CCIE or Null!

My journey to CCIE!

Cisco Express Forwarding – CEF

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In my last post about unicast Reverse Path Forwarding, I made quite a few references to CEF. CEF (known as Cisco Express Forwarding) is a feature built into every Cisco router and is enabled by default it’s really the feature that makes Cisco well Cisco. I figured I would take a little time and discuss CEF in a little detail.

From a 500 foot view CEF is a method the router uses to forward packets, without utilizing any CPU cycles. CEF builds 2 cached tables in memory, these 2 cached tables are built from every entry in the routing table. So when the next packet arrives the router simply looks up the CEF entry found within memory to forward the packet, compared to sending the packet to the packet to the CPU for a route lookup and then forwarding the packet on.

CEF works by creating two tables:

  1. The Adjacency table maintains the layer 2 forwarding information for each FIB entry eliminating the need for the router to send out ARP requests.
  2. The FIB (Forwarding Information Base, also known as the CEF table) contains information from the routing tables and tracks the next-hop for all routes. So where the adjancency table manages layer 2 information the CEF table manages the layer 3 forwarding information

Now that we know the components of CEF, lets talk a little about how CEF interacts with packets as they enter the router.

  1. Once the packets arrives at the router the layer 2 information is stripped off. (This is normal and happens whenever a frame is accepted to a layer 3 device)
  2. Next the router looks up the destination using the CEF table.
  3. Then the router finds the corresponding adjacency table entry.
  4. The router then adds the corresponding layer 2 information (found in the adjacency table) back to the packet and forwards the packet on. All from memory.

You can view the CEF table by issuing the command sh ip cef:

Now remember the CEF table is layer 3 information so we have destination prefixes and what the next hop address is along with the outgoing interface.

You can view layer 2 adjacencies by issuing the sh adjacency %Interface% detail:

Since the adjancency table pertains to layer 2 information we’ll see some MAC addresses here, one thing I want to point is that long hexidecimal number in the fifth line that line consists of the destination MAC address of, the source MAC address of this routers fa0/0 interface and the ethertype of 0800 (Meaning it’s an ethernet interface)

Now this was only the tip of the iceberg for CEF, and this post was only supposed to bring it to light on a real high level so more CEF related posts will mostly surface as time goes on.

Written by Stephen J. Occhiogrosso

October 11, 2012 at 11:05 AM

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