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PIM Overview

The predominant multicast routing protocol in use on the Internet today is Protocol Independent Multicast, or PIM. The type of PIM used on the Internet is PIM sparse mode. PIM sparse mode is so accepted that when the simple term “PIM” is used in an Internet context, some form of sparse mode operation is assumed.

PIM emerged as an algorithm to overcome the limitations of dense-mode protocols such as the Distance Vector Multicast Routing Protocol (DVMRP), which was efficient for dense clusters of multicast receivers, but did not scale well for the larger, sparser, groups encountered on the Internet. The Core Based Trees (CBT) Protocol was intended to support sparse mode as well, but CBT, with its all-powerful core approach, made placement of the core critical, and large conference-type applications (many-to-many) resulted in bottlenecks in the core. PIM was designed to avoid the dense-mode scaling issues of DVMRP and the potential performance issues of CBT at the same time.

Starting in Junos OS Release 15.2, only PIM version 2 is supported. In the CLI, the command for specifying a version (1 or 2) is removed.

PIMv1 and PIMv2 can coexist on the same routing device and even on the same interface. The main difference between PIMv1 and PIMv2 is the packet format. PIMv1 messages use Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) packets, whereas PIMv2 has its own IP protocol number (103) and packet structure. All routing devices connecting to an IP subnet such as a LAN must use the same PIM version. Some PIM implementations can recognize PIMv1 packets and automatically switch the routing device interface to PIMv1. Because the difference between PIMv1 and PIMv2 involves the message format, but not the meaning of the message or how the routing device processes the PIM message, a routing device can easily mix PIMv1 and PIMv2 interfaces.

PIM is used for efficient routing to multicast groups that might span wide-area and interdomain internetworks. It is called “protocol independent” because it does not depend on a particular unicast routing protocol. Junos OS supports bidirectional mode, sparse mode, dense mode, and sparse-dense mode.


ACX Series routers supports only sparse mode. Dense mode on ACX series is supported only for control multicast groups for auto-discovery of rendezvous point (auto-RP).

PIM operates in several modes: bidirectional mode, sparse mode, dense mode, and sparse-dense mode. In sparse-dense mode, some multicast groups are configured as dense mode (flood-and-prune, [S,G] state) and others are configured as sparse mode (explicit join to rendezvous point [RP], [*,G] state).

PIM drafts also establish a mode known as PIM source-specific mode, or PIM SSM. In PIM SSM there is only one specific source for the content of a multicast group within a given domain.

Because the PIM mode you choose determines the PIM configuration properties, you first must decide whether PIM operates in bidirectional, sparse, dense, or sparse-dense mode in your network. Each mode has distinct operating advantages in different network environments.

  • In sparse mode, routing devices must join and leave multicast groups explicitly. Upstream routing devices do not forward multicast traffic to a downstream routing device unless the downstream routing device has sent an explicit request (by means of a join message) to the rendezvous point (RP) routing device to receive this traffic. The RP serves as the root of the shared multicast delivery tree and is responsible for forwarding multicast data from different sources to the receivers.

    Sparse mode is well suited to the Internet, where frequent interdomain join messages and prune messages are common.

    Starting in Junos OS Release 19.2R1, on SRX300, SRX320, SRX340, SRX345, SRX550, SRX1500, and vSRX 2.0 and vSRX 3.0 (with 2 vCPUs) Series devices, Protocol Independent Multicast (PIM) using point-to-multipoint (P2MP) mode supports AutoVPN and Auto Discovery VPN in which a new p2mp interface type is introduced for PIM. The p2mp interface tracks all PIM joins per neighbor to ensure multicast forwarding or replication only happens to those neighbors that are in joined state. In addition, the PIM using point-to-multipoint mode supports chassis cluster mode.


    On all the EX series switches (except EX4300 and EX9200), QFX5100 switches, and OCX series switches, the rate limit is set to 1pps per S,G multicast group to avoid overwhelming the rendezvous point (RP), First hop router (FHR) with PIM-sparse mode (PIM-SM) register messages and cause CPU hogs. This rate limit helps in improving scaling and convergence times by avoiding duplicate packets being trapped, and tunneled to RP in software. (Platform support depends on the Junos OS release in your installation.)

  • Bidirectional PIM is similar to sparse mode, and is especially suited to applications that must scale to support a large number of dispersed sources and receivers. In bidirectional PIM, routing devices build shared bidirectional trees and do not switch to a source-based tree. Bidirectional PIM scales well because it needs no source-specific (S,G) state. Instead, it builds only group-specific (*,G) state.

  • Unlike sparse mode and bidirectional mode, in which data is forwarded only to routing devices sending an explicit PIM join request, dense mode implements a flood-and-prune mechanism, similar to the Distance Vector Multicast Routing Protocol (DVMRP). In dense mode, a routing device receives the multicast data on the incoming interface, then forwards the traffic to the outgoing interface list. Flooding occurs periodically and is used to refresh state information, such as the source IP address and multicast group pair. If the routing device has no interested receivers for the data, and the outgoing interface list becomes empty, the routing device sends a PIM prune message upstream.

    Dense mode works best in networks where few or no prunes occur. In such instances, dense mode is actually more efficient than sparse mode.

  • Sparse-dense mode, as the name implies, allows the interface to operate on a per-group basis in either sparse or dense mode. A group specified as “dense” is not mapped to an RP. Instead, data packets destined for that group are forwarded by means of PIM dense mode rules. A group specified as “sparse” is mapped to an RP, and data packets are forwarded by means of PIM sparse-mode rules. Sparse-dense mode is useful in networks implementing auto-RP for PIM sparse mode.


On SRX Series devices, PIM does not support upstream and downstream interfaces across different virtual routers in flow mode.

Basic PIM Network Components

PIM dense mode requires only a multicast source and series of multicast-enabled routing devices running PIM dense mode to allow receivers to obtain multicast content. Dense mode makes sure that all multicast traffic gets everywhere by periodically flooding the network with multicast traffic, and relies on prune messages to make sure that subnets where all receivers are uninterested in that particular multicast group stop receiving packets.

PIM sparse mode is more complicated and requires the establishment of special routing devices called rendezvous points (RPs) in the network core. These routing devices are where upstream join messages from interested receivers meet downstream traffic from the source of the multicast group content. A network can have many RPs, but PIM sparse mode allows only one RP to be active for any multicast group.

If there is only one RP in a routing domain, the RP and adjacent links might become congested and form a single point of failure for all multicast traffic. Thus, multiple RPs are the rule, but the issue then becomes how other multicast routing devices find the RP that is the source of the multicast group the receiver is trying to join. This RP-to-group mapping is controlled by a special bootstrap router (BSR) running the PIM BSR mechanism. There can be more than one bootstrap router as well, also for single-point-of-failure reasons.

The bootstrap router does not have to be an RP itself, although this is a common implementation. The bootstrap router's main function is to manage the collection of RPs and allow interested receivers to find the source of their group's multicast traffic. PIM bootstrap messages are sourced from the loopback address, which is always up. The loopback address must be routable. If it is not routable, then the bootstrap router is unable to send bootstrap messages to update the RP domain members. The show pim bootstrap command displays only those bootstrap routers that have routable loopback addresses.

PIM SSM can be seen as a subset of a special case of PIM sparse mode and requires no specialized equipment other than that used for PIM sparse mode (and IGMP version 3).

Bidirectional PIM RPs, unlike RPs for PIM sparse mode, do not need to perform PIM Register tunneling or other specific protocol action. Bidirectional PIM RPs implement no specific functionality. RP addresses are simply a location in the network to rendezvous toward. In fact, for bidirectional PIM, RP addresses need not be loopback interface addresses or even be addresses configured on any routing device, as long as they are covered by a subnet that is connected to a bidirectional PIM-capable routing device and advertised to the network.

Release History Table
Starting in Junos OS Release 19.2R1, on SRX300, SRX320, SRX340, SRX345, SRX550, SRX1500, and vSRX 2.0 and vSRX 3.0 (with 2 vCPUs) Series devices, Protocol Independent Multicast (PIM) using point-to-multipoint (P2MP) mode supports AutoVPN and Auto Discovery VPN in which a new p2mp interface type is introduced for PIM.
Starting in Junos OS Release 15.2, only PIM version 2 is supported. In the CLI, the command for specifying a version (1 or 2) is removed.