Date: 01/01/1989BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) is protocol that manages how packets are routed across the internet through the exchange of routing and reachability information between edge routers. BGP directs packets between autonomous systems (AS) — networks managed by a single enterprise or service provider. Traffic that is routed within a single network AS is referred to as internal BGP, or iBGP. More often, BGP is used to connect one AS to other autonomous systems, and it is then referred to as an external BGP, or eBGP.

Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is a standardized exterior gateway protocol designed to exchange routing and reachability information among autonomous systems (AS) on the Internet. The protocol is often classified as a path vector protocol but is sometimes also classed as a distance-vector routing protocol. The Border Gateway Protocol makes routing decisions based on paths, network policies, or rule-sets configured by a network administrator and is involved in making core routing decisions.

BGP may be used for routing within an autonomous system. In this application it is referred to as Interior Border Gateway Protocol, Internal BGP, or iBGP. In contrast, the Internet application of the protocol may be referred to as Exterior Border Gateway Protocol, External BGP, or eBGP.

What is BGP used for?

BGP offers network stability that guarantees routers can quickly adapt to send packets through another reconnection if one internet path goes down. BGP makes routing decisions based on paths, rules or network policies configured by a network administrator. Each BGP router maintains a standard routing table used to direct packets in transit. This table is used in conjunction with a separate routing table, known as the routing information base (RIB), which is a data table stored on a server on the BGP router. The RIB contains route information both from directly connected external peers, as well as internal peers, and continually updates the routing table as changes occur. BGP is based on TCP/IP and uses client-server topology to communicate routing information, with the client-server initiating a BGP session by sending a request to the server.

BGP routing basics

BGP sends updated router table information only when something changes — and even then, it sends only the affected information. BGP has no automatic discovery mechanism, which means connections between peers have to be set up manually, with peer addresses programmed in at both ends.

BGP makes best-path decisions based on current reachability, hop counts and other path characteristics. In situations where multiple paths are available — as within a major hosting facility — BGP can be used to communicate an organization’s own preferences in terms of what path traffic should follow in and out of its networks. BGP even has a mechanism for defining arbitrary tags, called communities, which can be used to control route advertisement behavior by mutual agreement among peers.

Ratified in 2006, BGP-4, the current version of BGP, supports both IPv6 and classless interdomain routing (CIDR), which enables the continued viability of IPv4. Use of the CIDR is a way to have more addresses within the network than with the current IP address assignment scheme.

Current version

The current version of BGP is version 4 (BGP4 or BGP-4) codified in RFC 4271 since 2006. Early versions of the protocol are widely considered obsolete and are rarely supported. RFC 4271, which went through more than 20 drafts, is based on the earlier RFC 1771 version 4. The RFC 4271 version corrected a number of errors, clarified ambiguities and brought the RFC much closer to industry practices. Version 4 of BGP has been in use on the Internet since 1994. The major enhancement in version 4 was support for Classless Inter-Domain Routing and use of route aggregation to decrease the size of routing tables.


BGP neighbors, called peers, are established by manual configuration between routers to create a TCP session on port 179. A BGP speaker sends 19-byte keep-alive messages every 60 seconds to maintain the connection.  Among routing protocols, BGP is unique in using TCP as its transport protocol.

When BGP runs between two peers in the same autonomous system (AS), it is referred to as Internal BGP (iBGP or Interior Border Gateway Protocol). When it runs between different autonomous systems, it is called External BGP (eBGP or Exterior Border Gateway Protocol). Routers on the boundary of one AS exchanging information with another AS are called border or edge routers or simply eBGP peers and are typically connected directly, while iBGP peers can be interconnected through other intermediate routers. Other deployment topologies are also possible, such as running eBGP peering inside a VPN tunnel, allowing two remote sites to exchange routing information in a secure and isolated manner. The main difference between iBGP and eBGP peering is in the way routes that were received from one peer are propagated to other peers. For instance, new routes learned from an eBGP peer are typically redistributed to all iBGP peers as well as all other eBGP peers (if transit mode is enabled on the router). However, if new routes are learned on an iBGP peering, then they are re-advertised only to all eBGP peers. These route-propagation rules effectively require that all iBGP peers inside an AS are interconnected in a full mesh.

Filtering routes learned from peers, their transformation before redistribution to peers or before plumbing them into the routing table is typically controlled via route-maps mechanism. These are basically rules which allow the application of certain actions to routes matching certain criteria on either ingress or egress path. These rules can specify that the route is to be dropped or, alternatively, its attributes are to be modified. It is usually the responsibility of the AS administrator to provide the desired route-map configuration on a router supporting BGP.

Extensions negotiation

During the peering handshake, when OPEN messages are exchanged, BGP speakers can negotiate optional capabilities of the session, including multiprotocol extensions and various recovery modes. If the multiprotocol extensions to BGP are negotiated at the time of creation, the BGP speaker can prefix the Network Layer Reachability Information (NLRI) it advertises with an address family prefix. These families include the IPv4 (default), IPv6, IPv4/IPv6 Virtual Private Networks and multicast BGP. Increasingly, BGP is used as a generalized signaling protocol to carry information about routes that may not be part of the global Internet, such as VPNs.

Multiprotocol Extensions for BGP (MBGP)

Multiprotocol Extensions for BGP (MBGP), sometimes referred to as Multiprotocol BGP or Multicast BGP and defined in IETF RFC 4760, is an extension to (BGP) that allows different types of addresses (known as address families) to be distributed in parallel. Whereas standard BGP supports only IPv4 unicast addresses, Multiprotocol BGP supports IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and it supports unicast and multicast variants of each. Multiprotocol BGP allows information about the topology of IP multicast-capable routers to be exchanged separately from the topology of normal IPv4 unicast routers. Thus, it allows a multicast routing topology different from the unicast routing topology. Although MBGP enables the exchange of inter-domain multicast routing information, other protocols such as the Protocol Independent Multicast family are needed to build trees and forward multicast traffic.

Multiprotocol BGP is also widely deployed in case of MPLS L3 VPN, to exchange VPN labels learned for the routes from the customer sites over the MPLS network, in order to distinguish between different customer sites when the traffic from the other customer sites comes to the Provider Edge router (PE router) for routing.