BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) is protocol that manages how packets are routed across the internet through the exchange of routing and reachability information between edge routers. BGP directs packets between autonomous systems (AS) -- networks managed by a single enterprise or service provider. Traffic that is routed within a single network AS is referred to as internal BGP, or iBGP. More often, BGP is used to connect one AS to other autonomous systems, and it is then referred to as an external BGP, or eBGP.
What is BGP used for?
BGP offers network stability that guarantees routers can quickly adapt to send packets through another reconnection if one internet path goes down. BGP makes routing decisions based on paths, rules or network policies configured by a network administrator. Each BGP router maintains a standard routing table used to direct packets in transit. This table is used in conjunction with a separate routing table, known as the routing information base (RIB), which is a data table stored on a server on the BGP router. The RIB contains route information both from directly connected external peers, as well as internal peers, and continually updates the routing table as changes occur. BGP is based on TCP/IP and uses client-server topology to communicate routing information, with the client-server initiating a BGP session by sending a request to the server.
BGP routing basics
BGP sends updated router table information only when something changes -- and even then, it sends only the affected information. BGP has no automatic discovery mechanism, which means connections between peers have to be set up manually, with peer addresses programmed in at both ends.
BGP makes best-path decisions based on current reachability, hop counts and other path characteristics. In situations where multiple paths are available -- as within a major hosting facility -- BGP can be used to communicate an organization's own preferences in terms of what path traffic should follow in and out of its networks. BGP even has a mechanism for defining arbitrary tags, called communities, which can be used to control route advertisement behavior by mutual agreement among peers.
Ratified in 2006, BGP-4, the current version of BGP, supports both IPv6 and classless interdomain routing (CIDR), which enables the continued viability of IPv4. Use of the CIDR is a way to have more addresses within the network than with the current IP address assignment scheme.
Watch this video for a brief overview of how BGP works:
A brief, animated overview of how BGP works.