network. What are advantages of MPLS? 1. Improving network efficiency and quality of service (QoS). 2. Solving problem for various implementations of data link layer. 3. Improving switching speed with 32-bit label assignment at each router (LSRs and LERs). 4. Allow creating Virtual Private Network without encryption (by creating IP tunnels).