IPv4 Multicast Overview

IPv4 defines three types of addresses: unicast, broadcast, and multicast. Each type of address enables a device to send datagrams to selected recipients:

Multicast IP packets contain a class D address in the Destination Address fields of their headers. A class D address is the IP address of a multicast group.

IP multicast improves network efficiency by enabling a host to transmit a datagram to a targeted group of receivers. For example, for a host to send a large video clip to a group of selected recipients would be time-consuming to unicast the datagram to each recipient individually. If the host broadcasts the video clip throughout the network, network resources are not available for other tasks. The host uses only the resources it needs when multicasting the datagram.

Routers use multicast routing algorithms to determine the best route and transmit multicast datagrams throughout the network. E Series routers support a number of IP multicast protocols on virtual routers (VRs). Each VR handles the interoperability of IP multicast protocols automatically. To start multicast operation on a VR, you access the context for that VR and configure the desired protocols on the selected interfaces. Table 3 describes the function of each protocol that the router supports.

Table 3: Function of Multicast Protocols on a Router



Internet Group Membership Protocol (IGMP)

Discovers hosts that belong to multicast group.

Protocol Independent Multicast Protocol (PIM)

Discovers other multicast routers to receive multicast packets.

Distance Vector Multicast Routing Protocol (DVMRP)

Routes multicast datagrams within autonomous systems.

BGP Multicasting Protocol

Routes multicast datagrams between autonomous systems.

The router supports up to 16,384 multicast forwarding entries (multicast routes) at any time.

This topic discusses the following sections:

Reverse-Path Forwarding

IP multicasting uses reverse path forwarding (RPF) to verify that a router receives a multicast packet on the correct incoming interface. The RPF algorithm enables a router to accept a multicast datagram only on the interface from which the router sends a unicast datagram to the source of the multicast datagram.

When the router receives a multicast datagram from a source for a group, the router verifies that the packet was received on the correct RPF interface. If the packet was not received on the correct interface, the router discards the packet. Only packets received on the correct RPF interface are considered for forwarding to downstream receivers.

When operating in sparse-mode, the routers perform an RPF lookup to identify the upstream router from which to request the data and then send join messages for the multicast stream only to that router.

When operating in dense-mode, routers that have multiple paths to the source of the multicast stream initially receive the same stream on more than one interface. In this case, the routers perform an RPF lookup to identify multicast data streams that are not arriving on the best path and send prune messages to terminate these flows.

The RPF lookup need not always be towards the source of the multicast stream. The lookup is done towards the source only when the router is using a source-rooted tree to receive the multicast stream. If the router uses a shared tree instead, the RPF lookup is toward a rendezvous point and not toward the source of the multicast stream.

Multicast Packet Forwarding

Multicast packet forwarding is based on the source (S) of the multicast packet and the destination multicast group address (G). For each (S,G) pair, the router accepts multicast packets on an incoming interface (IIF), which satisfies the RPF check (RPF-IIF). The router drops packets received on IIFs other than the RPF-IIF and notifies the routing protocols that a packet was received on the wrong interface.

The router forwards packets received on the RPF-IIF to a list of outgoing interfaces (OIFs). The list of OIFs is determined by the exchange of routing information and local group membership information. The router maintains mappings of (S,G, IIF) to {OIF1, OIF2…} in the multicast routing table.

You can enable two or more multicast protocols on an IIF. However, only one protocol can forward packets on that IIF. The protocol that forwards packets on an IIF owns that IIF. A multicast protocol that owns an IIF also owns the (S,G) entry in the multicast routing table.

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