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Understanding OSPF Areas and Backbone Areas


OSPF networks in an autonomous system (AS) are administratively grouped into areas. Each area within an AS operates like an independent network and has a unique 32-bit area ID, which functions similar to a network address. Within an area, the topology database contains only information about the area, link-state advertisements (LSAs) are flooded only to nodes within the area, and routes are computed only within the area. The topology of an area is hidden from the rest of the AS, thus significantly reducing routing traffic in the AS. Subnetworks are divided into other areas, which are connected to form the whole of the main network. Routing devices that are wholly within an area are called internal routers. All interfaces on internal routers are directly connected to networks within the area.

The central area of an AS, called the backbone area, has a special function and is always assigned the area ID (Within a simple, single-area network, this is also the ID of the area.) Area IDs are unique numeric identifiers, in dotted decimal notation, but they are not IP addresses. Area IDs need only be unique within an AS. All other networks or areas in the AS must be directly connected to the backbone area by a routing device that has interfaces in more than one area. These connecting routing devices are called area border routers (ABRs). Figure 1 shows an OSPF topology of three areas connected by two ABRs.

Figure 1: Multiarea OSPF Topology
Multiarea OSPF Topology

Because all areas are adjacent to the backbone area, OSPF routers send all traffic not destined for their own area through the backbone area. The ABRs in the backbone area are then responsible for transmitting the traffic through the appropriate ABR to the destination area. The ABRs summarize the link-state records of each area and advertise destination address summaries to neighboring areas. The advertisements contain the ID of the area in which each destination lies, so that packets are routed to the appropriate ABR. For example, in the OSPF areas shown in Figure 1, packets sent from Router A to Router C are automatically routed through ABR B.

Junos OS supports active backbone detection. Active backbone detection is implemented to verify that ABRs are connected to the backbone. If the connection to the backbone area is lost, then the routing device’s default metric is not advertised, effectively rerouting traffic through another ABR with a valid connection to the backbone. Active backbone detection enables transit through an ABR with no active backbone connection. An ABR advertises to other routing devices that it is an ABR even if the connection to the backbone is down, so that the neighbors can consider it for interarea routes.

An OSPF restriction requires all areas to be directly connected to the backbone area so that packets can be properly routed. All packets are routed first to the backbone area by default. Packets that are destined for an area other than the backbone area are then routed to the appropriate ABR and on to the remote host within the destination area.

In large networks with many areas, in which direct connectivity between all areas and the backbone area is physically difficult or impossible, you can configure virtual links to connect noncontiguous areas. Virtual links use a transit area that contains two or more ABRs to pass network traffic from one adjacent area to another. For example, Figure 2 shows a virtual link between a noncontiguous area and the backbone area through an area connected to both.

In the topology shown in Figure 2, a virtual link is established between area and the backbone area through area All outbound traffic destined for other areas is routed through area  to the backbone area and then to the appropriate ABR. All inbound traffic destined for area is routed to the backbone area and then through area