Link State Protocols

Link State Protocols work differently than distance-vector protocols. Where a distance-vector protocol periodically sends out its entire routing table to neighboring routers, a link state protocol instead builds a topology database that give it perspective on finding the best or “shortest” loop-free path to other networks. A link state protocol will usually build 3 databases. The first database is known as the neighbor or adjacency database, and keeps track of other routers on directly connected networks. The second database is the link state or “topology” database. This database keeps track of the “state” of the links on other routers on the network. Link state routers periodically send out what are known as “hello” messages, which are sent to neighboring routers as a type of keepalive message. An OSPF router will also periodically send out link state advertisements (LSAs), which are flooded across an internetwork. These messages contain information on the router’s active links, its IP address, subnet mask, and the routers it knows about. The information stored in the topology database is ultimately used to calculate the shortest path to a destination network. It is also used to create the final database, the routing table.

Although the flooding of these LSA messages sounds dangerous, in reality their scope is limited, as we’ll see when we look at OSPF. Ultimately, a link state router stores the complete topology of the internetwork in its database built on first-hand knowledge rather than the rumors passed by neighbor. Another efficiency is found in link state protocols because they don’t actually broadcast out their routing tables, or take nearly as long to converge. On the downside, link state protocols typically involve more planning to implement than their distance vector alternatives. Common examples of link state protocols include Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Netware Link State Protocol (NLSP).

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.