This topic explain how STP operates in a simple switched network. Start learning CCNA 200-301 for free right now!!
Note: Welcome: This topic is part of Module 5 of the Cisco CCNA 2 course, for a better follow up of the course you can go to the CCNA 2 section to guide you through an order.
Table of Contents
Steps to a Loop-Free Topology
Now you know how loops are created and the basics of using spanning tree protocol to prevent them. This topic will take you, step by step, through the operation of STP. Using the STA, STP builds a loop-free topology in a four-step process:
Elect the root bridge.
Elect the root ports.
Elect designated ports.
Elect alternate (blocked) ports.
During STA and STP functions, switches use Bridge Protocol Data Units (BPDUs) to share information about themselves and their connections. BPDUs are used to elect the root bridge, root ports, designated ports, and alternate ports. Each BPDU contains a bridge ID (BID) that identifies which switch sent the BPDU. The BID is involved in making many of the STA decisions including root bridge and port roles. As shown in the figure, the BID contains a priority value, the MAC address of the switch, and an extended system ID. The lowest BID value is determined by the combination of these three fields.
The BID includes the Bridge Priority, the Extended System ID, and the MAC Address of the switch.
The default priority value for all Cisco switches is the decimal value 32768. The range is 0 to 61440 in increments of 4096. A lower bridge priority is preferable. A bridge priority of 0 takes precedence over all other bridge priorities.
Extended System ID
The extended system ID value is a decimal value added to the bridge priority value in the BID to identify the VLAN for this BPDU.
Early implementations of IEEE 802.1D were designed for networks that did not use VLANs. There was a single common spanning tree across all switches. For this reason, in older switches, the extended system ID was not included in the BPDUs. As VLANs became common for network infrastructure segmentation, 802.1D was enhanced to include support for VLANs, which required that the 12-bit VLAN ID be included in the BPDU frame. VLAN information is included in the BPDU frame through the use of the extended system ID.
The extended system ID allows later implementations of STP, such as Rapid STP (RSTP) to have different root bridges for different sets of VLANs. This can allow for redundant, non-forwarding links in a STP topology for one set of VLANs to be used by a different set of VLANs using a different root bridge.
When two switches are configured with the same priority and have the same extended system ID, the switch having the MAC address with the lowest value, expressed in hexadecimal, will have the lower BID.
(1) Elect the Root Bridge
The STA designates a single switch as the root bridge and uses it as the reference point for all path calculations. Switches exchange BPDUs to build the loop-free topology beginning with selecting the root bridge.
An election process determines which switch becomes the root bridge. All switches in the broadcast domain participate in the election process. After a switch boots, it begins to send out BPDU frames every two seconds. These BPDU frames contain the BID of the sending switch and the BID of the root bridge, known as the Root ID.
The switch with the lowest BID will become the root bridge. At first, all switches declare themselves as the root bridge with their own BID set as the Root ID. Eventually, the switches learn through the exchange of BPDUs which switch has the lowest BID and will agree on one root bridge.
In the figure, S1 is elected the root bridge because it has the lowest BID.
Impact of Default BIDs
Because the default BID is 32768, it is possible for two or more switches to have the same priority. In this scenario, where the priorities are the same, the switch with the lowest MAC address will become the root bridge. To ensure that the root bridge decision best meets network requirements, it is recommended that the administrator configure the desired root bridge switch with a lower priority.
In the figure, all switches are configured with the same priority of 32769. Here the MAC address becomes the deciding factor as to which switch becomes the root bridge. The switch with the lowest hexadecimal MAC address value is the preferred root bridge. In this example, S2 has the lowest value for its MAC address and is elected as the root bridge for that spanning tree instance.
Note: The BPDU includes the root path cost. This is the cost of the path from the sending switch to the root bridge.
Determine the Root Path Cost
When the root bridge has been elected for a given spanning tree instance, the STA starts the process of determining the best paths to the root bridge from all destinations in the broadcast domain. The path information, known as the internal root path cost, is determined by the sum of all the individual port costs along the path from the switch to the root bridge.
Note: The BPDU includes the root path cost. This is the cost of the path from the sending switch to the root bridge.
When a switch receives the BPDU, it adds the ingress port cost of the segment to determine its internal root path cost.
The default port costs are defined by the speed at which the port operates. The table shows the default port costs suggested by IEEE. Cisco switches by default use the values as defined by the IEEE 802.1D standard, also known as the short path cost, for both STP and RSTP. However, the IEEE standard suggests using the values defined in the IEEE-802.1w, also known as long path cost, when using 10 Gbps links and faster.
Note: RSTP is discussed in more detail later in this module.
STP Cost: IEEE 802.1D-1998
RSTP Cost: IEEE 802.1w-2004
Although switch ports have a default port cost associated with them, the port cost is configurable. The ability to configure individual port costs gives the administrator the flexibility to manually control the spanning tree paths to the root bridge.
(2) Elect the Root Ports
After the root bridge has been determined, the STA algorithm is used to select the root port. Every non-root switch will select one root port. The root port is the port closest to the root bridge in terms of overall cost (best path) to the root bridge. This overall cost is known as the internal root path cost.
The internal root path cost is equal to the sum of all the port costs along the path to the root bridge, as shown in the figure. Paths with the lowest cost become preferred, and all other redundant paths are blocked. In the example, the internal root path cost from S2 to the root bridge S1 over path 1 is 19 (based on the IEEE-specified individual port cost) while the internal root path cost over path 2 is 38. Because path 1 has a lower overall path cost to the root bridge, it is the preferred path and F0/1 becomes the root port on S2.
(3) Elect Designated Ports
The loop prevention part of spanning tree becomes evident during these next two steps. After each switch selects a root port, the switches will then select designated ports.
Every segment between two switches will have one designated port. The designated port is a port on the segment (with two switches) that has the internal root path cost to the root bridge. In other words, the designated port has the best path to receive traffic leading to the root bridge.
What is not a root port or a designated port becomes an alternate or blocked port. The end result is a single path from every switch to the root bridge.
Click each button for an explanation of how STA elects the designated ports.
All ports on the root bridge are designated ports, as shown in the figure. This is because the root bridge has the lowest cost to itself.
All the ports on the root bridge are designated ports.
If one end of a segment is a root port, then the other end is a designated port. To demonstrate this, the figure shows that switch S4 is connected to S3. The Fa0/1 interface on S4 is its root port because it has the best and only path to the root bridge. The Fa0/3 interface on S3 at the other end of the segment would therefore, be the designated port.
Note: All switch ports with end devices (hosts) attached are designated ports.
Fa0/1 interface on S4 is a designated port because the Fa0/3 interface of S3 is a root port.
This leaves only segments between two switches where neither of the switches is the root bridge. In this case, the port on the switch with the least-cost path to the root bridge is the designated port for the segment. For example, in the figure, the last segment is the one between S2 and S3. Both S2 and S3 have the same path cost to the root bridge. The spanning tree algorithm will use the bridge ID as a tie breaker. Although not shown in the figure, S2 has a lower BID. Therefore, the F0/2 port of S2 will be chosen as the designated port. Designated ports are in forwarding state.
The Fa0/2 interface of S2 is the designated port on the segment with S3.
(4) Elect Alternate (Blocked) Ports
If a port is not a root port or a designated port, then it becomes an alternate (or backup) port. Alternate ports and backup ports are in discarding or blocking state to prevent loops. In the figure, the STA has configured port F0/2 on S3 in the alternate role. Port F0/2 on S3 is in the blocking state and will not forward Ethernet frames. All other inter-switch ports are in forwarding state. This is the loop-prevention part of STP.
The Fa0/2 interface of S3 is not a root port or a designated port, so it becomes an alternate or blocked port.
Elect a Root Port from Multiple Equal-Cost Paths
Root port and designated ports are based on the lowest path cost to the root bridge. But what happens if the switch has multiple equal-cost paths to the root bridge? How does a switch designate a root port?
When a switch has multiple equal-cost paths to the root bridge, the switch will determine a port using the following criteria:
Lowest sender BID
Lowest sender port priority
Lowest sender port ID
Click each criteria for an example and explanation.
The figure shows a topology with four switches, including switch S1 as the root bridge. Examining the port roles, port F0/1 on switch S3 and port F0/3 on switch S4 have been selected as root ports because they have the lowest cost path (root path cost) to the root bridge for their respective switches. S2 has two ports, F0/1 and F0/2 with equal cost paths to the root bridge. In this case the bridge IDs of the neighboring switches, S3 and S4, will be used to break the tie. This is known as the sender’s BID. S3 has a BID of 32769.5555.5555.5555 and S4 has a BID of 32769.1111.1111.1111. Because S4 has a lower BID, the F0/1 port of S2, which is the port connected to S4, will be the root port.
To demonstrate these next two criteria, the topology is changed to one where two switches are connected with two equal-cost paths between them. S1 is the root bridge, so both of its ports are designated ports.
S4 has two ports with equal-cost paths to the root bridge. Because both ports are connected to the same switch, the sender’s BID (S1) is equal. So the first step is a tie.
Next on the list is the sender’s (S1) port priority. The default port priority is 128, so both ports on S1 have the same port priority. This is also a tie. However, if either port on S1 was configured with a lower port priority, S4 would put its adjacent port in forwarding state. The other port on S4 would be a blocking state.
The last tie-breaker is the lowest sender’s port ID. Switch S4 has received BPDUs from port F0/1 and port F0/2 on S1. Remember the decision is based on the sender’s port ID, not the receiver’s port ID. Because the port ID of F0/1 on S1 is lower than port F0/2, the port F0/6 on switch S4 will be the root port. This is the port on S4 that is connected to the F0/1 port on S1.
Port F0/5 on S4 will become an alternate port and placed in the blocking state, which is the loop-prevention part of STP.
STP Timers and Port States
STP convergence requires three timers, as follows:
Hello Timer -The hello time is the interval between BPDUs. The default is 2 seconds but can be modified to between 1 and 10 seconds.
Forward Delay Timer -The forward delay is the time that is spent in the listening and learning state. The default is 15 seconds but can be modified to between 4 and 30 seconds.
Max Age Timer -The max age is the maximum length of time that a switch waits before attempting to change the STP topology. The default is 20 seconds but be modified to between 6 and 40 seconds.
Note: The default times can be changed on the root bridge, which dictates the value of these timers for the STP domain.
STP facilitates the logical loop-free path throughout the broadcast domain. The spanning tree is determined through the information learned by the exchange of the BPDU frames between the interconnected switches. If a switch port transitions directly from the blocking state to the forwarding state without information about the full topology during the transition, the port can temporarily create a data loop. For this reason, STP has five ports states, four of which are operational port states as shown in the figure. The disabled state is considered non-operational.
The details of each port state are shown in the table.
The port is an alternate port and does not participate in frame forwarding. The port receives BPDU frames to determine the location and root ID of the root bridge. BPDU frames also determine which port roles each switch port should assume in the final active STP topology. With a Max Age timer of 20 seconds, a switch port that has not received an expected BPDU from a neighbor switch will go into the blocking state.
After the blocking state, a port will move to the listening state. The port receives BPDUs to determine the path to the root. The switch port also transmits its own BPDU frames and informs adjacent switches that the switch port is preparing to participate in the active topology.
A switch port transitions to the learning state after the listening state. During the learning state, the switch port receives and processes BPDUs and prepares to participate in frame forwarding. It also begins to populate the MAC address table. However, in the learning state, user frames are not forwarded to the destination.
In the forwarding state, a switch port is considered part of the active topology. The switch port forwards user traffic and sends and receives BPDU frames.
A switch port in the disabled state does not participate in spanning tree and does not forward frames. The disabled state is set when the switch port is administratively disabled.
Operational Details of Each Port State
The table summarizes the operational details of each port state.
MAC Address Table
Forwarding Data Frames
Receive and send
Receive and send
Receive and send
None sent or received
Per-VLAN Spanning Tree
Up until now, we have discussed STP in an environment where there is only one VLAN. However, STP can be configured to operate in an environment with multiple VLANs.
In Per-VLAN Spanning Tree (PVST) versions of STP, there is a root bridge elected for each spanning tree instance. This makes it possible to have different root bridges for different sets of VLANs. STP operates a separate instance of STP for each individual VLAN. If all ports on all switches are members of VLAN 1, then there is only one spanning tree instance.
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