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EIGRP Concepts and Operation

Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) went through a similar creation process as compared to RIP, but with the work happening inside Cisco. Cisco has already created the Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (IGRP) in the 1980s, and the same needs that drove people to create RIPv2 and OSPF drove Cisco to improve IGRP as well. Instead of naming the original IGRP Version 1, and the new one IGRP Version 2, Cisco named the new version Enhanced IGRP (EIGRP).

EIGRP acts a little like a DV protocol, and a little like no other routing protocol. Frankly, over the years, different Cisco documents and different books (mine included) have characterized EIGRP as either its own category, called a balanced hybrid routing protocol, or as some kind of advanced DV protocol.

Regardless of what label you put on EIGRP, the protocol uses several features that work either like basic DV protocols such as RIP, or they work similarly enough. Routers that use EIGRP send messages so that other routers learn routes, they listen for messages to learn routes, they choose the best route among multiple routes to the same subnet based on a metric, and they react and converge when the network topology changes.

Of course, EIGRP works differently in several ways as compared to RIPv2. This third of four sections of the chapter discusses some of those similarities and differences, so you get a sense of how EIGRP works. Note that this section does not attempt to mention all the features of EIGRP, but instead to give some highlights that point out some of EIGRP’s unique features compared to other IGPs. Regardless, at the end of the day, once you enable EIGRP on all your routers and Layer 3 switches, the devices will learn good routes for all the subnets in the network.

EIGRP Maintains Neighbor Status Using Hello

Unlike RIP, EIGRP does not send full or partial update messages based on a periodic timer. When a router first comes up, it advertises known routing information. Then, over time, as facts change, the router simply reacts, sending partial updates with the new information.

The fact that EIGRP does not send routing information on a short periodic timed basis greatly reduces EIGRP overhead traffic, but it also means that EIGRP cannot rely on these updates to monitor the state of neighboring routers. Instead, EIGRP defines the concept of a neighbor relationship, using EIGRP hello messages to monitor that relationship. The EIGRP hello message and protocol defines that each router should send a periodic hello message on each interface, so that all EIGRP routers know that the router is still working. Figure 20-9 shows the idea.

Figure 20-9

Figure 20-9 EIGRP Hello Packets

The routers use their own independent hello interval, which defines the time period between each EIGRP hello. For instance, routers R1 and R2 do not have to send their hellos at the same time. Routers also must receive a hello from a neighbor with a time called the hold interval, with a default setting of three times the hello interval.

For instance, imagine both R1 and R2 use default settings of 5 and 15 for their hello and hold intervals. Under normal conditions, R1 receives hellos from R2 every 5 seconds, well within R1’s hold interval (15 seconds) before R1 would consider R2 to have failed. If R2 does fail, R2 no longer sends hello messages. R1 notices that 15 seconds pass without receiving a hello from R2, so then R1 can choose new routes that do not use R2 as a next-hop router.

EIGRP Topology and the Metric Calculation

One of the most compelling reasons to consider using EIGRP instead of other IGPs is the strength of the EIGRP metric. EIGRP uses a math function to calculate the metric. More importantly, that function uses two input variables by default:

  • The slowest link in the end-to-end route
  • The cumulative delay for all links in the route

As a result, EIGRP defines the concept of the best route based on the constraining bandwidth (speed) of the links in the route, plus the total delay in the route.

The words bandwidth and delay have specific meaning with EIGRP. Bandwidth refers to the perceived speed of each link. Delay refers to the router’s perception of the time it takes to send a frame over the link. Both bandwidth and delay are settings on router interfaces; although routers do have default values for both bandwidth and delay on each interface, the settings can be configured as well.

EIGRP calls the calculated metric value the composite metric, with the individual inputs into the formula being the metric components. The formula itself is not as important as the effect of the metric components on the calculation:

  • A smaller bandwidth yields a larger composite metric because less bandwidth is worse than more bandwidth.
  • A smaller delay yields a smaller composite metric because less delay is better than more delay.

Using these two inputs gives EIGRP a much better metric than RIP. Basically, EIGRP prefers routes with faster links, avoiding routes with slower links. Slow links, besides the obvious negative of being slow, also may experience more congestion, with packets waiting longer to get a turn to cross the link. For example, EIGRP could prefer a route with multiple 10-Gbps links rather than a single-hop route over a 1-Gbps or 100-Mbps link.

EIGRP Convergence

Another compelling reason to choose EIGRP as an IGP has to do with EIGRP’s much better convergence time as compared with RIP. EIGRP converges more quickly than RIP in all cases, and in some cases, EIGRP converges much more quickly.

For perspective, with RIPv2 in normal operation, convergence could take several minutes. During those minutes, some user traffic was not delivered to the correct destination, even though a physical path existed. With EIGRP, those same worst cases typically experience convergence of less than a minute, often less than 20 seconds, with some cases taking a second or two.

EIGRP does loop avoidance completely differently than RIP by keeping some basic topological information. The EIGRP topology database on each router holds some information about the local router, plus some information about the next-hop router in each possible route for each known subnet. That extra topology information lets EIGRP on each router take the following approach for all the possible routes to reach one subnet:

  • Similar to how other routing protocols work, a local router calculates the metric for each possible route to reach a subnet, and chooses the best route based on the best metric.
  • Unlike other routing protocols, the local router uses that extra topology information to look at the routes that were not chosen as the best route, to find all alternate routes that, if the best route fails, could be immediately used without causing a loop.

That second bullet reveals the key to understanding how EIGRP converges very quickly. Without getting into all the details, a simple example of the power of this fast EIGRP convergence can help. To begin, consider Figure 20-10, which focuses on router E’s three possible routes to reach subnet 1 on the right.

Figure 20-10

Figure 20-10 Route Through Router D Is the Successor Route to Subnet 1

The upper left shows router E’s topology table information about the three competing routes to reach subnet 1: a route through router B, another through router C, and another through router D. The metrics in the upper left show the metrics from router E’s perspective, so router E chooses the route with the smallest metric: the route through next-hop router D. EIGRP on router E places that route, with next-hop router D, into its IP routing table, represented on the lower left of the figure.

At the same time, EIGRP on router E uses additional topology information to decide whether either of the other routes—the routes through B and C—could be used if the route through router D fails, without causing a loop. Ignoring the details of how router E decides, imagine that router E does that analysis, and decides that E’s route for subnet 1 through router B could be used without causing a loop, but the route through router C could not. Router E would call that route through router B a feasible successor route, as noted in Figure 20-11.

Figure 20-11

Figure 20-11 Route Through Router B Is a Feasible Successor

As long as the network stays stable, router E has chosen the best route, and is ready to act, as follows:

  • Router E uses the successor route as its only route to subnet 1, as listed in the IPv4 routing table.
  • Router E lists the route to subnet 1, through router B, as a feasible successor, as noted in the EIGRP topology table.

Later, when convergence to a new route to subnet 1 needs to occur—days later, weeks later, whenever—the convergence is almost instant. As soon as router E realizes that the current route through router D has failed, router E can immediately remove the old route from its IPv4 routing table, and add a route to subnet 1 listing router B as the next-hop router.

EIGRP Summary

As you can see, EIGRP provides many advantages over both RIPv1 and RIPv2. Most significantly, it uses a much better metric, and it converges much more quickly than does RIP.

The biggest downside to EIGRP has traditionally been that EIGRP was a Cisco proprietary protocol. That is, to run EIGRP, you had to use Cisco products only. Interestingly, Cisco has published EIGRP as an informational RFC in 2013, so now other vendors could choose to add EIGRP support to their products. Over time, maybe this one negative about EIGRP will fade away.

The next topic introduces the final routing protocol for this chapter, OSPF, which has always been a public standard.

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