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IS-IS Overview

The IS-IS protocol is an interior gateway protocol (IGP) that uses link-state information to make routing decisions.

IS-IS is a link-state IGP that uses the shortest-path-first (SPF) algorithm to determine routes. IS-IS evaluates the topology changes and determines whether to perform a full SPF recalculation or a partial route calculation (PRC). This protocol originally was developed for routing International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Connectionless Network Protocol (CLNP) packets.

Like OSPF routing, IS-IS uses hello packets that allow network convergence to occur quickly when network changes are detected. IS-IS uses the SPF algorithm to determine routes. Using SPF, IS-IS evaluates network topology changes and determines if a full or partial route calculation is required.


Because IS-IS uses ISO addresses, the configuration of IP version 6 (IPv6) and IP version 4 (IPv4) implementations of IS-IS is identical.


See Platforms/FPCs That Cannot Forward TCC Encapsulated ISO Traffic to find a list of those devices and FPC configurations that cannot pass ISO traffic when encapsulated in TCC format.

This section discusses the following topics:

IS-IS Terminology

An IS-IS network is a single autonomous system (AS), also called a routing domain, that consists of end systems and intermediate systems. End systems are network entities that send and receive packets. Intermediate systems send and receive packets and relay (forward) packets. (Intermediate system is the Open System Interconnection [OSI] term for a router.) ISO packets are called network PDUs.

In IS-IS, a single AS can be divided into smaller groups called areas. Routing between areas is organized hierarchically, allowing a domain to be administratively divided into smaller areas. This organization is accomplished by configuring Level 1 and Level 2 intermediate systems. Level 1 systems route within an area; when the destination is outside an area, they route toward a Level 2 system. Level 2 intermediate systems route between areas and toward other ASs. No IS-IS area functions strictly as a backbone.

Level 1 routers share intra-area routing information, and Level 2 routers share interarea information about IP addresses available within each area. Uniquely, IS-IS routers can act as both Level 1 and Level 2 routers, sharing intra-area routes with other Level 1 routers and interarea routes with other Level 2 routers.

The propagation of link-state updates is determined by the level boundaries. All routers within a level maintain a complete link-state database of all other routers in the same level. Each router then uses the Dijkstra algorithm to determine the shortest path from the local router to other routers in the link-state database.

ISO Network Addresses

IS-IS uses ISO network addresses. Each address identifies a point of connection to the network, such as a router interface, and is called a network service access point (NSAP).

IS-IS supports multiple NSAP addresses on the loopback lo0 interface.

An end system can have multiple NSAP addresses, in which case the addresses differ only by the last byte (called the n-selector). Each NSAP represents a service that is available at that node. In addition to having multiple services, a single node can belong to multiple areas.

Each network entity also has a special network address called a network entity title (NET). Structurally, an NET is identical to an NSAP address but has an n-selector of 00. Most end systems and intermediate systems have one NET. Intermediate systems that participate in multiple areas can have multiple NETs.

The following ISO addresses illustrate the IS-IS address format:

NETs take several forms, depending on your network requirements. NET addresses are hexadecimal and range from 8 octets to 20 octets in length. Generally, the format consists of an authority and format Identifier (AFI), a domain ID, an area ID, a system identifier, and a selector. The simplest format omits the domain ID and is 10 octets long. For example, the NET address 49.0001.1921.6800.1001.00 consists of the following parts:

  • 49—AFI

  • 0001—Area ID

  • 1921.6800.1001—System identifier

  • 00—Selector

The system identifier must be unique within the network. For an IP-only network, we recommend using the IP address of an interface on the router. Configuring a loopback NET address with the IP address is helpful when troubleshooting is required on the network.

The first portion of the address is the area number, which is a variable number from 1 through 13 bytes. The first byte of the area number (49) is the authority and format indicator (AFI). The next bytes are the assigned domain (area) identifier, which can be from 0 through 12 bytes. In the examples above, the area identifier is 0001.

The next six bytes form the system identifier. The system identifier can be any six bytes that are unique throughout the entire domain. The system identifier commonly is the media access control (MAC) address (as in the first example, 00a0.c96b.c490) or the IP address expressed in binary-coded decimal (BCD) (as in the second example, 2081.9716.9018, which corresponds to IP address The last byte (00) is the n-selector.


The system identifier cannot be 0000.0000.0000. All 0s is an illegal setting, and the adjacency is not formed with this setting.

To provide help with IS-IS debugging, the Junos® operating system (Junos OS) supports dynamic mapping of ISO system identifiers to the hostname. Each system can be configured with a hostname, which allows the system identifier-to-hostname mapping to be carried in a dynamic hostname type, length, and value (TLV) tuple in IS-IS link-state PDUs. This enables intermediate systems in the routing domain to learn about the ISO system identifier of a particular intermediate system.

IS-IS Packets

Each IS-IS PDU shares a common header. IS-IS uses the following PDUs to exchange protocol information:

  • IS-IS hello (IIH) PDUs—Broadcast to discover the identity of neighboring IS-IS systems and to determine whether the neighbors are Level 1 or Level 2 intermediate systems.

    IS-IS hello PDUs establish adjacencies with other routers and have three different formats: one for point-to-point hello packets, one for Level 1 broadcast links, and one for Level 2 broadcast links. Level 1 routers must share the same area address to form an adjacency, while Level 2 routers do not have this limitation. The request for adjacency is encoded in the Circuit type field of the PDU.

    Hello PDUs have a preset length assigned to them. The IS-IS router does not resize any PDU to match the maximum transmission unit (MTU) on a router interface. Each interface supports the maximum IS-IS PDU of 1492 bytes, and hello PDUs are padded to meet the maximum value. When the hello is sent to a neighboring router, the connecting interface supports the maximum PDU size.

  • Link-state PDUs—Contain information about the state of adjacencies to neighboring IS-IS systems. Link-state PDUs are flooded periodically throughout an area.

    Also included is metric and IS-IS neighbor information. Each link-state PDU must be refreshed periodically on the network and is acknowledged by information within a sequence number PDU.

    On point-to-point links, each link-state PDU is acknowledged by a partial sequence number PDU (PSNP), but on broadcast links, a complete sequence number PDU (CSNP) is sent out over the network. Any router that finds newer link-state PDU information in the CSNP then purges the out-of-date entry and updates the link-state database.

    Link-state PDUs support variable-length subnet mask addressing.

  • Complete sequence number PDUs (CSNPs)—Contain a complete list of all link-state PDUs in the IS-IS database. CSNPs are sent periodically on all links, and the receiving systems use the information in the CSNP to update and synchronize their link-state PDU databases. The designated router multicasts CSNPs on broadcast links in place of sending explicit acknowledgments for each link-state PDU.

    Contained within the CSNP is a link-state PDU identifier, a lifetime, a sequence number, and a checksum for each entry in the database. Periodically, a CSNP is sent on both broadcast and point-to-point links to maintain a correct database. Also, the advertisement of CSNPs occurs when an adjacency is formed with another router. Like IS-IS hello PDUs, CSNPs come in two types: Level 1 and Level 2.

    When a device receives a CSNP, it checks the database entries against its own local link-state database. If it detects missing information, the device requests specific link-state PDU details using a partial sequence number PDU (PSNP).

  • Partial sequence number PDUs (PSNPs)—Sent multicast by a receiver when it detects that it is missing a link-state PDU (when its link-state PDU database is out of date). The receiver sends a PSNP to the system that transmitted the CSNP, effectively requesting that the missing link-state PDU be transmitted. That routing device, in turn, forwards the missing link-state PDU to the requesting routing device.

    A PSNP is used by an IS-IS router to request link-state PDU information from a neighboring router. A PSNP can also explicitly acknowledge the receipt of a link-state PDU on a point-to-point link. On a broadcast link, a CSNP is used as implicit knowledge. Like hello PDUs and CSNPs, the PSNP also has two types: Level 1 and Level 2.

    When a device compares a CSNP to its local database and determines that a link-state PDU is missing, the router issues a PSNP for the missing link-state PDU, which is returned in a link-state PDU from the router sending the CSNP. The received link-state PDU is then stored in the local database, and an acknowledgment is sent back to the originating router.

Persistent Route Reachability

IPv4 and IPv6 route reachability information in IS-IS link-state PDUs is preserved when you commit a configuration. IP prefixes are preserved with their original packet fragment upon link-state PDU regeneration.

IS-IS Support for Multipoint Network Clouds

IS-IS does not support multipoint configurations. Therefore, when configuring Frame Relay or Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networks, you must configure them as collections of point-to-point links, not as multipoint clouds.

Installing a Default Route to the Nearest Routing Device That Operates at Both IS-IS Levels

When a routing device that operates as both a Level 1 and Level 2 router (Router B) determines that it can reach at least one area other than its own (for example, in Area Y), it sets the ATTACHED bit in its Level 1 link-state PDU. Thereafter, the Level 1 router (Router A) introduces a default route pointing to the nearest attached routing device that operates as both a Level 1 and Level 2 router (Router B). See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Install Default Route to Nearest Routing Device That Operates at Both Level 1 and Level 2Install Default Route to Nearest Routing Device That Operates at Both Level 1 and Level 2