Tag: TCAM

TCAM and CAM memory usage inside networking devices

As this is networking blog I will focus mostly on the usage of CAM and TCAM memory in routers and switches. I will explain TCAM role in router prefix lookup process and switch mac address table lookup. However, when we talk about this specific topic, most of you will ask: how is this memory made from architectural aspect? How it is made in order to have the capability of making lookups faster than any other hardware or software solution? That is the reason for the second part of the article where I will try to explain in short how are the most usual TCAM memory build to have the capabilities they have.

CAM and TCAM memory

When using Ternary Content Addressable Memory TCAM inside routers it’s used for faster address lookup that enables fast routing. In switches Content Addressable Memory CAM is used for building and lookup of mac address table that enable L2 forwarding decisions. By implementing router prefix lookup in TCAM, we are moving process of Forwarding Information Base lookup from software to hardware. When we implement TCAM we enable the address search process not to depend on number of prefix entries because TCAM main characteristic is that it is able to search all its entries in parallel. It means that no matter how many address prefixes are stored in TCAM, router will find the longest prefix match in one iteration. It’s magic, right?

CEF Lookup

Image 1 shows how FIB lookup functions and points to entry in adjacency table. Search process goes through all entries in TCAM table in one iteration.


Router

In routers, like High-End Cisco ones, TCAM is used to enable CEF – Cisco Express Forwarding in hardware. CEF is building FIB table from RIB table (Routing table) and Adjacency table from ARP table for building pre-prepared L2 headers for every next-hop neighbor.

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How can router decide so fast?

Cisco created all sorts of different magic inside their boxes that optimize forwarding processing of packets.

CEFMain router function is fairly self-explanatory. Router performs IP forwarding more often called IP routing. IP routing is process of deciding where to send the packet after it was received.

 

 

 

IP Routing explained in detail

Logic behind IP forwarding is listed in steps here with the assumption it will be an IPv4 packet that was received. This is process switching explained in 11 steps:

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