A routing protocol specifies how routers communicate with each other, distributing information that enables them to select routes between any two nodes on a computer network. Routing algorithms determine the specific choice of route. Each router has a prior knowledge only of networks attached to it directly. A routing protocol shares this information first among immediate neighbors, and then throughout the network. This way, routers gain knowledge of the topology of the network.
The specific characteristics of routing protocols include the manner in which they avoid routing loops, the manner in which they select preferred routes, using information about hop costs, the time they require to reach routing convergence, their scalability, and other factors.
Although there are many types of routing protocols, three major classes are in widespread use on IP networks:
- Interior gateway protocols type 1, link-state routing protocols, such as OSPF and IS-IS
- Interior gateway protocols type 2, distance-vector routing protocols, such as Routing Information Protocol, RIPv2, IGRP.
- Exterior gateway protocols are routing protocols used on the Internet for exchanging routing information between Autonomous Systems, such as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), Path Vector Routing Protocol. Exterior gateway protocols should not be confused with Exterior Gateway Protocol (EGP), an obsolete routing protocol.
OSI layer designation
Routing protocols, according to the OSI routing framework, are layer management protocols for the network layer, regardless of their transport mechanism:
- IS-IS runs on the data link layer (Layer 2)
- Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) is encapsulated in IP, but runs only on the IPv4 subnet, while the IPv6 version runs on the link using only link-local addressing.
- IGRP, and EIGRP are directly encapsulated in IP. EIGRP uses its own reliable transmission mechanism, while IGRP assumed an unreliable transport.
- Routing Information Protocol (RIP) runs over the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Version 1 operates in broadcast mode, while version 2 uses multicast addressing.
- BGP runs over the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).
Interior gateway protocols
- Open Shortest Path First (OSPF)
- Routing Information Protocol (RIP)
- Intermediate System to Intermediate System (IS-IS)
- Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP)[a]
Exterior gateway protocols
Some network certification courses distinguish between routing protocols and routed protocols. A routed protocol is used to deliver application traffic. It provides appropriate addressing information in its Internet layer (network layer) to allow a packet to be forwarded from one network to another. Examples of routed protocols are the Internet Protocol (IP) and Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX).
- Cisco no longer supports the proprietary IGRP protocol. The EIGRP implementation accepts IGRP configuration commands, but the internals of IGRP and EIGRP are different.