How Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) Handles Topology Changes

For this exploration I’m using Arista’s Virtual Extensible Operating System (vEOS) version 4.15.0F running in GNS3(Which is pretty awesome).  The virtual switches have been configured in rapid-pvst mode.

Here is the topology:

EtherSwitches have been added only to capture traffic off of monitoring sessions set up on Switch1 and Switch2 to look at in Wireshark.  The Ubuntu server can be ignored for the purposes of this blog entry.

Only VLAN 1 is present on all switches and Switch1 is configured to be the primary root, while Switch2 is configured to be the secondary. Here’s the current state of the network:

First it’s important to note that only a single thing will trigger a topology change event – the transition of a non-Edge port from a non-Forwarding to a Forwarding state. Why?  Because this newly Forwarding port could possibly provide a better path to a given destination MAC address than there was before, and the CAM table will need to be updated to reflect that and prevent the same MAC being displayed on more than one port.  It sounds strange that a loss of a Forwarding port doesn’t trigger a topology change event, but think about it – in a L2 world, you can’t have multiple paths to reach a destination. “There can be only one.”  Otherwise it would likely mean there is a loop.  Taking that into consideration, if our only path to a destination MAC breaks, we know we can’t get there unless another path is created by another port transitioning to Forwarding – which will trigger a topology change event.  Viola – work smarter not harder!

To review the Topology Change process when a switch detects a topology change event:

  1. Set tcWhile timer on all non-Edge Designated ports and Root port if it exists
  2. Flush MAC addresses learned on ports in step 1
  3. Send BPDUs with the Topology Change (TC) flag set on these ports every Hello seconds until tcWhile expires

So let’s first look at what happens locally on a switch, as we shut interface Et1 on Switch4 which is its Root Port.  First, I’ll ping Switch4 from Switch2, then look at Switch4’s CAM table:

Switch4#sh mac address-table 
          Mac Address Table
------------------------------------------------------------------

Vlan    Mac Address       Type        Ports      Moves   Last Move
----    -----------       ----        -----      -----   ---------
   1    0800.274a.33f1    DYNAMIC     Et1        1       0:00:25 ago

Total Mac Addresses for this criterion: 1

We see it learned Switch2’s MAC address on Et1. Vice-versa, we look at Switch2’s CAM table and see it learned Switch4’s MAC on Et1:

Switch2#sh mac address-table
          Mac Address Table
------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vlan    Mac Address       Type        Ports      Moves   Last Move
----    -----------       ----        -----      -----   ---------
   1    0800.277b.3066    DYNAMIC     Et1        1       0:00:28 ago
 
Total Mac Addresses for this criterion: 1
Now, let’s do the same process over again, but then shut down Et1 on Switch4. Et1 is Switch4’s Root Port, so what should happen is Et2, which is an Alternate Port, should transition to a Forwarding state.  This meets the criteria for a topology change event.
After we shut Et1, we take a look at the spanning tree status on Switch4:
Switch4#sh span
VL1
  Spanning tree enabled protocol rapid-pvst
  Root ID    Priority    4097
             Address     0800.2773.3845
             Cost        4000 (Ext) 0 (Int)
             Port        2 (Ethernet2)
             Hello Time  2.000 sec  Max Age 20 sec  Forward Delay 15 sec
 
  Bridge ID  Priority    32769  (priority 32768 sys-id-ext 1)
             Address     0800.277b.3066
             Hello Time  2.000 sec  Max Age 20 sec  Forward Delay 15 sec
 
Interface        Role       State      Cost      Prio.Nbr Type
---------------- ---------- ---------- --------- -------- --------------------
Et2              root       forwarding 2000      128.2    P2p                     
 
Et3              alternate  discarding 2000      128.3    P2p
Et2 transitioned to a Root role, Forwarding state, which qualifies as a topology change event. Looking at the CAM table of Switch4, we see the previous entry is now gone:
Switch4#sh mac address-table 
          Mac Address Table
------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vlan    Mac Address       Type        Ports      Moves   Last Move
----    -----------       ----        -----      -----   ---------
 
Total Mac Addresses for this criterion: 0
Looking at Switch2, we see the previous entry is also gone as well:
Switch2#sh mac address-table 
          Mac Address Table
------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vlan    Mac Address       Type        Ports      Moves   Last Move
----    -----------       ----        -----      -----   ---------
 
Total Mac Addresses for this criterion: 0

Why did this also happen on Switch2?  If you scroll back up and look at what happens on a switch during a topology change event, you saw that the last item mentioned sending BPDUs with the TC flag set:

Send BPDUs with the Topology Change (TC) flag set on these ports every Hello seconds until tcWhile expires

So once Switch4 detected the topology change, it started firing off BPDUs with the TC flag bit set out its newly-elected Root Port, interface Et2.

Once a switch experiences a local topology change, or learns about one from another switch by receiving a BPDU with the TC flag set on a Root or Designated port, it too will in turn go through the same process.  So let’s take a look at what happened on the network holistically:

  1. Interface Et1 which was the Root Port for Switch4 is shut down. Switch4 had elected Et2 as an Alternate Port previously, so it immediately transitions the port to the new Root Port. This places Et2 into a Forwarding state which triggers a topology change event, so Switch4 then sets the tcWhile timer and flushes the CAM table entries learned on Et2, and begins sending BPDUs with the TC flag set out the same port. At the same time, Et3 begins receiving superior BPDUs so it is transitions from a Designated Port to an Alternate Port.
  2. Switch2 receives a BPDU with the TC flag set on Et4, so it sets the tcWhile timer, flushes any CAM table entries learned on, and begins sending BPDUs with the TC flag set on its Root and other Designated Port, Et1 and Et3, respectively. Ultimately, the TC BPDU sent from Et3 will be discarded upon reaching Switch3.
  3. Switch1 receives a TC BPDU on Et2.  It sets the tcWhile timer, flushes learned CAM table entries, and sends TC BPDUs from its only other remaining active Designated Port, Et5.
  4. After interface Et1 on Switch4 was shut down, Switch3 began receiving what it determined to be inferior BPDUs on Et4 due to Switch4 now advertising a higher Root Path Cost (RPC), so Switch3 transitioned the port from an Alternate Port to a Designated Port. Switch3 then receives a TC BPDU on Et1, so it sets the tcWhile timer, flushes any learned CAM table entries, and sends TC BPDUs out its only other Designated Port, Et4 – which will end up being discarded.
At this point, all switches have been informed and made the appropriate changes into a new, loop-free converged topology.  So that’s how the topology change process is handled in RSTP!